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.
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 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!
Television– read my other posts on TV and worldview (scroll down for more).
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Each Week on Saturday, I’ll be asking a “Question of the Week.” I’d love your input and discussion! Ask a good question in the comments and it may show up as the next week’s question! I may answer the questions in the comments myself.
The Definition of Faith
In light of the recent debate between Tim McGrew and Peter Boghossian on “Is Faith a False Epistemology?” I wanted to ask this question:
How do you define faith?
Bonus: Why do you define it that way?