This article is an opinion piece. Views expressed are those of the writer.
Roddenberry’s Humanist Star Trek
Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was interviewed by Humanist magazine in its March/April 1991 issue. At the time, Humanist wrote:
“Star Trek: The Next Generation is probably the most humanistic entertainment program that is on television-or, perhaps, ever has been on television. One of the underlying messages of both series is that human beings can, with critical thinking, solve the problems that are facing them without any outside or supernatural help.“
Looking back at each Star Trek incarnate, all put forth a future that abides by Roddenberry’s world view. You see Gene believed that humanity has within itself the ability to overcome its adolescent state. By doing that, it would enter into its post-religious/supernatural, post-racist, post-war, post-money, post-scarcity, post-nationalist, evidence-based adulthood. Not quit a utopia, but certainly closer to it then where humanity is now.
What Does This Have to do With Sonequa Martin-Green?
Since the announcement of her leading role, I’ve been following Sonequa on Twitter. Over the past week or so, she has made a number of tweets that suggest she subscribes to the Christian religion. I realize it shouldn’t, but this sets off alarm bells for me personally. Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek is more than non-religious, it’s post-religion – even atheist. Yet the leading actor for Star Trek: Discovery is publicly professing her religious views.
I present the following two tweets:
It sounds that Sonequa has more than a passing interest in Christianity – perhaps practices it in her daily life. To know why this raises flags for me (personally), I’ll explain a bit more about myself.
Where I’m Coming From
I was raised (read: “indoctrinated”) as fundamentalist Christian. Not as fundamentalist as some, but certainly more than others. For me the earth was 6,000 years old, evolution was a lie, nearly everything in the bible was literal and true, and the second-coming was “any day now”. This resulted in A – reduced critical thinking (don’t be a “doubting Thomas” – just believe), B – apathy towards schooling and education (why care or plan ahead if the second coming is near?), C – a denial of human impact on the planet (God wouldn’t let it happen; if he did, I’d believe it’s for the best … and I was Christian so I’d be ok), and D – a complete “othering” of non-Christians, which really meant I didn’t care about many of my fellow human beings even though I professed otherwise.
Star Trek was one of the few things that helped usher in a new era of non-religion for me. Over my late teens and early twenties I struggled to reprogram the way my brain had been operating for my entire life up until that point. The use of critical thinking as a default instead of just accepting things as truths. A better understanding of science, the scientific method, and why our understandings can and should evolve and be refined over time. Adjacent to all of this, it taught me to accept that people are different, and that diversity can be a good thing – bringing alternative perspectives and thinking to every-day situations and life.
I recognize the apparent contradiction in that Star Trek teaches diversity and acceptance, yet my concerns are with Sonequa’s religious views. And not even necessarily her views – just my interpretations of them.
Sonequa’s Tweets & Faith
In the latter tweet above, Sonequa links to her Instagram account where she writes:
“The Muslim Temple Mount in Jerusalem. I believe this monument is a powerful symbol of faith #coexistence. Muslims, Jews and Christians believe this is the site where Abraham was saved from sacrificing his son Isaac. Today only Muslims can enter, but the ground on which it stands is viewed as holy by many.“
Sonequa appears to be treading lightly in this quote. Quite diplomatically even. However if one is to read between the lines, it can be interpreted as suggesting that the temple, where only Muslims may enter, should also allow the same for Christians and Jews. For now, this should be left to Muslim leaders to decide – which they have. In the first tweet, Sonequa sounds to subscribe to a literal belief that Jesus walked on water.
Being a former believer in the bible’s writings as being literal, I know that many fundamentalist Christians have deep-rooted views. Their actions are often dictated by their religiously-driven morals. Just take a look at some of the wacky Christian politicians doing crazy things like trying to deny women’s reproductive rights. If Sonequa has fundamentalist views, will her role in Star Trek Discovery conflict with her personal beliefs? And if so, to what end? Perhaps cognitive dissonance?
On the other hand, it’s heartening to see that she wrote “#coexistence” for Christians, Jews and Muslims. That’s closer to Star Trek’s philosophy, even if it is about religion – something Roddenberry saw as having a shelf-life for an all-grown-up humanity and possibly barrier to our future. Plus, actors are actors and their job is to present something other than themselves.
Star Trek Philosophy Lives on in Woman of Colour
All talk of religion aside, I’m super stoked to finally see a woman of colour in the Star Trek Discovery leading role, regardless of any religious views held. Truly, woman of colour are very under-represented in leading and important roles in science fiction. It’s disturbing that it’s taken this long to happen, but I will admit to a certain satisfaction in Star Trek Discoery taking on this lead again.