I wasn’t fully immersed in the Star Trek phenomenon until the mid-1970s, when I became a teenager. From the time I was born until about age 12, my mother pretty much regarded it as her sovereign right to impose a mandatory. nonnegotiable bedtime. Until I became a teenager, bedtime was set at 8 p.m.
That meant I got to watch every episode of “Lost in Space,” which aired Fridays at 7 p.m. on CBS, but much to my extreme consternation, Star Trek, which aired Saturday at 8 p.m. on NBC, was strictly off limits.
I had to wait roughly a half decade before my thinking finally was radicalized by the philosophy of Star Trek.
For me, it will always be Star Trek’s unvarnished exploration of conventional religion that hooked me. Indeed, reflecting back some 40 years, I’m shocked by the extent to which several Star Trek episodes essentially amount to a calculated affront to conventional religion.
In my neck of the woods, such cynicism was far beyond the bounds of respectable discourse.
A couple of episodes really stand out.
In “Who Mourns for Adonis?,” Kirk cheekily informs the god Apollo: “Apollo, we’re willing to talk, but you’ll find we don’t bow to every creature who happens to have a bag of tricks.”
Up to that time, I had always thought such incendiary talk invited the wrath of the Almighty – thunderbolts, sickness, plagues and sundry other forms of human suffering – but Kirk and the Enterprise crew remained undaunted. They even added insult to injury, not only withholding adoration from Apollo but robbing him of his “bag of tricks” – all his supernatural powers – and exposing him for what he was: a mere humanoid equipped only with a special organ that enabled his body to channel energy drawn from technological devices.
And that was only one of many ungodly abominations to which Star Trek viewers were treated.
One Sunday morning, bracing for another round of hellfire and brimstone sermonizing at the local First Baptist Church, I was treated to my first viewing of “The World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky,” which arguably could be regarded as the most heretical episode of all in terms of its critique of conventional god-worshiping religion.
The plot centers around a race of humanoids who were installed with punishment devices designed to prevent any indulgence in heretical thinking.
“This sort of strikes me as sacrilegious,” my father observed as he caught occasional patches of the dialogue.
It was indeed, at least, from the theologically rigid Southern Baptist perspective I endured growing up.
And, honestly, I count this religious cynicism as one of the greatest contributions of Star Trek. In many respects, science fiction, by providing human beings with an expanded view of transcendence and our place on the planet and within the universe, has taken on many of the properties of conventional religion. And I think that this has proven to be a very good thing.
While I do not consider myself entirely irreligious at this stage in my life, I do credit Star Trek with challenging me not only to question the prevailing religious beliefs of my childhood but even to construct my own religious system built on deep reading, reflection and personal experience.
I consider myself a far more integrated, tolerant, and self-actualized human being because of my exposure to the secular humanist vision of Star Trek.
As corny as it sounds, I, like countless other baby boomers, was transformed by the genius and vision of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.
Live long and proper! And in the spirit of Gene Roddenberry, may the species known as Homo sapiens live up its name!