Blog

Is Spock a Christ Figure? After 50 Years of Star Trek, Some Think So

Picture by Gage Skidmore
Picture by Gage Skidmore, cc by-sa 2.0

Fifty years ago this week, Star Trek hit TV screens for the very first time. Six series, thirteen films and umpteen Trekkie conventions later, it’s become a sci-fi phenomenon that has even pre-empted some of our most modern gadgets.

In religious terms, Star Trek would be best described as secular humanist in outlook. But that hasn’t stopped religious themes slipping into it, sometimes quite overtly. In fact, its most beloved character has done some very Christ-like things. Here’s what I shared on BBC Radio 2’s Pause for Thought segment about that.

Listen Now

Podcast: Subscribe in iTunes or StitcherRight-click to download | Other episodes

Spiritual Themes in Star Trek

On September 8, 1966, American audiences switched on their black and white TV sets to go where no viewers had gone before. That night the cultural phenomenon Star Trek aired for the very first time. The series started in Australia the following year, and hit the UK in 1969.

Star Trek struggled in the early days. It was cancelled after its third season due to poor ratings. But today, with six series (and a seventh on the way), 13 films, and countless action figures and novelty merchandise products later, it’s hard to find a person on the planet who doesn’t know the Vulcan salute.

On the surface, Star Trek’s story lines have had little time for religion. Armed with starships, teleporters, and warp drive, it’s humanity, not a deity, that saves the world. But diehard fans tell me otherwise. Episodes have referenced Eden, Creation, the book of Genesis, and the Promised Land. And the most surprising spiritual echoes have come through its most beloved character, Spock.

The Messiah-Like Qualities of Mr Spock

Cast your mind back to the original films. In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Spock is faced with a difficult choice: he either watches the Starship Enterprise and its crew be destroyed, or put himself in danger to try and save it. He does the latter, sacrificing his life so others live.

In Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Spock’s sealed room is found to have been forced open, even though it’s under guard. His burial robe is found at his grave site. It turns out Spock has been resurrected!

And in Star Trek IV: The Final Voyage, humanity is about to be destroyed because of its sins against the earth, but Spock returns and salvation comes.

A sacrificial death, a resurrection from the grave, a future return…

I think I’ve heard this story before.

The Final Frontier: Searching for God

Picture by Greg Rakozy

Picture by Greg Rakozy

On another September night, this time in 1931, CS Lewis, author of the Narnia Chronicles, was walking around Magdalen College Oxford with his friends Hugo Dyson and JRR Tolkien. They were talking about the idea of people dying and rising again. At the start of the walk, Lewis believed such stories were mere fiction—just like those of Spock. But by the end of it, Lewis believed one of those stories was actually true—that Jesus’ death and resurrection had happened in history. The discovery changed his life

In Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Captain Kirk and his crew go on a search for God. They find an evil alien instead! That aside, and intentional or not, Star Trek can be quite religious if you look for it. For fifty years it has taken us out of this world, and through Spock, even pointed us to the God who came into it.

Talk to Me

Got a favourite Star Trek moment to share or something else to add? Leave a comment below now or call me using the ‘Send Voicemail’ button on the right. Please also rate and share this podcast on iTunes to help others discover it!

Subscribe

Subscribe to More Than This and never miss an episode.

   Subscribe in iTunes
   Subscribe on your iPad or smartphone
 Stitcher button  Subscribe in Stitcher

Please Share This!

More from BBC Radio, Blog, On Faith and Belief, Podcast, , , , .
Religion Blogs
  • Arul John

    Thanks for sharing this Sheridan. I am a Trekkie myself and I found the reference to Spock (aka Leonard Nimoy) as a Christ-like figure to be most intriguing. I wonder about the connection in Spock’s acts and Christ’s life, death and resurrection. I also realise Nimoy was Jewish too.

    • Yes, Nimoy was Jewish, but actually a follower of Kabbalah. And Ray Roddenberry believed (kind of) in reincarnation. With quite a mixture of beliefs in the creators/producers, it’s so interesting to see the Jesus-like themes there.

      • Arul John

        Yes, it is quite interesting to see this mix of beliefs, so different and yet combining in a strange way to (somewhat) present the life of Christ in concise and memorable ways. Thanks for sharing these insights Sheridan!

      • I’m not sure Nimoy was a Kabbalist outright. He seemed to mix and match his Judaism. And Gene Roddenberry (maybe you’re thinking of his son, “Rod?”) didn’t believe in reincarnation, to my findings, though he seemed to hover around that idea a little. I have a fairly extensive section on him in the book.

        In any case, you’re bang on. I don’t find any intent whatsoever in Star Trek’s portrayal of Spock as a Christ figure, but the symbolism and imagery that can be mined there are surprisingly deep. That’s one of the things that fascinates me about Spock and Star Trek’s other Christ figures. In any case, there’s so much in Star Trek to explore in conversation with a Christian worldview and I really appreciate what you’ve done here to help illustrate that!

  • Great work, Sheridan! And thanks for the link to my article over at Transpositions! This all sounds suspiciously like a book I just wrote. “The Gospel According to Star Trek: The Original Crew” is available for pre-order in the UK right now! http://amzn.to/2c89Rjk More info at http://gospelaccordingtostartrek.com and http://undiscoveredcountryproject.com. I’d love to talk with you further about this subject. 🙂

    • Yes, really appreciated your work in this area, Kevin. You’ve carved out a real theo-cultural niche there. I look forward to reading more from you.

  • Incidentally, you can also hear me today at 15:00 to 18:00 on Premiere Christian Radio at http://www.premierchristianradio.com/radioplayer and later at http://www.premierchristianradio.com/spaceweek. 🙂