Sci-Fi and Spirituality – Interspectional
What do you do when you have a crisis of faith or you’ve lost hope? This is the question that most of the new Trek series ask of their characters and of the audience in their series premieres. In Discovery, Michael’s faith in herself and her future have been shattered. She’s gone from being the golden child, molded for command into a mutineer; scorned, rejected and dealing with the fact that she has to rebuild her trust in herself and her reputation as a whole. In Picard, we see Jean-Luc Picard after he has lost faith in Starfleet and the Federation. He feels that they have turned their back on their ideals and doesn’t know how to fight for ideals that no one seems to be believe in anymore. Even in Prodigy, we see children who have been told time and time again, that there is no reason to hope for something more than what they have. They are abandoned and forgotten, according to their everyday reality. In the series premiere, we literally see Dal reach for the stars, just to have his hopes dashed away.
Now in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, we have Captain Pike, literally running from his future, trying to figure out how to have hope when your fate has already been written… and you’re terrified of it. In Pike’s character, you have one version an ideal leader, a man of unshakable integrity and a sense of humor, and yet when we meet him, he’s trying to run his future by hiding in the past.
When it comes to the mission of Star Trek as a storytelling legacy, it is a story ultimately about hope. The original series theorized on a time where an American, a Scotsman, a Russian, a Japanese man, an East African woman and a being from a different world could work, learn and affect positive change in the galaxy together. It’s important to remember that in September 1966, when the show premiered, a crew such as the one on the Enterprise was utterly radical. In 1966, the United States of America was still deep into what we should probably call the 1st Cold War with the Soviet Union and almost everyone in the cast and crew would have come into adulthood during World War 2 and the nuclear arms race that followed. President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 was still a recent and raw memory as well as Malcolm X’s assassination in 1965. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had just passed to both great joy and to great backlash as tends to happen with civil and human rights gains. The Vietnam War was in its 11th year with no signs of stopping anytime soon. And Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., facing violence and opposition that he would later say was worse than what he had faced in the south, had been hit by a heavy rock in Chicago while leading a protest against housing discrimination the month before Star Trek’s premiere.
This was the world that Star Trek was birthed into. It was against this historical backdrop that Star Trek dared to tell stories about coming together despite racial and ethnic differences, challenging and growing past a history of violence and the power of communication, connection and empathy. Now Star Trek is not a perfect series by any means. As hard as it tries (and succeeds) at being forward thinking, it is also a product of its time and subject to the imaginative limitations of its creators. But the ambition to hope and strive for something better than what was… than what is, is a fundamental building block of what has helped Star Trek maintain its relevance for over 50 years.
In the Interspectional episode linked to the top of this post, “Sci-Fi and Spirituality”, Episcopal priest, Reverend Rachel Kessler, podcast host of “The Sacred Now”, Jay Jackson and I talk at length about Star Trek and other sci-fi properties as they relate to faith. Ultimately, one of the conclusions that we come to is that one of the things that we love about science fiction is its ability to help us imagine a more positive future or at the very least, give us a vision of how to hold on to a sliver of hope even when things seem the darkest. These are lessons that Star Trek teaches us again and again. In the Strange New Worlds premiere, this lesson is taught in a new way. The premiere asks the question: When your fate has been written as Captain Pike’s has, when you can see your own destruction barreling toward you, how do you have hope and faith for the future?
With the Supreme Court opinion leak and the epic rollback of civil rights protections that could come down following an overturn of Roe v. Wade, the question posed by the premiere episode of this series seem oddly prescient, especially when you consider the fact that the episode was written over three years ago. How did they know that we might need this kind of story? One that reminds us that the utopic future of Star Trek was birthed out of pain and suffering. One that doesn’t skip over the hard parts and reminds us that we have to work for the future that we want and that it won’t come easy. People forget that World War III, nuclear fallout and the destruction of 30% of Earth’s population was established in Star Trek’s canon decades ago. It is the history of the future. It is the destruction that we see coming our way, a darkness that might have seemed inevitable from where Gene Rodenberry was standing in the 1960’s. But even in that, there is a sliver of hope that is worth holding on to. There are lives that you will affect and change in the meantime. There are children whose lives you save and whose future will be brighter because you kept fighting even though it felt like end.
The lesson that we learn by the end of series premiere is that it’s not about believing that you won’t die or hoping against hope that destruction isn’t possible; it’s about believing that while you are here, you can make a difference. You can make a change and that your influence can last far longer than the thing that scares you. It’s about accepting death and defeat as a possibility and leading with integrity and vision anyway. It’s The Kobayashi Maru and realizing that the fight matters, even if it doesn’t end in an easy victory. It’s another chapter in the sometimes complicated story of hope.