Yesterday on Facebook I came across an image that is making the rounds by skeptics. It was a photo of Mr. Spock from Star Trek with a quotation that expressed serious skepticism about God and how the deity is portrayed in the Judeo-Christian tradition. The quote was attributed to Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I as skeptical, and although I haven’t seen this movie in years, it didn’t sound like something I remembered coming from that film. So my interest in finding the true source, coupled with my awareness that Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek‘s creator, was well known to be a secular humanist, made for an interesting research project.
The end result of my search was the discovery of ideas that Roddenberry had long wanted to bring to the screen as one of the Star Trek motion pictures, but due to concerns of studio executives, the storyline never saw the light of day, at least in the way in which Roddenberry envisioned it. Instead, elements can be found in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, as well as Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. The fascinating and long history behind Roddenberry’s never-realized storyline is told as pieces are stitched together at the The Complete Star Trek Library. Among the different individuals and perspectives on the story, here’s an expert from Lost Voyages of Trek and the Next Generation, by Bill Planer (Cinemaker Press, 1992), and his telling of the narrative:
“I handed them a script and they turned it down,” Roddenberry stated. “It was too controversial. It talked about concepts like, ‘Who is God?’ [In it] the Enterprise meets God in space; God is a life form, and I wanted to suggest that there may have been, at one time in the human beginning, an alien entity that early man believed was God, and kept those legends. But I also wanted to suggest that it might have been as much the Devil as it was God. After all, what kind of god would throw humans out of Paradise for eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. One of the Vulcans on board, in a very logical way, says, ‘If this is your God, he’s not very impressive. He’s got so many psychological problems; he’s so insecure. He demands worship every seven days. He goes out and creates faulty humans and then blames them for his own mistakes. He’s a pretty poor excuse for a supreme being.’ Not surprisingly, that didn’t sent [sic] the Paramount executives off crying with glee. But I think good science fiction, historically, has been used that way–to question everything.”
There are a number of interesting elements in this story. Not only is Roddennberry’s secular humanism and skepticism about Christianity evident, but he is also willing to bring in other elements in which to critique the Judeo-Christian myth. This includes the idea of God as an alien, connected most infamously to Erich von Däniken with his many books setting forth an ancient astronauts hypothesis. He also invokes a form of Platonism or Gnosticism with his idea of the God of the Old Testament being some kind of inferior demiurge. In other quotations from Roddenberry he wanted Lucifer in the Genesis story of the Garden of Eden to be the real deity who brings truth.
Although Roddenberry was never able to see his story idea come together in the form of a single film, Star Trek: The God-Thing was eventually published by Pocket Books in 1992.
This aspect of Star Trek‘s history, and that of its creator, is ironic in that while he wanted to use science fiction to raise the question of God’s existence, and critique the character of the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition as unworthy of worship, as his franchise developed after his death, it increasingly adopted various religious or spiritual elements, with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine perhaps being the series most heavily spiritual in its basic orientation around the main storyline. In addition, scholars have noted that Star Trek functions for many fans as a form of religion as they adopt it’s ethic of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination. In addition, other scholars have looked at fan participation in Star Trek conventions and have considered this as a parallel to religious pilgrimage. In our age where the transcendent has broken out of more traditional boundaries and concepts of religion, science fiction often functions as the sacred, and as a result, even an atheist television pioneer cannot escape his creation becoming involved with The God-Thing.