As Al Mohler pointed out a few days ago, we have arrived at the fiftieth anniversary of the first broadcast of Star Trek in 1966. This TV programme has become tremendously popular. It has spanned multiple series, accumulated tens of thousands of fans, and has been translated into different languages. Yet at its core Star Trek is not primarily about action and adventure. It is, instead, a morality play.
As a morality play, Star Trek often explores significant human issues and conundrums, yet it always does so in a God-sized vacuum. It utilises worldview assumptions that are antithetical to biblical Christianity. There is little reference to God and certainly no prayers for divine deliverance. Instead, the characters typically resolve their problems by resorting to human ingenuity, values, or prowess.
This generally works when the enemy is an external, non-human threat. But when the show deals with human sin and evil, the absence of God is an impediment to the resolution. Such episodes tend to lack realism and are typically not very convincing, although they still raise very pertinent and searching questions for the Christian.
Recently I re-watched the two-part episode of Star Trek: Voyager entitled Equinox. In this episode, the crew of Voyager encounters another Federation starship that has also become stranded in the Delta Quadrant. This new ship – the Equinox – is captained by a man who has sacrificed his humanitarian principles beneath the crushing pressure to survive. In fact, the crew of the Equinox are so desperate to get back to Earth that their obsession for home has led to the entire crew participating in massed murder.
The Equinox discover they can use a “summoning device” to lure previously friendly flying aliens into their ship, where they then kill them and use their bodies to power the ship’s engines. This will shorten their journey home, but they require many dozens of alien corpses to maintain their velocity.
The crew of Voyager are horrified when they learn of the atrocities being committed by the other ship, and resolve to stop them.
The episode has a tremendously significant moment when the two captains confront each other across a table. At one end sits Captain Janeway, the embodiment of uncorrupted values and virtues, while at the other end sits Captain Ransom, who has surrendered his values completely. Janeway asks how the Equinox could every have descended into such a moral nightmare. Ransom answers that it began with an accident. One of the aliens was lured to the ship and died before they could release it. But, then gradually, the crew found that it became easier and easier to murder the alien beings. Ransom rationalises this behaviour by repeatedly declaring that he “had no choice”.
As the episode continues, Ransom descends ever deeper into wickedness. He kills his benefactors, engages in deception, leaves Voyager to suffer dangerous attacks, and even gives his approval for a medical procedure that would leave the victim with irreversible brain damage.
Nonetheless, Ransom’s conscience begins to wear him down. At one point his First Officer tells him that they are going to need more “fuel” soon, by which he meant alien corpses. Ransom confronts his officer by asking, “Fuel? Is that the euphemism we are using now?”
The entire episode is a powerful study of human wickedness committed on a grand scale.
It makes the accurate point that human beings do not descend to great wickedness overnight. Hitler did not. Stalin did not. Mao did not. Rather, it happens in stages. People proximate to evil; they grow toward it; they do not simply step into it full grown. (James makes this very point when he describes sin as a living thing being born and growing up to maturity: “Each man is tempted when he is led away by his own desires and enticed. And when desire has conceived it brings forth sin. And sin, when it is full grown, brings forth death“).
As human beings walk downwards deeper into evil, at each step in the process they create justifications. There is an intellectual and moral need to sanctify the evil they commit, perhaps with the excuse that it serves some higher purpose or that it is necessary for a noble cause. Human beings must do this because we all know, in our hearts, what is truly right and what is truly evil.
Part of the rationalising process often involves using terms inaccurately, or, put another way, to avoid using words accurately. Thus, in the Star Trek episode the crew of the Equinox refer to the alien beings as “compound” or “fuel”. This use of terminology is psychologically significant because it helps the crew to pretend that they were merely loading a morally neutral agent into their engines, and that their conduct was just another technical endeavour.
The same behaviour has been observed in dictatorial regimes where terrible human rights abuses occurred. In Soviet Russia, imprisoning people in the gulag was referred to as “rehabilitation”. The people who were sent to the gulag were often referred to as “parasites”, a transparent denial of their humanity. In Nazi Germany, the extermination of two-thirds of the Jews in Europe was referred to as “special treatment” or “the Final Solution”.
The Lord has chosen words as the medium of his communication to us, because words are not insubstantial and neither do they lack power. Words can – and are – powerful. To deliberately misuse them in order to disguise, or minimise, or deflect a moral reality is itself a form of evil. In fact, evil demands it. All wickedness – whether it is on the scope of the Holocaust, or whether it is on a purely personal level – requires that words be misused and misapplied. Leonard Ravenhill, the great English preacher, once pointed this out. He explained how people used the term “healthy self-regard” when they should better have used the word “pride”. It is the same with all our sins. To combat them requires an honest and unflinching declaration of their reality, something nobody manages without the illumination of the Holy Spirit.
Sin always begins small. If allowed to grow unchecked it will become a dominating force. If we ever have cause to look upon people in our community whose secret evil is suddenly exposed, and if we ever wonder how they ended up in that dreadful place, we would need to go back many links in the chain of their life story.
And the further back we went, the smaller those links would become until we would discover that the first in the series were nearly gossamer fine. Even nature teaches us that from small beginnings, great things result. A tumour begins with a single defective cell; a plague death begins with a single bacterium; an addict is created from a single puff; every alcoholic needs to take a first drink. The malignant mass of evil that we see in some lives always started from a choice they made one day. A choice that, at the time, did not seem such a big deal.
Let us therefore tread carefully. Sin is not to be trifled with. For if we play with sin, we may find ourselves in a dark place that, at least today, we never imagined was possible. Walk in the light, as He is in the light! Live pure! Live clean! Live holy!