Sunday, July 30, 2017

Star Trek and God

Esquire reports on an upcoming Entertainment Weekly story in which we're informed of the following exchange on the set of Star Trek: Discovery:
The director halts the action and Lorca, played by British actor Jason Isaacs of Harry Potter fame, steps off the stage. The episode's writer, Kirsten Beyer, approaches to give a correction on his "for God's sakes" ad lib. 
"Wait, I can't say 'God'?" Isaacs asks, amused. "I thought I could say 'God' or 'damn' but not 'goddamn.'  
Beyer explains that Star Trek is creator Gene Roddenberry's vision of a science-driven 23rd-century future where religion basically no longer exists. 
"How about 'for f—'s sake'?" he shoots back. "Can I say that?" 
"You can say that before you can say 'God,' " she dryly replies.
The director Kirsten Beyer is factually full of shit. Let's look at some examples of Roddenberry's vision from when he was alive and writing it:
"We are gathered here today with you, Angela Martine, and you, Robert Tomlinson, in the sight of your fellows, in accordance with our laws and our many beliefs ..." -- Kirk, Balance of Terror
That could be beliefs about anything, right?
"If you're speaking of worships of sorts, we represent many beliefs." - McCoy, Bread and Circuses
Still kind of fuzzy...  but in the same episode...
"You've got it wrong, all of you. It's not the sun up in the sky. It's the Son of God." - Uhura, Bread and Circuses 
Oh, SNAP! Not only is it THE God we're talking about here, it's Christ. And not in a bad way, either. This isn't some alien God-impostor that is to be struck down. In fact, Uhura waxes eloquently about the fact that the Roman broadcasters tried to make fun of the religion and could not. This episode was written by Gene Roddenberry and Gene Coon, the two men who created "Roddenberry's vision".
"Murder is contrary to the laws of man and God." M-5 Computer, The Ultimate Computer
Aw jeez, they just keep comin', man! Star Trek finding a basis for morality in religion? Yet it did. And morality is what saved the day. Not phasers. Not photon torpedoes. Not Spock. Not science. Not force. BTW, this is a recurring theme in Star Trek. There are inumerable times when Spock's logic fails. An entire episode ("The Galileo Seven") was devoted to this. Spock offers the utility of logic and reason. But Kirk is in charge because he has Heart. So what does Kirk say of God..?
"Mankind has no need for gods. We find the One quite adequate." - Kirk, Who Mourns for Adonais?
Who is the "we" that Kirk is talking about here? He didn't say "they".
"What does God need with a starship?" - Kirk, Star Trek V
Many, many times, the Enterprise crew encounters alien "gods", from Adonais, to Trelaine, to Vaal, to Landru, etc. But you should note that at no point does the Enterprise crew (no bloody "A", no bloody "B"...) ever take issue with worship or the concept of God. They do take down numerous pretenders to the title. Playing God is a problem for the crew. But meeting God seems a perfectly reasonable possibility to them until they discover that it's one more pretender.

And what does Gene Roddenberry's vision for Star Trek say of those who would have religious beliefs that differed from their own? Well, Kirk said it early in "Balance of Terror", but if that were just too blatant and terrestrial, it was couched in metaphorical terms as a Vulcan philosophy:
IDIC - "Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations."
All of these examples are ten years or more AFTER the Discovery timeframe.

I'm cautious about the new series, because now more than ever, they're advertising to the world that they don't know jack shit about Star Trek.


To be sure, many people don't know jack shit about Star Trek, and many of them have been writing for the show. The dumbest, most head-scratching and abysmally obvious inconsistencies have resulted, such as the Federation doesn't use money. Except the many times when it does (from credits to gold-pressed latinum to replicator rations). Or that the Federation is vegan... except the numerous times when they're demonstrably not. But I've written about these things before. A friend of mine once asserted the veganism of the Federation until I pointed out the counterexamples. Then she got mad. At me. Because in today's imperfect world, facts are fucking inconvenient, and those that bear them are evil.

In the Sixties, Roddenberry created an episodic TV show, there to tell stories. Canon wasn't really a big deal, and fit in the show's "bible" (writer's guide). But the "utopia" of Star Trek as originally envisioned was a celebration of individuality and exceptionalism where you could believe what you want and do as you will as long as it didn't infringe on the rights of others. That is the very heart and soul of the Prime Directive.

UPDATE: Some folks miss the point here. The point is this... no matter how "advanced" Roddenberry thought people would be by TNG (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Star Trek: Discovery is set 10 years PRIOR to Kirk's era. The appropriate standards to employ, then, are those used for TOS (the original series) (more exactly, this side of TOS). And those are well documented. This is why all of my examples are from the original series. And by those standards, the director is objectively full of shit.

UPDATE 2: some people are missing the point on another important aspect. My intent here is not to show that the Star Trek universe is religious. My intent is to show that the Star Trek universe is tolerant, and by "tolerant" I mean that all viewpoints, including those of religion, are given respect. Infinite Diversity, Infinite Combinations -- IDIC. Those who believe that Star Trek is or should be purely secular certainly do not understand the spirit of Star Trek.


  1. Enjoyed reading this. Saw a fan made Trek where the captain says something about the good Lord putting star where they are in space at the end and it seemed non Canon, out of place, so I was trying to understand. Gene Roddenberry's family were churchgoers and he was a secular humanist, an atheist from the time he was a teen, according to one site. If so, that would explain the tolerance and the overall views of the show that humans in the future have given up religion along with what Gene considered to be all other superstitions. This doesn't comport with Kirk saying "the one" is quite adequate, but you can read that in many ways, but as you point out it is a clear reference to the Christian god from Uhura in Bread and Circuses. Still doesn't seem at all like religion was very important in the show, overall, but good morals, and developing a strong moral compass through lessons, yes. That's why I liked it as a kid and still do, when they get it right.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Certainly, no particular religion is critical to the show. What is critical is the idea of tolerance, and this is well explained by Roddenberry himself in the album 'Inside Star Trek', in which he discusses the issue of IDIC. This, and the evidence of the show itself as I've pointed out above, show that "tolerance" does not include banning the very mention of God or religion in anything other than a mythological context. Some people in the 23rd century are religious, and there's nothing whatsoever unusual about that fact.

      So when I say that Kirsten Beyer is factually full of shit, it's because she is factually full of shit.

    2. Inside Star Trek: