This week's theme is HOPE.
Hope is still vitally important to humanity, as it always has been. In today’s world, perhaps, it may seem more necessary and more difficult to find than it has in a long time. While it may be true that we won’t destroy ourselves with bombs, there is a fear among many that, if their lives are not destroyed, their way of life will be. The development of social order and culture is part of what makes us human. Often, though, the growth of our culture seems to involve a constant tearing at its fabric. That which we seek to grow, preserve, and nurture is often that which we also must question and distrust, constantly dismantling and rebuilding our sense of purpose and security.
This is a frightening process and one that can make us feel there really is no hope. So, at times like these, it’s important that something like Star Trek exists to help us find hope. But I think we can make a mistake when we look for that hope in the place Star Trek says (in practical terms) we will find it. The hope of Star Trek’s future rests largely on human unity—on laying aside differences and working together. This, in itself, is a good thing and one toward which we should all be moving and to which we should all be contributing.
But the specific idea that humankind will unify as we work together to reach out into space has always seemed to me to be the weakest element of the Star Trek universe’s mythos. There are a number of reasons for this, the most essential of which is perhaps that it’s unrealistic, though it is at least looking for the right things.
Hope rooted in a peaceful future for humankind is a good thing. Hope rooted in generosity and kindness is a good thing. Hope rooted in the vital nurturing of the human soul in a quest for understanding is a good thing. But hoping that we will find these things when we all work together to reach out into space is at odds with human history and human nature.
As it has been said, “No matter where you go, there you are.” Even as we reach out beyond this planet, we are still us. And we will take ourselves—including our limitations, our failures, our weaknesses, and our pride—with us wherever we go. Even if all of us could work together to venture to the next star (and we can’t; only our best scientists and engineers can), we would fight the whole way about how to do it. The project—like every other human endeavor—would and will be fraught with greed, competitiveness, politics, and disagreements.
It’s nice to think that working together to find humanity’s future in space will cause us to grow beyond all that, but there’s simply nothing inherent in the process of space travel that will cure the human condition. Going to space isn’t magic. While it is wonderful, important, and worth doing, it is—like most things—an exchange of one set of complications for another.
As Star Trek itself often shows us, once we go into space—even if we have solved many of Earth’s practical problems, like poverty and disease—the project of cooperation and survival only becomes more complex. Our international political issues soon become galactic and intergalactic political issues. No matter how much we think we have it together here on Earth, there is no accounting for what—or who—we may encounter beyond our solar system and the condition of the human heart will not change just because we’ve carried it to another location.
“The final frontier,” Star Trek writer David Gerrold has said, “is not space. The final frontier is the human soul. Space is where we will meet the challenge.” Gerrold is right that the real future of humanity lies within. And surely, if we go further into space, our outward journey must be an expression of an inward journey, but the challenge of cultivating the human soul is not something we have to travel to space to encounter. We find it every day, right where we live.
Maybe that’s why the Biblical narrative says our ultimate destiny lies, not floating on a cloud somewhere, but on a restored, renewed Creation, as human beings, on Earth. Maybe that’s why humanity’s ultimate hope comes, not in a starship, but wrapped in cloths, small and helpless, snuggled in the embrace of a human mother’s arms.
As we embark on interstellar voyages in Star Trek, let’s always remember that the real hope for humankind is living inside us, that it came from God in human skin and that it comes for us, to find us wherever we are, whether far beyond the stars, or right here on Earth. So let’s look to the stars, as Marley says in A Christmas Carol, and remember “that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode.” Let’s marvel at the wonder of humanity and hope for our future, but let’s always remember that hope is with us where we live because God is with us, because Immanuel. Because while we were yet hopeless, hope came for us, that we might hope again.