I love Star Trek, and now that we’ve been married for a few years, so does my wife. We’ve been watching all the episodes from the first and second series via Netflix for a few months now. We love the characters and episode plots, and the whole Trekkie atmosphere. Star Trek has a knack for exploring important social issues, whether racism in the Original Series or the culture of assimilation represented by the Borg (also known as “Leviathan” to some in this century) in the Next Generation. However, I must say from first-hand experience that growing up in both the Church and the Federation is a setup for some massive cognitive dissonance.
The meta-narrative of Star Trek is that, a few centuries hence, mankind, having shucked off its old religious superstitions, has gained such a mastery of technology that we have eliminated poverty and most disease. By extension, crime is virtually non-existent. We have narrowly made it through the “threat of self-destruction” phase of our civil (and even biological) evolution, and now seek only to better ourselves as individuals and a race, to learn and to grow. Having discovered faster-than-light transportation, we have set out to explore and colonize the universe, making peace with and learning from the other life-forms we encounter.
This is essentially the secular humanist’s utopia, and in my opinion, it is totally at odds with Christianity. (It is interesting to note that there is still plenty of room for “spirituality” in Star Trek, as can be seen in Mr. Worf’s practices of Klingon asceticism and ritual, but this is highly personal, and focuses on self-improvement, not truth as such.) There is certainly no room for a personal God or a religion that might require something of you or be interested in your well-being. We are agnostic, at best. (The Original Series made a few references to the faith of some individuals on the crew, but by the Next Generation (late 80’s/early 90’s) it was safe to drop this pretense.)
Of course, Christianity says that mankind has a very deep problem, of which crime is only a symptom, and that problem is sin. The Humanist Utopia was tried a long time ago: they called it Babel. We cannot pull ourselves out of our troubles with technology because the troubles are a part of us. We do not need to be scientifically enlightened, we need to be healed. We do not need a sense of accomplishment and human progress when we die, we need resurrection and eternal life.
So we have been watching Star Trek with a degree of awareness of the tension between its seductive worldview and our own. That said, last night, Star Trek admitted defeat. The episode was “Who Watches the Watchers” from the 3rd season of Next Generation. In it, a group of “anthropologists” (sic?) are on planet Mintaka III studying a race of “proto-Vulcans”, that is, a highly-rational humanoid species who are early along in their cultural evolution, at a point equivalent to our bronze age. In order not to violate the Prime Directive — the Federation’s highest law which forbids any interference in the cultural development of less technologically-advanced races — the anthropologists are using a holographic projector to disguise their facility as part of a cliff face. Their subjects are unaware of the researchers’ existence.
Unfortunately, the anthropologists have lost their power source, and while the Enterprise is hurrying to bring them a new one before their batteries run out, there is an explosion and their facility is exposed to the Mintakans. To make a long story short, the Mintakans, who have long since dropped superstitious and religious ideas, when they are exposed to Federation technology begin to worship the humans as gods, with Captain Picard as the Supreme God. This is a major problem for the crew of the Enterprise, as they would be responsible for setting the Mintakans back centuries in their development. In order to convince them that humans are no gods, Picard beams one of the Mintakan leaders aboard his ship and tries to explain the situation to her. He is unable to get through, however, until she sees one of the anthropoligists die in sick bay, and the doctor powerless to help her or bring her back. It is only after she sees that Picard and the humans cannot raise the dead that she agrees they are not gods. There is more to the episode, but in the end, the Enterprise leaves and the Mintakans continue their cultural evolution, free of the contaminating influences of superstition and religion.
In Star Trek, death is regretable and often may be delayed, but it is ultimately unavoidable. Death is part of what it means to be human. Technology cannot defeat death. But this is where Christianity holds the “trump card”, for Jesus Christ has defeated both sin and death. They have no more power, as Christ demonstrated in his resurrection. Death is not a natural part of life, says Christianity. It is seperation from God, the separation of a living thing from that which gives it life, as unnatural a thing as has ever existed. Star Trek has admitted that death is something mankind cannot defeat — it is a problem suited for gods. And this is where the Christian agrees, and proclaims the Gospel.