Friday, January 7, 2011

Bread and Circuses

This is the name of a Star Trek episode. It is part of a discussion about whether Star trek is Christian or Catholic. Jimmy Akin makes a comment on it here:
In The Original Series we had some episodes, that spoke respectfully of religion. For example, there was "Bread and Circuses," in which the crew visited a parallel planet where the Roman Empire never fell and there were televised gladiatorial matches and such. During the episode they learned of an underground group of sun worshipers and were perplexed by this as ancient Rome didn't' have a lot of sun worshipers. At the end of the episode, Uhura informs them that she's been listening to the planet's broadcasts and that the sun worshipers don't worship the sun in the sky, they worship the Son of God, and the show closes with a direct allusion to Christianity and the possibility God is incarnating on other planets.
 What strikes me is that this is not a pro-Christian moment at all. What is being asserted when one suggests that a parallel planet to earth would have Jesus and Caesar? The notion is that a man like Jesus is a product of history. That if Jesus had never lived something similar to Christianity would have developed anyway.

You could say this about Mark Zuckerberg. If he had not existed would social networking still be almost as big? One could argue that advances in networking speed and normal growth in people's willingness to use technology would have produced this growth whether Zuckerberg existed or not. When a new day dawns we tend to give credit to the rooster and miss the sun.

But can you say the same thing about Jesus? Could the person of Jesus, the story of Jesus, and the spread of Christianity be explained as a expected historical and sociological development? Many have simply asserted the answer is Yes. But nobody has really offered any explanation. The best they can do is a hand waving argument that simply claims people were more credulous back then and would believe such things. That somehow humans didn't doubt claims of miracles back then. It has to be a hand waving argument because it collapses under the slightest bit of scrutiny. Ironically atheists are the one that need to be credulous to accept such lousy argument.

The reality is that the most skeptical place for such claims was first century Israel. If you said something that the Jews found blasphemous they might stone you or get the Romans to crucify you. Everywhere else in the Roman empire they were pagans. They could add you god to their list of deities. The Jews were monotheists. There was one true God. If you were a false prophet of that God you needed to be executed. That is not an environment where religious radicals flourish.

Anyway, it just struck me that people see the anti-Christian overtones in many episodes at this comment shows:
This was not the only time Roddenberry let his anti-Christian streak show. Multiple episodes (and the first Star Trek movie) are all based on the idea of going into space and symbolically finding God and finding out that he's a fraud, or an alien, or a child, or a computer, or insane, or some combination of these. The two twin themes Roddenberry felt drawn to were "God is unworthy of worship" (for one reason or another) and "There ain't no paradise except the Federation" (all other paradisaical societies having some horrible hidden flaw).
But suggesting religion is just another sociological phenomenon like governments or blood sports seems to have been mostly missed. The fact that people of faith are the good guys is not important. The question is whether the faith is true. Is whoever they believe to be the son of God really the son of God? The implied answer seem to be No. There may be some truth in the religion but the central teaching is not true. Then the fact that it is an obvious parallel to Christianity is not flattering at all.


  1. The doctrinal error with incarnations of God on other planets is that God became man to redeem man - and, in man, who is the climax of His work, all of creation.

    Of course, this doesn't body well with those Christians who look everywhere for comfort and acceptance by the world. Without knowing it, they spit upon the Cross.

  2. How alien existence would effect theology is another question. It is interesting. It might be like when North America was discovered. We just go out and evangelize the new world. But how would the original sin idea apply if they are not descended from Adam? Not sure we can speculate on the answer to that without knowing more about their origin and ours.