Star Trek : Balance of Terror

Stiles is a jerk. Throughout the whole stressful encounter with the Romulans he won’t shut up about how he hates them. We get it: you want to kill them. Kirk is trying to get through this without starting another war. So just shut up. But the guy persists in making comments at every opportunity. Oh, says the viewer, this episode is about prejudice. That’s why that guy keeps going on about how prejudiced he is.

Oh and I’ll bet that happy newlywed couple is gonna end up having to pay for this racist jerk’s racist jerkiness. Well the viewer is right. This little morality play doesn’t pull any punches. Racism is dumb and reckless allegiance to it can lead to real disaster, even for members of “your side.”

Rather than belabor the racism metaphor of this episode, I would like to indulge myself in a bit of speculation. This story hinges on the concept that Stiles is a racist (or more appropriately: a speciesist). As a Christian, the possibility of encountering sentient alien life is problematic. I have no problem believing that God made more than one planet habitable and populated more than one planet with sentient life. I have no problem accepting that he engaged, or didn’t engage, with them in ways I haven’t conceived of. My faith wouldn’t be shaken to any dangerous degree. What I would wrestle with would be the extent of the gospel.

So here’s the question I’m sure every Christian who has enjoyed my blog has asked: Is the Gospel of Jesus Christ limited to earth humans?

I bring this up now because Stiles’ resentment of the Romulans inspired me to think something like, “It’s a sick facet of human nature to fear people you don’t understand.” But waitaminnit. He’s fearing aliens that he doesn’t understand, and maybe he should. After all, they’re aggressive and they did attack the Enterprise.

The resemblance the Romulans share with Vulcans first causes Stiles to suspect Spock of being a traitor. It’s later revealed that the two races do indeed share a common ancestry. (Perhaps here we’re seeing the seeds of Spock’s mission to reunify the Vulcans and Romulans.) And since we know and trust Spock, maybe the Romulans deserve a shot after all.

I would like to give them a shot even if I wasn’t acquainted with one of their distant relatives. Shouldn’t all sentient lifeforms be given a chance to engage peacefully with us? Maybe. The experience of the human race is to mistrust, fear, fight with, and occasionally make up with other members of the very same human race. So even though Stiles’ fear of the Romulans is a nice metaphor for modern human racism/xenophobia, it’s terribly inaccurate. Earth humans share a source (whether you’re a 6-day creationist or an evolutionist, you believe this). Because of that common source, we share most of our history. We have versions of the same physical, cultural, and emotional needs. And we have the same God. I don’t mean that all religions all pray to the same God, in a universalist sense. I mean that the God of the Jews, Yahweh, made this world, filled it with people, entered it Himself, and will return to finally repair it. So whatever religion any earth human subscribes to is, more or less, meaningless if it doesn’t admit the supremacy of Christ.

Quit looking at me funny. If you don’t like it, take it up God. I didn’t make it up.

Humans have made themselves different from each other. But because we are all the same underneath, those differences really are superficial. Romulans are not of the same stuff that humans are of. So those differences cannot just be chalked up to superficial ones, like skin color or language or art. Romulans aren’t aliens because of man- made walls. Romulans are aliens because they’re aliens.

What do we do with that? We can only speculate until we actually encounter sentient life from other planets. But I have my doubts about even communicating with alien life. Our differences won’t just be language and forehead configurations. We might have wildly different biologies, making communication impossible. Some aliens could even be invisible to us, existing on a different light frequency. There are millions of reasons why it is unlikely that we could even achieve rudimentary interation with alien life. The distance problem might just require time to solve. But even identifying existence, let alone sentience, let alone translation, would be a monumental task that no philologist, biologist, or anthropologist is capable of doing. We would need a new rule book.

Supposing we mastered the travel, gained the abilities to see and communicate with alien life, what would we tell them about religion? I would think that Jesus Christ should be a pretty important figure to mention, no matter the religion of our ambassador. After all, we’ve invited aliens to listen to Chuck freaking Berry. I would think the single most important figure in human history should get a mention. So what should we tell them? What would you tell them? “Jesus loves you”? Does he?

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2 thoughts on “Star Trek : Balance of Terror

  1. With the possible exception of the god-like entities or energy beings, etc, Star Trek portrays aliens that are existentially the same as us. And even though those weird energy aliens appear from time to time, there could be no story about a starship crewed by them. Their story-function is to show that there are things in the universe that are beyond our understanding, much as Christians believe in angels.

    If the Romulans, Vulcans, and Klingons were real, I think they would still be “human.” God might not have literally created them from one blood as he did all the peoples of earth…. but in Star Trek, but maybe in a sense, they are all of one blood, even if that blood is green. After all, Spock is half human. Neither their cultures nor biologies are wholly alien. Therefore, they would have to have had a common origin and a common destiny, I think. Even Star Trek admits as much in that Next Generation episode about the original humanoid race.

    What does that mean about the Gospel? Does Jesus want to save Warf, or is it really okay that Warf prays to Kahless, because Warf really doesn’t have a part in God’s dealings with humanity? My feeling is that Christ loves Warf, but since Warf is an alien and not simply from a different human culture, maybe God really does reach out to Warf through Kahless in some way that human’s can’t understand.

    I find it interesting that in Deep Space Nine, a lot of emphasis is placed on the ideal “humanoid” rather than the ideal “human.” Odo is DSN‘s inquisitive non-human who wants to know what it means to be human, serving the same role that Data fills in TNG and Spock in TOS. But Odo wasn’t discovered by humans of Earth. He was familiar with Bajorans and Cardassians long before he met humans, and his catchphrase is “you humanoids…”

    • I like your idea that God might love Worf in a way we don’t fully understand. I think, should we ever discover alien life, that is a likely possibility. It reminds me of CS Lewis’ space trilogy. I wanted to reference those books in the article, but I haven’t quite figured out how I want to integrate Lewis’ theories into my own theories of the space-religion question.

      I remember that TNG episode now that you mention it. Before I started writing this review, I kinda figured that the theory promoted by Trek creators would be the basic panspermia concept. IIRC, Harlan Ellison’s proposal for the first Trek movie would have explored that idea that all life in the universe has a single physical source.

      Anyway, it’s a fun topic to bang on about. I look forward to eventually watching through DS9. It sounds like they deal with some heavy topics, which should be fun.

      Thanks for reading!

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