I’ve had a secret book project lurking inside my mind for a while now. It’s actually an idea that I had a number of years ago. Basically, it would be a systematic look at the religions of Star Trek. I mean, I’ve read that lawyers have written papers about the legal system of the Federation. A number of years ago, some of the professors from my alma mater did a paper on the family communication systems displayed in some of the episodes. And I figured it might be a kick to have a pastor take a look at the religions presented in the Star Trek universe and try to sift through them to figure out what the disparate races actually believed. I even got started on the research a number of years ago, watching the first season of The Original Series and taking notes. I even heard what could be mistaken as a seeming benediction in the first episode, when Sulu “blesses” Yeoman Rand with the odd phrase, “May the Great Bird of the Galaxy bless your planet.” Awesome stuff!
But then I couldn’t get my hands on a copy of the second season and didn’t want to buy one of my own. So the project kind of fizzled.
But then, thanks to the miracle of Netflix, I’ve been able to resume my Star Trek viewing, going through all three seasons of the Original Series, diving into the Animated Series, and working through the Next Generation.
And in the weeks that this has taken, I’ve noticed something: I wouldn’t have had that much material if I had just gone with those three. Oh, sure. There are divinities of a sort, such as Apollo or Trelane of Gothos. And let’s not forget Q. But by and large, religion doesn’t play much of a role in 23rd and 24th century society. The few times it does come up, it’s mocked (such as when the Mintakan people mistake Picard for a god, the belief of which is roundly snorted at by the Enterprise-D crew). Or it’s co-opted in odd ways. For example, in the abysmal episode Sub Rosa, at Dr. Crusher’s grandmother’s funeral, the alien Scottish governor oversees the proceedings. And some of the words sound very familiar. I’ve said them myself plenty of times, “. . . ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in the sure and certain hope . . .”
Now, normally, when I do that, I keep going with this: “of the resurrection to eternal life.” But that’s not what alien governor dude said. Instead, he finished it with some lame Hallmark-esque nonsense like “. . . that she’ll live on in our hearts and minds.” Crazy thing is, this whole scene was taking place outside of a church building, or at least, something that looked like one. So they put it in for the tourists? No wonder Anne Rice doesn’t want her name associated with this dreck.
But then things changed with Deep Space Nine. I’m only halfway through the first season so far, but already, we’ve seen great respect shown to the Bajoran prophets. And I know what is to come: Klingon wedding rituals, Ferengi afterlife visions, plus the twisted theological world of the Dominion. There was a shift where suddenly, what once was mocked suddenly could come out in the light.
Cole Matson, in a recent blog post, points out that DS9 aired two years after Roddenberry’s death. With different people at the helm, we could see how spirituality plays out in a highly technological society. Rather than mocked, it has its place and hey, wouldn’t you know it, it can even be shown as a driving force. Think the ending season of DS9. The war with the Dominion has a deeply spiritual component to it as Gul Dukat champions the cause of the pah wraiths against the Prophets, and the war isn’t truly over until . . . well, spoilers. Sorry. The point is this: the wormhole aliens or Prophets or whatever you want to call them never tell the Bajorans to stop worshiping them. There’s never a moment where the aliens say, “C’mon, folks, knock it off, we’re just an alien society that lives outside of linear time. Please stop.” Instead, the worship of the Prophets almost seems proper given the cultural context. They provide hope and protection to the Bajoran people. Their faith is rewarded.
This gives me hope. While DS9 wasn’t well-received at the time, I think it has aged well and shows us that yes, spirituality and science fiction can go hand in hand.
Who knows? Maybe I’ll write that book someday. But for now, I’m going to have some fun getting re-acquainted with some old friends.