Wednesday, February 25, 2004

There's another undeveloped aspect to this theme, involving Nimbus III, the Planet of Galactic Peace. Apparently begun with idealism, it couldn't be sustained. The planet is an apparent wasteland, though the television playing in the Paradise City bar advertises it as Eden, a not very subtle joke concerning real estate flimflam of the present as well as the future. Lacking the means to be prosperous, it has become prey to thieves and cutthroats. The delegates sent by two of the great powers, the Federation and the Klingons, are washed-up and discredited men. The Romulans have just sent an idealistic and inexperienced young woman. The sign over the entrance to this broken down Dodge City/ Paradise City has a whitewashed addition, making it Paradise Lost.

Is the inference that paradise fails, that galactic peace will fail, because of human nature, now extended to our counterpart species? That we are scientific but violent, smart but not smart enough? Or that our sort of being will never attain heaven on earth, or any other planet?

Perhaps. But perhaps the reason this planet is in this movie (apart from its place in the plot) is that what is lacking for this place to be a paradise of peace is spiritual development. That development, that exploration of the inner frontier, has been neglected in the headlong pursuit of the outer frontiers, and the material scientific and technological development it requires.

There are religious traditions on earth, notably Buddhism, that address this need without requiring an omnipotent God of the kind that everyone in this film seems to assume is the sole definition of the Creator God. There are aspects of more familiar religions that also address these issues, and that do posit such a God (though variously defined, especially these days). They link the inner and outer, and they also, in their way, deal with the role of human pain in our motivations and spiritual lives.

There's one other aspect of the spiritual theme that also isn't well articulated or connected within the film, but that Shatner evidently intended. That's the various relationships of spirit and nature. Shatner talks quite eloquently in an interview on the DVD about the spiritual meanings he finds in the Yosemite scenes, especially the climbing scene. Climbing, of course, can symbolize aspiration, and also suggests a climbing upward to the spiritual dimension (even the words "aspiration" and "spirit" are related-they both refer to breath, the essential element of animal and human life, and in a way, all organic life.) Star Trek is about aspiration, about climbing, as well as about testing oneself, which is self-discovery as well as discovery of new places, new worlds.

It's interesting and perhaps pertinent that Yosemite is so lush and beautiful in the film, while both the planet of peace and the planet of God, which looked very similar (and in fact were landscapes just a few miles apart) were arid rocky deserts. Is that the point of having the supposed God be an evil if psychologically smart being? Of rocks surging from the planet to form a primordial cathedral, and a cage? Could this have been a mostly unconscious commentary on the aridity and emptiness of the contemporary "desert religions" or at least the concepts of a human-like supreme being that's shared by Christians, Jews and Islamic faiths? Is this the kind of God thing that needs to be redefined in different terms of spirituality? The ancient gods and the spirits of Native American and other indigenous cultures, even those that live in Celtic tales (and the Lord of the Rings, sort of) are basically nature spirits, or derived from them.

Maybe this is a stretch, but consider this detail. What finally turns everyone against the supposed God figure---not just Kirk and Spock, but also Sybok---is that when Kirk asks a question and expresses doubt, the God figure shoots a bolt of lightning into his chest and he falls back, smoldering. Why have you hurt my friend? Sybok cries. But anyone who has read the Old Testament knows that its God is often angry and vengeful, and regularly smites doubters and disbelievers. Even the God of the New Testament presumably favored the burning of heretics and witches. But this time, such behavior is evidence of an imposter. An authentic God is a God of love, not of violence, their actions seem to say. A God, moreover, who honors questioning and dissent.

As Spock might say, fascinating.

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