I came across this great article that was linked to by Friendly Atheist and thought it was worth sharing. The writer discusses the atheist and humanist messages that have almost always been a huge part of Star Trek, and how Star Trek influenced his own atheism. In the article, he largely focuses on the common Star Trek theme of gods turning out to be just deeply flawed aliens. Two particular TNG episodes that I think were left out of the article were “Who Watches The Watchers” and “Devil’s Due.”
I do disagree on a few points. Namely, I think Voyager sucked, that DS9 wasn’t always easy on religion, and I can’t believe there was no mention of Star Trek V, which is CRIMINALLY UNDERRATED, especially within the context of a discussion about Star Trek and religion.
Let me take a moment to defend Deep Space 9. First of all, the main religious leader of the Bajoran people (basically their pope) was almost always treated as an opportunistic villain throughout the series. Second, like with the “gods” of previous Star Trek series, the Bajoran Prophets were nothing but an advanced alien race. And in the first season finale of that series, religious fanatics blew up a school because they thought their beliefs were being threatened when the teacher taught the secular, scientific interpretation that “The Prophets” were just “warm hole aliens.”
“What does God need with a starship?”
Though I usually replace the word “starship” with something more appropriate to the discussion like, “What does God need with a blood sacrifice, etc?” Borrowing from IMDB, here’s the entire context of the excerpt, which concludes with my second favorite quote from the movie, uttered by Dr. McCoy:
Kirk: What does God need with a starship?
McCoy: Jim, what are you doing?
Kirk: I’m asking a question.
“God”: Who is this creature?
Kirk: Who am I? Don’t you know? Aren’t you God?
Sybok: He has his doubts.
“God”: You doubt me?
Kirk: I seek proof.
McCoy: Jim! You don’t ask the Almighty for his ID!
“God”: Then here is the proof you seek.
[Hits Kirk with lightning]
Kirk: Why is God angry?
Sybok: Why? Why have you done this to my friend?
“God”: He doubts me.
Spock: You have not answered his question. What does God need with a starship?
“God”: [hits Spock with lightning; then addresses McCoy] Do you doubt me?
McCoy: I doubt any God who inflicts pain for his own pleasure.
And the last quote I often use from this film is uttered by Captain Kirk within this exchange:
It’s also worth noting that in addition to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry being an atheist (or humanist), William Shatner shared story credit on Star Trek V. And Shatner too is an atheist:
“I’ve always had sort of an ironic view of life,” the 75-year-old Shatner said. “My belief system is that when this is over, it’s over. That you don’t look down from heaven and wait for your loved ones to join you. There may be some soul activity, but I’m not sure about that. But what I am sure about is that your molecules continue and in due time become something else. That’s science.”