Picard being interrogated by Satie and her assistants (Paramount Pictures)
We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again. Captain Lean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) Star Trek the Next Generation “The Drumhead”
Back in May of 2009 when still struggling with faith, belief and God as I wrestled with PTSD and a number of other life issues I wrote an article entitled Star Trek, God and Me 1966 to 2009 . At the time I was pretty much a mess but as I wrote it I realized that all of life is connected and my Christian faith does not occur in a void that has no connection with the rest of life. It is this rediscovery of the reality of faith that helps guide me now. I make no claims to be correct on everything and I am much more apt to err on the side of grace, although I have a lot of difficulty with those that use the Christian faith as a weapon to subjugate others and to deny civil and religious rights and human dignity to those that believe differently than they do. This is why I write today.
I remember as a teenager going to a pretty conservative church which in many ways was basically an evangelical Christian subculture that looked out at the world as if it were the enemy and “non-Christians” as if they were lesser people because they were not “saved.” In fact if you mentioned that you knew someone that was not a member of the church people almost invariably would ask if the person was “saved.” This subcultural attitude which is actually quite prejudicial even if it is well intentioned pervades much of contemporary Evangelicalism and when some Evangelical leaders suggest dialogue and relationships with the “unsaved” which are respectful to non-Christians they are often labeled as “liberals” or “heretics.”
This has happened to me in the past couple of years since returning from Iraq and having to leave the Church that I served for 14 years as a Priest and Canon. I wrote an article called Faith Journey’s: Why I am Still a Christian in September of 2010 which detailed the journey that I have been on. When I left the church I wrote another article that was picked up on another blog which was entitled The Church Maintained in Love: Maintaining Integrity and Preserving Relationships When Asked to Leave a Church. A number of people made comments on that article either positive or handled with grace and love but one anonymous person posted a comment which showed the extreme ugliness of some “Christian” conservatives who are quite willing to use character assassination, sound bites and absolute lies to smear another Christian brother who happens to disagree with them. The moderator of that blog took down the comment because it was so off base and offered his apologies to me having been a target of people in our former church when he left years ago. Though the post was anonymous it had to be someone that knew me because it was very personal couched in “religious piety” but filled with lies and distortions. So much for Christian love….
But back to the Star Trek theme which believe it or not weaves its way through this saga. It seems to me that a lot of Christians talk big but act like they are afraid of the big bad world and if criticized fall into the litany of how bad things are, how the world hates Christians and hunker down into a fortress mentality. Others keep the fortress but decide that it is high time that they as Christians “kick some liberal ass” and declare “war” on those not like them. Some couch this in more moderate terms but others like the bomb-throwing activist Randall Terry show the dark side of this mentality:
“Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…. If a Christian voted for Clinton, he sinned against God. It’s that simple…. Our goal is a Christian Nation… we have a biblical duty, we are called by God to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want Pluralism. We want theocracy. Theocracy means God rules. I’ve got a hot flash. God rules.” [Randall Terry, Head of Operation Rescue, from The News Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Aug 15, 1993]
“Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…” The continued twisted “Christian” message of Randall Terry (Life Magazine)
The quote is nearly 18 years old but the attitude is quite common today as “Christians” gird themselves for war. If you ask me the attitude is not Christian at all, but something out of the Middle Eastern mindset of the Old Testament which found its way into some parts of the Christian faith especially the Calvinism espoused by the Puritans who initially settled New England which is used as a pattern by Christian “Reconstructionists” and others of similar thinking. It seems to me to represent all that Jesus condemned many of his religious contemporaries for doing. Jesus preached the Kingdom of God was at hand and for people to repent, however his harshest warnings and condemnations came not on the people that the religious considered the “unsaved” the Gentiles, prostitutes, tax collectors and other sinners but at the smug religious people that ruled that ruled their countrymen with a religious law often more draconian than that of the oppressive Romans especially in the way that it treated others outside the fold.
The attitude is actually quite poisonous when you look at it in light of history and the effect that such an approach to life and others. I can go to historic examples galore since we as Christians often have a sordid record when it comes to treating those that Christ gave his life for with any kind of love, charity or compassion often engaging in wars, pogroms, persecution, the Inquisition and state/church sanctioned mass murder even against fellow Christians that don’t agree with are particular line of thought. But if I do that it strikes some as if I am trying to be unfair, so I will go to a Star Trek example which I used a while back in another post on a different subject but it fits.
The example comes from the Star Trek TNG episode called “The Drumhead” The episode involves a suspected case of sabotage and spying on the Enterprise and a retired Admiral is sent to investigate. Though evidence leads away from this conclusion the Admiral and her aid drive home the point and widen the investigation for any suspicious acts. Soon the loyalty of anyone that raises a voice to question the premise of the investigation is suspect to include the Captain, Jean Luc Picard.
The Admiral is a true believer in the Federation, actually a Zealot who describes a life that is quite similar to modern Zealots of religious and non-religious varieties in conservative and liberal thought in this and other countries. Zealots tend to surround themselves with others like them and often live lonely isolated existences in which they are on a mission to make sure that the edicts of their faith are obeyed and enforced by whatever religious or governmental structures will accommodate them. Admiral Satie, the investigator details her life to Picard: “Captain, may I tell you how I spent the past four years? From planet to starbase to planet. I have no home. I live on starships and shuttlecraft. I haven’t seen a family member in years. I have no friends. But I have a purpose. My father taught me from the time I was a little girl still clutching a blanket, that the United Federation of Planets is the most remarkable institution ever conceived. And it is my cause to make sure that this… extraordinary union be preserved.” Simply substitute the “United States of America” or “Christianity” for the United Federation of Planets and the picture paints a picture of us today.
After a lengthy opening the Admiral throws this at Picard: “I question your actions, Captain; I question your choices, I question your loyalty!”
Picard dares to reply with a quote from the Admiral’s father, a noted jurist: “You know, there are some words I’ve known since I was a schoolboy: “With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably.” Those words were uttered by Judge Aaron Satie, as wisdom and warning. The first time any man’s freedom is trodden on, we’re all damaged. I fear that today…”
The Admiral becomes furious and turns her wrath against Picard: “How dare you! You who consort with Romulans, invoke my father’s name to support your traitorous arguments! It is an offense to everything I hold dear! And to hear those words used to subvert the United Federation of Planets. My father was a great man! His name stands for integrity and principle. You dirty his name when you speak it! He loved the Federation. But you, Captain, corrupt it. You undermine our very way of life. I will expose you for what you are. I’ve brought down bigger men than you, Picard!”
One only has to look at other Zealots of the Reconstructionist theology to see where this is going: Gary North one of the long time leaders of this movement said: “So let us be blunt about it: We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will be get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.” –Gary North, “The Intellectual Schizophrenia of the New Christian Right” in Christianity and Civilization: The Failure of the American Baptist Culture, No. 1 (Spring, 1982), p. 25
Another important leader of the Christian right noted “We are engaged in a social, political, and cultural war. There’s a lot of talk in America about pluralism. But the bottom line is somebody’s values will prevail. And the winner gets the right to teach our children what to believe.” — Gary Bauer, Family Research Council.
Unfortunately the leaders of this particular view of Christianity are not much different than the fictitious Admiral Satie and I do expect that their crusade will not be done anytime soon. I know the character of such people having been their target. Based on the words of my critic who totally twisted what I said and believe in this pejorative and frankly distorted screed:
“From his writings on his blog, it’s quite clear that he is the one who’s taking a new direction away from Scripture and the ancient faith, which is the basis for his departure. Fr. Steve has changed his beliefs to now accept women priests, gay “saints”, Muslim “saints”, etc. I might call the acceptance of women priests “liberal”, but the other two are really just heresy – though I’m certain many (particularly Catholic and Orthodox) readers would lump women priests into the heresy category as well. Didn’t Jesus really die on the Cross to reconcile us to God teaching us that He is the only way to the Father? Yet Fr. Steve now believes that it was unnecessary for Jesus to atone for our sins as even Muslims can obtain Heaven without the Cross. And hasn’t God repeatedly taught us throughout Scripture that homosexual sex is condemned as an abomination. Yet Fr Steve now believes God didn’t really say that at all and that gay sex is okay with God….I will pray for Fr. Steve, that the Holy Spirit will reveal the Truth to him and bring him back to the true faith whether that’s with the CEC or another communion.”
The person that wrote this was anonymous and posed as an administrator on the other site using the name “admin.” What bothers me is the disingenuousness of the statement and the manner in which my beliefs were twisted to include implying that I had denied the “true faith” were bandied about by this person who as I said had to know me especially since my former church is a very small communion which has been shrinking for years due to its own internal problems. I have my suspicions of who the writer might be but cannot prove it beyond a doubt and the fact that he hid his identity is telling, only cowards that have no honor make such attacks from the shadows rather than speaking to a brother in person as the words of Scripture command.
The sad thing is that everything that I wrote is backed by the teachings of the Catholic Church and the Second Vatican Council and I never denied the Creeds, Councils and my Scriptural hermeneutics (not the way they were twisted) were within the bounds of the Christian faith in belief that the love and grace of God triumph over sin and unbelief and that we cannot earn that grace. But according to my critic I am an apostate who has left the faith and my words are twisted beyond belief to “prove” his point. This is the kind of person that uses the Creeds and Scripture not as means to faith and expressions of a living faith based on the mercy grace and love of God but as means of ecclesiastical control, not much different from that of the Medieval Catholic Church which I am sure that he would condemn since he refuses to be reconciled to Rome. It is funny to be criticized as a heretic by someone who would qualify as such if judged he were by Rome or even Orthodoxy.
Randall Terry, Gary Bauer, my anonymous critic and others represent the nature of the Admiral Satie in our universe and time-space continuum as opposed to the hypothetical future of Star Trek. Just watch their behavior in the coming months and years. The war is afoot and woe betides anyone that stands in their way. At the end of the Drumhead episode when Satie’s and her investigation are discredited Captain Picard and his Security Chief Lieutenant Worf a Klingon, gives us final word of warning about the Satie’s of this world:
Lieutenant Worf: [referring to Admiral Satie] I think… after yesterday, people will not be so ready to trust her.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Maybe. But she, or someone like her, will always be with us, waiting for the right climate in which to flourish, spreading fear in the name of righteousness. Vigilance, Mister Worf – that is the price we have to continually pay.
I guess that is why God still speaks to me through Star Trek; sometimes the words are pretty prophetic and speak to us in ways that those who loudly proclaim themselves to be on God’s side in a social, political and cultural war ever will.
8 responses to “Star Trek God and Me: Ecclesiastical Tyranny Today, the Drumhead Revisited”
I know the 2 books you have by your bedside: The Bible, and “Everything I Ever Needed To Know I Learned From Star Trek” (an actual book). 😀
Okay, now to the serious stuff. I will steer clear of the church/state separation issues and the inherent treasonous statements in calling for a theocracy in the U.S. Instead, I’ll address the “zealot” issue. Just as Islam is not a faith of terrorists, suicide bombers, or jihadists, Christianity (in its’ numerous forms) is not a faith of exclusion. (At least not how I learned about it.) Zealotry, “true believerism”, call it what you will, is exclusionist. To call for armed action, to assume that your faith is a persecuted minority (in this country, at least), to attack others a revisionist, does not bring people together, and does a great disservice to the central tenent of the Christian faith being one of peace. Unfortunately, it is hard to draw attention to your cause when you walk the middle of the path. Just like the political rhetoric before and (unfortunately) after the shootings in Tucson, extremism in both political and religious leadership and discourse will always make you “stand out”, for good or ill. There is an additional, unnerving parallel between such political extremes as Nazism and these radical religious people’s diatribes – they focus on an outside enemy to distract attention from any internal discord. It is always easy to blame someone else to draw attention away from your own shortcomings. If these people can’t provide the religious answers they should, they can always provide a better answer than those OTHER groups. If we permit exclusionary teachings in our religion, then we fall prey to the same radicalism we condemn in others (Islam). If we are unwilling to face the shortcomings in our religion, then we blame others (Nazism). And in both, we create an air of mistrust, of exclusion rather than inclusion, of “us against them” (“The Drumhead”), and soon we lose sight of the very ideals we are supposedly fighting to protect. And just as both Captain Picard’s warning to Lt. Worf, and the aftermath of Tucson, have both taught us, we must be vigilant, we must always watch for the first seeds of discord, before they grow into an unmanageable tangle. I had high hopes that we had seen the errors in the wake of Tucson – those hopes were quickly dashed. I just hope that the extremist Christians either come to their senses or are reigned in by their own, just as I hope that Republicans and Democrats can re-learn the art of courteous discourse. The alternatives are too frightening to contemplate.
And as always, stay strong, Padre. If others attack you, it is only because they believe you are important and influential enough to warrant attention. There may not be as many of us moderates as there are of the lunatic fringe, but I’ll put my money on strong characters like you any day! Godspeed, and God Bless, my friend.
Thank you as always my friend. As a historian I have studied such movements in the Church and they never turn out well. Bloodshed and tyranny result and eventually the oppressive orders are overthrown usually in equally violent fashion. Creeds and scriptural interpretations are used as justification for violence. We need repentance rather than revenge and wisdom rather than warfare. Blessings on you my friend. Peace, Steve+
Actually I have Star Trek and Philosophy, a real book also. I have the Everything I ever Needed to Learn I learned from Star Trek in German. 😉
(John sits, staring into space, attempting to reconcile the concept of Star Trek in German. A wisp of smoke curls from his right ear, and his left eye begins to twitch…..) 😀
Padre- A quick programming note. “The Drumhead” is on BBC America at 8pm Eastern tonight. Just FYI.
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Friends of Padre Steve’s World
I have spent much of the day writing another chapter of my Gettysburg tome, after which I got together with my wife and friends at our local watering hole. This article is a few years old, but like last night’s is still relevant. Look forward to some material over the weekend, including the Gettysburg article. Have a great weekend.
P.S. Yes I am watching Star Trek the Next Generation episodes on Blu Ray tonight.
I am not a smart man like you or your friend John. I read the Bible but miss many of its deeper meanings. I watch Star Trek and feel the same way. I didn’t learn everything from Star Trek and I flipped through the Star Trek and Philosophy book once. I almost bought the book next to it: Metallica and Philosophy but chickened out after I took a closer look at the contents. There are a lot of big words inside those books.
What I do know about Jesus can be summed up simply. “Love God with all your strength, heart, mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.” Everyone that you documented in this essay did not exhibit the Love of God towards you, their neighbors or to the Creator himself. But you, even after being hurt by these pointless attacks are willing to love them back is all I need to know about them and you.
I will stand by you every day and twice on Sunday. I am not scared of a pencil necked geek threatening me with empty words. I say bring it on and get it sorted out so that we can get back to loving people because that is truly where our mission lies. Love is the answer and without it we are all lost.