This past week marked the 50th anniversary of the debut of Star Trek. I have laid bare a lot of my geekier proclivities on this site, so I’ll take this opportunity to uncover this one as well (though it was never particularly well hidden).
I have been a fan of Star Trek, and of science fiction in general, for as long as I can remember. One of the greatest assets of good science fiction is its ability to hold a mirror up to our humanity in order to see the grimy little edges of our nature. Science fiction is often done in one of two ways, you either see one aspect of human nature dialed up to such an exaggerated level that it magnifies our sins so that they are easily recognized, or we are given a world where those sins have been stripped away and the better angels of our nature have been allowed to prevail. It is the dystopian view versus the utopian one.
On the surface, Star Trek appears to hold to the latter narrative. It has taken us a few hundred extra years, but humanity has finally washed itself of its lust for power and wealth, overcome our discriminatory attitudes, and left our more superstitious natures behind us. If you dig a little deeper, though, Star Trek borrows quite a bit from both categories.
The planet Earth, in the Star Trek universe, has indeed become a utopian paradise, and for that very reason, the human race as depicted through this lens might actually be the most alien species on the show. The less polished aspects of human nature often found their way into the culture of an alien race, whether it be the proud, boisterous violent character of the Klingons, the underhandedness of the Cardassians, the greed and misogyny of the Ferengi, or the Romulan hunger for power, they all reflect an aspect of humanity that the slick, well-mannered do-gooder persona of the Federation does not.
I suppose that on my own blog I don’t really need an excuse to randomly write a post about Star Trek and a big round number anniversary is probably excuse enough, but I was thinking of the way that Star Trek uses its mechanics of science fiction, and it reminded me of Matthew 7:5, “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye“, where it is very easy to cast ourselves as the blameless Federation once we are in Christ and to cast all of our nastier sins on the people that surround us.
The Ferengi are probably one of the most obvious examples of this and are normally looked down upon by the more dignified Federation, but in a moment that allows all of this subtext to come to the surface, human Commander Benjamin Sisco and Ferengi Quark are imprisoned by a new threat on a previously unknown planet, and the stress of the situation brings Quark to confess his feelings on condescending attitude of humanity toward the Ferengi.
“The way I see it, Humans used to be a lot like Ferengi: greedy, acquisitive, interested only in profit; we’re a constant reminder of a part of your past you’d like to forget… But you’re overlooking something. Humans used to be a lot worse than the Ferengi. Slavery. Concentration camps. Interstellar wars. We have nothing in our past that approaches that kind of barbarism. You see? We’re nothing like you. We’re better.”
There is a lot of talk within the church about the sinfulness of the world, but the log in our own eye prevents us from seeing that it is sometimes not the sin of the world that so offends us, but the fact that the world is reminding us of the sin in us that has required (and still requires) a savior.
We need the reminder that “there but for the grace of God go I”.
The grace of God may clothe me in that well pressed Federation uniform of righteousness, but without it, I am as naked as an oppressed Ferengi female, my sins are as crimson as the blade of a battle worn bat’leth, my soul is as obsidian as Cardassian Intelligence.
As I look back on 50 years of Star Trek, it is good to remind myself not to glory in these fictional achievements of humanity, our true nature has been spread through the stars and confronts us at those times when we think that we have already arrived.