Thoughts About Star Trek: The Motion Picture

I watched Star Trek: The Motion Picture a few nights ago because Stephen Collins was on it, and I wanted to see if he was anything like Eric Camden on 7th Heaven. Catherine Hicks was on Star Trek IV, and she definitely acted like Annie Camden, in the sense that she was rather feisty and strong in her convictions.

Stephen Collins wasn’t like Eric Camden on Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but he was more like the role he played on one episode of the Waltons: stiff, rather formal, not much voice inflection or ability to connect with people. On the audio commentary and the documentary, however, he was much more like Eric Camden: real, thoughtful, likable, ability to connect with people, open, somewhat mesmerizing, etc.

I wish that he commented more on the religious dimensions of the plot, but many of his comments were about the technical aspects of the film. I appreciated one thing he said about the role of actors. For one scene, he said, he was told to look at the screen ahead and act like he was seeing the most beautiful thing that one could behold. In reality, howevr, he was looking at a big fat “X.” Collins then remarked that actors are paid to exercise their imaginations.

Regarding the religious dimensions, he made a statement near the end of the movie about his character’s assimilation with the V’Ger space vessel. In the movie, Collins’ character, Decker, merges with a NASA space probe that had attained knowledge and consciousness. It was pure logic, so it had a lot of loneliness and inner emptiness. But Collins gave it a human dimension, and it became an omniscient, omnipresent being after their merging.

Collins said that he would have liked to do what Decker did: to leave everything behind and become part of something larger than himself. Nowadays, he said, he’d be less willing to do that, since he has a family that he doesn’t want to leave behind. But he said he would have been more willing to undertake such an endeavor in his younger years. Collins also said that, around the time of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, he started to practice meditation, which was a way for him to transcend himself and nature. That corresponded with something I read in wikipedia: that he’s a practitioner of Transcendental Meditation, a New Age technique.

While I was listening to the audio commentary, I was reading Book II of the Christ Clones trilogy, which touched a lot on New Age religion. In the book, the Antichrist and his associates maintain that the world is entering a new era, in which people are advancing in their human capabilities. They are on the verge of being able to read one another’s thoughts and feelings, which could lead to mutual understanding. And the Antichrist said that religion must go out the door, since it has led to a lot of division and bloodshed. For him, people must learn to appreciate the “god within.”

The part about mutual understanding somewhat appealed to me, probably because I find that I am often misunderstood. But I doubt that people would necessarily like me or sympathize with me if they could read my thoughts and feelings, even if they were to discover that I’m not really that different from them. I know people who love to critique and psychologically analyze others. They claim to understand people’s insecurities, yet they don’t necessarily sympathize with or like those people.

When Psalm 139 says that God knows us intimately, does that mean that he sympathizes with us? Or does he know us as a distant judge, one who knows our number, even as he critiques us?

There are aspects of the Christ Clones model that resonate with me, but I can’t imagine myself ditching God in favor of a nebulous “god within.” Even if we understand each other and solve the world’s problems, there will still be an emptiness or feeling of disconnection that only God can fill (in my opinion). So many religions try to deal with human alienation. Buddhism attributes it to human attachment. Gnosticism stated that we are actually divine sparks trapped in an alien world. The ones who deny human alienation seem to be atheists, who believe that this world actually can meet people’s needs. Maybe that’s because they see this world as all there is, so they think it has to meet our inner desires.

I didn’t entirely identify with Stephen Collins’ religion. I can identify with going beyond myself, but not really with transcending nature and becoming an omnipresent, omniscient being. Does that mean that I want to be a servant of a higher power for all eternity? I’m not sure. I don’t know what I want.

That brings me to a key message in Star Trek: The Motion Picture: V’Ger was looking for his creator, who could explain to it the purpose for its existence. And V’Ger wanted physical contact with the one who had made him. That’s one reason many of us search for God: we want to know our purpose. And if my purpose is to serve a higher power, then that’s fine with me. I’d be acting according to who I am, as God made me.

My problem is that Christianity often requires me to be something I naturally am not–a happy, happy social extrovert. I wonder what my purpose is in light of how God made me: an insecure introvert who struggles socially.

Anyway, these are my ramblings for the day.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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7 Responses to Thoughts About Star Trek: The Motion Picture

  1. Russell Miller says:

    Why does Christianity expect you to be all happy? Why would Jesus want you to be someone you’re not?

    It sounds to me like you’re drawing a conclusion and wondering why you can’t live up to it. To me, this implies either a problem with your idea of Christianity or with Christianity itself.


  2. James Pate says:

    Does your experience with Christianity match that, in some way? I’ve been to Armstrongite churches where there were people who acted like they were righteous because they were so perky. Then there were other Armstrongites who were cold and morose. I’ve heard Armstrongite sermons in which any emotionalism was looked down upon. I guess I was speaking more about evangelicalism, but I wonder if what I say can apply to Armstrongism too.


  3. steph says:

    I think some forms of Christianity assume that their members – if truly Christian – will be happy. Perhaps these are the more fundamentalist and evangelical types who believe that they are absolutely right and know exactly what God wants because it is right there in the Bible as God’s word. In their self righteousness I don’t see how they are truly happy and wonder whether they feel glee, hatred or anger when they think about all the outsiders who will literally burn in hell for eternity.

    Some Christianities also seem to teach members to fear God, believe they were born bad and fear that all mistakes they make in life will be counted against them on judgement day. I don’t think these Christianities expect members to be happy. If they became too happy, they might no longer fear, and leave the church.

    Perhaps the more liberal strands of Christianity might hope their members are happy as they view Jesus as loving enemies, an egalitarian, peacemaking hippie tolerant and embracing of diversity in people.

    While I think it certain that Jesus said ‘love your enemies’, I don’t believe he encountered much diversity in people and certainly not according to the earliest sources. His mission was to the Jews, bringing them back to God (not repent but ‘tuv’) and his problem was with Jews in authority misinterpreting or developing the Torah. He was no hippie or cynic like sage, but an apocalyptic prophet who was preparing for his own suffering and death and that of his followers, in anticipation of the coming of the kingdom while some in the audience were still alive – ie, very soon. So in a sense he was egalitarian – we’ll all be the same according to God on judgement day. So foremost, love the one true God, love your enemies, don’t judge others, give everything to the poor, don’t worry about tomorrow, pay your taxes – just be prepared. Perhaps he expected his followers to be more hopeful that present unhappiness and uncertainty would end. I don’t think there was much to be happy about.

    I don’t know any Christians at all who are happy, happy, social extroverts. Most have certain doubts, insecurities and personal crises. We have had millions of disagreements James 🙂 and I think I disagree with you now. You seem to suggest you are different from other people and have greater disabilities. You’re just as good as the next person – we all have our problems! You’re unique like the rest of us.

    Kia Kaha 🙂


  4. steph says:

    Apart from appearing to ignore the diversity within New Age Religions and Spirituality, the author of the book which you cite, Christ Clones, seems extraordiinarily misinformed.

    By the way, I believe we are all truly happy, happy, not necessarily social extroverts, when we give to others and learn to love our enemies – not that that was Jesus object when he gave those instructions…


  5. James Pate says:

    Hi Steph,

    I’ve wrestled with a lot of the topics you presented in your two comments. Here are some comments/questions:

    1. I pretty much go with the apocalyptic version of Jesus myself, since that’s what I see when I read the synoptics. I’m open on this, since a Jesus who believed in an imminent apocalypse is not exactly faith-friendly, since it presents Jesus as wrong. I have a question for you: where does Jesus’ death fit into the apocalyptic Jesus? Why did Jesus have to die, according to Jesus or the authors of the synoptics, and how did his death fit within his apocalyptic mindset?

    2. I don’t know a great deal about New Age religions, but, from what I do know, I think you’re right about it being a diverse movement. There are strands that actually believe in God, for example.


  6. steph says:

    I studied New Age Religions and Spirituality as an undergraduate. Yes, some believe in God and interpret God in different ways. There is even faith in a God in some Wiccan belief.

    I think Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet – like John. He believed the kingdom would come soon and his mission was to bring wayward Jews back (tuv) to God (no Aramaic word for repent which is a Greek invention as Godless Gentiles who had never been with God, were included later). He knew he would suffer and die because John did. He believed others would suffer and die also (James and John, ‘drink the cup’ metaphor for death, the mistake left in Mark 10.39 because he said it although James and John did not die with him).

    The evangelists interpret his death in different ways just as they interpret the apocalyptic in different ways.


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