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Our entire ReadTheSpirit project depends on readers like shaping our coverage—like today’s thoughts on Star Trek. Then, this Monday in our Planner newsletter, we’ll be sending out even more updates from our readers about cool spiritual connections in other non-Trek books, web sites and videos. (If you’d like to receive our emailed Planner, by the way, it’s free and contains no ads—just Email us and say “subscribe.”)
FIRST, A RECAP …
ON THE ACTION THUS FAR
WE’VE BEEN TELLING YOU that Star Trek is The Spiritual Buzz of the weekend. Swine Flu dropped off the high anxiety charts mid week. (Take a look at the discussion over at OurValues on the Swine Flu “arc” this week.)
ON MONDAY, we published an overview of sci-fi-spiritual connections with Star Trek.
Then, ON WEDNESDAY, we added a Conversation With Gabriel Mckee, a leading authority on the spirituality of science fiction.
AND, because the release of Star Trek was a strangely staggered affair nationwide, some formal reviews leaked out early, like one by GQ Magazine lauding the movie. In part, GQ wrote: JJ Abrams is fast shaping up to be the Steven Spielberg of the Noughties. Responsible for a consistently reliable output of emotionally complex, multilayered and above all shamelessly entertaining fare, the creator of high-concept TV shows Alias, Lost and Fringe and the director of Cloverfield and MI:3, Abrams is delighting the masses in a way that Spielberg hasn’t managed since Bill Clinton was in power.
Spiritually themed film critic Ed McNulty also contributed to that first wave of reviews. (Here’s a piece Ed wrote for us last year that remains popular with readers.) On Star Trek, Ed wrote in part:
I was impressed by the new Star Trek, as was the overflow audience at the screening. The casting director did a great job in selecting young actors who looked and acted like the characters we have come to love.
The movie begins with a bang (in a gripping story about Capt. Kirk’s own father).
There is the usual scientific gobbledygook necessary for this genre—including the beginning of what will become the beloved phrase “Beam me up, Scotty,” wonderful special effects, and best of all, the beginning of the relationships that have always been at the heart of the series. A special crowd pleaser was the appearance of Leonard Nimoy as Spock at the ripe age of 129 Earth years. Director J.J. Abrams and his crew have honored the original, producing what should be a box office winner.
AND THEN …
HOW DO WE PREACH/TEACH ABOUT STAR TREK?
WELL, MAYBE NOT LIKE THIS …
THANKS to the Rev. Daniel Buttry, author of “Interfaith Heroes” (volumes 1 and 2), who shared this story from his earlier parish-based ministry:
over the years, so for my birthday my mother-in-law bought me a Star Trek alarm
clock she’d found at a yard sale. It was a model of the Starship
Enterprise, and when the alarm went off it went “Woooooloooop, beam us up,
Scottie!” As a local pastor I thought I’d get a children’s message out of
it. I was preaching on God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to us, so to the
children I talked about people who love us giving us gifts. I showed off
the alarm clock and set it off a couple times for them. God gives us
gifts, too, out of love. Nice set-up for the sermon.
key moments, a pregnant pause to let the intensity build and the Spirit speak to
us. In that pause we suddenly all hear “Woooooloooop, beam us up,
Scottie!” I’d left the alarm on snooze! Needless to say, everyone
was wide awake and alert for that part of the sermon. It was one of
the most memorable messages I ever preached, though nobody remembered a word I
THANK YOU TONY JONES
FOR TAKING US EVEN DEEPER …
AUTHOR and expert on emerging forms of congregational life—Tony Jones—emailed us with a cool link to a more in-depth analysis of spiritual structures within the Star Trek franchise. Check out Tony’s own Web site to learn more about his many forms of ministry.
Tony wrote: A quick heads up. Theologian Stanley Grenz wrote a book that was very
influential on the beginnings of the emergent movement in the 1990s,
called A Primer on Postmodernism. In it, he used an extended
analogy about the original ST and ST-NG to explain the differences
between modernism and postmodernism. I found a nice summary of it.
The piece you’ll find through Tony’s link is great, written by a blogger who calls himself Pennsy (short for Pennsyltuckian). To give you a feel for what you’ll find in that longer piece, Pennsy sets it up this way … He says that Grenz starts by describing the original Star Trek as emblematic of modernism: Captain Kirk’s “Enterprise reflected the modern world that produced it. The ship’s
personnel were nearly all human. Their mission was “to boldly go where
no man has gone before.” The use of the male gender here is not so much
sexist as it is anthropocentric. The universe that Kirk’s starship
explores has humankind at its center. The modern principle that “man is
the measure of all things” reigns in Star Trek. The series emphasized
diversity, but human diversity: explorers of multiple nationalities
whose planetary civilization had advanced enough to enable them to work
together to explore and discover the nature of “the final frontier.”
Then, POST-modernism? Well, Jean Luc Picard’s Next Generation Enterprise “is a very different place that its predecessor. Their new mission—to boldly go where no one
has gone before—is more than a nod to politically correctness. Man—humankind—is no longer the measure of all things on the Enterprise.
The crew’s diversity now includes beings from all over the galaxy.”
Intrigued? Go, read Pennsy’s whole take on Grenz—via Tony’s link. Follow all that? And: Thanks, Tony!
AND EVEN DEEPER …
JOURNALIST TIM MORAN
CHALLENGES THE ACCURACY OF OUR “NONES”
FINALLY, IN RESPONSE TO OUR WEDNESDAY STORY on Star Trek and today’s “Nones,” ReadTheSpirit reader and contributor Tim Moran wrote that we probably went too far in suggesting that Star Trek may have shaped that group of adults who, at the moment, are rejecting religious labels in their search for truth (the so-called “Nones”). For many years, Tim has been a freelance writer for business magazines and he also is a historian. From that background, he argues—the chemistry of Star Trek’s era was more complex than we conveyed in our quick analysis. He wrote:
If anything was setting up “Nones” in the 1960s, I think it was probably the incredible blunder we had just made as a nation in Korea. Remember that the U.S. had come out as the biggest winner following WWII, and that we were discovering a brand-new world for which we were creating brand-new things—Levittown, the shopping mall, the interstates, prosperous organized labor and manufacturing, new technology. All of society’s structures seemed to be working; the ship of state was cruising on a fine course.
Then we ended up in Korea, and all the values we thought we had began to fall away. The Army went from heroic conquerors to hapless, under-equipped losers fleeing down a foreign peninsula. Nevertheless, we rushed into the “go-go” years of industrial conglomerates. The future seemed to belong to clever teams like Ford’s “Whiz Kids”—logistical planners who moved lock, stock and barrel from the Army Air Corps to automotive management. The System was good—be it Democracy, Unions, Proctor & Gamble or Public Schools. The individual was left out in the cold.
No wonder science fiction flourished in the U.S. during this time period! Individuals seeking expression of their doubts and fears could posit a brighter world with a better outcome. They were “early adopters” of doubt about our own national course. So many of the early science fiction novels and novellas, such as Bradbury’s “Martian Chronicles” or Asimov’s works, openly discussed systems out of control and the actions of frontier explorers in bringing society back on course.
Even before the Vietnam debacle reached its peak, society already was in serious disagreement with itself. There was a new generation of young adults who felt disenfranchised and overlooked. Angry about the apparent failure of traditional systems, they rebelled. They elected a young Catholic man as president; they followed his lead in rejecting hats and sending out a new crop of youthful leaders into the world. They actually created a space program. The hopefulness of Star Trek belongs to that time, and that group of people who were crafting things as they went along.
As far as the “Nones” go, I don’t think Star Trek itself is rejectionist; I think it was just one lobe of the many attempts to explore the new possibilities of the time. Today it’s driven as much by a passionate nostalgia for a more-comprehensible world as it is for any amount of personal expression and affiliation. Scratch a dedicated Star Trek fan and you’ll find them bleeding mighty Victorian values. An awful lot of today’s “Nones” in religion would be deeply offended if they were branded as Trekkies.
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(Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)