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Catholicism and Science Fiction: Themes in Star Wars, Star Trek and Stargate

By Jeremy Hausotter
Dec. 19, 2022

Most, if not all, have watched something of the Star Trek, Star Wars, or Stargate franchises. They are highly successful franchises that discuss important questions about humanity. They, to be broad, engage their products in themes about man, morality, and the nature of the cosmos. These themes derive conclusions from a handful of basic principles, namely, materialism, atheism, and evolution. This essay is an investigation of the themes and principles found in these franchises. Given the task and scope, this essay will be, in general, painting in broad strokes for the sake of space and time. Some comments are specific to one franchise or another but not necessarily to all three. I speak as someone who has watched, perhaps too much, of these series as a fan but also as a Catholic giving a hard analysis of what they have to offer. I have seen all 16 seasons of Stargate and its 3 movies, the 13 movies and 30 seasons of Star Trek, and 11 movies and 2 seasons of Star Wars. And hence, I write as one concerned about what these franchises have to offer society.

1. Themes on Religion

Each franchise in its own way presupposes atheism. God and religion are major components in each franchise’s mythos, so in one respect, it seems strange to assert that these franchises profess atheism; and yet, it is so. Star Wars has presented essentially two religions, the orders of the Sith and the Jedi. They are described as ancient religions in Episode 4: A New Hope, each group uses the same elemental force of nature, the Force, for either good or evil. Religion here is described as an esoteric method for manipulating this force of nature. In Episode 1: The Phantom Menance, we learn that the Force is accessed through lifeforms living in blood, midichlorians. We can make three initial observations about religion in Star Wars.

First, there is no true conception of God or of any kind of divine being. Religion is based upon the magical manipulation of the Force. This manipulation is properly called magical since it appears counter or opposed to science, achieving results that border on the miraculous. The Force is described as a neutral, natural principle without any attributions of personhood. There is no room for a God the Father within the concept of the Force, for divine fatherhood is impossible for any natural principle. The Force is sometimes described as energy, but God properly speaking, is the kind of being that is radically different from any kind of explanation that originates from within the universe. The Force is something created, properly speaking, because it is a force of nature, whereas God is uncreated, for He is the Creator of everything within the universe.

Second, the introduction of midiclorians in Episode 1 is a demythologization of Star Wars. Chronologically speaking, Episodes IV, V, and VI presented the Force as something mysterious that only the initiated could wield its power. After Episode 1, this mysticism is explained away with the introduction of an alien species. The mystery has been eliminated, or shall we say, demythologized. Aliens are responsible for the Jedi’s ability to perform their magical tricks.

Third, the two fundamental religious orders, the Jedi and the Sith, attempt to balance each other out galactically. One is yin, the other yang. The Jedi is essentially the principle of light, the Sith the principle of darkness. Each is opposed to the other and a balance is sought for universal harmony. It is easy to see here George Lucas’ inspiration from eastern religions. Star Wars is an interesting blend of eastern religion with naturalism and science fiction that has captured audiences for decades.

Concerning Star Trek and Stargate, religion is presented as a foil against science. Religion is portrayed as irrational, and as such, it requires continuous debunking. Every religious explanation needs to be re-explained in terms of science and the laws of nature. The gods presented in these two franchises are aliens every time. Properly speaking, for these series there are no gods, only aliens of advanced technology and evolution. And, in general, these are not good aliens, but petty, immature, narcissistic aliens such as Q and the Continuum from Star Trek: The Next Generation, or aliens that are deceptive and manipulative, or worst, the representation of evil such as the Goa’uld or Ori in Stargate. Every religion in these series has some alien being as the object of religious worship.

None of these franchises present a true conception of God and who He is. “God”, or more generally, the divine, is almost always the source of trouble for humanity and civilization, and as such, is something that must be dealt with using the combined arms of science, technology, and human ingenuity. The fifth Star Trek movie presents God as the master and man as the slave. Man as slaves owes God obedience because he is an advanced alien being who says he is a god and not because he is Good, the author of our existence, and a being worthy of worship. This alien god is instead depicted as a tyrant who is power-hungry. Man is given the choice of living as a slave serving evil beings or becoming a rebel, the hero who rebelled against God. Stargate and Star Trek require of the human spirit rebellion against the divine in defense of human liberty and flourishing. God must therefore be destroyed because he is a threat, whether it is with a Klingon warbird, c4, or Asgard battleship. The gods of these religions are, strictly speaking, beings that must be killed or the human race itself may perish. Kill or be killed.

We can observe that these franchises presuppose the concept of God, that he is a being to whom one owes obedience. The parody comes when this being is described as quite literally an evil monster most of the time. God or the gods are evil monsters to be destroyed. What room is there left for a God who is Good? Besides a single episode of Stargate which approached but never explicitly state, none whatsoever. These series are correct in asserting that an idol is not worthy of being worshipped, but instead of a God the Father we are given science to admire instead.

The common denominator is that these franchises lack a God who is Love and desires the salvation and true good of humanity. There is no God who is properly Father. There is no God who is Being itself or the Creator of the universe. In each franchise, the divine is presented as simply another data point of creation, a part of creation. As such, each franchise immaturely attempts to grapple with the most fundamental questions of humanity. God is unjustly belittled and calumniated as being a slave master, tyrant, and genocidal maniac. He is confused with creation, and understood as part of it. There is no clear distinction between the natural and the supernatural. There is a twofold failure of not acknowledging the sharp distinction between created and uncreated being while also being prejudiced against God. Is it anything else than bias and prejudice to wage such a vociferous campaign against God and religion?

Star Trek and Stargate in this respect do Satan’s bidding, for given that God is represented as the evil archenemy of humanity, the logical solution is to rebel against him. This is the answer Satan gave to God, rebellion, immediately after his creation. Satan’s answer to the God question, to the question of religion, is rebellion. God is a tyrant, so kill him off. These shows presents rebellion as the only solution to the God question. Satan’s answer to God becomes the reason of humanity’s survival in the chaos of the universe. As such, these shows in reality are a disservice to humanity for they confuse what is good with evil, presenting good as evil and evil as good.

Religion is a part of the virtue of justice. Justice is a proper response owed to the being, giving what is due to it. In this case, religion is the proper response owed to the divine, God Himself. In Star Trek and Stargate, the proposed proper religious attitude is rebellion. Rebellion is what makes one virtuous whereas worship makes one a slave. And these shows are correct, for the worship of idols is slavery. The issue is that a false dichotomy is presented, either there is a God and he is an evil alien one must destroy, or there is no God. The Christian answer is that there is a God who is Goodness itself and the source of all good things. To this Being alone the proper religious attitude is worship. It is an injustice to not give worship to this Being and an even greater injustice to rebel against Him. These media presentations, on the other hand, present religion as either a vice or as something to simply be avoided.

The gods in these shows end up becoming images of man, becoming in every way the embodiment of man’s vices. Like the descriptions of the pantheons of the various ancient mythologies, the show writers personify these gods by their vices. The gods are jealous, thirst for power, and lustful. As such, I am reminded of Euripides when he wrote:

But I must admonish Phoebus. What ails him? He ravishes girls and betrays them! Begets children by stealth and callously leaves them to die! Not you, Phoebus, surely! You are mighty; pursue virtue! When men are wicked, the gods punish them. How then can it be just for you yourselves to flout the laws you have laid down for men? If the day ever comes of course the supposition is absurd when you have to make amends to men for your rapings and whorings, you and Poseidon, and Zeus the King of Heaven, you will bankrupt your temples to pay for your sins. You follow your whims without a second thought; that is wicked. One can no longer blame men for imitating the splendid conduct of the gods; blame those who set us the example.[1]

Because the object of worship in these religions are finite beings with the vices of man in exaggerated form, religion itself is always presented as something to be respectful of, while at the same time, is an obstacle to society since it keeps man in the “dark ages” of fear and superstition. As such, religion is straw-manned into becoming an impediment to human progress. The degree to which religion can be eliminated is directly proportional to the ability of humanity to scientifically progress. In other words, science and religion are mutually opposed at both the metaphysical and ideological levels, while, on the other hand, when dealing with the human subject, one must be patient and understanding so as to bring the fanatic to enlightenment. Such is a egoistic paternalism. The scientist has to patiently await for the childish religious zealot to overcome his religiosity so that he can come to understand how reality actually is. Religious adherents are the poor rubes next door one must patiently convert to science and “true” knowledge of the cosmos.

Religious knowledge thereby becomes false knowledge. Religion does not give one an accurate understanding of the cosmos but instead serves to subjugate man and prevent him from coming to a true and scientific understanding of his world. The truths of reality are always found in scientific and technological knowledge bare of any religious connotations. Religious knowledge is hence false knowledge because it is always a mythical-fictitious account of the world and the ordering of the cosmos. Once science is introduced, these religious myths are debunked as the wind of science clears the world of religious fog.

2. Themes on Man

This depiction of religion naturally leads to a false view of man. Given what has been said about religion and God, man becomes the measure and arbiter of both. He determines the validity of both. Man rules over the gods through science and technology. Once man chooses to rebel against God, he has decided to make himself judge over matters of the divine and sets himself up as ruler. He rules the gods through science. Man is a scientific being, and as such, using science he can make himself equal to the gods or even superior, it only requires the right physics and technology to do so.

As we said at the beginning, these franchises are dominated by materialism, the belief that everything is made of matter and matter alone. Whatever is spiritual must be explained away in terms of matter. Spirit is often explained as energy in all three franchises. This includes interpreting the spiritual principle of man in such a manner. The soul is energy according to them. In reality, the soul is immaterial, not made of anything material or physical. The Church has dogmatized the teaching that the soul is the form and the body the matter; the soul animates the body.[2] Together, the body and soul form the one human person and together this unified whole informs human identity. The body has a real role to play in human identity since it expresses and manifests the human person within the visible world. It, in fact, informs us that we are sexual beings with a particular biological sex, and this sex informs us of our gender.

Once the view that the soul is energy is accepted, human identity becomes identified with it alone. The human body becomes an aggregate that is somehow attached to human identity but is not an element of his identity. Anthropological dualism is introduced as the accepted metaphysical interpretation of man. The body is a vessel for the person to inhabit and once it is worn out, technology can transfer human identity to another body, whether human or alien, even to a machine or computer. Human identity is equated with consciousness, and this is understood to be material because the soul is made of energy.

This materialism leads to another consequence, the teleportation of man through technology. In Star Trek, this is the transporter technology, and in Stargate, both the stargate and ring technologies. Man through these technologies is disintegrated and reassembled at another location. The human person is entirely destroyed and recreated each time. Like in The Prestige, the original is destroyed and a copy made each time the machine is used. The soul, as the form of the body, animates the body; it is the principle by which the body has life. Death is hence by definition the separation of the body from the soul. The disintegration of man is precisely such an occurrence for there is now no body to animate since it has been reduced to subatomic particles. These technologies are consistent with materialist philosophy since one is merely manipulating and reassembling matter; but when we consider the truth of the matter, these machines are killing people and presumably replicating them.

Another piece of technology that presupposes materialism is the Goa’uld sarcophagus, a device with which man can be resurrected from the dead repeatedly, even a thousand times. The resurrection can be accomplished now with only the right technology! When man is treated like a lump of coal that can be reassembled at whim, the miraculous nature of the resurrection can become dimmed and obscured given that now technology instead of God’s power has this role. One is also reminded of the alien race wraith from Stargate Atlantis which can literally suck the life out of victims. Life itself is a physical commodity to be manipulated. While acknowledging the physicality of man, it must be also acknowledged that the principle of life itself within man cannot be so directly manipulated. This principle is by definition the soul, which is again immaterial. This means that one’s life cannot be so directly manipulated but only through the body.

3. Some Observations on the Nature of the Universe

These franchises in presupposing materialism lead to two further conclusions concerning the nature of the universe. The first is time travel. Both Star Trek and Stargate raise paradoxes and use time travel as a plot device. We have already written elsewhere on the subject of time travel, so we refer the reader to that essay. What we can point out is that as soon as time travel is introduced, no matter the movie or episode, the creativity of the product diminishes. On the one hand, these stories serve a purpose in demonstrating the irrationality of this concept; while, on the other hand, are tedious and uninteresting to watch.

The second conclusion is the multiverse theory. Both time travel and the theory of the multiverse are constructions of the human mind meant to eliminate God and His Providence as a plausible explanation for the universe. God is the Creator who wisely orders creation toward its good. Man can know through creation that God is both Creator and Good who cares about humanity. Time travel eliminates Divine Providence by subjecting it to the controlling whims of rational creatures and natural causes. Multiverse theory eliminates God’s Providence by replacing it with chance and every iteration of possible human choice. In universe A I choose to marry my wife, but in universe B I do not, etc. Each set of choices and possible outcomes is assigned its own universe. Each universe is described as its own reality. But if there are multiple realities, then how can we talk about all of them in the first place? Such ability to do so indicates that there is one reality even if there exists infinitely many universes. At the very least, it is self-contradictory to assert several realities and then begin to talk about them in these manners. If there exists alternate realities, then they must be entirely separate from our own, or they would otherwise be part of this reality and not be a separate reality. We will save our remarks as to the fundamental issues of the multiverse to a separate article. We can see that the concept leads to false conclusions and appears self-contradictory already at face value. 

4. Themes on Morality

With this said and done, there is one subject matter to which we must probe, morality. Star Wars presents a more objective morality though it is at heart deficient because it lacks a true understanding of good and evil. There is the Force, a morally neutral force of nature. How men use it is either good or evil depending on whether one is a Jedi or Sith. If Star Wars did not present moral choices between the two as those who commit genocide versus those who abhor it, then we would be at a loss as to which is good or bad. In other words, the moral issues in Star Wars largely revolve around whether one is a power-hungry murderous maniac or not. Such makes for easy, feel-good entertainment and for us to identify with the “good guys”. The standard for measuring goodness is how one uses the Force, but this requires an outside measurement other than the Force in order to morally judge human actions.

In Star Trek morality is described in terms of utilitarianism. Goodness in this ethical system is defined in terms of what is useful. To Stargate’s credit, there are several episodes that explore utilitarianism, but also pushback to some extent against it, but the reason for this pushback is never clarified or explained. Without reference to natural law, morality is unintelligible and all three franchises demonstrate this. Without reference to the Absolute Good moral theory and praxis fails.

Politically, all three franchises are liberal. Socialism and communism are often themes. Star Wars explicitly defends a communist critique of capitalism in its movies such as in Solo and Episode 8. In general, one will find many criticisms of government corruption, tyranny, and the evils of capitalism and exploitation of workers, but good governments and conservatism are rarely described in general. The truth of the matter is that the perfect society is neither liberal nor conservative, but is just enough of both elements to make both the liberal and conservative equally squeamish, as C.S. Lewis rightly noted.[3]

Bracketing aside the question of evolution as a valid scientific hypothesis, evolution also serves as a moral principle for intercultural exchanges. Star Trek has its concept of the Prime Directive, which means that the Federation cannot interfere with the organic development of cultures and civilizations. Stargate has embraced the same idea without such an explicit rule being stated. Both treat such an idea as a high moral standard and dedicate several episodes to investigating it. As a made-up rule, these episodes highlight how silly, superficial, and hypocritical the rule really is. What it means is that if one society does not have the medicine needed to stop a plague, you cannot interfere by providing an antidote, for that is interfering with that society’s evolution. We see many statements such as “I am personally opposed but… Prime Directive” used as an excuse to ignore the plight of those in need, people who have human dignity and basic rights based on this dignity that are trampled upon. Such statements ignore societies that enslave their people and mistreat them. Both franchises attempt to balance between this ideal of a Prime Directive and gross violations of human rights. Either slavery is a moral scourge upon society, any society, or it is not. This concept of the Prime Directive enshrines cultural relativism, for this ethical theory says that slavery is a scourge for one culture but not another. For another culture, slavery can be not only allowed but even accepted as necessary. This doublespeak is enshrined in this evolutionism of civilization. The Prime Directive has relativism embedded within its very conception. You are not a morally good person if you say “I am personally opposed to slavery but for this society over here it is okay because that is their civilization and I cannot interfere with its evolution”. This is cowardice before evil. There is nothing heroic because the person who says and thinks thus is not taking a moral stand for what is truly good and just in the face of evil. It is a kind of surrendering while attempting to save face.

This noninterference with the evolution of civilization leads to views such as some societies are “too young” for certain technology. The fear is that if someone is given something too advanced, they will proverbially shoot their eye out. Such thinking is elitist and paternalistic. In some sense this is true, but, in general, this can never be raised to an absolute. Otherwise, one is restricted from giving proper medical help for example. The fear is that immature civilizations will annihilate themselves. The reality is that no naturalistic process of social evolution can wipe out the stain of Original Sin nor man’s temptations to abuse technology. The problem of total planetary genocide can never be eliminated by technological maturation, but only by the conversion of heart to Christ. Christ is the only solution to the problem.

When evolutionism and the Prime Directive ideas are advanced, the real concern appears to be not so much helping fellow societies but avoiding their colonialization. Space exploration provides an excellent metaphor for the colonialization of the Americas and Africa. We get to see a liberal take on these issues in the franchise episodes and they often come across as morally childish. Such views become isolationist for the sake of appearing enlightened and learned. If societies are not supposed to help each other, teach each other concerning technology, then this leads to isolation. The problem of colonialization is now to ignore your neighbor. Think about this! If slavery is evil in the modern United States and this advanced country encountered 1700’s Africa, then her citizens would be morally obligated to ignore the rampant enslavement of Africans by their own people and leave them in a technologically backwards state. The solution is to ignore them and let them eventually figure it out. This is not much different from today. We do this to several countries. There are many poor countries that could benefit from better education and medicine so that they can establish a better life for their citizens. In the United States, there are many poor areas, slums, and ghettos where people are ignored and abandoned, people we as a society have given up on. Two glaring examples of this are the education and drug crises in the United States, but I digress.

In opposition to such views is the Christian duty to evangelize, to preach to all nations, and baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The duty to evangelize is eliminated by this worldly ideology since evangelization is antithetical to the application of evolutionism and anticolonialism as these shows described. Stargate even grossly parodies this evangelical duty with its Ori religion. The Gospel is the true benchmark for any given society’s advance and we Catholics have the duty to bring it to all nations and build holy and just human societies. Prime Directive ideologies, in contrast, allow societies to persist living in moral squalor. They are the Jews in the parable of the Good Samaritan who ignore the wounded man on the side of the road.[4] Other societies are not my neighbor and so are refused help.

In the midst of this moral subterfuge, these franchises are consistent with another moral dilemma, namely, sexual morality. Fornication is always advocated for in opposition to traditional norms and marriage. Alien species inhabiting a human host allows these shows to explore LGBT issues with apparent impunity. As television executives imbue in the woke narcotic more and more, we see LGBT propaganda pushed more explicitly. Star Trek Discovery is one glaring example. Disney is not far behind with its new Star Wars products, though for now, they have only baited the LGBT community with queer undertones in their recent films. What must be kept in mind is that if the body is merely a container for human consciousness, bifurcating the unity of the human person such that his body is no longer understood as a constitutive element of his identity, then human identity becomes fluid. This anthropological dualism allows the divorce of the body from human identity, so the concepts of “man” and “woman” themselves become fluid and incapable of definition. This is LGBT propaganda treated as metaphysical truth. This is played out in both Star Trek and Stargate with their symbiotic aliens, whether it is the Tok’ra or the Trill. In Star Trek Deep Space Nine we see this fully manifested when the parasite within two humans are married but both hosts are female leading to an episode exploring lesbianism.

5. Conclusion

Science fiction allows man a certain kind of freedom to explore various thought experiments. Star Trek is famous in this regard with its several very philosophical episodes, such as those in Star Trek The Next Generation exploring Descartes’s “I think therefore I am” and idealism. Science fiction allows man to see through audiovisual technology the contradictions and failures of various philosophies. The problem, in this case, is that these franchises are instead taking the philosophies of our society and defending them. Materialism and atheism always emerge victorious. The contradictions of these presupposed principles are not themselves questioned, and as such, can quite easily lead the unsuspecting viewer astray.

There is a question here to which we will briefly consider, and that is the question people will say about this essay: “why did you just spend several pages and a few hours of your time writing this when these shows are simply entertainment?” People object to such criticisms as mine because these shows are entertainment, and as entertainment, the producers, directors, and actors are given a free pass to do as they please. That is exactly the problem. These franchises introduce a moral malaise that sucks in people, lulling them into moral slumber so that they no longer recognize the danger. Star Trek is propaganda dressed up in alien costumes and special effects. The question is what is our response to this propaganda?

We have to think about this in terms of eternity and spiritual warfare. The goal of the demons is man’s enslavement and to drag him down to hell. One way of accomplishing this objective is by obscuring the truth itself. Their primary targets are Christian revelation, sexual morality, and the anthropological truths of man. The more demons can obscure these truths, the easier it is for them to lead man astray and to prevent them from being able to see what is indeed the truth about reality. These franchises serve the purposes of the demons because they introduce confusion and obscure the Light that has come into the world. That is why Stargate will create the Ori and a religion around it, for it makes Christianity look like an evil scourge upon society. That is why we see these issues on sexual morality and the LGBT community, to lead man away from what will make him truly free.

These shows are for entertainment, there is no dispute on this point, for if they were not entertaining we would not want to consume the products. They are not mere entertainment, however, for they are entertainment with a message to diffuse. This message is propaganda and the entertainment aspect is meant to put one to spiritual sleep so that they unconsciously accept its content. Entertainment is the vehicle for propagandizing the masses.

 

Endnotes

[1] Euripides, Ion, p143. Ten Plays of Euripides.

[2] Council of Vienne

[3] “If there were such a society in existence and you or I visited it, I think we should come away with a curious impression. We should feel that its economic life was very socialistic and, in that sense, 'advanced', but that its family life and its code of manners were rather old fashioned-perhaps even ceremonious and aristocratic. Each of us would like some bits of it, but I am afraid very few of us would like the whole thing. That is just what one would expect if Christianity is the total plan for the human machine. We have all departed from that total plan in different ways, and each of us wants to make out that his own modification of the original plan is the plan itself. You will find this again and again about anything that is really Christian: every one is attracted by bits of it and wants to pick out those bits and leave the rest. That is why we do not get much further: and that is why people who are fighting for quite opposite things can both say they are fighting for Christianity.” C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 84-85.

[4] This is not a statement condoning anti-Semitism or Nazism, but a reference to characters within the parable.

The Orion Nebula

Hubble Space Telescope, NASA

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