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So I guess I’m a Trekkie. Not in the sense that I go to “Star Trek” conventions where people dress as their favorite character from the various “Star Trek” TV series. I probably couldn’t even win a trivia contest about them.

But I have watched and enjoyed what Trekkies call “TOS” – the original series with Captain Kirk; “The Next Generation” with Captain Picard (“TNG”); “Voyager” with Captain Janeway; and “Deep Space Nine” (“DS9”) with Commander Sisko. (I am just catching up with a couple of other sequels and prequels such as “Picard” and “Strange New Worlds”, and I know there are even more, not to mention the movies, some of which I also have watched.)

Although “Deep Space Nine” actually came before “Voyager,” I tend to lump the three starship-based series together: “TOS,” “Next Generation” and “Voyager.” From the very beginning, something struck me about them: their preoccupation with what it means to be human.

“TOS” features Spock, a Vulcan who, at least in the beginning, is all logic and no emotion. “Next Generation” features Data, a very advanced lifelike android but nevertheless a robot. “Voyager” features The Doctor, an Emergency Medical Hologram, as well as, in later seasons, Seven of Nine, a human who has been liberated from the Borg collective but not entirely from the technology they embedded in her.

So what do these characters have in common? They are all trying to figure out what it means to be human. This is a streak that runs through most of the “Star Trek” universe, and “Deep Space Nine” goes even further by introducing the aspects of religion and faith.

But I am most familiar with “TOS,” “Next Generation” and “Voyager,” and the human question really jumps out at me whenever I watch them.

For Spock, being human means letting out his human side, allowing himself to feel the emotions Vulcans have learned to suppress such as laughter, tears, and anger; putting aside logic and going with hunches – which is pretty much how Captain Kirk plows through life.

Something similar happens with Data, the character who most yearns to be human. At first he cannot understand jokes – he grasps the concept but can’t figure out why or when to laugh. Likewise, he cannot experience pleasure or pain although he understands them in theory.

The Doctor has a very human streak of sarcasm – having been programmed by a sarcastic human doctor – but is constantly seeking to rise above his programming by learning more and more.

Seven of Nine struggles with her humanity since she remembers little about being human, having been assimilated by the Borg as a child. The Borg turn all the species they assimilate into a collective of drones who are in constant communication with each other while going about their drudge work. Seven of Nine no longer fits into that supremely interconnected world. Yet she is also viewed with suspicion by her fellow crew members, who question whether she is truly disconnected from the Borg.

So what are the defining characteristics of humanity? What makes us human? Is it our emotions? Our ability to laugh or cry or be angry or love? Our ability to “connect” socially with others? To have and be friends? Spock and Seven of Nine must explore that part of themselves.

Is it our enjoyment of music? The Doctor teaches himself to sing opera. Data learns to play the violin.

Is it our ability to create and enjoy fiction and poetry? Data likes to pretend to be Sherlock Holmes. He and Picard study Shakespeare’s plays.

In all these series, humanity is reflected in, and judged by, these outsiders. In fact, “Next Generation” begins and ends as a trial with humanity as the defendant: our propensity to war and killing as opposed to our ability to feel compassion and be merciful.

Something else that runs through all these series is that these characters are constantly seeking to better themselves: to improve on their programming, to grow, to learn, to stretch beyond their limited possibilities.

Why does humanity seek to explore “where no one has gone before?” What compels us to move forward? Why does human life seem to be an everlasting quest? In the “Picard” series, Data even asks to experience death. Is the knowledge that our time on earth is limited what ultimately gives meaning to human life?

This to me is, as Spock would say, fascinating. I guess that is why I enjoy science fiction and gravitate toward “Star Trek” in particular, or movies such as “Contact,” which I consider a hidden gem on the subject of faith.

Like all good works of art, “Star Trek” holds up a mirror to ourselves and asks: Is this the best we can be? What is the intangible – the soul, if you will – of humanity? And aren’t those the questions that faith itself compels us to ask?

Comments from readers

Ana Rodriguez-Soto - 05/14/2024 10:01 AM
Thank you all for your comments. Father Grady, you definitely bring up another of Star Trek's wonderful lessons: The series constantly reminds us that the Earth is one people and should behave as such in order to make progress. And it goes further by suggesting the same applies to all the species that might exist in the galaxy - once we make contact with them! I am also fascinated by how much of the technology imagined even in the original Star Trek has become a reality today. Lots to ponder there, possibly for future Through the Catholic Lens blogs.
Fr. Michael Grady - 05/13/2024 08:03 AM
I, too, am a long-time Star Trek fan. What attracts me most to the series is the knowledge that in order to develop the technology necessary to travel to other worlds, humans would have to have realized that we are all the same species, so we shouldn't be fighting each other. On Star Trek, the transition came when the Vulcans first openly visited Earth. I am hoping that we we won't need a visit from space aliens in order to recognize that we are one species and ought to get along with each other. May world peace become a reality soon!
Barbara Lorenzo - 05/05/2024 02:33 PM
Live long and prosper 🖖 Hello to all
Robert Lee Hubbard - 05/03/2024 12:10 PM
It's all about the Contact Ana, the more we do the better it is for us and others, sometimes a HELLO is the only Grace that person receives all day, so more Hellos are needed and daily. We would then be going further than Voyager.

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