So, why talk about Star Trek? Well, I think Star Trek has a lot to say that we need to hear. In particular, I think it holds a great deal of interest from a Christian perspective. For me, looking at it with fresh eyes over the last few years has been a rewarding experience. Maybe it can be for you too.
Star Trek has always been about a quest for something beyond our earthbound human grasp. While its six TV series and eleven (soon to be twelve) feature films are certainly concerned with the future, technology, exploration and how humans might advance as a species, the journey of the Enterprise has always been a metaphorical one. Though the ship’s crew may encounter strange alien species, these species merely stand in for different types of humans.
Through its fictitious peoples and their imagined struggles, Star Trek has always been able to address relevant cultural issues, sometimes in ways that would never have been directly discussed on television. Over the years, its stories have been thinly veiled discussions of such topics as racism, war, religion, homosexuality, terrorism, bigotry, and euthanasia, to name a few. Hiding within a science fiction adventure show has always been a philosophical inquest. The true journey of Star Trek has never been simply a journey outward, but also a journey inward.
For many modern Christians, the venerable sci-fi franchise’s focus on humanity is uncomfortable. Western Christian thought often sees a strong divide between the spirit and the flesh. Seeking to avoid the messy, complicated, sinful world of the here and now, this view focuses instead on what might be called a “there and then” ideal, where spiritual purity lies waiting on the other side of an escape from the prison of a human body. Because of this perspective, many of us live in a state of constantly denying the needs, beauty and purpose of our human nature. If there is an undiscovered country in modern Christianity, it just might be our own humanity.
But, we are human for a reason. God created us as humans to be humans and not anything else. If we can deeply understand and explore what it means to be human, then we can discover what it means to become the best humans we can be – in other words, what it means to be human to the glory of God. But, where is God in Star Trek? Its creator, Gene Roddenberry is thought of by many as a prominent celebrity atheist. But here’s the trick – he wasn’t.
“As nearly as I can concentrate on the question today,” he said in the book God & by Terrence Sweeney, “I believe I am God; certainly you are, I think we intelligent beings on this planet are all a piece of God, are becoming God.” Now, that’s hardly Christian orthodoxy, but Roddenberry noticed in human beings something transcendent that he saw as parts of God. Christians recognize this Divine spark as the fingerprints of our Creator on His “very good” creation. These “fingerprints” are a strong and essential element of Star Trek’s worldview.
The founding concept of the Star Trek universe is that it takes place in a future time when mankind has evolved enough and has achieved sufficient technological advancement to eradicate many diseases, end war and conflict, end hunger and unite as one world to reach out into the stars. This evolution is not one of human DNA, but of the human spirit. Star Trek is about what might happen if we humans chose, as a race, to try to exercise the best parts of ourselves toward the common good of humanity.
This supposed utopia of Rodenberry’s imagination, however, is mentioned but never fully realized. The simple reason for this is that Star Trek’s writers have always understood that story thrives on conflict. Without conflict there is – in general – no story. In short, in a perfect world, nothing interesting ever happens. Maybe that’s why Star Trek’s characters venture out into the galaxy. If life on Earth is as idyllic it sounds, then perhaps the men and women of Starfleet are, in a way, actually seeking out the conflicts they often find in space. Since human beings need conflict and struggle to grow, an Earth that no longer included these obstacles might compel humans to look for challenges elsewhere.
This demonstrates a kind of faith in the unseen, a hope for what lies “out there” at the heart of scientific inquiry in Star Trek. Mystery here exists comfortably alongside the known. And mystery is an essential part of a pursuit of God. Some may ask why God doesn’t blatantly show Himself, why we must seek to find Him instead of getting megaphone messages from the sky. I would say that God is mysterious, perhaps because He operates according to an aspect of human nature that He created and that Star Trek understands deeply: curiosity.
It’s one thing to have the answer handed to us. But, humans are clever. As such, we distrust things that ask us not to be. Instead, we are drawn by our curiosity to things on the outer edges of our perception. Perhaps God remains a mystery to be sought after so that, in our curiosity, we may desire to seek him – so that we are not forced irrefutably, but drawn irresistibly. As Star Trek reminds us, our human curiosity is insatiable. It is compelling enough a force to drive us to the very stars. For that reason, we value both the journey we embark upon and the things we discover along the way far more than if they had simply been dropped into our laps. We treasure those things. We have earned them and we will not let them go.
I hope you, too, will take another look at Star Trek. I hope it will spark your curiosity about the deep questions of life and why God created us to be – of all things – human.
This column was adapted from my paper, “The Undiscovered Country: Star Trek and the Christian’s Human Journey.” Also, check out my Star Trek devotional guide, available now on my website, www.kevincneece.comas well as on Amazon.comand BarnesandNoble.com.