Final Final Frontier?

Over the past several months my wife and I have been making our way through the Stars. Not really Trekkies or Jediists, we both came of age during the early days of Star Trek and the dawning of the original Star Wars. Both franchises have continued to grow and have become cultural markers in their own rights. We have survived all the episodes of Star Wars I through III, and have made it, so far through Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. As we switched off the DVD player, we mused that we hadn’t seen this particular installment (with good reason) since we had originally watched it together shortly after it came out. It has its moments, but it just doesn’t measure up to what Kirk and Spock can usually muster. Watching it as a somewhat jaded critic of space movies, however, its religious elements simply couldn’t be ignored. After all, this is the episode where they find God, then shoot him in the face.

Opening with Sybok, the emotional Vulcan messiah, with a tacked-on identity as Spock’s brother, healing his first convert, the movie follows a typical kind of progression of a boy and his god. The town on Nimbus III (every Trinity watcher surely caught that reference) is named Paradise. Some wag painted the Miltonesque “Lost” after the town name on the gate through which Sybok rides like Jesus entering Jerusalem. Hijacking the Enterprise turns out to be remarkably easy, even with Spock, Bones, Uhura, Sulu, and Kirk in the shuttlecraft. And soon we’re off to the Great Barrier, which, as it turns out, is just a bunch of colored lights.

When God appears, he takes the shape of a typical Terran, white beard and everything. When Sybok questions him he briefly turns Vulcan, but we get the sense that God is whoever you want him to be. He is definitely masculine, and he has anger issues. His Eden is a barren rock, and he feels trapped and requires a starship to get about. We are forced to conclude that this is no deity after all and life is but a dream.

Despite its many disappointments, Star Trek V is a theologically aware movie. Its conclusion of science trumping the need for the divine leaves us with three old men around a campfire waiting to die. A trinity in its own right, but one where the only hymn to be mustered is “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” And God lies dead at the center of the galaxy.

Star_Trek_V_The_Final_Frontier

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

Star Trek Paradise

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Trekkie. I did watch the reruns of the original series after school on our black-and-white television, but I have never owned “Spock ears” nor does my cell phone look like a communicator. To the best of my recollection, I haven’t even seen all the episodes. I’ve mentioned before that some generous in-laws purchased the first season of the series for a gift last year. Since then my wife (a convenient excuse) has been interested in watching the remaining two seasons. We found a reasonably priced second season set and have been working our way through over the weekends of the summer.

Paradise-busters?

This weekend we watched the episode entitled “The Apple.” Even a fair-weather Star Trek watcher such as myself can’t help but notice that the series as a whole is biblically literate. Biblically literate, however, only in a popularist way. This became clear once again in “The Apple.” Stranded on a planet modeled after a troubled Garden of Eden, Captain Kirk and his landing party soon must destroy a serpentine “god” that keeps the luau-ready inhabitants in a state of perpetual ignorance. Diametrically opposed to Eden where it is the serpent who tempts with knowledge, this is a serpent that tempts with ignorance. Long, pleasant life without intellectual development and the “god” receives daily sacrifices. A world of status quo.

Back on the Enterprise, Kirk points out that the only one on the ship that bears resemblance to the Devil is, by implication, Spock. This is where the popularist interpretation grates most heavily. The Genesis version of Eden has no Devil, no Satan in it. Only a much later, revisionist re-reading, (certainly post-Zoroastrian) equates the snake with Satan. Genesis does not condemn the acquisition of knowledge. It comes with pain, true, but that is simply the way life is. Perhaps it would be easier for us all if some great Kirk might vanquish the inhibiting serpents of our apotheosis, but that’s simply not the way life works. In this instance, the Bible trumps Star Trek.