Sunday, February 8, 2015

Is This Star Trek Episode Anti-Christian?

I was watching TV last night and came across an episode of the original Star Trek. This particular episode, “The Return of the Archons,” can be a bit troubling to view. It seems to be a brutal criticism of the concept of religion. And I don’t know. Maybe that is what it was meant to be. But when I thought about it a bit, a subtler message emerged for me.

Prepare yourself for some nerdiness, because I’m going to give you the layout of this episode. The Enterprise investigates a planet called Beta III where the inhabitants give thoughtless obedience to a figure by the name of “Landru.” This planet had experienced a time of dreadful war and destruction, but Landru had led them out of it by returning them to a system of brotherhood and understanding. Thousands of years later, the people live in peace and happiness, but without freedom or creativity. Anyone who resists the will of Landru is “absorbed” into “the Body,” forced to join the collective and lose their free will. Some are immune to the process, however, and these people are destroyed by the commandment of Landru. All fear Landru and his “lawgivers,” men wearing brown hoods and robes with staffs that can absorb or destroy those who “are not of the Body.” Captain Kirk and his landing party are captured, and some are absorbed. Kirk and Spock escape with the help of members of an underground movement, however, and confront Landru. It turns out he is nothing more than a computer invented by the original Landru millennia before. This computer had enforced its heartless vision of the perfect society because it did not possess the soul and wisdom of its namesake. Kirk confuses it with a series of paradoxical questions, causing it to self-destruct and liberating the planet to create its own destiny once again.

Christianity could be seen as the target of the message here, but I prefer to think only a particular version of the faith is under assault. The original Landru corresponds to Jesus Christ, who offered a message of hope and peace to His followers. The computerized copy stands for church hierarchies and bureaucracies that replaced the true message of Jesus with voluminous rules, and turned a living faith into blind compliance. The soulless followers represent those who call themselves Christians because they have been conditioned to, not because they have decided to believe anything. Taken this way, “The Return of the Archons” is a well-deserved criticism. Too much of Christian history has looked like it. There have been too many times when the name of Christ has been invoked as a way to control and conquer, when His mission was to comfort and save. And how many CINO’s are there, “Christians in Name Only?”How many say they believe, but live lives far removed from the example Jesus left? How many have appeared clueless that such an example even exists?

Landru and his disciples are, if you will, a parable. If we learn from it, we start to talk about the faith of the Bible in the terms the Bible presents. The message is one of love, of comfort, and of freedom. The freedom to choose, to question, to create. It does not call us to a robotic existence, but a robust one. And in seeking to live this way, we need to remember what we have that the people of Beta III did not. Christians have a living leader and example. Jesus Christ is alive, and He shares His life with us through the presence of the Holy Spirit. We can go to Him for true guidance, and find in Him true freedom. We do not have to be afraid of challenges, but can be welcoming of the opportunities they represent. Contrary to what Mr. Spock said of Landru’s people, we do not have “the peace of the factory; the tranquility of the machine.” We have the life and liberty of the living God. We shouldn’t give that away for the ease and ignorance of heartless institutionalisms.

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