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Home  >  Features  >  Looking Back: Sermons in Star Trek

Looking Back

Friday September 11 2020

Looking Back: Sermons in Star Trek

In 1970, 30 years before titles like 'The Gospel According to Star Trek' were popular, Ian Cowie wrote:


There are sermons galore in the television series

On the evening of June 15 last, as the BBC were screening a re-run of the dramatic England v West Germany cup-tie, the switchboards were jammed with protest calls.

Astonishingly, even English viewers were complaining that the World Cup was depriving them of their weekly date with Star Trek.

This science-fiction series of space missions among the galaxies numbers among its millions of devotees, university students, professors and housewives, manual workers, ministers, politicians and, of course, children of all ages.

With commendable skill it uses one of the oldest forms of communication: hiding great truths under simple stories.

At two levels

Star Trek is about the crew of a starship, the U.S.S. Enterprise, 200 years from now, captained by Jim Kirk. Second-in-command is Mr. Spock, only half-human, devoid of emotion, seeing everything rationally. The rest of the crew is a careful mixture of colours and races… there is even a crewman called ‘Scotty’!

On the starship is a transporter. Crewmen stand in it, are de-materialised then re-materialised where they are due to be. In one episode Kirk emerged from the transporter as two people.

The ‘lower self’ chased the girls, was cruel, irresponsible and a menace; but it knew fear. On the other hand, the ‘higher self’ would not behave wrongly to anybody; it was rational and fearless. Yet the ‘higher self’ was quite incapable of being the captain of the crew… he could see all the alternatives and was indecisive.

Split personality

This story explores us deeply. It shows us that both sides of us are needed. The animal in us is not bad, and the other side is not really good. Real goodness and badness emerge only as the result of the two sides interacting.

In Romans 8 Paul says: ‘Put to death your lower nature…’ but this is disastrous! Our lower nature needs to be treated like any animal, trained, encouraged and used.

Paul is nearer the truth when he says to the Thessalonian Church: ‘You must learn to gain mastery over your body, and hallow and honour it.’

Our animal self is needed, as Kirk found, and without it we cannot be effective captains of crews, or even ministers of congregations! But if this lower self is in Christ’s hands, and his Spirit is working through us, it will be the wonderful instrument we need for life on this planet.

Blissful state

In another episode Kirk and his crew are sent to a star from which the crew of a previous starship have not returned. They are discovered living a carefree life in a friendly countryside where everything they plant grows without much cultivation. Medical checks show that they are in perfect health.

One of the Enterprise crew is taken to a plant, whose seed pods burst over him. At once he becomes perfectly adapted to this new planet… happy, carefree, healthy.

One by one the rest of the crew are affected, until only Kirk is left. By chance he discovers that something which causes real anger dispels the effects. He is then confronted by the question: “What right have I to make these men and women come out of their blissful, healthy state?”

Eventually he decides that he must win them back and one by one the crew are reclaimed. At last the captain of the ‘lost’ starship comments: “We’ve been here three years, and have achieved nothing. It’s time we got back down to work.”

We often talk as if God should have made the world like that other planet, as if it should not be possible for us to ‘eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil’.

Yet in a world of no effort, where nobody needs help, and pain is unknown, man would not develop the qualities of soul he most values.

Dawn of an idea

Now we have an idea beginning to dawn, of a universe with many dimensions and wavelengths, with ‘beings’ possible existing on other leves, as well as out in space. The whole relationship of consciousness and matter is opening up in a new way, and many of the stories explore what might be possible on this new understanding.

It may be that programmes of this kind are beckoning us on to discover ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ with hidden dangers and glories beyond our dreams.

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