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Commander Data

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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.

Conclusion

“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!

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

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.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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“The Measure of a Man” – Star Trek: The Next Generation and Personhood

measure-manStar Trek: The Next Generation is my favorite television series. I’ve been rewatching it recently with my wife and I got to the episode called “The Measure of a Man” (check out my plot recap and review here). This episode brings up some issues I felt were pretty relevant for discussing here. We will explore only two major aspects of this episode: personhood and self-sacrifice. There will be SPOILERS for the episode in what follows.

Personhood

The episode centered around the question of whether Data could be property. Properly speaking, it seems the episode was centered around whether Data was to be considered a “person” in the legally relevant sense. The arguments brought up regarding this question were interesting, particularly for those of us interested in philosophy of mind.

Data’s conversation with Maddox, the scientist who wishes to disassemble him in order to build more of him, centers around phenomenal consciousness. Data argues that although he has no doubt Maddox could preserve the content of his memories by simply downloading the, erm, data from his brain, he thinks there is something more to these thoughts and memories than simple facts. There is a “feel” to thoughts which have a kind of aboutness that is ultimately beyond the facts and into the realm of experience.

Frankly, this is a stunningly complex argument to make for a television show. It reflects a kind of appeal to phenomenology: the content of thoughts and the “aboutness” or taste of them. Some philosophers of mind (and I would agree with them) argue that there is a real notion of this phenomenal aspect of thought which goes beyond the simple facts. Indeed, this very aspect of thoughts and feelings–the ability to have an “about” aspect to them–is the very criterion for consciousness which some philosophers appeal to. In context of the episode, if Data really has this “aboutness,” I would say it is indisputable that he would be a person (not to say that consciousness is required for personhood, but surely a self-aware, conscious being would by necessity a person be).

Ultimately, the episode climaxes in an argument over what is it that determines someone as human or a person, and Maddox summarizes the standard definitions well by appealing to self-awareness and consciousness–though again this is disputable: surely I am a person even when unconscious!–and the arguments center around this question. These are interesting and necessary questions and I think they get at the depth of the philosophical debate surrounding this issue.

Self-Sacrifice

Interestingly, this episode also clearly focuses on the concept of “self-sacrifice.” William Riker does not want to prosecute the case against Data, but he is forced to in order to save his friend. In one epic scene, he ends up flipping Data’s power switch off and as Data collapses he says “the strings are cut” referring to Pinocchio. The final scene shows Data finding Riker staring out into space, clearly pensive over his actions and hurt over his own seeming attack on his friend. Data, however, states that although Riker knew his actions would “wound” him, Riker still prosecuted the case because he knew the alternative would be, for Data, at least akin to if not literally death. Thus, Data says, Riker “saved me.”

This kind of self-sacrifice is found exactly at the heart of the Christian message. Christ was wounded for our transactions, and, as Riker does here, Jesus came knowing that such wounding would happen. These wounds were borne for our sake.

Conclusion

“The Measure of a Man” is one of those rare episodes of a serial TV show which forces viewers to take a step back and think–really think–on a topic. Whether you agree with the conclusions of the episode or not, it must be admitted it raises a number of interesting topics to explore. What do you think of this episode? What additional themes did you pick up in it? How do your favorite shows resonate with your worldview?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Star Trek: TNG Season 2, “The Measure of a Man” and “The Dauphin”– Check out my ongoing recaps and reviews of Star Trek: TNG episodes at my “other interests” site, Eclectic Theist. Here, I review this episode and the following one. More recaps may be viewed here or by searching on that site.

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

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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