Christianity and Star Trek: an Introduction

Star Trek is one of the most successful American TV and Film science fiction franchises.  It includes six TV series (The Original Series, The Animated Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise) lasting a total of 27 years, and 11 films based upon The Original Series and The Next Generation.  Star Trek has spawned a large number of fictional novels, video games and plastic action figures. In addition to its longevity and merchandise, Star Trek can boast one of the most devoted fan bases in the history of fictional worlds: Trekkies.

Star Trek has made an indelible mark on American culture.  It is deeply rooted in the American mythos of manifest destiny and the frontier.  It also projects a hopeful image of the future shaped by human progress.  The Original Series, created by Gene Roddenberry, aired from 1966-69 – right in the middle of the cold war.  At a time when political tensions ran high, Star Trek offered a vision for humanity without racism, war, and economic disparity.  At its most basic level, Star Trek had a simple humanistic message: humanity will be okay.

How have Christians responded to and engaged with this powerful pop-culture phenomenon?  Undoubtedly, there are many Christians who enjoy Star Trek (I’m one of them, and I know I’m not alone!).  Surprisingly, however, there is very little serious Christian engagement with Star Trek.

Indeed, there are many who believe that Christianity and Star Trek are incompatible.  Star Trek, according to some, pushes a secular humanist agenda.  Commenting on the seeming absence of Christianity from the Star Trek world, one commentator writes that according to Science Fiction in general, including Star Trek, Christians have no future.  One blogger points out that the closest we get to a genuinely divine being in the Star Trek universe is Q, who clearly bears no resemblance to a Christian notion of God.  One writer feels that the main characters on Star Trek: The Next Generation are too perfect, and so the show fails to portray a human nature corrupted by sin.  There is even a very humorous fake news story based upon the premise that the most recent TV series, Enterprise, would include a Christian captain.

In my online search to find constructive dialogue between Christianity and Star Trek, I did come across an exciting website called The Undiscovered Country Project.  On this website, you can find some careful and interesting attempts to think Christianly about Star Trek.  Also, the project sometimes hosts events and speaking engagements.  I, for one, was sad to miss Spocktober.

This week on Transpositions, we are hosting a symposium that aims to challenge the narrative that Star Trek is merely pushing a secular humanist agenda.  As we hope to show, Christian influences and themes are not absent from Star Trek.  To borrow language from Timothy Gorringe, one might say that Star Trek is a “secular parable” for our time.  We believe that Christians can engage in constructive, and not merely critical, dialogue with Star Trek.

To this end, we bring you five posts that reflect upon the intersections of Christian thought and Star Trek:

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Image Credit: Copyright 2007 Paramount Pictures and CBS Studios Inc.  Fair use justification: the image, which is the current universal logo of the Star Trek franchise, is being used to comment on and illustrate the Star Trek franchise.

3 Comments

  • Pat Butler says:

    Well, this is fun! Yep, I’m a trekkie from way back, and enjoyed this post. I do remember an episode where Uhura englightened Kirk, Spock and Bones about a culture that was worshipping what they thought was the Sun God. “I’ve been monitoring communications…” she said (or something like that) “They’re referring to the Son of God.” (Maybe another trekkie can id that episode.) That was the closest encounter to Christianity I recall, but in my view there were many Christian themes and principles hidden in Star Trek. I’ve been surprised no one has explored this before, and welcome your insights. Thanks!

  • Jim Watkins says:

    Pat, I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed the post, and I hope that you enjoy the rest of the week. It is surprising that there has been little Christian engagement with Star Trek, but I did want to mention (because I didn’t in the intro) that there have been a few books written on the topic of religion in Star Trek. These tend to be written from a ‘religious studies’ perspective, which can differ from Christian theological method, and they take a much wider view by exploring connections to a variety of religions. That’s simply to say that, like yourself, many have notice Christian themes (or broadly religious themes) in Star Trek, and we’re hoping that this symposium will encourage folks to have more conversations about the relationship between Christianity and Star Trek.

  • Kevin C. Neece says:

    A great book in that vein is “Star Trek and Sacred Ground.” You can also find Star Trek and Christianity in the book “Light Shining in a Dark Place: Discovering Theology Through Film.” It’s only one essay, but the guy who wrote it is a genius! (Okay, it’s me.) 😉

    “Bread and Circuses” is the episode you’re remembering, Pat. It’s a truly amazing moment – the Enterprise bridge crew standing around, extolling the virtues of Christianity. What’s interesting is that, if you listen to the dialogue, they’re discussing the values that Star Trek and Christ have in common. It’s a great starting point for beginning to read all of Star Trek from a Christian worldview perspective.

    I hope you’re enjoying the symposium as much as I am, Pat. And Jim, thanks so much to all of you at Transpositions for doing this and especially for inviting me to be a part of it!

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