Something Is Missing… Almost
From my youth, I have been captivated by Star Trek, the science fiction television series that aired on NBC from 1966-1969. The five-year mission of which Captain Kirk speaks in the opening sequence was cut short to three years by visionless network executives disappointed with poor ratings. How surprised they must have been when through syndication Star Trek went on to ever greater fame and cultural influence (and the making of a lot of money).
Now, in September 2016, Star Trek is fifty years old, and the franchise is still churning out movies and television series. I enjoy much of the Star Trek universe, but my favorite will always be the original series of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. I was a happy man when I found out that BBC America had scheduled a Star Trek marathon, broadcasting all the episodes from seasons one and two (yes, I recorded many of them).
Star Trek presents an optimistic view of the future in which the problems that beset humanity are slowly but surely overcome. Diverse racial and ethnic groups (and even alien beings) serve together in splendid unity. Poverty and hunger have been eliminated. So has greed; in fact, there is no longer any need for money. Technology is valued but not at the expense of personal relationships. It is an attractive world made exciting by the mission “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
But something is missing – almost. That something is religion. Not just Christian faith. Any religious belief.
Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was a secular humanist. Roddenberry rejected his Baptist upbringing (as a child he attended church every week with his mother). Eventually, he joined the American Humanist Association, whose goal is “to bring about a progressive society where being good without a god is an accepted and respected way to live life.”*
But a secular humanist can’t be too careful. In the episode Bread and Circuses that aired on March 15, 1968, the show ends with this stunning dialog:
MCCOY: Captain, I see on your report Flavius was killed. I am sorry. I liked that huge sun worshiper.
SPOCK: I wish we could have examined that belief of his more closely. It seems illogical for a sun worshiper to develop a philosophy of total brotherhood. Sun worship is usually a primitive superstition religion.
UHURA: I’m afraid you have it all wrong, Mister Spock, all of you. I’ve been monitoring some of their old-style radio waves, the empire spokesman trying to ridicule their religion. But he couldn’t. Don’t you understand? It’s not the sun up in the sky. It’s the Son of God.
It is thrilling to see Jesus Christ proclaimed in Star Trek, whatever Gene Roddenberry’s motivations may have been (he collaborated on that script). The Apostle Paul writes in Philippians 1:18, “What does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”
As Christians, our hope is not that human beings are gradually evolving into a better version of themselves. Our hope is that Jesus Christ in love, in mercy, and in strength, is changing us from the inside out. For now that transformation is partial and ongoing. “What we will be has not yet appeared.” But Jesus Christ is coming again in power and glory. “We know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
One day our transformation will be full and complete. With Star Trek and with every tongue in heaven and on earth and under the earth (Philippians 2:10-11) we bear grateful witness to the one who does this for us: Don’t you understand? It’s not the sun up in the sky. It’s the Son of God!
David Lenz, Lead Pastor
* http://www.adherents.com/people/pr/Gene_Roddenberry.html, accessed 9-12-16; http://americanhumanist.org/AHA, accessed 9-12-16.