Star Trek Voyager & Religion

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:Β 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).

The aliens arriving on Voyager. Because of the time difference it appears to them as though the Voyager crew is frozen in time.

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.

11 Responses to “Star Trek Voyager & Religion”

  1. 1 Joshua Zelinsky December 20, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    Your favorite Star Trek is Voyager? For shame!

    In fact this episode was in many ways a remake of an episode of the original series.

    I don’t in any event think that Star Trek has general secularist or humanist themes. There were a lot of different writers with different viewpoints. Indeed, there are multiple episodes that are pro-religion or favor believing in an afterlife. See for example, the Voyager episode with the species that believes that teleporting their dead and dying to a certain asteroid will give them eternal life.

  2. 2 humty December 21, 2009 at 8:15 pm

    I too always found Voyager to be my favorite Star Trek show (although, actually, I find it to be equal to TNG).

    What an interesting premise. With all the flashy Hollywood sci-fi stuff nowadays, reading about this episode felt really good. I’ve almost forgotten what a fun mind-game proper science fiction can be. They hardly do this anymore.

    I too noticed that there are many pro-religion undertones in some episodes. Star Trek has always been about ethics, so dogmatic, religious believes always seem to pop up in writer’s minds at this point. I don’t mind as long as they stay in a more metaphorical sense.

  3. 3 EnlightningLinZ December 21, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    Joshua – I will not be ashamed! I think my love of voyager has a lot to do with the minimal amount of Clingon episodes (which I hate), and the large amount of Borg episodes (which I love).

    Gene Roddenberry actually had a very secular humanist worldview, and I think Voyager stayed true to that. You might enjoy this episode of the podcast point of inquiry where they interview his personal assistant:

    I think that episode where the aliens teleported their dead was an atheistic episode. The aliens thought that the vessel (or whatever they called it) to the next life or to a higher consciousness was some kind of magic, but really it was just advance transporter technology: a naturalistic explanation for what appears to be a supernatural phenomena. I think a lot of the episodes where they talked about being dead and the afterlife all pretty much ended with an answer that pointed to an advanced technology or evil aliens from another dimension. Can you think of any other examples? I’m drawing a blank right now!

    humty – yay! I’m not alone in my love of Voyager πŸ™‚ every Star Trek episode (in every series) has some kind of underlying story, that’s the great part about it…you can watch the episodes over and over and they can always make you think

  4. 4 Joshua Zelinsky December 21, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    But the episode involving the transporter technology after they understood it then had the last scene where as they are leaving the system Janeway gets a report that there’s some sort of strange energy beings in the technobabble cloud. It strongly implied that those were actual souls of the people on the planet or something like that.

    But yes, in general they’ve had such things explained by technology. Although that’s almost a problem by itself in that technology in Star Trek is functionally plot-driven magic.

  5. 5 EnlightningLinZ December 21, 2009 at 10:47 pm

    Yeah I have vague memories of the ending of that episode lol I’ll have to watch it again…I set up a series recording on my PVR for Voyager since I posted this topic but it hasn’t picked up any episodes for some reason

  6. 6 Shannon December 29, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    Voyager was one of my faves too, you’re not alone! The original series I feel nostalgic about (used to watch re-runs with my grandma) and TNG was the first I watched as an adult. DS9 I liked ok, but it didn’t thrill me. Voyager I loved πŸ˜‰ And Enterprise I was so excited for and then turned it off in disgust after a few episodes.

    I don’t remember this episode though. I haven’t watched any since the show ended and my memory sucks. I have to rewatch some.

    My overall memories of the Star Trek universe are that it was a strongly humanist show. Um . . . maybe not “human”ist, lol! But all the religious episodes I remember (and there were a lot!) ended up with the gods being aliens, the religious stuff just being technology, etc. I LOVED that about ST as a kid and I still do. DS9 had more of a religious feel to it so maybe that’s why I wasn’t as into that series.

    Anyway, thanks for the link, I’ll go watch that tomorrow πŸ˜‰

  7. 7 Sharmin I. Abbasi December 31, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    I love Star Trek! I like Voyager and Deep Space Nine about equally. The Next Generation is good, too. I’ve recently been watching Enterprise, and I think it’s interesting how they’ve tried to make storyline with situations that would lead up to the formation of the Federation. I’ve only seen a few episodes of The Original Series.

    The messages and themes in Star Trek have always fascinated me, and I love how the episodes often relate to the real world. The episode Blink of an Eye is also one of my favorites. I like the various episodes of Trek that contain something about religion, especially when the people on various planets think that the crew of the ship are gods. It’s interesting to see how strange events cause people to create supernatural explanations.

    The different planets with different religious beliefs remind me of the different religious groups on this Earth. There are the Klingons, the Bajorans, the Vulcans, etc. each with their own religious beliefs (and different denominations of those beliefs). I’ve always found this interesting and I wonder what each group’s religious beliefs say about the people from other planets. I wonder if their religions even mention the existence of life on other planets — if the religions were invented before or after the people of that planet made contact with other planets.

    The plot in Deep Space Nine, of course, has religion as a main part of it. The character of Kai Winn reminded me of the fundamentalist religious leaders in the real world. The character of Commander Sisko always fascinated me. I found it interesting that he himself had doubt about being the Emissary.

    Sorry for the long comment. I tend to go on and on when the topic of Trek comes up. Thanks for writing this!

  8. 8 EnlightningLinZ January 2, 2010 at 9:14 pm

    Sharmin – yeah I could go on and on about Star Trek too! That shows what a wonderful show it is!

    I never really got into Deep Space Nine. I watched it when I was younger but the deeper themes just went right over my head. I had the action figures and everything! I’ll have to give it another chance, it sounds interesting.

  9. 9 yesterdays2morrow March 26, 2010 at 6:37 am

    Voyager is myu favourite Star Treks as well, never managed to get into any of the others – mainly due to Patrick Stewart. But anyway he’s beside the point. Blink of an eye was a Star Trek great and one of my favourite episodes – favourite’s got to be relativity, or maybe parallax, I dunno. Anyway glad to see there’s another Voyager lover!

  10. 10 niconica July 11, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    Voyager is my favorite Star Trek series! πŸ˜€ I love all of the characters and most of the episodes through all the seven seasons.

    Cheers, Niconica

  11. 11 jbenoit10 September 25, 2010 at 1:56 am

    I concur…I have Voyager DREAMS, and it usually takes a lot for me to sit and watch through the AMAZING “Endgame”– it’s far too emotional.

    I don’t know if you ever saw the Simpsons episode “Homerazzi” but a fire destroys Marge’s treasured photo album, so they have to restage all the major events of their recent life.

    Cut to the scene where they host a “Bon Voyage, Voyager”… Hibbert as Tuvok, LENNY as 7 of 9, and Homer, complete with a tiny flag that says “SPACE”. He then cries “Oh Captain Janeway, your voyage was over too soon… TOO SOON!!!!”

    Homer’s sentiment mimics mine exactly. Voyager could have gone 10 years, EASILY.

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