Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Star Trek and Faith

I recently came across this discussion of religion in StarTrek by Raymond J Keating, which recalls only a few instances in which a Christian faith is suggested. One is when Kirk meets an alien claiming to be the Greek god Adonais, to whom Kirk retorts, “Our one God is sufficient” (faint praise?). Another instance is when the crew of the Enterprise come across a planet almost identical to Earth, but for the fact that the Roman Empire never fell. Throughout this episode we meet sun worshippers; it is only in the closing minutes that we discover these aren’t pagans, but in fact followers of the son (of God)! Keating, goes on to say that ‘the 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.’

Indeed, Next Gen went out of its way to avoid any extended religious discourse, preferring instead made-up Klingon or other alien ritual, and that piss-poor episode with the American Injun reserve in space where Wesley becomes a rainbow child of the universe. One particular episode for me underscores the writers’ lack of willingness to get into discussion of religious/metaphysical ideas, and that is the one where the Enterprise is trapped by a godlike being called N’geelum (but probably spelt differently). N’geelum wants to kill a proportion of the inhabitants of the Enterprise (I can’t remember how many – something like 50 percent or so) in order to discover more about humanity. In response, Picard spits the dummy and sets the Enterprise’s auto-destruct mechanism. Every single person on board will die, but at least they will not be tortured by this insane alien.

In the minutes before the ship is due to be blown to kingdom come, Picard retires to his quarters to prepare himself for death. He is visited by Data, who begins to question him about the nature of death, and starts to enquire after Picard’s beliefs. I haven’t seen this episode in a while, but I seem to recall that it is this line of questioning from Data which tips off Picard that something is amiss. He hails Data on the intercom and finds that he’s on the bridge; this Data who is inquisitive about matters of faith is in fact an illusion induced by the malevolent N’Geelum.

Another instance of religion in Star Trek: The Next Generation comes not from the TV series, but from the comic books, which I think can safely be assumed to be non-canon. 'Beginnings' is a TPB collecting the early Next Gen comic book stories, and are obviously from the early days of the TV series when things hadn’t quite settled down into convention yet. For example, I seem to remember some chemistry between Geordie and Troi which was never hinted at in the TV show. Deanna was entangled with Riker, and later Worf, but never Geordie, who was obviously gay for Data. In the comics, there are also crewmen on board wearing outlandish costumes which follow comic book convention, but not that of TV’s Starfleet. For example, the Bickleys, a bickering husband-and-wife pair of bridge officers wearing cloaks but no trousers. There’s also the stuff that is just totally out of character, like where Worf attempts to stop Tasha Yar disturbing the Captain in his ready room. They argue and then wrestle like they are schoolkids in the play yard, until the Captain comes along to tells them off. It is all great fun, but really off the mark for how the characters ‘really’ behaved on the TV screen.

The bit I always remember as slightly cringe-worthy, cos it is so out of keeping with the whole tone of the series, is in the ‘Christmas special’ story when we see Tasha Yar getting ready for the festivities and musing on her faith. Having just gone and dug out the comic in question, it is actually pretty innocuous, but I think the rareity of such a hint that there might be a Christian believer in Next Gen has exaggerated it in my memory. Tasha stands in front of a mirror dressing for the party, and gives in a thought bubble says:

‘I’ve always longed to have the holidays back in my life…I didn’t get to do much celebrating when I was a child on the colony…and my duties with the Federation since have kept me from keeping my faith…I’m really looking forward to loosening up tonight!’

So, like I say, no big deal. It is actually pretty nonspecific about what her ‘faith’ is, but given it is Christmas one would assume she is some kind of Christian. It does make you wonder whether Tasha was intended to be a Christian all along, and it was just unspoken or taken for granted, or whether this was just slotted in so that the Christmas theme bore more relevance to this otherwise most secular of crews.

I will try to post some scans from the comic, so check back to see if i’ve updated this post.

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