By Jean Latz Griffin
Ethan Nichtern, a self-described “Buddhist Geek,” makes no apologies for his over-the-top enthusiasm for the new Star Trek movie.
“I’m so frackin’ excited,” Nichtern wrote in One City: A Buddhist Blog for Everyone. “I have always been a fan of the SciFi genre, which might seem like a weird thing for someone who’s trying to learn how to dwell more and more in the present moment.”
Esther Kustanowicz, a contributor to Idol Chatter: Religion and pop culture blog, pointed to the Jewish roots of the “live long and prosper” Vulcan salute in her homage to Star Trek. Her blog entry provides a link to a site that details that and four other seemingly Jewish-inspired events in the 43-year Star Trek saga and invites comments on other “vestiges of Jewish culture and narrative,” in the new Star Trek movie.
And Michael Laughrin, who offers Vedic astrology readings and is the author of Planets: The Meaning of Each Planet in Each Sign in Each House, says that he is an “unrepentant devotee of Star Trek in all its iterations.”
“For me and my wife, Star Trek reinforces our adherence to dharma, that ancient Hindu word that includes righteousness, religion, right behavior, law, enlightenment—and maybe more,” Laughrin said.
At a time when religion often seems as likely to divide us as to bring us together, it is refreshing to look at something as seemingly non-religious as a science fiction movie and realize how so many of our religious and non-religious threads can be seen in it.
That is even more interesting regarding the Star Trek episodes and movies since, unlike fantasy movies such as The Chronicles of Narnia, with author C.S. Lewis’ deliberately Christian themes, it is unlikely that Gene Roddenberry put religious principles in his work. In fact, he didn’t have much use for religion, if his oft-quoted statement,” Religions vary in their degree of idiocy, but I reject them all,” is accurate.
But perhaps it is because Roddenberry was not tied to any organized set of dogmas and morality that practitioners of so many belief systems can see their philosophy of life reflected in his fictional creations.
And in an example of irony run amok, a site that sells college term papers (no, we aren’t linking to it), provides an excerpt from a paper on Taoism that says the “Booby Trap” episode in The Next Generation is an example of Taoist philosophy regarding action and inaction because the crew can only avoid being destroyed by shutting down their own engines. The excerpt quotes as evidence Chapter 2 in the Tao Te Ching: “Therefore the Master acts without doing anything and teaches without saying anything.”
Certainly there were references to religious practices by both human and aliens throughout the TV shows and movies. Bernard Schneider provides comprehensive list, including Starship Voyager’s quest for its creator, the act of Creation in The Wrath of Khan, Spock’s resurrection from the dead in The Search for Spock and the search for God in The Final Frontier.
The closest Star Trek comes to portraying Islam seems to be the “Time of Cleansing” a 40 day period practiced by the Bajorans, a tribe seen in The Next Generation and Voyager, which is similar to the Muslim tradition of Ramadan.
In his explanation of why he feels a love of Star Trek is “kosher’ with his Buddhism, Nichtern could be speaking for people from all traditions.
“I think the SciFi genre allows us to explore relationships in a visionary setup, and therefore is a perfect template to parallel and examine political, cultural, spiritual, and personal ideals in an otherworldly landscape,” Nichtern wrote in the blog. “The best scifi creates an internally coherent narrative universe, but one which reflects back upon our own.
“I don’t see why a Buddhist can’t get down with that kind of fantasy,” he said. “Sometimes the present moment is best understood by creating an alternate universe.”