Friday, February 29, 2008

Television: These Are the Voyages...

Secular Humanism seems to be declining as a religious view, but its philosophy (and decline) was clearly presented in the various incarnations of Star Trek.
In the late 60s, Star trek presented a Utopian Future. Its creator Gene Roddenberry, a committed Secular Humanist, believed that society would eventually reach a state where poverty, hunger, and war would become obsolete. The show is somewhat unique in that the characters, operating for years in close contact on a starship, almost never experienced conflict. When they did it was always due to some alien external influence.
In contrast to the earlier Doctor Who with its battles against true evil, and the later Star Wars with its dualist view of reality, Star Trek is interesting in its total lack of a real evil. Most shows involve the solving of some alien puzzle with the discovery of some new perspective that causes the crew to grow in knowledge. When they do encounter a situation requiring a fight, it is not an evil enemy they meet, just one that refuses to get along.
The show panders to traditional religion at times (“Bread and Circuses”), but more often it subtly attacked traditional religion. (See especially “The Apple,” “Who Mourns for Adonais?” and “Who Watches the Watchers?”) It usually took the view that religion is simply a primitive misinterpretation of empirical data.

As America’s landscape changed in the 80s and 90s, spiritual aspects of the alien cultures emerged. However, religion remained an exclusively private aspect of the characters lives. It wasn’t until after Roddenberry’s death, that the show took a more religious perspective on things. It seemed a more realistic view of a society formed with such a variety of cultures is that religion would persist and in fact contribute to conflict. In the spin-off “Deep Space Nine” in particular, religion became very real and very central to the story.

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