My first recollection of Star Trek wasn’t its philosophy or its depiction of a positive future of heroes and adventure. It was being frightened at the image of Balok in “The Corbomite Maneuver”. I was only six or seven years old after all.
Despite that I was an avid fan of the show since it first aired I have seen every episode of the original series too many times to count. But as I grew up I began to be just as much a critic of the show as a fan. Sure it was great entertainment, projecting a positive sense of life into our homes on an almost daily basis (once it was syndicated) but it was also full of contradictions. It is, after all a TV show and the writers are just that, writers, not philosophers or great intellectuals, but writers for television with the goal to entertain and sell a script. There are bound to be inconsistencies and contradictions.
Some of more glaring contradictions involved the show’s treatment of deities in such an advanced society.
God and religion featured prominently in many episodes of the Star Trek canon. The second pilot to the series, “Where No Man Has Gone Before” had crewman Gary Mitchell develop the powers of a God only to be killed by Captain Kirk. In “The Paradise Syndrome”, Kirk himself fancied himself a God (Kirok) when he lost his memory among a tribe of North American Indians. In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine the Bajoran’s have their Prophets with Captain Sysko as their Emissary. The Jem’Hadar and the Vorta regard the Founders as Gods. In Star Trek: The Next Generation the Edo of Rubicun III worshipped an orbiting lifeform as their god. The Klingons killed their Gods as they were “more trouble than they were worth.” The Starship Voyager was considered a god called the “ground shaker” to Kelemane who offered it fruit in the hope that the “God” would stop shaking the ground.
In the original series episode “Bread and Circuses”, the crew find themselves on a world identical to earth where Rome never fell. Some of the inhabitants describe themselves as Sun worshipers and we are led to believe that they are actually deifying the sun in the sky. As the show ends, though, Uhura lets the Captain know that it wasn’t the sun up in the sky that they worshipped but the son of God. “A philosophy of total love and total brotherhood” says Dr. McCoy. Well I don’t know where he got that notion but if you ask me which one I would I rather worship, the sun in the sky or the Abrahamic God in whose names millions have been killed and tortured to this day, I’ll take the sun in the sky please.
The crew of the Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation would more objectively and correctly consider primitive alien cultures who worshipped deities as just that, primitive. This was a refreshing treatment of the supernatural which most likely arose with the easing of sponsor censorship and a liberalization of our society’s approach to religion.
If anything, these little morality plays certainly would make a person reconsider their notion of the God concept and I believe that Star Trek is probably responsible for a great percentage of atheists in the world; if not atheists then certainly a great number of skeptics and free thinkers. This is a remarkable accomplishment.
If only the writers had a better grasp of Capitalism. Their first attempt to portray what they regarded as a race of pure capitalists was the Ferengi, an ugly goblin-like, squat race of deceiving, conniving, untrustworthy con-artists who brandished whips and kept their woman naked and at home. Around the same time we had Captain Picard declare that
“People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of ‘things’. We have eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions. “
From what I saw, Picard possessed a lot of ‘things’ from the clothes on his back to a saddle, to a star ship. Apparently, everyone in the 24th century is on the dole.
Once again Star Trek contradicts itself in DS9 when we see that the Federation actually used a system of ‘credits’ or gold-pressed latinum to trade with.
I may be nit-picking, but sometimes when a great show like Star Trek comes along you expect perfection and forget that thousands of different people from all kinds of philosophies and backgrounds came together over the last 40 odd years to create this epic. It could never be perfectly consistent.
Some of the things you might think we would all agree on I have my doubts about. What about the Borg? Nasty, right? Who would want to be a Borg? Well really if you think about it the only thing about the Borg which was frightening was the lack of choice when it came to being assimilated (no trifling item to be sure). But I was thinking the other day (when I went and bought a bluetooth earpiece for my cell phone so as not to run afoul of the new law banning hand held devices while driving) that we, as a culture, appear to be getting closer and closer to the technology of the Borg. We were glasses to improve our vision; we have headphones to talk to almost anyone in the world at any time; we have prosthetic limbs, cochlear implants, artificial hearts, and the Kindle and iPad which allow us to carry a good chunk of the total knowledge of our species in our pockets. In many cases, at least with the bluetooth earpiece while driving, resistance is futile.
Here is another little contradiction in Star Trek. In the episode called “The Savage Curtain” Abraham Lincoln calls Uhura a charming Negress but is ashamed when he realizes that he might have offended her. She replies that people in her time have learned not to fear words, and yet Captain Picard gets a dagger through his heart in the episode “Tapestry” when he takes on a Nausican for calling him a coward. Didn’t he watch the original series before he joined Star Fleet?
I could go on. I haven’t even mentioned “Spock’s Brain”.
All in all there have been 726 episodes of Star Trek (if you include the animated series) over 30 seasons. There have been 11 feature films (If you include Star Trek V which I would really rather forget). If you sat down and watched everything Star Trek from “The Cage” to the latest film, 24/7, and didn’t take a bathroom break (remember there are no toilets on the Enterprise) you would spend over 30 days glued to the tube. Anybody who has seen all the episodes at least once is going to be altered by what they have seen; some for the better, those who are comforted by the show’s acceptance of atheism, and some of for the worse, those who believe the show’s definition of capitalism. It is no doubt great entertainment but we should view it critically and in the immortal words of William Shatner we should “Get a life.”
(Originally aired on Just Right #129, November 19, 2009)