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.
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…
The Final Frontier: Searching for God
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.
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