I was raised on Star Trek. This is not hyperbole. Some of my most treasured memories are sitting with my mother watching episode after episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The crew of the Starship Enterprise feel like extended family to me, their stories parables which have indelibly marked my moral outlook. The ethical discourse Star Trek presents – discussion about what it means to be human, how to be good in a strange and hostile universe, where to find grace and hope when confronted with moral complexity – led me to my current career, as a Humanist clergy person.
This is by design: Star Trek is Humanist scripture. It was conceived and written by Humanist Gene Roddenberry as a vehicle for the ethical edification of our species, its starships vessels for our hopes and dreams. Their names alone make this clear: Enterprise, Voyager, and now Discovery. Gene Roddenberry believed in people. He believed in our potential – despite our divisions and our baser instincts – to be better than we are today, to boldly build a better world. Star Trek was the means he used to convey his vision. Just as religious leaders throughout history use narrative to convey their teachings, Roddenberry couched his moral vision in the language of science fiction, disguising radical social teachings under the imaginary cloaking device of aliens and future technology.
But the teachings were very real, and they are vital. Star Trek say we never fire first, but seek first to understand. Star Trek says that learning is a higher good than acquisition. Star Trek says that skepticism is a virtue, and that we should not trust in faith alone. Star Trek lauds evidence and reason – while appreciating the vital role of our emotions. Star Trek says we can cooperate across radical lines of difference, and that peace is always possible. Star Trek exalts diplomacy above warfare; intellect above ignorance; the open mind above the closed. Star Trek says no to rigid borders and boundaries, offering an expansive view of our species and our capabilities. Star Trek says “We can, if we work together.”
On the strength of the first two episodes, Star Trek: Discovery understands the Humanist heart of Star Trek. Without divulging spoilers, Discovery deals intelligently and openly with the moral challenge of encountering aggressive adversaries; it explores what it means to stay true to one’s values in times of extreme stress; it plants an uncompromising ethical flag, stating unflinchingly what Starfleet stands for; it examines what it means to be an outsider to mainstream culture; it even includes a delightful contest of logic between a crewperson and the ethical subroutines of a computer. And on top of all this, it was captivating television. Exciting, funny, and genuinely surprising – it felt like an excellent movie, the best Star Trek film in years (let’s not mention the abominable new timeline).
Has there ever been a more pressing time for Star Trek’s vision to return to television?
Now, more than ever, we need Star Trek‘s ideal of a hopeful future, in which people – despite our differences – work together for a brighter future. Star Trek: Discovery is more than a television show: it is a parable, a scripture, a cry of yearning from the Humanist soul. Star Trek‘s return to the screen comes at a time when all of Roddenberry’s cherished Humanist values are under threat, and it looks increasingly likely that we may annihilate ourselves through warfare or ecological devastation. We need stories right now, stories which give us something to hope for, something to fight for. “Resist!” is a powerful slogan, but it’s not an end-goal. Star Trek provides an end-goal. It may be campy, and twee, and unrealistic, but it’s something to hope for. We need that now.
Welcome back, Star Trek. Live long, and prosper.
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