Note: Contains spoilers and has become more of a reflection than a review* …
Faith & Geekery claims Star Trek Will Rock the Summer. Yes, Star Trek features superb action, casting, soundtrack, and special effects. As a fan who only reached the theater on Monday (to distinguish myself from Trekkies who went to the early screening in uniform/costume on Thursday night), Star Trek not only fit in the 43 year history well enough, but also created the foundation for a future series which will boldly go where it hasn’t quite gone before.
With that on the table, I must confess that I spent much of the film reflecting upon how followers of Christ in the academic community should respond to Star Trek‘s portrayal of reality, courage, emotion, integrity, intellect, love, mentoring, and what is right. Why? Because J.J. Abrams set the destiny shaping, coming of age story of the crew of the Starship Enterprise (largely focused upon Spock and James T. Kirk) in the context of Kirk’s rise to Captain before early graduation from Starfleet Academy. Kirk was so much the right stuff that he received special recognition for his heroic emergency field service and completely avoided the traditional fast track to Captain as described by Captain Christopher Pike earlier in the film, i.e., four years at Starfleet Academy followed by four years in the field.
1. With regard to Star Trek‘s portrayal of reality, I find it hard to avoid the age old question of what is the science of Star Trek? ** On this topic, even Roger Ebert has a word or 2 for the director J.J. Abrams. Since the art of storytelling involves sharing a convincing story, what does one do with black holes as a portal for space time travel depositing crafts unharmed at different times? Or how about the opportunity for one character to discuss future direction with his future self from a now alternate time line (should we call it a parallel universe)? As I have not received academic training in this area, I see this as an opportunity to learn more about God’s creation. Any scientists or philosophers have some bit sized educational tidbits/links on black holes, time travel, and/or life co-existing across parallel universes?
2. But good storytelling holds together and calls us to suspend disbelief. Let’s say I embrace the science of Star Trek. Do we find ourselves left with a space soap opera (Roger Ebert)? The NY Times review (A Franchise Goes Boldly Backward) declares
“Star Trek,” the latest spinoff from the influential television show, isn’t just a pleasurable rethink of your geek uncle’s favorite science-fiction series. It’s also a testament to television’s power as mythmaker, as a source for some of the fundamental stories we tell about ourselves, who we are and where we came from. … the spirit of adventure and embrace of rationality that define the show are in full swing, as are the chicks in minis and kicky boots.
Yes, the overwhelming spirit of adventure keeps one engaged throughout much of the film. But where is the embrace of rationality? Spock’s younger self receives this counsel from his future self (from a now alternate time line),
Do yourself a favor. Put aside logic and do what is right.
Yes, the Spock of the original series could loosen up a little bit and take emotions more into consideration, but are we called to affirm all of the new Spock’s emotional outbursts as right? Are there logical decisions which the older Spock regrets, wishing he chose what was right? Surely the new Spock could have used a little more logic and self-control when responding to taunts as a child, when approached physically by his student Uhura, and when he compromised command in the face of Kirk’s ridicule. I find it quite disturbing that this last act was encouraged by Spock’s future self in order to form the proper/right relationship on the bridge (and to help his younger self do what was right?). Are we to understand Kirk’s lifelong passionate expressions of emotion as always right (or leading to helpful outcomes), no matter their impact upon others?
I think that it’s the retaining of Star Trek‘s set, characters, and gadgets without the high humanistic moral ground which gives the Onion’s satire so much stickiness. Deep down our culture has nod, nod, wink, wink confessed that humanism is all about the winner making the myth and determining what’s right. Furthermore much of what we have come to embrace as right, even in Christian circles, stems from what feels right at the time. So what’s wrong with cheating on a final exam in order to graduate, sneaking on board when suspension is pending in order to help the cause, or helping someone’s older self trick their younger self into an inappropriate display of emotion which compromises their ability to lead in order to restore relationships to their proper place(!)? Are these the type of things which distinguish top students at the Academy, even potentially leading to their recognition? Does the younger generation not require mentoring, except for a few challenges at destiny-shaping moments to embrace themselves, because they’re in touch with their emotions instead of their rationality (like previous generations) … making them always right?
3. Spock’s future self shares this counsel with his new, younger self,
You will always be a child of two worlds, and fully capable of determining your own destiny. The question you face is, which path will you choose? This is something only you can decide.
As Christ-followers, we too are children of two world/kingdoms and must make daily decisions regarding our path. But God is God and we are to responsibly live in submission to His Kingdom alone, not one of our own making. I’m not calling us to embrace logic over feeling. But instead, I’m urging us to recognize that when we are encouraged to do what feels right at the bar, on the bridge, during the final exam/special project, in the elevator, in our classmate’s apartment, when we reflect upon our past/future, we must submit to the rule and reign of Christ alone. That’s how we journey through the Academy in the proper manner. These are the voyages of the Emerging Scholars Network …***
*Note: Check out Movies: stories of a postmodern generation for some pointers on watching movies. Recommended review: Sydney Anglicans.
**For example visit the homepage of Lawrence M. Krauss, author of a number of books including The Physics of Star Trek.
***These pieces may be of interest to you: Christianity needs to be unfashionable on campus, The Community of Scholars, Part One, The Community of Scholars, Part Two
About the author:
Tom enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa and their four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he teaches adult electives and co-leads a small group), among healthcare professionals as the Northeast Regional Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), and in higher ed as a volunteer with the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). For a number of years, the Christian Medical Society / CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine was the hub of his ministry with CMDA. Note: Tom served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA for 20+ years, including 6+ years as the Associate Director of ESN. He has written for the ESN blog from its launch in August 2008. He has studied Biology (B.S.), Higher Education (M.A.), Spiritual Direction (Certificate), Spiritual Formation (M.A.R.), Ministry to Emerging Generations (D.Min.). To God be the glory!