Continuing the conversation with Kevin C. Neece, author of The Gospel According To Star Trek.
RLM: I’ve seen The Gospel According to Harry Potter some years ago. Do you think it’s important for Christians to look for the gospel in pop culture, and why or why not? Do you see any dangers in doing so?
KCN: There’s a whole sub-genre of Gospel According to . . . books out there. In fact they date back to 1965 with Robert L. Short’s The Gospel According to Peanuts. That was the year before Star Trek premiered. So, with the Gospel According to Star Trek books, I’m putting two fifty-year-old ideas together!
And there’s a reason these books exist and have for fifty years. Pop culture isn’t just entertainment. It’s vital to how we make culture. In his endorsement for my book, theology professor Mike Wittmer says, “Stories do more than entertain. They subtly shape our loves, beliefs, and what we think is possible.” So, yes, it’s important for Christians to engage pop culture—in fact, it’s vital. I’ve said for years that our culture understands, defines, and expresses itself at the popular level. If you’re not engaging pop culture, you’re not engaging culture.
But beyond that, going back to what Mike Wittmer wrote, it’s not just about engaging with a culture that exists “out there” in the broader world. We ourselves are shaped by these things. We cannot help but be influenced and changed by the stories and ideas with which we engage. We can choose either to do that in a passive way—to just let ideas flow through us and change us in ways we don’t notice—or to actively engage these things and think deeply about why we love the things we love and what the stories we’re drawn to say about us and about humanity.
As far as dangers, I think the primary dangers are in doing this poorly. There are a number of traps to avoid and my work with Star Trek has put me into interaction with all of them. The first trap is avoidance. One of the reasons I started this work with Star Trek in particular is that I see Christians who look at Star Trek and see that it’s humanistic and therefore either feel guilty about liking it or reject it altogether. But I say, “No! There’s something good here!”
All goodness is God’s goodness. All truth is God’s truth. All beauty is God’s beauty. So we mustn’t shy away from something just because we see a philosophical difference in its makeup. If anything, it’s good for us to be in conversation with ideas with which we disagree. But more to the point, with Star Trek, we need to recognize that humanism is not the enemy, that in fact there is a long tradition of Christian humanism. We’ve just forgotten that Christians from Augustine to C. S. Lewis were arguing for this whole-life gospel that rescues our humanity instead of denigrating it. And Star Trek can help us rediscover that.
No matter what the philosophy of a work of art, as a Christian, I can always be on the lookout for what I can take away from it that is beneficial. I can always ask, “Where is God at work here?” Of course, the danger there is to assume that what I see in something is what was intended. I do a lot in this book with the idea of Spock as a Christ figure. Now, I know with a fair degree of certainty that no one involved with Star Trek set out to make Spock a Christ figure. But that’s what makes the depth of the metaphors I see in his most famous stories so fascinating. I have to always remember and make it clear to my readers, though, that this is just something I see in Spock, not something that is intended. In that case, then, where did it come from? How did it get there? Is it the Western world’s entrenchment in a Christian cultural tradition? Is it Divine intervention? Is it just my ability to see the gospel story in various places?
Well, the truth is that it’s all of the above. All those things work together, and God is not separate from that process. But my most important job is to keep a clear head about all of it and constantly ask myself if I am being fair, both in my assessment of the work itself, and in my evaluation of my own process. So, beyond just keeping the gospel at the fore and staying anchored in that, the biggest danger in engaging pop culture is not having the conversation carefully, thoughtfully, and respectfully. I’m not trying to use Star Trek to sell Christianity or to make a lot of cute sermon illustrations. I’m simply asking those questions of how God is at work in Star Trek and what I and other Christians can learn from the stories Star Trek is telling.
RLM: What did you hope to accomplish in The Gospel According To Star Trek?
KCN: I hope I can help people think more deeply about, not only Star Trek, but about all of the art and stories we love. I’m very aware that my audience is not just Christians, and I’m grateful for that. In fact, I’d be disappointed if that weren’t the case. And I hope that people of any faith can read my books, can listen to me speak, and come away learning something about Star Trek, about humanity, or about themselves that maybe they hadn’t considered before.
I was also very honored to get an endorsement from Larry Nemecek, who is an important name in the Star Trek world, and he says, “Don’t be scared off by the title, Trek fans. Whether Christian, pagan, atheist, or any other corner on the global ‘higher power’ scale, you’ll find plenty of new insights into ‘the human adventure’ amid the dots Kevin C. Neece connects.”
And John Tenuto, who wrote my foreword, also says similar things. That’s very important to me, that anyone who is interested in Star Trek can engage with this work.
Beyond that, not even just Star Trek fans! There’s something in here for anyone who is interested in that “human adventure” Larry talks about, but particularly there are things in the book I want to share with every Christian. In fact, you can go to my website right now and download a free PDF of my “Non-Trekkie’s Reading Guide” for The Gospel According to Star Trek: The Original Crew. It’s just a quick list of what to read in this book if you’re not a Star Trek fan because I believe these ideas I’m discussing are so important that I want everyone to have access to them.
This is the stuff that really changed my worldview and changed my life. Ultimately, that’s what I’m trying to share. If people can get just a bit, just a glimmer of what I’ve learned that has so transformed my life, then I’ve done something to help someone else along on this journey and I’m very, very happy.
RLM: I assume from the subtitle that you focused on the original series. Have you looked at any of the other four series with an eye toward exploring what they might say about the gospel?
KCN: This book covers Gene Roddenberry, and also all of the adventures of Kirk and company. So it’s the Original Series, the Animated Series, the Original Series films (that is, the first six films) the Kelvin Timeline films, including Star Trek Beyond.
As to the rest of Star Trek, not only have I looked at it, I’m writing books on all of it! The Gospel According to Star Trek is actually a book series that will be exploring every film and television iteration of Star Trek from a Christian perspective. This book came out in conjunction with the fiftieth anniversary of the Original Series and next year, I’ll be releasing The Gospel According to Star Trek: The Next Generation in time for that series’ thirtieth anniversary. And then I’ll be doing books on Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise. And hopefully, someday, there will be a Gospel According to Star Trek Discovery!
In the meantime, I’ll be continuing to explore more aspects of this conversation through The Undiscovered Country Project, my ongoing voyage through Star Trek from a Christian worldview. I do blog posts (on occasion) and we’re about to be getting back into doing audio commentaries for Star Trek episodes and films, though we have several of those already available. And, this month is Spocktober, which is our month-long tribute to Spock, so you can look for special events related to that.
RLM: Where can visitors get your book, or connect with you on social media?
KCN: The book is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, directly through Wipf and Stock Publishers, or on my website. I’d encourage your readers to ask for it at their local libraries and bookstores. Ask them to order it and get it in stock! You can also connect with me at kevincneece.com, gospelaccordingtostartrek.com, and undiscoveredcountryproject.com. I’m on Twitter and Facebook as well. Just look for Kevin C. Neece Author/Speaker and The Undiscovered Country Project, and you can even catch up with me on YouTube on my channel, UCProject.
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Kevin C. Neece is an author and speaker on media, the arts, and pop culture from a Christian worldview perspective. A former professor, Kevin holds a BAS in Communication and Philosophy and an MLA in Fine Arts. He lives with his wife and son in Fort Worth, Texas.
His latest book is The Gospel According To Star Trek: The Original Crew.