Kevin C. Neece is a contributing editor for Imaginatio et Ratio: A Journal of Theology and the Arts, a media and pop culture columnist for New Identity Magazine and the founder and editor of The Undiscovered Country Project, an ongoing journey through Star Trek from a Christian worldview perspective. His work on Star Trek is featured in the book Light Shining in a Dark Place: Discovering Theology Through Film and has been presented at fan events and academic conferences. Kevin is available as a speaker and writer on topics relating to Christianity, the arts, popular media and more, including the history of Jesus films. Learn more at http://kevincneece.com and http://
It all started with Data. Literally, the universe itself began with information—the Word spoken by God and incarnated in Christ. It was also Data, the beloved android from Star Trek: The Next Generation, who was the origin of what is now The Undiscovered Country Project. It was seeing him as a metaphor for the Word, as a Christ figure in the film Star Trek: Nemesis, that first set me on what would become a quest through the whole of Star Trek.
My original goal was to write a paper on Data as a Christ figure for an upcoming conference. I wanted to go through the entire Next Generation series and look for anything that might foreshadow Data’s ultimate destiny. I found plenty. But I also found a new love for Star Trek as my freshly reformed Christian worldview became an amazing lens through which to view the franchise’s six television series and eleven films. Viewing Star Trek in a Christian context became an ongoing project very quickly.
By the time the conference rolled around, I was already piecing together a pretty good amalgam of Star Trek philosophy and a Christian worldview that amounted to a kind of Christian humanism. I’d begun to see that what I was discovering through Star Trek was the deep value of humanity—the beauty and goodness of humanity that God created. This was in stark contrast to the view of humanity and indeed of humanism that I’d seen Christian culture embrace.
Humanity, in the Christian world, is often almost exclusively associated with sin—so much so that talk of the nobility of the human race or the greatness of humankind has an tendency to make many Christians, especially contemporary American Christians, uncomfortable. It seems that we are often so convinced that there is nothing good in ourselves as humans that we are determined to squash it. But, as I have come to so often say, God created us as humans to be human and not anything else. Christ came, not to abolish our humanity, but to redeem it, to restore it to its intended state.
We are fallen. The image of God is broken and marred within us, but we still bear that image just the same. We need grace to make us whole, but we still have much good within us—some might say that we have more good, on the whole, in ourselves than evil. But, as long as Christians remain stubbornly opposed to this notion, we will fail to discover our full potential.
Star Trek shows us that there is within us the capacity to do what is right, to consider others before ourselves, to become the best version of ourselves that we can be. Its optimism can be faulted for erring too far on the side of human goodness, but for a world—and especially a Christian world—too often focused on the darkness in the human heart, perhaps such overstatements are permissible, even necessary. Perhaps only a bright picture of humanity will get our attention long enough to make us pause and think there might be something to it.
In selecting a title for my paper, I gravitated toward one of my favorite phrases in Star Trek, “The Undiscovered Country.” I went there honestly because of my affinity for the phrase first. Only once I’d begun considering it as a title did I start to think that it might be quite appropriate. The undiscovered country, after all, was recontextualized from Hamlet’s original and almost nihilistic musings on death to the idea of the future—potentially either promising or dangerous, or both—by Chancellor Gorkon in Star Trek VI.
That transition from fear at the precipice of a journey to the embrace of the unknown seemed to me an image of an essential act of faith—a faith which, as I note in my blog post on the Enterprise theme music, is at the very heart of Star Trek. I liked that idea. I also felt that I was discovering some unexplored land. Certainly, I was not the first to see correlations between Star Trek and Christianity, but my sustained focus on the whole of the franchise (or as much of it as I had gotten through by then) throughout my research had given me new eyes with which to see, not only Star Trek, but also my faith in Christ.
The other reason for the title was that I was exploring the goodness of humanity, as well as our needs, longings and desires, in a kind of honest way that I hadn’t seen much of in popular Christianity. The title was, “The Undiscovered Country: Star Trek and the Christian’s Human Journey” because I felt that reconnecting with our essential humanity is vital to our understanding of our relationship to God. But we had mostly shut that journey down in Christian circles. Indeed, I thought, if there is an undiscovered country in contemporary Christianity, it is perhaps our own humanity.
The paper was going to become a book, so I kept researching. I learned about the importance of building a platform, so I decided to make a website. And, bit by bit, my vision started expanding from the Undiscovered Country paper and book to The Undiscovered Country Project. I found that the more I carried these threads of humanity and Divinity and the purpose of the human soul through Star Trek, the more I saw God reflected in this franchise that was supposed to be denying him.
I grew from seeing correlations to seeing what I came to believe to be the work of God in and through Star Trek, a reflection of humankind’s hunger for Christ that is so great that it permeates even art which, on the surface, distances itself from him. That meant that God might just be at work, not just in Star Trek, but in all of human history—in all of us. It meant that the Data that started the universe was still being spoken by God into all of his creation.