Recently I decided to click one of those (mostly annoying) suggested links proffered to a user while browsing the web. This took me to a short clip taken from the Star Trek television series. It covers a conversation between Captain Jean-Luc Picard and a character named Data, an android officer aboard the space ship. The captain wishes to convince Data to submit to a procedure which would hopefully allow more androids of his caliber to be created, to the greater benefit of humanity.
However, Data objects on account of the procedure being (presumably) invasive and violative. When pressed to concede, Data asks an incisive question: Why are they upset with him for resisting, while his fellow officers are not similarly compelled to receive cybernetic implants when it may prove to be a great advantage to them? The captain, shaken, then dismisses Data without answering. The point is that the humans felt at liberty to violate Data's free will because he's not human. They were discriminating against him based on the premise that a sentient android is a lesser being compared to humans.
Admittedly this is a good moral lesson, yes?
As I briefly scrolled through the comments section I noticed the following little tirade.
...imagine every child in the world being brought up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, instead of being read idiotic Bibles and Korans and any other [censored] of that kind... imagine the society, the world, which would be result of that... one can only dream... and respect Roddenberry for his intention which was surely along these lines... and cry about WHAT [censored] MORONS PEOPLE ARE BECAUSE THEY MEMORIZE [censored] MORONIC BRAINWASH LIEBOOKS (Bible, Koran) INSTEAD OF [censored] THINKING AND TRYING TO BE BEINGS WORTHY OF THE NAME "human."
I assume his reasoning is that we could learn to be better people by spending all our time watching something like Star Trek, as opposed to exploring divine revelation. While the poster's accord with, and apparent passion for, the ideology of equal moral worth and value of life as presented in the clip, is commendable, I cannot but detect a couple of problems with his proposal.
Suppose a child is brought up watching Star Trek, even only the episodes containing their quota of good moral lessons, it is still no guarantee that doing so will inoculate them against prejudice and discrimination. Admittedly, I suppose this is a real danger in whatever case, regardless of the source. We are endemically guilty of knowing more than we actually practice. A person may know that margarine is bad because it contains large amounts of hydrogenated fats, along with preservatives and colorants etc., but may nevertheless regularly slather it on bread and add it by the spoon-fulls while cooking. TV compounds the problem, though, in that the moral lessons are garnish to the larger, dramatized fictional narrative. The intrigue and excitement tend to eclipse most everything else.
Rarely do viewers squeal in delight at the two or four minutes' worth of moralizing during a show, nor does it generally feature high on the list of means by which a series attracts waves of fans (unless it is essentially, by nature, a deliberately philosophical production). What we tend to remember are the emotional elements. When caked in amusements and entertainment, the weightier matters tend to be marginalized, and thus it is a poor vehicle for cultivating an upright character. The trend, whether subconscious or not, is to throw out the baby of moral instruction with the bathwater of televised fictional contrivances.
Additionally, gratuitous amusement tends to breed consumerism. Viewers are conditioned to feed off the imagination of screen writers entirely unknown to them. Consumerism generally blunts our own reasoning, critical, and creative faculties. Besides, the philosophies sold in the entertainment industry too often remain in the realm of the intellectual and abstract, since exhortations to actually practice them are not made. Even if this were to change, the nature of incessant consumerism robs us of so much time that little is left to put into practice any new-found, virtuous insights, anyway. To the extent that we lazily consume ideas, we ourselves are withheld from producing or applying our own.
Nobody becomes a good driver by simply watching Top Gear (or other similar shows) or by reading books about advanced driving techniques. Given the addictive nature of entertainment television, and attendant susceptibility to the law of diminishing returns, this is a substantial impediment.
But there is a yet deeper concern. As much as a show may condone sound ideologies, as much as we may support and applaud it for doing so, it faces a problem even before reaching the gap between the mind (knowledge) and the hand (actions). For it does not provide even an intellectual basis for its moralisms. It may promulgate it zealously, articulate it eloquently, and we may relish the sound of it, but on what basis are we compelled to believe and accept it? What reasons does it provide for claiming that these things, in fact, actually ought to be so?
The idea is that life merits worth and that therefore life has some kind of intrinsic value. Yet the show's very own foundational premise contradicts this. Whatever worth life has must be based on origin and, by implication, the value of its constituents. To Star Trek, this amounts to dust; star dust, but dust nonetheless. If we should argue that our complexity warrants our greater value (an unsustainable position, given that there is no worth to be derived from origins on the basis of which to attribute an increase thereof), then the captain cannot be faulted for his view. Stark Trek may *say* that officer Data's life and free will are on par with that of his human officers, but the show's own implicit philosophies do not sustain the assumptions on which it bases such high moralistic ideals.
Faced with these barriers, the poster's proposed idea for edutainment that is morally reforming is woefully handicapped. While some viewers may pick up on this and others not, we are fortunate in that “where sin abounded, grace abounded much more” (New King James Bible, Rom 5:20). I mean to say that people often live above the benchmarks supplied by their purely materialistic moral scaffolding (see also Rom 2:14-15). That is, they live ostensibly upright lives in spite of their worldview, rather than because of it. It is a testimony to the grace of God to restrain evil in the hearts of men.
The enmity that exists between Christ and Satan (Gen 3:15) is at least minimally present within every person, because since this first promise of the gospel Christ is the “true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world” (John 1:9). Ultimately, the matter under discussion here is not so much a question of value, but of worth. The difference, in my view, is that value is often arbitrary or fickle, whereas worth is relational. Money is valuable because humans ascribe value to it based on certain social and economic conventions; but a child is worth something because they are the object of their parents' love. Similarly, we have worth because we are the objects of God's love, proven by His act of redemption (Rom 5:8).
Surprisingly, the Bible shares the view that “we are dust” (Psalm 103:14; Gen 2:7). Whence comes our worth, then? Ah, but then dust is not all we are, is it? We are living beings because we receive from God the breath of life. Ours is a life derived from the Infinite One, and thus our constituents, our origin, justify the value we ascribe to being. We have worth by virtue of being created in the image of God (Gen 1:27), marred though it may now be. It is within this context alone that I am justified in claiming that my life is worth no more than my colleague's, nor that of the indigent (Col 3:10-11), for we share the same breath of life (Gen 7:21-22). “He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth,” (Acts 17:26) and we all have the same redeemer (1 Tim 4:10). The worth we have is shown by the heavy price that was paid (1 Cor 6:20; 1 Pet 1:18-19). It is in this that we find our sense, not of self-respect or self-confidence, but of self-worth; a worth not really centered in self at all.
Wicus den Dulk is a genuine Afrikaans speaking 'boertjie'' of Dutch descent, born, raised and living in South Africa. In 2015 he obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing from the University of South Africa while working in the IT industry in the capacity of support technician and dedicated network administrator. After spending approximately 13 years in this occupation, he resigned in order to start as a full-time Bible Worker for his local congregation. Although agnostic at the time of his conversion to Seventh-Day Adventism, he comes from the Dutch Reformed tradition, and now seeks to serve God wholeheartedly.