Cultural divide

This discussion we’ve been having – the ways that science and religion seem to become linked in peoples’ minds – could be said to come down to the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek. It’s interesting that both of these icons of scifi came out of the same general cultural era, and yet in a way they represent wildly different views of existence.

The world of Star Wars is, fundamentally, a religious one. Powerful beings are in touch with The Force, commanding the Universe itself to bend to their will. Much of the mysterious power we see is cloaked in symbolism and religious trappings – Jedi knights wear midieval cloaks and work their eerie magic while muttering mysterious incantations. Death only makes Obiwan more powerful. The old and wise Yoda, with his deceptive childlike qualities, is clearly modelled on a Buddhist monk of old, while his methods for training young Luke seem lifted right out of the pages of “Zen and the Art of Archery.” You can practically feel the infinite force flowing through the epic saga, echoing like passages read aloud from some biblical allegory of good versus evil.

Star Trek – I’m thinking here of Classic Trek, more than the endless spinoffs and variations that folowed – is quite the opposite. There are no deities to be found, merely nations at war or locked in a wary peace, and a very human science and technology straining against their limits. Klingons are not evil, merely obstreperous. There are no infinite beings here. As in science, the horizon of what is known is always expanding, but is always finite. We are witnessing the secular expansion of a curious young civilization.

Captain Kirk does not live in a world where religion holds any special power. Aliens who claim higher powers inevitably turn out, after all, to merely be our fellow travellers in a voyage through the galaxy.

Perhaps there is something in our culture that requires both of these archetypes, side by side. One could even say that taken together they represent our crazy, wonderful, contradictory culture – a culture built upon a divided self.

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