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We science fiction writers are very leery of talking about God and religion.
For a self-avowed secular humanist and agnostic, the world Gene Roddenberry created sure has a lot of timeless theological relevance. Last year, we took the month of September to look at the first season of Star Trek (The Original Series) through a Redeeming Culture lens. Our first “Trektember” was a whole lot of fun, and we barely scratched the surface.
This year is the thirtieth anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a show which I (David A) grew up with, and which has consciously and unconsciously affected a great deal of my thinking, identity, philosophy, and even theology. That’s why this year’s Trektember is all about TNG—and we’re bringing in help.
The High Priest of Secular Humanism
There’s so much in Trek for us to investigate on Redeeming Culture, but it might be a little bit surprising for someone who knows about Roddenberry’s view of the world. In the DVD documentary A Remembrance of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Roddenberry continues his quote. “We science fiction writers are very leery of talking about God and religion. I think that that comes out of the quality of the work. For example, there were a couple of times we had people come to us in the making of Star Trek and say, “How come you don’t have a Chaplain on board?” Roddenberry was, as we mentioned, a secular humanist: an adherent of a philosophy that denies the existence (or at least the need) of a God.
TNG producer Rick Berman said, “I remember [Roddenberry] used to tell me that L. Ron Hubbard was a friend of his, and he went and started a religion. Gene always thought that if he had wanted to, he probably could have done the same thing.” And after his initial introduction to secular humanism by famed sci-fi author Isaac Asimov, while he may not have been the founder of the worldview, Roddenberry saw The Next Generation as a means by which he could “impart his humanist philosophy,” as screenwriter Susan Sackett described it.
And for Wil Wheaton, at least, it worked: “I’m a secular humanist because I knew Gene Roddenberry…he was so passionate about what we can do as people.”
You don’t have to be a humanist to be impressed by Roddenberry’s powerful obsession with humanity’s potential. But Roddenberry’s cultural push certainly falls into the camp of un-Christian (and possibly even mildly anti-Christian); so what can a Christian get from his show other than mild irritation?
Theology and Story
Well, one thing is to watch for the weaknesses. Star Trek will argue against some elements of the Christian world view, but if you pay attention, the inherent deficiencies of those cases will pretty well shine out at you.
So will some of the internal contradictions. Here’s an exchange between TNG writer Brannon Braga and William Shatner, in Shatner’s documentary Chaos on the Bridge:
Braga: “Gene’s conception on Next Gen is almost heavenly, in that everyone’s at peace.”
Shatner: “Did you realize that The Next Generation, it was possible to characterize it as Gene Roddenberry’s dream of heaven?”
Braga: “I would never have thought that at the time, but now that we’re talking with his conception of the future, and human beings in the future, and Q? Q is God. I mean, just look at the character, look at everything about the character.”
Shatner: “Gene was a well-known atheist, but he invents Q.”
Braga: “As I sit here thinking about it, it’s pretty startling. God’s a character, a literalized character on Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
Shatner: “By an atheist.”
Braga: “By an atheist. Very interesting.”
It’s also interesting that, in Roddenberry’s view of humanity, there is a stopping point. Mankind will be perfected—no more petty squabbles and greed, he liked to say. It breaks with reality, by providing a situation where there need be no more hashing out of issues. All issues are simple, black-and-white. There can be no issues with two right sides or two wrong sides. There is also no more need for human growth or development. And that’s teleology, which goes against the evolutionary approach he affirms.
Then there’s the “Prime Directive,” which both series were unable to keep with much integrity. Don’t affect, don’t engage; look, but don’t touch. These principles are not as high-minded as they can sound, because all of it ultimately means “don’t help.” But in the course of the series, this crew will do exactly that: intrude on the development, deliberately and deeply, of many species—most notably the Borg.
Star Trek’s Prime Directive is inherently opposed to a Christian view of people and our purposes.
“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. But if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will die for their sin; but you will have saved yourself”
– Ezekiel 3:17-19, NIV
Jesus not only did not act like the world tainted him or his followers, He lived His life as if He (and his followers) affected the world. Making an impact is our job, so naturally it’s embedded into our design that we will do that; often whether we intend to or not. It reads as more honest, in fiction, to see characters do that too.
We hope you enjoy and are blessed by everything we’ve got in store. If you want to watch along with us, here’s a list of the episodes we’re watching and when.
Trektember begins Thursday at noon EST. See you then! And thank you for reading Redeeming Culture.