Current Events, TV

Star Trek: The Next Generation “Rightful Heir” – Faith in the Future

The Klingon Jesus. I'm serious.

The Klingon Jesus. I’m serious.

Star Trek: The Next Generation is one of my favorite TV shows. I have been watching through the series with my wife, Beth. One episode we watched recently, “Rightful Heir,” had some clear worldview-level implications. There will be SPOILERS for the episode in what follows. A plot summary can be found here.

Defining Faith

Data and Worf have a couple conversations about faith that are worth commenting on. The definition of faith that is provided in the episode is interesting and seems to be that faith is belief in something that is not necessarily confirmed by empirical data. Worf states that Kahless “is not an empirical matter… it is a matter of ‘faith.'”

Data is particularly curious about this and asks Worf how he can determine whether Kahless is the “real” one or not in the absence of empirical data. Data goes on to describe his own experience that he was told he was merely a machine, but he realized that he had to trust in his own capacity to go beyond his programming. So, he says, “I chose to believe… that I was a person… that I had the potential to be more than a collection of circuits and subprocesses… I made a leap of faith.”

What is interesting about Data’s position is that it is effectively confirmed earlier in the series, “The Measure of a Man” (see my post on the worldview issues therein) in which Data is confirmed to be a “person.” Thus, the faith that is described here is ultimately vindicated.

The definition itself–something that is outside of empirical evidence–is interesting as much for what it reveals as for what it does not. It reveals that the concept of faith here is something that is presumably in something non-physical (for it is outside of empirical evidence), but it also implicitly reveals that there can be some kind of non-physical realm, even in the Star Trek universe. Faith is not denigrated, nor is it endorsed wholeheartedly. Instead, it is something that people–even Data–have. It is a facet of a complete person.

Kahless and Jesus

Kahless is effectively the Klingon’s parallel of Jesus. Ron Moore, the teleplay writer for the episode, said of the episode:

It was intriguing to me because of the religious stuff… What would happen if you could bring Jesus back? What would it do to the faith of his followers? What’s true and what’s not, what’s authentic and what’s not? …They [the Klingons] worship [Kahless] in a literal sense. So what would bringing him back do to his people?

The quote can be found in Star Trek: The Next Generation 365, a most excellent book for the Star Trek fan (like me).

Rick Berman, a writer/producer for TNG also noted the religious parallels in the episode:

Rick Berman recalled, “I had a lot of fights with Ron about this. The character of Kahless and the backstory and the dialogue of Kahless were all a little bit too on the nose Christ-like for me. We had a lot of long debates and eventually it was modified by Ron in a way that I think made it much better. I think he not only solved my problems but made the [episode] better. Kevin Conway’s performance is great and it’s a wonderful episode.” (quoted here)

There are many parallels between Kahless and Jesus, but it is what is missing that is perhaps even more intriguing. Kahless is effectively just the epitome of Klingon values. His promise to return is a promise to reinstate those values. Yet Jesus Christ is not merely an example or a lawgiver. Instead, Jesus is the Incarnate God–king of the universe. Jesus sacrificed himself for us, and this isn’t just a general statement but applies to each individual. It is for my sin that Jesus died. There is no true parallel found in a figure like Kahless who is, however admirable, merely a moral example.

The Questions

The episode, as noted in the quotes from those involved with it above, does bring up some serious questions. What would happen if we could bring Jesus back? As one of the Klingons note, who is to say the cloning was not the way by which Kahless was meant to return? Thankfully, this will remain a complete hypothetical, because we will never have genetic material from Christ from which a clone could be made.

On a deeper level, a clone is not the original thing that is cloned, but a copy. There is a true difference here. Even though Kahless received some of the memory patterns from the original, he was not the same person. Similarly, a cloned person is not the same as that from which he or she is cloned. Any different experience shapes people, and so they would not be the same person. Simply appealing to the law of identity is another way to point this out. If Kahless is not the original, then by no means could we fairly say that this clone is identical with the original. Similar? Yes. Intriguing? Certainly. Faith-shattering? No.


“Rightful Heir” is an interesting episode that raises a few questions for Christians to ponder. Yet, upon thinking about it in depth, it turns out that the self-examination the episode calls for is largely surface-level. Kahless is not a true parallel for Jesus, and the question of cloning and return is answered through the concept of identity. I’d love to read your thoughts on this episode in the comments. Don’t forget to look for the worldview behind anything you read or watch!


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Television– read my other posts on TV and worldview (scroll down for more).

The photo in this episode was a screenshot capture of the episode. I claim no rights to it and use it under fair use.



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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


6 thoughts on “Star Trek: The Next Generation “Rightful Heir” – Faith in the Future

  1. JW,

    I am responding to this because for some reason I could not find your regular e-address.

    I am trying to finish writing one book before starting another. Over worked Elenn’ is having edit all of this.

    Still thinking about possible worlds and

    rewriting the paper I read at EPS for publication in PC, and if there is a best. The argument that there can always be a better world because one can always add another good thing to it still seems cogent. Still, I am trying to take care of the different epistemic possibilities. I’m not sure how one could evade the argument, but am trying to think of a way. I went to a conference on atheism at Concordia Edmonton about a month ago, and heard Don Page, a physicist and exponent of Everett’s quantum theory argue that God necessarily creates the most he can, if I understood him. Would creating all possible universes (as part of one possible world) be the best possible world?

    We will be in Alexandria Minnesota the last week in June, at Mount Carmel Bible camp.

    I hope that all is well with you and yours. How is the novel coming?




    Posted by Parrish, Stephen | May 30, 2016, 12:13 PM
  2. Correction. God would create all possible good universes, not all of them, according to a Page kind of theory. But is it really worthwhile to create all possible good universes, if the only difference between two of them say, is that one electron moves differently for 1 nano-second in the two universes?

    When I mentioned something like this in the lecture last November, about God creating the best (if f there is a best) Willam Craig said this would take away God’s free will. I don’t think I gave a very coherent response at the time. Do you have any ideas?


    Posted by Parrish, Stephen | May 30, 2016, 12:35 PM
  3. I actually *just* watched this episode! I enjoyed reading your commentary on it. I didn’t really think about him as a parallel for Jesus, actually. I think I just kind of groaned inwardly at the new-age-yness of it all as I usually do when Star Trek tackles these kind of topics… BUT, I imagine that if we *were* able to clone Jesus and that someone *did* do so, it’s safe to assume that clone-Jesus would give in to sin pretty quick considering he wasn’t the Son of God. And then what? Some would see that as proof that Jesus was just a man, I guess. Believers would probably be actually relieved to know that clone-Jesus was just a human that *looked* like Jesus and would dismiss him as such.

    Posted by Kyle | May 30, 2016, 6:11 PM
    • Right, a clone of Jesus would not _be_ Jesus, just as a clone of me would not be me. He would just happen to have the same DNA. Unless we subscribe to a theory in which we are determined by our genes, any given clone would (or at least could) be radically different from the base DNA. Plus, they’d be placed in different circumstances than the original, thus leading to all kinds of other permutations of difference. I think what the episode creators did with this one by adding memories was to muddle the idea a bit more. It is interesting to speculate on, but we know Jesus is coming again, so a clone wouldn’t really mean much.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | May 31, 2016, 12:50 PM


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