09 February 2018

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Religion, & Marx

Means testing, employment requirements, workfare, and other such drek meant to grind down poor people and make us feel helpless are a violation of our human rights not only for all those reasons I gave before, but because they turn the signal principle of justice on its head: that the accused is innocent until proven guilty.  What these measures base their abusiveness on is the opposite idea: that anyone who walks in the door to ask for help is automatically guilty until they prove themselves innocent.  Like being a defendant in a Cardassian court.  Yes, I am currently rewatching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine; if you’ve seen it, you will get that reference.

That incarnation of the Star Trek franchise was by far the best, the richest, the deepest, and the most thought-provoking of all its iterations.  It is only fitting to make that allusion to it since it is also the sole incarnation which dealt with religion, which is the next subject.  Not so much religion, though, or the meaning of life, with which I dealt here in a miniseries earlier, but the relation of atheists and freethinkers to religion and its adherents.  In fact, that very thing plays a large role in the overall series of DS9 and several of its plot-lines and sub-plots.

For over a decade-and-a-half, I was what I called a stone cold atheist, and at times quite militant about it, to the point of being anti-theist and anti-religion.  I flirted with the New Atheism of Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Maher, until I realized that, with the exception of Hitchens for the most part, the so-called New Atheists were mean, petty, bullying, misogynist, and Islamophobic.  About the same time I reached that decision, my son, also an atheist, posted to my Facebook timeline a meme of a quote from Carl Sagan, stating, “This is how I feel”.

In that quote, Sagan said, “In the way that scepticism is sometimes applied to issues of public concern, there is a tendency to belittle, to condescend, to ignore the fact that, deluded or not, supporters of superstition and pseudoscience are human beings with real feelings, who, like the sceptics, are trying to figure out how the world works and what our role in it might be. Their motives are in many cases consonant with science. If their culture has not given them all the tools they need to pursue this great quest, let us temper our criticism with kindness. None of us comes fully equipped.”

I suppose my son’s views may have come from growing up watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, it having been one of our favorite shows.  Like nearly all the members of Starfleet in the Star Trek Universe, those on the show were at best sceptics.  The Deep Space Nine in the title refers to the designation of the starbase of the United Federation of Planets originally orbiting Bajor, a planet newly-freed from a brutal, exploitative 41-year occupation by the Cardassian Union.  One of the chief defenses of the people of Bajor to help them survive their suffering was their religion, one which worshipped what to them were gods whom they called the Prophets.

Of course, unlike the gods of most religions, we actually get to meet these gods in the show’s pilot.  Rather than being gods as most religions define such beings, these Prophets are actual noncorporeal beings living outside of linear time in a realm inside a stable wormhole.  Most of the Starfleet personnel on the show refer to the so-called Prophets as “wormhole aliens”.

The concept of how the Prophets, or wormhole aliens, live outside of linear time and how that played out over the run of the series, contributed significantly to my formula for a definition of cosmic time.  “The future has already happened and the past is yet to be, and the moment where we are now is the beginning, and the end, and every moment in between.”

In spite of their scepticism toward the Bajoran view of the wormhole aliens as gods, or Prophets, however, the Starfleet personnel on the show treat the Bajorans’ beliefs with respect.  A slightly different take on the matter comes in the fourth season when Commander Worf tells Kira Nerys, the station’s Bajoran First Officer, “I prefer Klingon beliefs.  Our gods are dead.  Ancient Klingon warriors slew them a millennium ago.  They were more trouble than they were worth”.

In the third season, another group of actual beings who are gods to their followers appears called Changelings, shapeshifters whose natural state is viscuous but who can shape-shift into any form they please.  They refer to themselves collectively as the Great Link, while their subjects refer to them as gods and as the Founders, being the rulers of The Dominion.  In many ways, they are the anti-Prophets or anti-wormhole aliens.

Relating to the Bajoran’s clinging to their religion for comfort during the Cardassian occupation, Marx had this to say, or at least would have if he watched the show:  “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”  Thus he admits that for the oppressed, religion does serve a purpose, though like heroine or oxy or opium, once the drug serves its purpose, it should be put aside and left unused.

To be fair, I’ll give the whole passage from which the quote comes.
“The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man – state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantasized realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.
Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

“The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”

Turning to Marx in the same piece as commentary on the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine might seem a little strange, especially to the doctrinaire, but recently I stumbled across a lengthy essay called “The Anti-Imperialism of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” on a blog named The Blanquist: A blog for unapolegetic Marxist and communist views on history, politics, and current events.  It is well worth the read, though be warned that if you haven’t seen the show, there are spoilers.  Since my current viewing is my fourth or fifth, I don’t have to worry about that.

Be the darkness that illuminates.  Be the silence that resonates.  Be the stillness that agitates.

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