“I fail to see the humor in that situation, Doctor.”
“Naturally. You could hardly claim to be an angel with those pointed ears, Mister Spock. But say you landed someplace with a pitchfork…”
I’m a Star Trek fan from way back and that line from McCoy is one of my favourites. It’s from Bread and Circuses, the episode where Kirk and company discover a world on the cusp of creating a religion like Christianity. It turns out that the leader of the city is a Starfleet interloper who needs his ass kicked due to his complete and total disregard of the Prime Directive. Never mind that Kirk and his crew break that every damn episode.. but I digress.
A Catholic Herald article I found has this episode listed as one of many examples of Catholic propaganda within the whole Trek universe and thus a good thing to watch on television.
I wonder what it must have been like in all of those living rooms across America that evening. Probably the same stunned silence that permeated my family’s living room. My parents, very much non-Trekkers, asked me to repeat Uhura’s last line. When I did, they stared at each other and raised a surprised, Spock-like eyebrow.
At that, Kirk addresses his bridge crew: “Christ and Caesar. Wouldn’t it be something to watch, to be a part of? To see it happen all over again?” It wasn’t until years later when I saw the episode again when I realised the importance of those lines. This might seem only of minor interest to most people but to a connoisseur of fine science fiction, this is altogether remarkable. It’s very common for a science fiction writer to use religion as a theme but, inevitably, as a reference to violence, zealotry or primitive thinking. What Gene Roddenberry did was raise Christianity and its spirituality to a new level in the genre.
I’m turning my geek up to 11 now, but I just started watching Babylon 5 finally and there was a great scene in one of those first episodes where the head dude (yeah, still learning who’s who) was supposed to greet some other culture by showcasing Earth’s primary belief system. To get around that conundrum, he found representatives of as many religions as he could line up in a row and you know what happened? He introduced the atheist first.
Yeah, that has nothing to do with this. I’m just remarking on the fact that religions aren’t always used in a plot to drive some negative point. In that case, all beliefs were treated as equals, even non-belief. Which got mentioned first.
In a time when much of television fare is unreflective of Christian morality and values, it’s encouraging and affirming to have shows that successfully present a kinder and gentler world. A world in which people of different values, backgrounds and perceptions can cooperate. Each offering their uniqueness as a gift to the others. A world in which enemies are ultimately forgiven and learn to cooperate. Infinite diversity in infinite combination, as per the Vulcan mantra.
Good science fiction isn’t about aliens and ray guns and exploding planets. These are mere trappings, albeit fun and clever ones. The real purpose of science fiction is as social commentary on present-day society.
And good science fiction is going to have to use religion in plots and likely will use it to drive the story lines that involve zealotry and violence and primitive thinking. Never mind how believers in a religion might present it as forward-thinking and current to today’s ethics, every religion to date has a history of harbouring those things to some extent, and how many can state with honesty that they’ve left that all behind?
Look at how many people still poke around in the bible looking for a clue to the last day anyone will ever be able to buy a McRib. The sheer volume of people who embrace end time prophecies the likes of which John of Revelations could never have devised in all his wildest dreams (and dream wild he did).
I’m gratified that Star Trek took Catholic concerns to both the small and large screens and gave many generations of sci-fi aficionados an opportunity to reconsider what they think is important in their lives; life, peace, compassion, duty and ethics. Live long and prosper.
Those aren’t just Catholic concerns, though. They are humanist concerns as well. Those four things should be important to everyone, regardless of what god they think exists or doesn’t. If it takes a TV series about intrepid space explorers and sexy alien women to drive that point home, so be it.