Hanny’s Voorwerp Factor 5

Staring at the mysterious green blob of Hanny’s Voorwerp, it’s hard not to imagine being Captain Kirk sitting cantilevered forward in that famous chair on the bridge of the Enterprise. Even for those of us who are not Trekkies, the giant space nebula looms between galaxies where no one expected stars to be born. Their own private intergalactic nursery. With my mind already on Star Trek, I think of the web-page sent to me by one of my winter term students at Rutgers: the Memory-Alpha Bible page. Since my loyalty to Star Trek only reaches as far as the occasional viewing of an episode for light relief – and only from the original series at that – I had no idea that the Memory-Alpha wiki had bloomed into existence like Hanny’s Voorwerp itself. This wiki dedicated to everything Star Trek has 32-and-a-half-thousand pages on every angle of creator Gene Roddenberry’s unintentional universe.

The Bible page’s first paragraph (accessed 1/12/11, sometime around 7 a.m. EDT) reads: “The Bible is a collection of ancient Earth writings usually bound together as a book. The Christian Bible is divided into the Old and New Testaments; however, other translations and versions exist and vary by faith groups. It is among these faith groups that the Bible is considered a sacred text, which is generally viewed as having been inspired by one of the Human gods.” Someone takes his/her future, wiki-writing persona very seriously. Nevertheless, it is a perspective that could be helpful in handling a Bible that has grown politically powerful without being understood here in the paltry twenty-first century.

The page also lists all of the episodes where the Bible is referenced or alluded to in Star Trek. As my student pointed out, almost all of these references (in the original series) are to the Hebrew Bible, with very few being from the Christian Scriptures. This makes sense, given the context of the 1960s when McCarthy’s aroma still hung heavily in the air and the war in Vietnam was daily in the newspapers. To offer up television fare that might have been considered “unchristian” in any way was a faux pas in such tortured times. The Hebrew Bible is great for providing allusions to paradise and apocalypse, but the words of Jesus were taken with a solemnity far too great to allow for fictional space explorers’ banter. So maybe it’s just an accident of astronomy that the amorphous, green cloud of Hanny’s Voorwerp appears to be wearing a galactic halo.

Hanny's Voorwerp on NASA-view

Casting the First Stone

I’m not overly nostalgic for a guy interested in ancient history. I tend to look at the more recent past as a via negativa for the young who might make a difference today. Very occasionally, however, aspects of society were handled better back in the 1960s and early 70s. One of the most obvious instances of a more sane society was the segregation of politics and religion. Prior to the rise of the “Religious Right” as a political machine the religious convictions, or lack thereof, of politicians played little role in their campaigns and American culture itself was much more open. A story from today’s MCT News Service illustrates this all too well.

In an article entitled “In S.C., religion colors gubernatorial race,” Gina Smith reports on the various religious slurs that now pass for political campaigning in that state. “Raghead” (for a former Sikh), Buddhist, Catholic, and “anti-Christian Jewish Democrats” are among the aspersions freely cast by those without the sin of a non-evangelical upbringing. As if only Fundamentalists are capable of making the right political decisions. As if Fundamentalists ever make the right political decisions. Fundamentalism is a blinding force on the human psyche, and those who are misled by religious leaders who claim unique access to the truth are to be seriously pitied. Conviction that those most like you are to be trusted most may be natural, but dogged belief that pristine morals accompany any religion is glaringly naïve.

The American capacity for belief in fantasy worlds is in the ascendant. No matter how many times Fundamentalists or Evangelical politicians are arrested or forced from office for the very sins they rant against, their overly forgiving constituencies come flocking back to them. Commit the sin of being born Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, or Catholic and no quarter will ever be offered. No, I have no desire to go back to the 1960s, but I sure wish politics would.