Saturday, August 12, 2023

Star Trek Canon and Biblical Theology

Way back in the 1960s, there was this show called Star Trek.  Maybe you have heard of it.

In one of the episodes, Captain Kirk fights with a lizard creature from a species known as the Gorn.  Of course, what those writers didn’t know at the time was that a future Star Trek show, nearly 60 years later, would also want to make use of the Gorn character.

Our present Gorn look and act much different than the Gorn of William Shatner’s day.  60s Gorn looked like a guy in a big rubber lizard suit – because it was a guy in a big rubber lizard suit.  The Gorn of the 2020s look like they were born on the set of James Cameron’s Aliens.  Instead of lumbering behemoths, they are wicked, sleek, and scare the bejeezus out of even the most stone-faced Starfleet officer.

So, how does one explain the difference in the presentation of the Gorn species?

Of course, the most obvious answer is that film and tech have improved vastly in 60 years.  If the writers of Star Trek in the 1960s had access to 21st-century tech, they would not have thrown Bill Blackburn into a rubber lizard suit.

But that explanation does not work for a lot of Star Trek fans.  For these folks, there is a real discrepancy that needs to be accounted for WITHIN THE STORY.  These differing Gorn appear at nearly the same time in Star Trek history, so why do they not look the same?

If you go to Facebook and Reddit, you will see fans developing very intricate explanations that will allow both accounts of the Gorn to remain canon (true within the story).  There are dozens and dozens of theories.  Some vary only slightly, while others have wildly differing explanations.  My favorite so far is this one:

They're not the same species.

Kirk in his recording, says specifically, "... what the Metrons call the Gorn." Not what he, or Starfleet, call the Gorn. But what the Metrons call that species. 

If you apply SNW to the TOS timeline, they know what the Gorn look like and how they behave. I've interpreted Kirk's words as one of puzzlement: "We know what the Gorn are, these aren't them, why the heck are the Metrons calling them that?"

I love that this guy is digging down and dissecting Kirk’s words.  There is no way the original writers meant this… but he is able to use their chance verbiage to design an entire thesis.

Now, most fans are just having fun with this… but there are a few who take this seriously… and angrily.  They have choice words for folks who do not validate their theory and they HATE anyone who shrugs it off as just a story.

Observing this has reminded me of so many theological discussions I have been involved in and witnessed.  Christians are also concerned with canon and how they deal with discrepancies in their story varies on a scale even greater than Star Trek.  How does a God who acts horribly throughout a lot of the story suddenly get credited with peace and love?  How can contradictory ideas and events within the Bible be accounted for?

Some Christians recognize that a lot of the early Bible writers were only a few steps up from cavemen and their God acted like it.  Later, as civilization matured, so did "God".  By the time we get to the later writers, God looks a lot different.  We have moved past the rubber suit.

Other Christians want these discrepancies to work within canon.  They will dig down and dissect the wording.  Books, seminars, and studies exist to keep things canon. They use chance verbiage to develop a thesis. They try to get the story to flow… but they can’t always get it to work.  In the end, there are lots of ways to make the not working… palatable.

And then there are those who take it seriously… and angrily.  They have choice words for folks who do not validate their theories and they HATE anyone who shrugs it off as story.

I get along fine, generally, with those first two groups… but the angry group has little patience with an atheist like me.  Especially when they find out I was once a believer.  It is difficult for many Christians to reconcile a former believer becoming an atheist… while maintaining canon.

Some, like a colleague I once worked with at a ministry, say I am now “possessed by a lying spirit.”  My lack of belief is not really me… it is a demon.  Various canon problems can be solved with this approach.

Others have decided I was never a believer in the first place.  My decades in the faith and ministry simply… didn’t happen.  Their only way to maintain canon is to proclaim that I never really believed.

This approach occurs with Star Trek fans too.  If you get to a really sticky wicket, you just proclaim it “not canon”.  It never happened.

I think I want a shirt that reads, "Not Canon".  :)


Ed said...

I grew up for most of my childhood without a television in the house so I missed such things as Star Trek. By the time I was an adult, it never seemed like my cup of tea though I think I have seen many if not most of the movies over the years. Thus, I tend to just abstain from Star Trek discussions like what you describe. It is about as useful as talking politics with most people these days.

Although I consider myself a believer, I have never tried to reconcile all the various writings by various people, most of them written hundreds of years after the fact. They are about as accurate as my unborn grandchildren would get writing about my childhood. They have to rely upon word of mouth and the accuracy of that method passed through a couple generations. For me, I try to just focus on the bigger picture of the writings and not get lost in the details.

Andrew said...


I'm with you. I like the idea of "canon" but I don't let it get in the way of my deriving meaning from a story.

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