I was listening to a recent episode of the Non-Prophets today, and they were discussing an episode of Star Trek: Voyager. Voyager is my favourite Star Trek series, I think that makes me a rare breed, so I’ve probably watched each episode about 100 times, and this got me thinking about some of the themes explored in this series.
In my favourite episode of the series, episode 612: Blink of an Eye, Voyager gets trapped in orbit above a planet where time moves faster than the rest of the galaxy. (Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t seen this episode but want to, you can actually watch the whole thing on YouTube).
To the primitive humanoids living on the planet, Voyager appears as a new star in the sky, and results in earthquakes. Because of the time difference between the surface of the planet and Voyager, the crew is able to watch the society develop from hunter-gatherers, to cities, to great technological advances until they eventually develop space travel.
I’ve always loved this episode from the point of view of someone’s who is interested in history and anthropology, but until I listened to this episode of the Non-Prophets I hadn’t thought about what Blink of an Eye was saying about religion.
It really did a great job of showing how religions develop. When Voyager first appears in the sky, the primitive people have no explanation for why it’s there and how it’s causing the earthquakes, so they make one up. Religion is born! They build an altar, they perform sacrifices in hopes of making the earthquakes stop. Eventually different theories about Voyager emerge. Some are supernatural, some are naturalistic.
Once the humanoids develop science and technology, they begin to explore the reality of what this mysterious earth-shaking star is. They develop radio technology, telescopes, etc. The more advanced they get, the more doctrines of their beliefs are explained away using natural explanations, until they land on Voyager and are able to have the full picture.
It’s easy to see the parallel to our religions. They start as a way to explain the gaps in our knowledge, and the more we learn by exploration and experimentation, the more elements of that original religion fall to the wayside.
Okay it’s late, I have to go to bed now, but if there are any Trekkies out there please leave a comment! I’m able to appreciate the themes in Star Trek more and more every day. Now that I have no religion the secular and humanist themes are becoming more apparent.