Fans of Star Trek know that the new Star Trek movie: Into Darkness opens today, which gives me an opportunity to plug the complementary nature of theology and science fiction. Some of the attractions of science fiction are that it has the ability to touch on timeless themes of humanity (morality, purpose, meaning) while at the same time doing thought experiments via wonderful stories.
I would like to highlight a couple of blogs/articles that address the relationship of theology and science fiction.
First, is an article by Jason King of Catholic Moral Theology, that addresses theo-trekkies and explains why science fiction of appealing to spiritually based humans. The article summarizes four reasons: (i) cosmic drama; (ii) critique of societal values; (iii) good vs. evil; and (iv) what you do matters. The only downside of this article is that they did not mention one of my favorite science fiction series, Julian May’s Galactic Milieu, which describes a future Teilhardian universe.
Second, is a great article from the Catholic Herald from a couple of years ago that summarizes Christian themes from various Star Trek episodes. I encourage you to read the entire article, but here is an excerpt:
“Star Trek is consistently the most pro-Christian and pro-Catholic show in American television history.
The quintessential science fiction television programme by which all others are judged has had a number of permutations over the past 40 years: The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Voyager and, most recently, Enterprise. In addition, there have been 10 films that have sent the heroic Enterprise into space to “explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilisations, to boldly go where no man has gone before”. Gene Roddenberry’s creation has become a cornerstone of popular culture and has helped to popularise and develop the science fiction genre.
In “Bread and Circuses”, the episode that took place in Stardate 4041.7 (AD 2268 for planet-bound humans), Captain James Tiberius Kirk, valiant captain of the good ship Enterprise, in the midst of their five-year mission, came across planet 892-IV, a draconian 20th-century version of the Roman Empire, complete with gladiators, senators and nefarious politics. The empire sponsors state executions of renegade slaves who practice a pacifistic religion of “total love and total brotherhood”. Sound familiar?
The twist is that the slaves imprisoned for practising the religion of their choice are sun worshippers. As Mr Spock, the ship’s Science Officer and Captain Kirk’s logical foil, points out: “It seems illogical for a sun worshipper to develop a philosophy of total brotherhood. Sun worship is usually a primitive, superstitious religion.”
And then the fateful and faith-filled moment memorialised in the hearts of all Christian Trekkers, Lt Uhura pipes up from her communications console to correct her superior officers: “I’m afraid you have it all wrong, all of you,” she says. “I’ve been monitoring some of their old-style radio waves, the empire spokesman trying to ridicule their religion, but he couldn’t. Well, don’t you understand? It’s not the sun up in the sky. It’s the Son of God.”