Late last month, I
stumbled upon a series of essays at
Star Trek. It turned out to be the 20th anniversary of
Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Wow. Since I became a
fan as a kid with the original Star Trek series in reruns
during the 1970s, the fact that it’s been two decades since Captain
Jean Luc Picard first beamed into our living rooms makes me feel
kind of old.
writing on NR seemed to wrestle with being fans of this rather
liberal television show. It’s an interesting point, including for
this self-confessed conservative Trekker. Perhaps it’s as
straightforward as a combination of interesting characters,
compelling stories that often involve some big issues to debate and
discuss, cool space stuff, and general sci-fi geekiness.
But one of the most
annoying facts about Star Trek is its heavy secular humanism
– particularly after the original series. In all my years watching
five Trek television series (six, if you count the animated
series) and 10 films, I can only recall four instances where God or
faith in God were prominently mentioned or evident.
Three occurred in the
original Star Trek series.
In an episode titled
“Balance of Terror,” a member of the crew prays on her knees in a
chapel after the death of her fiancé. In another episode – “Who
Mourns for Adonais?” – Captain Kirk tells a powerful alien who wants
the crew to worship him as a god that our one God is sufficient.
Most powerfully, in
“Bread and Circuses,” the crew visits a planet where the Roman
Empire is still running things in the 20th century. After Kirk,
Spock and McCoy escape to the Enterprise, Lt. Uhura notes that she
has been monitoring transmissions, and discovered that the
peace-loving “sun” worshipers on the planet were not actually
worshipping the sun, but instead, the Son of God. And Kirk remarks:
“Caesar and Christ, they had them both and the word is spreading
As Mr. Spock would
But that was really
it on the positive side of the Star Trek religion equation.
In Star Trek V:
The Final Frontier, the point of the entire movie seemed to be
to question the existence of God.
Next Generation television show wallowed in a rather foolish
utopian vision of the perfectibility of humankind. The sinful
aspects of human nature simply withered away. The Federation is
billed as paradise in space.
No one in Starfleet
apparently was a Christian or a Jew. However, some pagan beliefs
were given screen time, such as in Star Trek: Voyager, as
well as alien beliefs, including Bajoran and Klingon religions.
For a show supposedly
celebrating diversity, why are the humans actually so terribly bland
in their faith, or perhaps more appropriately, lack of faith.
Wouldn’t it be more interesting – and realistic -- to have
Christians and Jews, for example, on board these starships? Are we
really supposed to believe that there are no Christians in the
This lack of faith
aboard starships over the past two decades can be explained in two
ways. The first is a lack of courage on the part of Trek’s
creators to portray full human beings, including their religious
beliefs. That’s not unusual on television in general, but seems to
particularly plague the science fiction genre.
Second, like so many
(but far from all) in Hollywood, those who made these shows probably
have very little regard for religion. They would like Christianity,
for example, to go away in the present, so why include it in their
own visions of the future?
In fact, Gene
Roddenberry, the late creator of Star Trek, rejected
Christianity in his teenage years, and became an atheist. He
actually was quite hostile to religion. In one interview, he was
quoted: “Religions vary in their degree of idiocy, but I reject them
all. For most people, religion is nothing more than a substitute for
a malfunctioning brain.” In another, Roddenberry reportedly
declared: “If people need religion, ignore them and maybe they will
ignore you, and you can go on with your life. It wasn’t until I was
beginning to do Star Trek that the subject of religion arose
again. What brought it up was that people were saying that I would
have a chaplain on board the Enterprise. I replied, ‘No, we don’t.’”
chaplains? How sad for Star Trek. But worst of all, how sad
Raymond J. Keating, also a columnist
with Newsday, is the editor and publisher of the “On the Church &
Society Report.” This column is from the latest issue of the “On
the Church & Society Report,” which also features “Exit from the
Episcopal Church … and Entry,” “The Costs of Piracy,” and “Superman
as a Christ Allegory.”To receive a
free four-issue trial of “On the Church & Society Report,” send an e-mail request to