Star Trek a paean to humanism, says Gene Roddenberry’s former executive assistant

Here‘s an interesting article. Gene Roddenberry’s personal executive assistant from 1974 until his death in 1991, says what we all knew about the Roddenberry and his Star Trek franchise, but fills in the portrait of Roddenberry-as-humanist with some interesting details. His former assistant, herself a member of the American Humanist Association board (a fact buried in the article’s second-last paragraph) describes in the article just how much Roddenberry disliked religion in any form, and how deeply he injected his personal creed into the substance of the Star Trek franchise.

I’ve put a snippet of the article below, but it made me wonder about the many flavors of humanism. The late Stanley Grenz used to make a distinction between the “modernism” of the original Star Trek series and the “postmodernism” of Star Trek: The Next Generation. (Here‘s one take on that distinction.) In the original series, the Vulcan Spock, though frequently ribbed for allowing a few cracks to show in his rational exterior, was a powerful, in-control character who got the others out of many a jam through rational deduction. In Next Generation, the android Data, though physically and intellectually powerful, spent many episodes playing the unintentional buffoon and trying to get in touch with what it meant to truly be human–emotions, sense of humor, and all.

Grenz suggested that this difference between Spock on the original series and Data on Next Generation represented a shift in the valuation of human reason from modernity to postmodernity–from the implicit modernist faith in the omnicompetence of reason to the postmodern repudiation of reason as ultimate solver of all problems.

If that’s true, then did Roddenberry himself go through phases in his humanism? Did he at some point lose faith in the capacity of human rationality for solving all problems? (Typical scene: Kirk, Spock, & a few red-shirts beam down to the planet’s surface. They discover that two alien races are at war. They shake their heads in pitying disbelief: “War? That’s so irrational! We got rid of that problem years ago!”)

Just some food for thought . . .

Here’s the beginning of the article:

If you’re a big fan of the Star Trek science fiction genre, then there’s a good chance that you’re a humanist at heart.

That’s the way that Susan Sackett, the longtime personal executive assistant to Trek franchise creator Gene Roddenberry, sees it.Ms. Sackett, who met recently with the Greater Worcester Humanists group at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Worcester, said Mr. Roddenberry was an admitted humanist who liberally sprinkled his out of this world stories about Capt. James Tiberius Kirk, Mr. Spock and the other Star Trek characters with the fundamentals of humanism — a non-theistic, or secular, approach, philosophy, or ideology.

Star Trek has been woven into the cultural fabric since the original television series aired on NBC TV in the mid-1960s. Many sociologists have viewed many of its episodes as morality plays set against the backdrop of space.The genre has been incorporated into many college studies programs.Ms. Sackett said that Star Trek, like humanism, promoted ethics, social justice and reason, and rejected religious dogma and the supernatural.

“A lot of science fiction is filled with humanism,” said Ms. Sackett. “You usually don’t run across an archbishop of Alpha Centauri.”

Finish article here.

15 responses to “Star Trek a paean to humanism, says Gene Roddenberry’s former executive assistant

  1. Oh, you have brought up an important point about the Tower of Babel. I think we often error when we think that our science and technology equate us with God! We are not and will never be equal to or superior to God! In my view, scientists often raise more questions when they make profound discoveries or confirm a theory. We are fallible but our faith isn’t. Science can’t prove or disprove faith but we know God exists. Humility and uncertainty enrich the scientific process. The scientific method encourages duplication and replication of research. the danger, I think, occurs when we assume that we have the answers to everything. When the pharacies questioned Jesus and assumed that they new everything, they made the same mistake we make at times. When the Catholic church persecuted scientists for proposing new theories contrary to church beliefs I think they made the same mistake. I wonder how the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls changed our understanding of the Bible! How will our understanding of the Bible change when we read books excluded from the original cannon? I’m convinced that there may be other biblical writings that we haven’t discovered yet. thus, I stil contend that faith in God and our Savior is not denied by the pursuit of science. Our faith can keep us from becoming too arrogant and keep us humble and enabling us to appreciate God’s gift to us, his son and the planet on which we live and other planets we may discover in the future if they exist.

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