Catholic and Christian Themes in Star Trek?

What do you think?

Every Christian Star Trek fan recalls Stardate 4041.7. That was the day that I realised that, with very few exceptions, Star Trek is consistently the most pro-Christian and pro-Catholic show in American television history.

The quintessential science fiction television programme by which all others are judged has had a number of permutations over the past 40 years: The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Voyager and, most recently, Enterprise. In addition, there have been 10 films that have sent the heroic Enterprise into space to “explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilisations, to boldly go where no man has gone before”. Gene Roddenberry’s creation has become a cornerstone of popular culture and has helped to popularise and develop the science fiction genre.

In “Bread and Circuses”, the episode that took place in Stardate 4041.7 (AD 2268 for planet-bound humans), Captain James Tiberius Kirk, valiant captain of the good ship Enterprise, in the midst of their five-year mission, came across planet 892-IV, a draconian 20th-century version of the Roman Empire, complete with gladiators, senators and nefarious politics. The empire sponsors state executions of renegade slaves who practice a pacifistic religion of “total love and total brotherhood”. Sound familiar?

The twist is that the slaves imprisoned for practising the religion of their choice are sun worshippers. As Mr Spock, the ship’s Science Officer and Captain Kirk’s logical foil, points out: “It seems illogical for a sun worshipper to develop a philosophy of total brotherhood. Sun worship is usually a primitive, superstitious religion.”

And then the fateful and faith-filled moment memorialised in the hearts of all Christian Trekkers, Lt Uhura pipes up from her communications console to correct her superior officers: “I’m afraid you have it all wrong, all of you,” she says. “I’ve been monitoring some of their old-style radio waves, the empire spokesman trying to ridicule their religion, but he couldn’t. Well, don’t you understand? It’s not the sun up in the sky. It’s the Son of God.”

Read the rest, here.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Steve Petrica

    I’ve been a Trek fan for a long time, but I’m not sure I buy the thesis that “Star Trek is consistently the most pro-Christian and pro-Catholic show in American television history.”

    “Bread and Circuses” was conspicuous precisely because it was so sympathetic to Christianity. Voyager and DS9, OTOH, had extensive Jungian subtexts that were substantially more congenial to semi-mystical woo-woo than to Christianity.

  • Adam Frey

    Also color me skeptical, although it’s been years since I’ve seen an Original Series episodes. I mostly recall two types of Star Trek episodes: the ones where they fight something cool (Romulans, Klingons, a bearded Spock, or a giant killer ice-cream cone) or the ones where they fight something ridiculous (Nazis, gangsters, or Abraham Lincoln. These things all happened.)
    I think TNG has some episodes that could be considerd consistent with Catholic teaching. One that comes to mind involved Klingon officer Worf’s spine being broken, and he wanted to commit ritual suicide and had to be talked out of it. Meanwhile, an unscrupulous doctor wanted to give him experimental spine-replacing surgery, but only as a means of experimenting on him. The episode was ripe with bioethical and human (Klingon) life issues.
    On the other hand, some episodes were astonishingly non-Catholic. The one that I remember best was Riker meeting a…well, “woman” from an alien race that only had one gender, but she identified herself as female and was casigated (and eventually brainwashed) by her society. It was an interesting twist on the homosexuality issue–how would you like it if heterosexuals faced discrimination?–but not really a positive one for traditionalists who believe God created the two sexes for a reason. I also remember another episode in which a bunch of aliens posed as a messianic figure for a planet, and Picard had to disprove that the figure was real. It was one of those episodes suggesting that all faith in religion is blind, or something.
    If I had to go back and review every episode, I’d guess that TNG leaned heavily left, while DS9 probably leaned a little more to the right. TNG was probably “right” based on the era it was in, but I mostly recall a lot of swaggering and punching of Klingons and Nazis. Voyager and Enterprise were just steaming hot messes, so let’s not even go there.

  • Manny

    I am definitely skeptical. I’ve probably watched all those episodes many years ago, and I would say there are noble values that are projected. But other than that episode I can’t think of anything particularly Christian. The other examples offered in the article aren’t really much, and the moral examples of “cloning” and the like are reflective of a cultural consensus, especially that of decades ago. They are not particularly Christian.

  • Adam Frey

    I took another look at Uhura’s comments after looking up the episode on the Star Trek wiki. (There’s a wiki for everything.) I’m taking the context not to mean that the aliens worshipped Jesus Christ, but that a historic parallel to Jesus arose on this planet. (In other words, the planet may also end up having a French revolution, an Abraham Lincoln, etc.) I think Kirk and company are amused by the “history repeats” phenomenon rather than acknowledging the reality of Christ.

  • vox borealis

    Most Christian/Catholic American TV show? Well, the bar is pretty low, but I would have to disagree, and this comes from a life-long lover of TOS. OK, we can cherry pick “Bread and Circuses” which has an obvious Christian message…or does it? Obviously the show was playing with *history,* since in this alternate reality the Roman Empire was able to defeat what the writers thought was its greatest enemy, Christianity. So naturally the resistance in this society would be Christian. But let’s cherry pick another episode: what about the Mark of Gideon, where Kirk openly promotes birth control and population control (or as openly as one could in 1968)? Or “Who Mourns for Adonais,” where the crew not only proves that the gods of old were really just powerful aliens, they pint out to said alien that humans have “grown up” and no longer need the gods? Where any supernatural event (there are only a few episodes) is shown to be the product of technology, used to control mindless races of aliens. Invariably the “natives” are freed when their gods (who are really machines) are destroyed and their old ways abandoned.

    Now it must be admitted that in “Balance of Terror,” Angela Martine is seen genuflecting in front of the nondescript altar in the ship’s nondescript chapel before her soon to be interrupted marriage ceremony to Robert Tomlinson. Given her name and the symbolism, surely the audience was supposed to figure she was Catholic. But it’s clear that Tomlinson is not and, moreover, this is just about the only overt reference to historical religion in the entire series.

    If anything, I would say that Star Trek TOS is, rather, consistently in line with 1950s-1960s moderately progressive western triumphalism. It supports the church of the United Nations more than Christianity, let alone specifically Catholicism. That said, it is not surprising given when it was produced that a basic Judeo-Christian world view is reflected in stories.

  • potkas7

    Funny, last night I was watching a re-run of Star Trek Enterprise – the episode Communications Officer, Ensign Hoshi Sato’s first experience with the “Transporter.” She becomes convinced that her molecules were scrambled and, in the end, she’s right. She was stuck in the ‘buffer” for a few seconds and in that time had a series of realistic experiences…sort of like a dream. But, since her brain had not yet reintegrated, the necessary implication is that the “Mind” having the experiences and the Brain are not equivalent… They’re separate…Of different substances. Cartesian Dualism? It sure seems so. And is that not also the Catholic position?

  • shawn feller

    What a stupid post…are you really a Trek fan? Anyone knows that Gene was a humanist and/or agnostic. He had no interest in supporting any religions view…actually the opposite. He was interested in using “history” to outline his stories in a context that most “average” people could connect with content. How does one episode make the series for you? Especially when all the Trek series focus on a secular and minimized theistic content and view. Boy you jesus peeps sure like the connect the dots…the old theory of have a conclusion and find data to support holds here, if not very weak!

  • MeanLizzie

    Wow, does Disqus bring rude people around? Understand perfectly well that he was agnostic. Doesn’t change the fact that these episodes discussed have religious themes. Sorry if that offends you. It is what it is.

  • Raphael Ordonez

    I’m a classic Star Trek fan and I don’t really agree with the author’s conclusions. I recently watched the Bread and Circuses episode and found the references to Christianity a little bit embarrassing. The most you could say is that this other planet has a parallel history (as so many in Star Trek do) and that some random guy—a great moral teacher, no doubt—is fulfilling the perceived role that Christ did in ours. To Catholics, of course, Christ isn’t just a random guy. He’s not just the Son of God, but God the Son.

    The milieu of The Next Generation reminds me more of John Lennon’s “Imagine” than anything else. I never watched Voyager because it was stupid and awful. That said, I did and do like the end of Star Trek V, where Captain Kirk showed that he has a good practical grasp of the difference between powerful, incorporeal alien minds and the transcendent God.

    On another note, I’ve always wondered if bread gotten out a Star Trek replicator could be used in the Mass. I suspect not, and the reason underscores the Catholic metaphysical position on substances. But the Star Trek position would be that there is no difference between “fruit of the earth and work of human hands” and something with a similar molecular structure produced by a machine. Similarly, in Star Trek, the human person is no more than the aggregate of his constituent particles. That’s the message sent by “beaming.”