Monday, July 7, 2008

A Brief 'Trek' Through Moral Absolutism

The virtual pantheism of Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the Star Trek brand, offers a wellspring of opportunities to dissect his many creative offspring. My personal favorite is Star Trek, The Next Generation - the award-winning sci-fi television series that many have suggested merely serves as a vehicle for his secular, humanist, and atheist predilections.

One early episode of this series, "Justice" (episode #7), examines a subject that believers and non-believers almost universally disagree about: the notion of moral absolutism. It's fair to say that most religious conservatives subscribe to the idea that humanity needs moral absolutes to guide itself, and that God is the appropriate source of this perfect morality. Whereas the secular among us tend to decry moral absolutes as usually dysfunctional. When an absolutist points to the Fifth Commandment, Thou shalt not kill, many would quickly point out that killing is often performed in what most would agree is a righteous context - as in a war to defeat an evil opponent. In this example, absolutism fails; moral relativism - or consequentialism, to be more precise, succeeds.

In "Justice" the precocious young Wesley is sentenced to death for the apparently harmless offense of walking through the forbidden garden to retrieve a ball. The native Edo claim that their crime-free, totally peaceful society has flourished precisely because of strict, or absolute, adherence to the laws of its protector, God (who is actually just a very advanced civilization orbiting the Edo's planet in a spaceship above).

After Captain Picard decides to defy the Edo and remove Wesley from the planet, his next challenge is to convince the governing entity of the mysterious "god-vessel" that clinging to its absolutist philosophy and destroying the Enterprise would be unjust. After an impassioned plea employing pure reason, the Enterprise and its crew are allowed to go free. Here Roddenberry clearly states his objections to an absolutist approach to morality, and in so doing promotes moral consequentialism as the better choice.

Reasonable minds can no doubt differ about which brand of morality offers what is best for humanity. I just happened to enjoy how this one creative mind offered his examination of those very options.

1 comment:

  1. Ahhhh, you are...a man after my own heart. I have beena Trekkie, not Trekker, since the original series. And yes, I watched it, but not in reruns.

    I was but a child of about 7 when they had been put in the dreaded Friday night 10:00 time slot. They knew they wer eon thier way out, but I did not.

    I had no family member to coerce me to watch it with them. I found this series all on my own.

    We used to visit my grandmoter on weekends in the Lake Okeechobee area. My mom would be in the kitchen with my nanny and some of her siblings while I was straining to stay awake to watch this newfound show. I would struggle to keep keep my sleep laden eyes open long enough to watch the credits roll by, but alas, sleep usually won. But I did seem to know...somehow that his was a show to be reckoned with and I was only seven years old.

    Fast forwar to present day and look what has been spawned by the Great Eagle(I think that was one of Rodenberry's nicknames). Countless movies, 3 TV series, (I do not count Enterprise in that lineup*shudders*) a franchise to make way from and all from an idea.

    The series did not almost make it. No one wanted the darned thing. (I bet they are kicking themselves royaly now. There is no more dedicated fan base then Trekkies, save Harry Potter fans, and I am honored to be in the company of such dedicated youth as these Potter fans are. I see myself in them.

    Roddenberry had a vision, and he cloaked(Pun not intended) it in his weekly one hour TV shows. No one knew they were wathching about racism in the episode, 'Let That be Your LAst Battlefield.' And did anyone pick up on the whole black and white to love tongue in cheek.

    I am so thrilled to be a part of what used to be a sub-culture. And miss Rodenberry tremendously. With him died his vision which has all but been destroyed/mutilated Brannon and Braga. All they could see was dollar signs...big shocker there, and veered off the Rodenbeery path. Let's see if this new guy, Abrams, can do any better.

    The one thing I am sorry to see, is that Rodenberry did not get to see a woman Captain. Long live Janeway. Sorry I got carried away there.

    Thanks for, as always, a lovely post.