Welcome to the 48th Christian Carnival. I'm going to do something a little different this time around and tie each post to something from the world of science fiction. I hope some of the connections aren't too much of a stretch (because I know some of them definitely are at least somewhat of a stretch). Yes, this is the official Geek Edition of the Christian Carnival. I should note that I've spent a little bit more time discussing a couple of the entries than some hosts will do, but I've tried not to go as long with it as I would if I put it in its own post. I've also tried to keep the discussions of the scifi stuff a short as possible, but sometimes it was hard to resist expounding on the virtues or themes of a particular selection. Also, I've decided to save myself a little effort on the late entries (anything I received after 9pm last night) and just include things totally unrelated to round out my favorite scifi shows the way I'd like. On to the Carnival...
Update: I forgot to mention (for those not on the Christian Carnival update email list) that someone has put together a Christian Carnival blog that links to all the Christian Carnivals of the past. Check it out.
The Examined Life gives us a "personal faith mission statement in an unorthodox ... form" (unorthodox for him, anyway).
My favorite TV show of all time is Babylon 5. It had a five-year plan that more or less came off as intended, and it was such an amazing story that I would still watch if every day if SciFi were still playing it (and if it were at a time when I'm home). This doesn't give any sense of the magnitude of the story, but the statements at the beginning of each of the first four seasons (they did something very different in the fifth) give some sense of the movement through the story and stand as something like a mission statement of what the show was attempting to portray.
It was the dawn of the third age of mankind, ten years after the Earth/Minbari war. The Babylon Project was a dream given form. Its goal, to prevent another war by creating a place where humans and aliens could work out their differences peacefully. It's a port of call - home away from home for diplomats, hustlers, entrepreneurs, and wanderers. Humans and aliens wrapped in two million, five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal, all alone in the night. It can be a dangerous place, but it's our last best hope for peace. This is the story of the last of the Babylon stations. The year is 2258. The name of the place is Babylon 5. - Commander Sinclair
The Babylon Project was our last, best hope for peace. A self-contained world five miles long, located in neutral territory. A place of commerce and diplomacy for a quarter of a million humans and aliens. A shining beacon in space, all alone in the night. It was the dawn of the Third Age of Mankind...the year the Great War came upon us all. This is the story of the last of the Babylon stations. The year is 2259. The name of the place is Babylon 5. - Captain Sheridan
The Babylon Project was our last, best hope for peace. It failed. But, in the Year of the Shadow War, it became something greater: our last, best hope... for victory. The year is 2260. The place: Babylon 5. - Commander Ivanova
It was the year of fire... the year of destruction... the year we took back what was ours. It was the year of rebirth... the year of great sadness... the year of pain... and the year of joy. It was a new age. It was the end of history. It was the year everything changed. The year is 2261. The place: Babylon 5. -- Lennier, Zack, G'Kar, Lyta, Vir, Marcus, Delenn, Londo, Franklin, Ivanova, Garibaldi, Sheridan
Proverbial Wife goes off on "a tangent on food writing, literary consumption, passion vs. obsession, and related intersections of the mundane and the spiritual, the substantive and the intangible, the sacred and the secular, etc."
I'm connecting this one with a quote from the pilot episode of Babylon 5, "The Gathering". You'll have to read her post to see the connection. I'm not going to repeat it. This scene was actually cut from the original pilot. I'm not sure if they added it in when they redid it after the show was completed. I think they did, because I think I've seen it. It takes place in a seedy-looking casino on the station. Commander Sinclair has just recently come on the station he's going to be commanding.
We FIND COMMANDER JEFFREY SINCLAIR moving slowly through the crowd, keeping a close eye on A COUPLE male and female from the look of it. He's human, she's alien, and there's something vaguely chitinous about her skin, something both exotic and forbidding. He's clearly coming on to her. He surreptitiously hand her a credit chit. She smiles and moves away from the bar, taking his hand as suddenly Sinclair is behind her. He takes the chit from her and hands it back to the human.
SINCLAIR: I wouldn't. (to the alien woman) You know the rules about crossing species. Stick with the list.
HUMAN "JOHN": What're you, a bigot or something?
SINCLAIR: No. But obviously you've never me an Arnassian before. After they finish, they eat their mate.
With that, Sinclair heads away. The human looks back at the woman with a very new perspective. And this time it's her turn to smile...and now she holds up a hand, offering *him* money. On his wary look, we CUT
The Doctor is In thoughtfully contrasts the Dutch resistance to involuntary euthanasia (cases with explicit non-consent) under the Nazi regime and their current practice of non-voluntary euthanasia (cases with no explicit or implicit consent). He doesn't make that distinction, but it's my only complaint. This is probably the best-written entry in this edition of the Christian Carnival. He obviously put a lot of work into it.
The first-season Babylon 5 episode "Believers" deals with a number of issues. Sometimes I show it in class to deal with cultural relativism. One thing that comes up, though, is euthanasia of a child. In this case, the parents believed their child's soul had been taken because of an operation performed against their will. Surgery, according to their beliefs, leaves a demonically-controlled body remaining once the soul leaks out through any deliberate cut in the body. Surgery is forbidden on their world, and anyone who is in such a state must be set free in death. It was a shocking ending to a thought-provoking story.
How is it possible for a righteous God who judges sin not to judge a sinner? The Bible Archive responds with a careful study of Romans 4 in XI Case Law (Romans 4). It's not by earning it through works, and it's also not by earning it through belief. It's because God credits it to us on the basis of his Son's work on the cross but given to those who do believe. He carefully explains why this isn't either of the of first two options and why it responds to the original question.
When I think of examples of redemption, the most obvious is Saving Private Ryan, but that's not scifi. One that's pretty vivid nonetheless is the sacrifice of Marcus Cole in Babylon 5's "Endgame" near the end of the fourth season. When Commander Susan Ivanova was injured and near death, he used an alien machine (acquired at the end of the first season) to heal her, costing him his own life (by all appearances, anyway; apparently he was in suspended animation for many years, because show creator J. Michael Straczynski recently published a short story about what he does much later when he wakes up and everyone he knows is dead).
According to Imago Veritatis, "the U.N. seems completely unable to mount a credible response to the continual violation of human rights by its member states, including the persecution and enslavement of Christians. Indeed, it seems that the U.N. actually encourages such behavior and that we in the West may be benefiting from this. As Christians we ought to demand accountability.
It's hard for me to think about tying a post about human rights violations to something from science fiction without considering President Clark of Earth in the third and fourth seasons of Babylon 5. It really started earlier in the show, but years three and four were when it came to a head. (Straczynski had a five-year plan from the very beginning, so he really had seeds of much of what was to come even in the very beginning, and there were hints of Clark's extremism even then.) What ended up happening was a totalitarian Earth-first regime that hardly anyone, even high up, approved of, but the kind of control Clark had due to alien influence was too much for anyone to say anything. Any protesters disappeared or were found confessing to serious crimes weeks later. Captain John Sheridan led a civil war against Clark, something many of his colleagues thought wrongheaded. In the immediate aftermath of that civil war in "Rising Star", the last regular episode of season four (there was a flash-forward episode that followed it to round out the season), the next president of Earth described what Sheridan did as "inconvenient", meaning politically so. She didn't know if she should court martial him or give him a medal. He ended up resigning his commission, not knowing that the people he'd been working with all along were about to elect him the first president of the new Interstellar Alliance. I sort of see him as something like a George Bush figure, though I'm sure Straczynski wouldn't agree with the comparison. He likes to talk about Bush and Ashcroft as living incarnations of Clark.
Brandywine Books shares a moment in the ministry of Jesus from the Gospel of Mark, illustrating that despite their understanding to some degree what Jesus was all about they really missed the point ultimately until after the resurrection.
This is a theme throughout Mark. Straczynski did something similar with the character of Byron in Babylon 5. Byron came to be a leader among the renegade telepaths who wanted freedom from the government control that had resulted from fear of mind-readers running loose. He was a pacifist, however, and some of his followers really missed the message he was trying to preach. In "A Tragedy of Telepaths" in season 5, Byron is imprisoned, and his followers resort to violence and terrorism to try to get him free. I have sometimes wondered if Straczynski modeled Byron on some aspects of Jesus.
Brutally Honest wants to remind us that being called a Christian isn't earned by behavior, which sort of makes people look silly when they assume people need to be perfect once they're Christian. When he says there's "no requirement", I assume he means there's no requirement to get in. (There's obviously a high moral requirement expected of Christians, just no moral entry requirement.)
It's not quite the same thing, but this reminded me of the fact the Babylon 5 was really good at displaying serious character faults among genuinely good people. Michael Garibaldi strikes me as the most vivid example. We spent four seasons knowing him as a teetotaler because of his former problems with alcoholism. It was always the joke that when anyone else ordered a drink, he'd get a water. Well, near the very end of the show he relapsed and caused a major interstellar disaster because he was so drunk his alarm wouldn't even go off in "And All My Dreams, Torn Asunder". (I could have just as easily used the example of Lennier in the second-to-last episode "Objects at Rest", but that gives away more of the story even though it's a much more stark contrast between the years of goodness we see in the character and the depths of moral failure in what he ends up doing. Those who know the show will know what I'm talking about.)
The spinoff series of Babylon 5 was called Crusade. It unfortunately got canceled even before they aired the first episode even though the scripts beyond the episodes already shot looked to be heading toward a brilliant storyline (which isn't surprising given how good the episodes they did film were, but the surprising turn the show was going to take really makes me want to know how J. Michael Straczynski was going to continue the story). The 13 episodes produced just came out on DVD, by the way. The main character, Captain Matthew Gideon, had an interesting past. He had witnessed the destruction of his entire ship from outside.
The connection here is somewhat of a stretch, but I'll do it anyway. Leo Wong submits a story about a woman who lost her only child in the 1988 Pan Am 103 flight from Lockerbie, Scotland that was blown up by terrorists. This flight was populated mostly by Syracuse University students coming home from a semester in Scotland for Christmas, so I hear about it regularly.
Alex Rarus says: "I am now a sponsor for a RCIA class. On Sunday, our class participated in the Combined Rite of Acceptance and Welcoming. It is one of my favorite ceremonies. For those who are unfamilar with this rite, in particular my Protestant readers, I reproduce some of it here."
Since I got this one after the deadline, I'm using my wimp-out clause above to do something completely unrelated. My favorite character in Crusade was Galen the technomage. The technomages had been introduced in one episode of the original show. They were fleeing what we later came to understand as the Shadow threat. What you don't find out until the technomage books is why, and it's a doozy. That series was absolutely excellent. I highly recommend it to B5 fans. Galen was the younger generation of technomages, and somehow he became exiled from their hiding place and got involved with Matthew Gideon. How that all took place starts coming out as the show progresses, and the scripts that got out on the net for the three episodes never filmed had a lot more on technomages, Galen, and where the show was going to progress. I really wish they somehow pursue this story, in books if not in a TV movie.
This never happened in any episode of The X-Files, but Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny apparently recorded a Mulder-Scully dialogue on the existence of Santa Claus, which someone has put up here. I also discovered a whole bunch of fanfic stories about the same sort of thing, but this one has the real actors involved.
The next Carnival entry assumes Scully's side on that debate: Why Doesn't Santa Visit the Poor at Bear Witness. It's interesting that the real St. Nicholas gave only to the poor. This is why my parents told us that there is no Santa Claus, thus showing their allegiance to Agent Scully's side of the debate. I myself agree with Mulder. I just don't think he's around anymore, and I think there were lots of embellishments to the legends about him.
Philosophical Poetry: "I've decided to rush at the thorny issue of the Apocrypha with an open heart and a curious mind; I refuse to either reject or accept it solely on the basis of tradition. I seek first for myself; I look to see what personal application the Apocrypha can have in my life. I aim next for my fellow bloggers; fellow Protestants and Reformed bloggers can share with me the richness of my findings. I long finally for those in other traditions; for they, too, can learn from an outside view of the traditions they hold dear." He introduces the series and then starts with Baruch.
There was an X-Files episode with the title "Apocrypha". It had nothing to do with the Apocrypha, but it was a great episode. It was the first appearance of the alien black oil (well, the first part "Piper Maru" was, but this is a two-parter, and those run together in my mind). Alex Krycek gets possessed by the stuff and ends up traveling to some bunker out west where an alien ship was being stored. There's then this great scene where the black oil comes out of his facial orifices and enters the ship, and he looks like he's not enjoying the process.
Each year the sanctity of Christmas erodes a little more as the holiday is debased by those who wish to turn it into a celebration of consumerism. Some people are fighting back. Viewpoint gives a couple examples of civil disobedience, the second of which I think might border on violating Romans 13 and I Peter 3 (and I'm not even sure the first is a good idea given the principles in those passages and others).
A different way of stealing Christmas came up in the sixth season X-Files episode "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas", starring Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin. Two lovers killed themselves and haunted a spooky-looking house, each Christmas Eve somehow attracting a pair of lovers and deceiving them into killing each other. They were of course surprised at their difficulty with Mulder and Scully, who didn't exactly fit the profile even. This was such a weird episode that I haven't even figured out if it's supposed to be horror, comedy, or both.
Reasons Why takes "a look at how easy it is to slide away from a God-centered perspective of the trials we face in life."
Speaking of sliding, it's hard to do a scifi-themed carnival without mentioning Sliders. I really enjoyed the first two years or so of this show. They'd slide between worlds to find some new situation with one crucial difference from our world. Nazis won WWII and controlled California. Penicilin had never been discovered. Justice was doled out via a game show. The American Revolution had never taken place, and the British still controlled the colonies. Artificial intelligence had been created, and no humans remained after the androids had killed them all. San Francisco was one huge prison colony with a huge fence around it. Hippies were still around opposing President Ollie North and his war against Australia. The main characters would from time to time meet their doubles, sometimes as allies and sometimes as enemies. My favorite character was Professor Arturo, played by John Rhys-Davies of Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Lord of the Rings fame (among lots and lots of other stuff). I did like some of what they did after he left the show, but it wasn't the same. Even the last season with only one original character was worth watching (what I watched of it), but by then it really had a lot less of the original appeal.
Wittenberg Gate cautions not to confuse biblical principles with what might well be excellent guidelines for maintining those principles. That is in fact what the Phrarisees did, and it ended up undermining biblical principles, which is what this kind of legalism often does. This is one of my favorite posts of this Carnival. The examples she gives are excellent.
There's been a lot of debate in Star Trek fandom about the guiding principle behind the Federation, the Prime Directive. According to this site (which may or may not be accurate; I saw parts of this on other sites but not the full length of this), it reads: "As the right of each sentient species to live in accordance with its normal cultural evolution is considered sacred, no Star Fleet personnel may interfere with the healthy development of alien life and culture. Such interference includes the introduction of superior knowledge, strength, or technology to a world whose society is incapable of handling such advantages wisely. Star Fleet personnel may not violate this Prime Directive, even to save their lives and/or their ship unless they are acting to right an earlier violation or an accidental contamination of said culture. This directive takes precedence over any and all other considerations, and carries with it the highest moral obligation."
Since it's a prequel, there's no Prime Directive yet at the time of Star Trek: Enterprise (or at least in the time they've shown us so far in the series). The first season episode "Dear Doctor" shows an early exploration of such principles. Unfortunately, the woolly thinking behind Archer's justification for using such a principle in this episode seems to me to be more like a kind of legalism (even though there was no legal principle yet) and a complete misunderstanding of the purpose of such a principle. The point, as the Prime Directive itself states, is for healthy cultural development without Federation influence and keeping superior knowledge, information, and technology from a pre-warp society so that they don't have technology that they're not culturally prepared to handle yet. Of course this assumes the false claim that once you're able to develop technology yourself you'll be able to make the proper moral decisions about how and when to use and not to use it, which Gene Roddenberry should have known better than to assume even in the 1960s but we should know even more fully in our own day.
In the case in "Dear Doctor", they had the chance to correct a genetic problem in one species on a world with two species. The dominant species basically had enslaved the other, and they were using their supposed lower capabilities as justification, but Doctor Phlox determined that the subordinate species had much greater capabilities, and if the genetic problem caused the dominant species to die out then the subordinate species would thrive. Captain Archer concluded from this (by the end of the episode, anyway) that evolution must have some plan (as if natural processes can plan), and he insisted that they not interfere. They didn't give the easy cure they could have given. That would not have required giving any technology, since all they would have to do is fix the genetic problem themselves without giving any information or technology. They went with the morally offensive option out of stupid allegiance to a principle Starfleet didn't even hold, when that principle doesn't even entail not helping. That has most of the worst aspects of legalism, even if some of the crucial elements for calling it that aren't there. The writers even had to use the tired and uninformative "playing God" non-argument. I'm glad they didn't retain them on the writing staff. I have to give them one thing, though. They were insightful enough to make the connection between Archer's holding back here and the Vulcans' holding back on humans for many years that Archer despised. I actually enjoyed the episode, but the writers' moral thinking was just so lacking in depth and insight that I was actually shouting at the characters about how bad their reasoning was.
In my own Bigotry, I argue that it isn't bigotry to believe gay sex and/or relationships to be morally wrong, but it is bigotry to target everyone who holds such a view with hateful language as many people are doing.
In Enterprise's second season episode "Cogenitor", the crew encountered a species with three sexes. The third sex was a mere catalyst in the process of reporoduction and turned out to be a highly valued commodity due to their being something like 2% of the population. When Trip found out they weren't allowed to develop their intellectual capacities or live relatively autonomous lives, he decided to show them the potential of one of these catalysts by teaching "her" how to read, and she quickly demonstrates her species' capacities to absorb information very quickly. Of course, he set off a firestorm for being intolerant of this species' ways, and it led to disastrous consequences.
Sierra Faith asks, "Are we defending ourselves, or are we on a Crusade (for liberty)?" Anyone serious about either a just war theory or a pacifist view needs to think carefully about some of the questions raised in this post. I'm especially interested in the differences technology makes between the time of the Crusades and now. The post suggests something that might make us less willing to use the weapons at our disposal, but of course the argument the other way is that there's a stronger threat to be responded to. These are hard questions.
When Earth faced a situation much like 9-11 ("The Expanse", the season two finale of Enterprise) and were told a race called the Xindi were responsible, they had to face similar questions. The difference was that this would wipe out the whole human race. They set off to pursue the Xindi to prevent them from using the weapon they were building and whose prototype they'd already tested. I got the distinct impression that the producers of the show were lining up in favor of preemptive self-defense and implicitly supporting some of the policies of the Bush Administration. Of course, the latest trilogy of episodes on Vulcan in the still-developing fourth season changed that, with their not-so-veiled similarities between the leader of the Vulcan High Command and the negative portrayals of President Bush by the left. The surprise ending helped a bit, but I consider that a low blow that really hurt some otherwise absolutely excellent episodes, moving this series into a place to be able to compete with DS9 for best Star Trek series if they keep improving.
Crossroads asks: "Why doesn't the church help the poor more, especially the poor among its own members? Is there a built-in despising of the poor that has infected the western materialistic church?" One of her examples really struck me as ridiculous. A couple evangelical politicans managed to get elected through deceit (insofar as they hid what they really believed except from evangelicals) and then pulls the school milk program on the grounds that the church should be helping the poor and the families of these kids should be eating breakfast with them. This makes so many moral errors it's hard to count, but the ones that come to mind most immediately include taking your disappointment with the parents out on the kids, assuming that families who don't eat together would if they didn't have free milk at school, and not yourself providing services for the poor (through the church and individually) but then insisting that the only people doing something stop simply because they are the government. I actually agree with the premise that churches should be doing this so the government wouldn't have to, but I don't see them doing it.
It's so easy to have a good principle behind something that just comes out disastrously in the end because you ignore another important principle, as Landru did in "The Return of the Archons", from the original Star Trek series. Landru's primary operating principle was to remove anger and violence, but it led to a vacuous society because it had done it through something much like mind control.
Beyond the Rim... gives us "a poem that looks at the images we see in the mirror contrasted with what people see when they look at us in person". Unfortunately, he couldn't contribute anything from his capital punishment series, which is unfortunate because I had a great episode for that one that I would have loved saying something about.
Still, this gives me a real stretch of a connection that I couldn't resist. He had to use the word 'mirror', didn't he? In one of my favorite episodes of Star Trek, a transporter mishap sends Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, and Uhura to an alternate reality in which the Federation is an evil conqueror, progress up the ranks in Starfleet comes from eliminating your competitors, and Spock has a beard. Not only is this one of my favorite episodes, but it spawned the name of one of my favorite bands, Spock's Beard (though I'm much less interested in them now that their driving force Neal Morse has gone solo).
Pseudo-Polymath muses on how the Christian should view friendship. It's interesting that it's not highly emphasized in the Bible, though it is present and portrayed as a good thing. He doesn't mention that one of the places friendship appears more frequently is the book of Proverbs. I don't think much moral theorizing about friendship was done in any systematic way until Aristotle, though, so it's shouldn't be incredibly surprising that the Bible, most of which was written long before Aristotle, doesn't emphasize it a lot. The NT writers were post-Aristotle, so the little attention it gets (three or four mentions by Jesus and probably little else in the whole NT) should reveal something about the priorities of the early Christians. The post is mostly suggestive, without exploring what that might be very much, but it's worth thinking about.
It's hard to associate science fiction and friendship without thinking about the friendship of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy in the original Star Trek series. As I write this, the SciFi Channel is airing "The Empath", from the third and final season of the original show. A lot of fans think this is one of the best friendship episodes for the trio. Each of the three makes a decision to sacrifice himself for the other two. We also discover in this episode that Bones is a doctor, not a coal miner.
Tantalizing if True gives "a facetious suggestion on how people who have met God can be more tolerant of the views of people who haven't" in If God Doesn't Exist, He Should Have Told Me By Now. I sometimes ask atheists what kind of God they don't believe in. That they usually have an answer reveals something about their motivations for atheism.
In the worst Star Trek movie, the thoroughly lethargic Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy enounter a being they believe to be God (but who was really just a powerful and evil alien). The following exchange ensues:
"God": "You doubt me?"
Kirk: "I seek proof."
McCoy: "Jim, you don't ask the Almighty for His I.D."
Jay from Deo Omnis Gloria writes: "The perception is that Mary is hardly mentioned in Scripture, but is this true? This post examines the Old and New Testaments for references to the mother of Jesus." I'm not exactly sure why he thinks anyone believes Mary is hardly mentioned in scripture. Protestants do tend to overreact to the Catholic views about Mary that contradict scripture, and that doesn't justify denying what the scripture does say. I hate to criticize Jay's post, because a lot of what he says corrects Protestant misunderstandings of what Catholics believe and even of what scripture says. Unfortunately, I think he still goes beyond scripture in a few places. The comments develop most of the issues I had with it (except his argument that Jesus couldn't have had biological brothers and sisters because he wouldn't leave Mary to someone else if he did, which assumes Jesus would leave his mother in the care of unbelieving brothers rather than his most devoted followers).
When Star Trek tried to evoke images of Mary in "The Child", the seasoner opener for the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, they failed miserably. It did have a non-sexual conception from some divine-like being, though I don't think it was supposed to be virginal. It was mostly just cheesy, as pretty much everything in that series was until Roddenberry started letting other people control things. Incidentally, this plot had originally been intended for the failed second Star Trek show with most of the original cast, which got replaced by Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Incidentally, the directer was a very young Rob Bowman, who went on to excellence with The X-Files as one of their best directors, eventually winning the directorship of the movie.
IreneQ: "Serving in various ministries or attending church meetings/activities is important, but it becomes rather meaningless if it means neglecting the people whom God has placed in my life. So I decided to place more priority on relationships..."
I thought this was going to be a hard one, but then I remembered. This is just about the sort of thing Commander Riker did at least twice during the Star Trek: The Next Generation series. In the second season's "The Icarus Factor", he turned down a command of the Aries, and in the season 3 finale "The Best of Both Worlds, Part I" he turned down the Melbourne. In both cases it was a sacrifice of career for the sake of those he cared about. He didn't do it for Christian reasons, but I have to be allowed some room for stretching it! Oh, and people often tell me that I look like Riker when I have a beard, so this also helps get more pictures of me on my blog.
At promptings, we have "one Canadian's reaction to the Supreme Court decision opening the way for gay marriage legislation".
I believe Star Trek's first exploration of issues related to homosexuality was in the highly politically-charged "The Outcast" in season 5 of The Next Generation, but it was only by analogy. Riker fell in love with a member of an androgenous race who had mostly evolved beyond sexual revolution, and when they occasionally identified as male or female it was viewed as a problem and corrected through reprogramming. Some of their phrases were well-chosen to reflect the language of our day about gay people. Of course, it's a bit ironic that Christians might oppose this episode on the grounds that it was intended to criticize conservative Christian views on homosexuality (which it does). The reason I find it ironic is that this species had made a great effort to deny the thing that Christians emphasize so much -- the God-given diversity of male and female. Riker's opposition to that should be a good thing, right?
IntolerantElle gives some pet peeves about the holiday season. The one I agree most with is her stance on 'Xmas', which is an abbreviation of 'Christmas' that does not take the title 'Christ' out of Christmas but rather uses the transliteration of the Greek abbreviation for 'Christ'. I don't agree with her that Christmas is a pagan holiday or that it's even a partially Christianized pagan holiday. I'm not sure they saw themselves as taking a holiday and changing it but more as borrowing some elements from one that they had robbed of their content and reassigned new content to. It has since become secularized to most Americans.
TechnoGypsy is also complaining in Advent Blues. [He has no permalinks that I can detect, so scroll down to the last post on December 13.] His complaints, however, are not that Christmas was never Christian. He wants to say that Christmas has a particular liturgical signficance that evangelicals rob it of, while at the same time they emphasize it more than its due (without the liturgical significance) as compared with Easter. Both posts are struggling with the issue of secularization and with misplaced religious significance.
In the first season finale of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, "In the Hands of the Prophets", Keiko O'Brien comes under fire from Vedek Winn for teaching scientific understandings about the wormhole aliens that the Bajorans viewed as the Prophets, with a whole religious understanding attached. (Of course, as the show develops it becomes clear that these are not incompatible views.) One of the four or five reasons this was my favorite of all the Star Trek shows (though Enterprise may exceed it if they keep improving at the rate they did last year and then again even more this year) was its treatment of the Bajoran religion. As the show developed Vedek Winn was elevated to Kai Winn, and she showed quite a mix of the thirst for fire that at times seems to have driven religious extremism and at other times secularization, using whichever she chose until she got a taste of real power when the evil Pah Wraiths, the exiled evil versions of the Prophets, led her eventually to a very bad end.
Christians and secularists are both practicing victimology right now. John McWhorter defines the term as emphasizing victimhood when it barely exists (if at all) not to seek to move forward and forge solutions and coming together "but to foster and nurture an unfocused brand of resentment and a sense of alienation from the mainstream" (Losing the Race, p.2). The secularist minority does this often. How oppressive is it that someone has to endure others who opt to say the pledge of allegiance that might have a couple phrases they disagree with? I do this every time my congregation says the Apostle's Creed with its line about Jesus going to hell (which I think has some biblical support but not clearly so and therefore not of the sort to be in a creed). On the other hand, those who are genuine Christians who are a minority but are part of the majority of those who stand culturally in the tradition of Christian influence are being marginalized in the public light in some ways, e.g. the co-opting of Christmas by commercialism or the hateful language of those who perpetrate the Jesusland fallacy. A View From the Pew points out that marginalization as part of a much broader worldwide situation in which Christians are genuinely persecuted and victimized as a norm.
In the second season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, "Cardassians", we see a similar two-sided animosity, at least some of which is wholly immoral. In this case, the Cardassians genuinely did oppress the Bajorans in extreme ways. They pulled out of Bajor at some point, leaving some of their orphans behind, who were now being raised to hate their own people. I think one of the points of the episode is that such hate can easily take form and would lead to further oppression once the tables turn, continuing a cycle of hate. This is exactly what's gone on in some parts of the world for centuries. One group persecutes another to get back at them because of their persecution in the previous regime, and it just switches off. That's the logical outcome of victimology and what we must rise above, even when there is some marginalization or animosity toward us.
3:17 looks at Jesus through the eyes of blind Bartimaeus.
You might think that science fiction would be rife with the blind seeing, but the only example I can think of is Lieutenant Commander Geordi LaForge with his pseudo-sight visor eventually getting his eye implants in Star Trek: First Contact, my favorite of the Trek films. Many fans were really upset at this. I thought part of Geordi's character all along had been that he could easily have had an operation but didn't want to, which would explain some of the resistance among fans. I think some people also grew fond of the VISOR. It did cause a security breach in one episode, though, and one of the reports from official sources is that a scene talking about that got cut from the film, so it may have been mandated by Starfleet, which would explain why he might get new eyes despite his earlier resistance to such a thing. Hey, there I am again to the left.
In the Outer... is working on a series on the Ten Commandments. His Christian Carnival submission is on the fourth commandment, "Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy." Most scholars take Jesus' reference to the two greatest commandments' summarizing the entire law as also a reference to their summarizing the Ten Commandments, and while they're at it they assign each commandment to one of the two greatest commandments. The fourth commandment has traditionally has been regarded as as fitting under loving God rather than loving your neighbor. The Bloke argues that it should instead be classed under loving your neighbor. I wonder why it has to be exclusively in one or the other.
In the Exodus account of the fourth commandment, God says the reason to observe the Sabbath and keep it holy is: "For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." [Exodus 20:11] We know the seven is the number of completion in the Bible, at least partly because of this completeness of creation symbolized by the rest of God and his people. Since as of this typing I've now gone through 25 whole entries and not once included a reference to Star Trek: Voyager (though others have appeared since), I'm invoking my right to a real stretch. You can't get easier than this one. In Voyager, starting with the fourth season opener, we had a new character, named ... Seven. Well, her full designation is 7 of 9. The liberated Borg drone was the start of a new Star Trek tradition continuing with T'Pol in Enterprise. Find some hot chick the young male audience will go ga-ga over, put her in tight and/or revealing outfits, and show her off as much as possible. Now I know there were real character issues and philosophical questions behind the choice of having the 7 of 9 character the way she was, and some of that was nicely done. Still, it was easy to see what they were up to, and the direction they've taken T'Pol has made it all the more obvious.
We have yet another voice on the Christians and Christmas issue, this time Rebecca Writes arguing that Christians should joyously welcome Christmas, because we of all people should appreciate it. It's ours! In the process, she points out that being set free from the fear of death and realizing that death has no hold on us should bring us to celebrate as no other can.
Speaking of fear of death, one episode of Voyager that I thought got little attention but shouldn't have was "Mortal Coil" in the fourth season. The Tellaxian cook and morale officer has a near-death experience during which he experiences nothing of the Tellaxian afterlife experience, and it really freaks him out. Interesting quotes: ""That's what going to happen to all of us; like a hologram, we just disappear into nothing." "Part of me is missing. I don't feel like Neelix any more. Maybe Neelix is gone. Maybe he died and I'm all that's left."
Truth Rising writes about the kind of love in marriage that Solomon couldn't have had, at least at the height of his harem of 1000 wives and concubines. The sexual relationship simply improves over time with real commitment and focus on each other. This is one reason I just don't understand one thing my students often tell me when I cover philosophical arguments related to sexual morality. They say having sex before you're married prepares you for marriage. I would have thought the reverse. The only thing that really prepares someone for marriage is learning to put aside your most deeply-seated desires for the sake of someone else. That, above all other things, is also the key to the best sex, because each person will be doing that and therefore seeking to serve the other.
This topic doesn't suit itself well to scifi TV, but the title of Mike's post is The Reciprocal Nature of Love, and that does remind me of two classic examples of unrequited love that don't fit the reciprocal model. In Babylon 5, it was disastrous for Lennier, but I'll say no more about that because it's a key plot point in the second-to-last episode. At the bottom of the Carnival I'll say not much more about that. The example I'll highlight is the Doctor in Voyager. He was primarily responsible for freeing 7 of 9 from the Borg collective, and he undertook the task of training her for social integration with the rest of the crew as she learned to become an individual again. In the process, he came to understand that he had feelings for her that he could not bring himself to express. This came out fairly strongly in the seventh season's "Human Error", when we and the Doctor learned that 7 of 9 had chosen Commander Chakotay as her holodeck love interest for learning how to interact in a dating context.
Notes in the Key of Life submits an interview with 70s Christian music teen sensation Evie Tornquist Karlsson. My oldest brother was really into her.
It's not easy to find anything about a teen sensation in the worlds of scifi, but it's extremely easy to find a scifi show that is a teen sensation: Roswell, 90210 with aliens! Well, it's got a little more intriguing a story that that. Four alien leaders about to lose control of their planet somehow transfer themselves? their consciences? their biological natures? into a spaceship, you know, the one that crashed in Roswell in 1947? Well, the ship knew how to convert whatever was preserved of these people into basically human bodies, and those human-alien hybrids took many years to incubate and develop to the point of emerging as young children in the 1980s. By the time we pick up the story, they're teenagers with some funky powers. The government ends up going after them, and the aliens from their own world also want them dead, but they've got allies here and there. The premise is actually interesting, but in practice it really is very 90120-ish, so I have a lot less patience with it than I would if they didn't play up the social dysfunctionality of these teenagers as much as they do. This show was also produced by Jonathan Franks, who played Will Riker. He played himself in one episode, trying out parts for the latest episode of Enterprise. I look like him, I'm told. Have I said that already?
Wallo World discusses the great divide between theism and atheism. It's not just a disagreement over whether there's an omnipotent being. It's a fundamental worldview difference, most notably visible in one's attitude to chance vs. purpose in the universe, something he mentions as going back to the ancient Greeks. Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics firmly plant themselves on the side of purpose. A number of pre-Socratics, including the Sophists, and the Epicureans are quite solidly on the side of chance.
It's interesting that he didn't bring in the ethical issues. The contrast between the Nietzschean Tyr Anasazi and the Wayist Rev Bem in Andromeda most obviously showed up in their ethical outlook, though the issue from the episode just below is not merely ethical. Along with Babylon 5, the two Stargate shows, and the last few years of DS9, the first year and a half of Andromeda was some of the best scifi TV ever. Unfortunately, they fired their head writer in the interest of making the show a mere action show in space, and it went downhill rapidly within half a season. It's been fairly dull, uncreative, and inspipid for most of the time since then. There have been slight improvements now and then, with new writers, but the problem is they guy they hired to run the writing team. Even the cast doesn't understand his scripts. I certainly don't. One reason I originally liked the show was its treatment of the philosophical and religious views of the various characters. The most obvious two were the Nietzscheans, who represent one popular interpretation of Nietzsche's thought taken to a level no one would ever expect any society to get to, and Rev Bem, a Wayist monk from a race who had forsaken his biological imperative is to consume all other species through injecting parasitic offspring who will kill the host once incubated.
The Wayists in Andromeda seemed to me to represent the elements of Stoic thought not well captured by the Vulcans, who were Stoics in their ethics but not in their metaphysics. Rev Bem really did think of the universe as intelligent and having a plan, the way the Stoics viewed the organismic unity of all things. The thing I found most appealing about them was their agreement with Christianity that there is a plan for all things. They just disagree with the personal and transcendent aspects of the creator God. The design element and goal-directed purposes were refreshing to see in a genre most commonly reflecting naturalistic thought.
On the other hand, Tyr was a true seeker of what was in his own self-interest, seeking to perpetuate his genes as best as possible. He had to master an uncontrolled universe that was his greatest enemy, as he saw it. In the early first-season episode "Double Helix", Tyr's Nietzscheanism showed itself to be unlike that of his fellow Nietzscheans. He rejected a wife and adoption into a new tribe (his was all dead) that any other Nietzschean would have accepted in a second. We never really got to see all of why he was so loyal to Captain Dylan Hunt, but at least while Robert Hewitt Wolfe controlled the direction of the show we never knew for sure if that loyalty would win out. He had genuinely Nietzschean reasons for some of his seemingly loyal actions, but it sometimes took him a while to get there. Many times we'd see him about to desert the crew and then change his mind. Of course, after Wolfe got fired Tyr became mere muscle until they finally had him betray everyone and meet what seemed to be a bad end (though the show makers are talking about bringing him back again as a guest star next year).
A Physicist's Perspective takes off from a Jonathan Edwards quote into a discussion of the need for theology and doctrine in our Christianity, not just personal experience and emotion. He then gives an example with some brief thoughts on the relevance of the doctrine of the sovereignty of God, this time taking his cue from A.W. Pink (though Edwards was also big on this).
The Wayist viewpoint I explained above strikes a sharp contrast with Tyr's view of a cold, harsh universe with no purpose built into anything except what you make of it. For Rev Bem, it's the opposite, and it goes so far as his statement in "Angel Dark, Demon Bright" that Captain Dylan Hunt's use of a powerful weapon of mass destruction to take out the majority of a Nietzschean fleet, simply for the reason that they had traveled back in time and knew the fleet had not been anywhere near that large, was something fulfilling a purpose. Even the Nietzschean Tyr had reasons why it might have been the best thing to do, but only Rev Bem had any sense of an overriding purpose for such an action besides their own moral deliberations. He called it his "divine mathematics". It's too bad this character had to fall by the Wayside because of makeup reasons. Of course, I wouldn't trust the later writers to write him well anyway. They've brought him back twice, and both episodes were some of the worst they've ever done.
"Inspired by the lowly birth of Jesus Christ, Brad at 21st Century Reformation and his band play with passion." Sample Lyric:
He came down from heaven to a people oppressed
Born of a virgin young and penniless
Totally empty as poor as can be
To show to a world lost in darkness
This one was after the 9pm deadline, so I'm just putting in a picture of Jack O'Neill from Stargate: SG-1, currently in competion with Stargate: Atlantis for my favorite series still running. The former show picks up from the Stargate movie when the soldiers working for someone from the race of Ra from the film come through the Stargate on Earth to collect the military personnel guarding it. Jack O'Neill puts together a team to seek out Daniel Jackson, who had been left on the planet Abydos in the movie, and they go after their troops. It turns into one of the most successful scifi shows ever, and I think the franchise will be the next Star Trek. In everything from special effects to character development, dialogue to overarching storylines, this show is one of the best ever. The only one that I think easily outsteps it is Babylon 5.
Coyote, of Sounding the Trumpet, writes: "A factor that has been largely ignored in the 2004 election is prayer. We don't like to talk about it and it goes against our sensibilities to have God meddling in our "political" affairs. We have seen the paintings of George Washington praying before the battle, but somehow the fact that God is God of all life, including our political leaders continues to eludes us."
This one was also after the 9pm deadline. I wanted to include a picture of Teal'c, the Jaffa warrior who had worked for the Go'auld Apophis, brother of Ra (I believe). When he met Jack O'Neill, he thought he could finally work against the Go'auld and joined up with SG-1. He's been their loyal teammate ever since ... well, except for that one brainwashing incident...
Another Man's Meat writes about the outhouse lawyer, sort of a more expansive term someone like an armchair quarterback. He describes his post as "the unmasking of those so called "experts" in our midst who seem to know everything there is to know about politics, religion, baseball, or any other human endeavor". This gets very especially dangerous when such people are given positions of influence. He describes some. It's especially troubling to see evangelical Christians beginning to enter this mode now that they think they have a majority (which isn't even close to the truth).
Exactly such a disaster happened in "Chain of Command", from the fourth season of Stargate: SG-1. A shadowy organization operating within and above the U.S. government managed to influence General Hammond to retire, leaving the way open for a true soldierly type to take his spot. He proceeded to turn the SGC into a facility for testing new weapons. The only problem was that he was way out of his league, not understanding that what he was trying could wipe out the whole earth, and it nearly did. It turned out that recurring character Senator Kinsey, another example of an outhouse lawyer turned politician, had been behind the whole thing. Interestingly, Ronnie Cox, who plays Senator Kinsey, portrayed Captain Jellico on the Star Trek: The Next Generation two-part episode in which Captain Picard gets reassigned and replaced by Jellico, to similar effect. I wonder if the producers of the show were consciously thinking of that as they put this episode together.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back to your inbox, a new threat arrives on the scene .... and this time it's spiritual. Christians are now cluttering email inboxes with spam designed to save souls. See The Journey for more.
Some people just don't have a clue that what they're trying to use for a good purpose is just going to turn people off and accomplish the opposite effect. My favorite example of this in a non-religious context is from "Space Race", a seventh season (just out on DVD!) episode of Stargate: SG-1. Major Samantha Carter takes part in a dangerous space race that's broadcast in a way much like our sporting events. They portrayed the insensitivity to violence rife throughout the sports entertainment industry in our day quite clearly by expanding it to include even death. After talking about how one of the ships might not make it much further before exploding, the announcer launches right into an ad for a funeral home: "Well, you can say that again. At this stage of the race, it's all about the shields. Does your ship have what it takes to survive that kind of super intense heat?" "And if it doesn't?" "You'd be instantly vaporized." "Interesting...in a horrifying sense. If you have a loved one who's close to death..." (A logo appears on the screen next to Ardal as the camera focuses on him alone.) "Don't delay. Contact Tech Con Group Funeral Services today and make your loved one's farewell memorable beyond words. Tech Con Group Funeral Services: Helping you make peace with death."
Jollyblogger has an excellent post starting off from some comments by D.A. Carson about the dangers of putting side issus in the central spot only the gospel really occupies. This is in fact what the Pharisees did. The post includes number of examples of how evangelicals do the same thing.
In the spinoff Stargate: Atlantis series, the characters are stranded in another galaxy, occupying the lost city of Atlantis abandoned by the Ancients due to an enemy even the advanced Ancients couldn't handle, an enemy known only as the Wraith. In "Underground", in their search for allies and material against the Wraith, the team discovered the Genii, another group of humans bent on wiping out the Wraith. The problem is that they so had their heart set on wiping out the Wraith their way (which wouldn't have worked anyway) that they made enemies of the Atlantis crew. It's a classic case of letting the peripherals become central and throwing off the focus from what really matters. Cowen, the leader of the Genii, is played by Colm Meaney, most famous in the scifi world for playing Chief O'Brien from Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine but more widely known for his role as Kelly in Far and Away.