On this day in 1991, Gene Roddenberry passed away. I didn’t even realize that when I talked about Star Trek today in my class on religion and science fiction. Roddenberry’s own life story is fascinating, and the Star Trek phenomenon that he created is something to marvel at. Today’s theme in class was “ancient aliens” and so we looked at clips from “Who Mourns for Adonais?”, “Bread and Circuses,” and (from The Next Generation) “Who Watches the Watchers?” It is interesting that so many stories on Star Trek and other science fiction shows explore the scenario that advanced aliens are mistaken for gods and advanced technology for magic or miracle. It allows the exploration of longstanding traditions of storytelling to continue in the framework of our modern scientific worldview. But it also allows the gods to be challenged, rejected, taken on, beaten, and brought down to size. And so if, on one level, doing that posits that such beings as Apollo really exist, on another it allows human beings to outgrow them and treat them as beings like us, and not infallible sources of truth worthy of worship. All of us who explore religious topics and/or science fiction in the present day owe Gene Roddenberry a debt of gratitude.
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