The real Star Trek theology:
Gene Roddenberry's pantheism.
Are you a pantheist? Find out now at Scientific Pantheism.
I think God is as much a basic ingredient in the universe as neutrons and positrons. This is the prime force, when we look around the universe.
The starship Excelsior
Gene Roddenberry, the legendary creator of Star Trek, was born in El Paso, Texas, in 1921. He studied law, then switched to aeronautical engineering and trained as a pilot. In 1941 he volunteered for the US Army Air Corps, and won medals for bombing missions from Guadalcanal. After the war he became a pilot for Pan Am. After seeing television for the first time, he decided to become a TV writer, but when he found no openings, he joined the Los Angeles Police Department and rose to sergeant. He wrote TV scripts in his spare time, then went freelance.
He was the chief writer for several TV series before launching Star Trek in 1966.
Roddenberry became anti-religious at an early age. As a youth he attended Baptist church, but it was not till he was sixteen that he began to pay any real attention to what the sermons were saying:
I remember complete astonishment because what they were talking about were things that were just crazy. It was Communion time where you eat this wafer and you are eating the body of Christ and drinking His blood. My first impression was "Jesus Christ, this is a bunch of cannibals they've put me down among … I guess from that time it was clear to me that religion as largely nonsense, was largely magical, superstitious things. [Alexander pp 36- 37.]
Roddenberry might not have accepted the label pantheist readily. He thought of himself as a humanist. In 1986 joined the American Humanist Association, and in 1991 he was awarded the AHA's Humanist Arts Award.
Certainly Star Trek shows no signs of pantheism. The religious message Roddenberry puts across in the series is a humanist one. It is almost always critical of alien religions, which are usually disguised Earth faiths.
In Who mourns for Adonais, the Enterprise picks up signals of an unknown life form near the planet Pollux IV of Beta Geminorum system. This turns out to be the God Apollo - a man-shaped entity with an extra organ in his chest, through which he could channel extraordinary energies. After retiring here from Earth, Apollo missed the adoration he had from the Greeks. He tries to force the Enterprise crew to worship him as a God. When they refuse, he dissolves himself into the wind.
The film Star Trek: Final Frontier tackles a similar theme. In revolt against Vulcan rationalism, Spock's brother Sybok hijacks the Enterprise and heads for the planet Sha Ka Ree near the galactic centre, where he believes the Creator lives. But this "God" turns out to be a tyrannical old man who kills anyone who doesn't do exactly what he says. It was a bold theme, since "God" was very similar to Moses' idea of Yahweh. This was a film which started up without Roddenberry, and which Roddenberry opposed - but actually it embodies the typical Star Trek humanist theology.
In The Way to Eden Spock discovers the planet Eden, which at first sight appears a place of beauty and peace, but on investigation turns out to have vegetation impregnated with deadly acids.
In The Apple, the inhabitants of Gamma Trianguli VI worship the God Vaal, which appears as the gigantic face of a snake-like reptile with burning eyes. Vaal provides an idyllic life for the people in exchange for fuel to power its energy systems. Vaal's priest Akuta wears antennae on his head so he can hear commands from the machine. The Enterprise crew discover that Vaal is a computer-controlled machine and destroy it with a blast of phaser fire, thus liberating the locals from their debilitating subservience to a cruel deity (but violating the Prime Directive in a very cavalier manner).
The Next Generation Episode Justice presents an almost identical theme. The Edos on the planet Rubicun III live a child-like, hedonistic life, worshipping a "God" which turns out to be a multi-dimensional life form in a transparent spaceship orbiting the planet. Despite the Prime Directive, the Enterprise crew question and then violate Edo law, and show one of their leaders the spaceship which is the visible form of "God." At least they respect the directive enough to leave without liberating the Edos from their superstition - though they have probably done enough to start a dissident faction among the Edos.
In Star Trek, religious mythologies and supernatural phenomena almost always have scientific explanations. Alien gods are never really supernatural - their powers are always explained by exo-biology or by mechanical devices. Indeed `gods' are often malevolent or egotistical. When they are benevolent, they usually turn their worshippers into mindless or childlike zombies. Add this message up, and it is amazing that Roddenberry managed to slip so much past the censor.
Everything in Roddenberry's universe was not all reason and science, however. Several Star Trek episodes suggest the possibility that souls could live on after the body has died, or might be separated from bodies, or might be capable of telepathy. In What Are Little Girls Made Of Roger Korby transfers his soul into the body of an android, while several episodes involve people swapping souls (Return to Tomorrow, Turnabout Intruder).
It is clear that Roddenberry felt a fairly deep hostility to organized religions, to transcendental gods and supernatural powers, though he seems to have acknowledged the civilizing mission of Christianity in Bread and Circuses, where the "Children of the Son" refuse to participate in gladiatorial combats.
However, it's equally clear that Roddenberry really was a pantheist, of an unsystematized but intelligence-centred kind verging on the pan-psychic variety (see Varieties of pantheism).
It seems a pity that, as far as I am aware, he never made an episode that embodied the pantheistic viewpoint. Ask yourself honestly what kind of religion Starfleet staff would follow in the twenty third and twenty fourth centuries, confronted as they are weekly with the multiplicity of life-forms which the universe spawns.
Imagine a real Star Trek in the real future. Ask yourself honestly, and quite independently of Roddenberry's views and of the humanist slant of Star Trek. Would they believe in a God who was supremely concerned only with humans? Would they believe in a God that became human and died to save humans? Would they believe in a last judgement of humans, or a magically transformed earth after the resurrection?
Would they be atheists, believing that all the awesome mystery and beauty of the universe was cold and hostile and utterly meaningless? Would they be Buddhists, convinced that it was all an empty illusion?
Or would they worship the universe as the only real divinity? Would they be pantheists?
Pantheism is the best religion for the age of the Hubble Space Telescope. Find out if you're a pantheist. Check out Scientific Pantheism as soon as you've read this page.
Quotations are from David Alexander, Star Trek Creator Roc, New York, 1994; and Terrance Sweeney, God &, Winston Press, Minneapolis, 1985.
God is not a person.
My own feeling is that relation to God as a person is a petty, superstitious approach to the All, the Infinite … God is not a person, not a simple thing like that. I wish I could simply bleed or flagellate myself to get closer to him. But unfortunately it's not that easy. [Sweeney, God &.]
The brotherhood of all life.
My second wife Majel Lee and I were both raised Protestant but well before ever meeting both left the Protestant Church in favor of non-sectarian beliefs which included respect for all other religions, but emphasizing the concept of God as too great and too encompassing to be explained and appreciated by any single system of belief. Upon meeting we found that both believed in the brotherhood of all life forms, human and otherwise.
[Alexander p 422.]
We are a part of God.
It was at Denver that someone wrote a question "What is your religion?" My answer was: "I do not belong to any church but I do consider myself a religious man. I believe that I am a part of you and you are a part of me and we are a part of all life … also a part of the creative force and intelligence behind life. Therefore, if we are a part of God then our lives are not brief meaningless things, but rather have a great importance and significance. All of us and each of us.
[Alexander p 423.]
As nearly as I can concentrate on the question today, I believe I am God; certainly you are, I think we intelligent beings on this planet are all a piece of God, are becoming God. [Sweeney, God &]
I must try to become more a part of it
The concept of being God in my life … It's not anything to do with religion . . . It's the sense that I belong … that I'm part of it. And I cannot treat that casually. I must try to become more a part of it and to understand what my part of it means. It's much too important to just discard by junking up, drinking whiskey, and smoking cigarettes - all of which I do. But in between there's the feeling that I am part of something as important as the molecules that make all this up. And I ignore that at my own peril.
It's too marvelous, too. It's too marvelous to ignore and get tossed aside. [Sweeney, God &]
God equals consciousness. [Sweeney, God &]
Jesus: "Hey man, you can too."
To me the whole joy and glory of Jesus is the fact that he is one of us. It seems to me that the whole statement of the New Testament is, "Hey, man, you can too, because I was born like you. I died like you. There's nothing special about me that's not special in you. And I'm offering you both." And I think the divinity thing is bullshit because they've taken away from the glorious, divine message that he kept saying over and over again. Divine, yes. But so are we. I think that's what he was saying: "So are you."
We create ourselves
In some sort of cyclical non-time thing, we have to become God, so that we can end up creating ourselves, so that we can be in the first place.
[Sweeney, God &]
I think God - we - (the equation of the universe) created time - our own beginnings and ends - so that we could exist. [Sweeney, God &]
The prime force.
I think God is as much a basic ingredient in the universe as neutrons and positrons … God is, for lack of a better term, clout. This is the prime force, when we look around the universe. [Sweeney, God &]
Holding back from oneness.
So I can see us moving toward that infinite oneness which is full of wisdom and peace and so on. And I find myself drawing back and saying, "Better we should have the loveliness of disagreeing. I don't want to play Monopoly if my dice are perfect every time. [Sweeney, God &]
Heaven's here right now.
Its seems to me - it's likely that heaven's here right now. If you could take life with its pain and misery, where you fail and you sometimes win, and if you package it into a game, people would pay a fortune to have this game. And I don't know that I'd want it to be resolved so peacefully that the game would be all over. [Sweeney, God &]
is the belief that the universe and nature are divine.
It fuses religion and science, and concern for humans with concern for nature.
It provides the most realistic concept of life after death,
and the most solid basis for environmental ethics.
It is a religion that requires no faith other than common sense,
no revelation other than open eyes and a mind open to evidence,
no guru other than your own self.
For an outline, see
The Finest of Religion, Science,
Nature and Philosophy Bookstore
Suggestions, comments, criticisms to: Paul Harrison, e-mail: pan(at)(this domain)
© Paul Harrison 1996. Last update March 10, 1997.
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