The best stories are memorable—they last, they linger, they provoke thought. I wish we had more memorable stories in today’s media.
In many ways memorable stories have been replaced by the fast action, 3-act stories that Hollywood says sell the best. But good stories, memorable stories don’t necessarily follow the formula. The problem is, so many movies, TV programs, books, don’t explore beyond the bang-bang excitement.
I may have mentioned that I’ve been watching the old Star Trek programs. Not so much the original, but Next Generation and Deep Space Nine and Voyager. Some of the writers of those shows created “preachy” episodes that pushed a liberal agenda. Some explored, in a rather blatant way, some societal questions. I wouldn’t call them necessarily memorable (unless you watch them over and over!)
But last night I saw the end of a part 2 Voyager episode that made me stop and think. As you may or may not know, the show centers on the flagship of the United Federation Planets, Voyager, which was thrust into the delta quadrant of the universe, 70 light years from home in the gamma quadrant.
As it turned out, the captain of the ship, Captain Janeway, made the decision to maintain the ethics and goals of Star Fleet as much as possible, to use the venture into uncharted space to explore as much as possible, and to do all within reason to return to earth.
In the particular episode I’m writing about, Voyager has encountered another Star Fleet vessel, which was also thrust into the delta quadrant and intended to return home. Their ship was not as fast or as well equipped militarily, and yet they had acquired (or perhaps engineered) a device that would thrust them forward light years. All they needed was a kind of fuel they created from the life “blood” of some alien creatures.
Here’s a description of this thread from an article by Andrew Todd:
“Equinox,” a two-parter season finale/premiere that explored a potent what-if scenario. Voyager encounters another Federation vessel that’s been pulled across the galaxy in a similar way, but that’s made enormous progress thanks to unethically harvesting energy from living organisms for fuel (a debate that, curiously, would be brought up again in Discovery). In the Equinox, we see the mirror image of Voyager, if the crew had abandoned its principles entirely. Good stuff.
In turn those alien creatures attacked the vessel. Enter Voyager, not knowing why the other Star Fleet ship was enduring these repeated attacks. As the story unfolds, including the kidnapping of one of the Voyager crew and the removal of the Doctor’s ethical subroutines (he’s a hologram), Janeway at last learns of the ways the other captain has ignored his Star Fleet oaths and abandoned the ethics which govern the organization.
Of course, Janeway wins the struggle, but as the credits appear, the question still lingers—what is a person willing to do to ensure their own personal well-being? Who are we willing to sacrifice in the process? Who will we step on or over? Who will we use and abuse to our own ends?
In this day of hoarding, these are especially relevant questions, I think. Perhaps that’s what makes this particular show so memorable. It has two specific things going for it, I think. One is the relevance to any time in history. The question, What are you willing to do to survive, is not unique to our day, surely.
The second element is that the question is not answered within the show. Yes, Janeway won, but she had to battle not only the other captain and his ship but also her own first officer. He himself admitted that he had thought about mutiny (as the other captain eventually experienced), but Janeway’s first officer concluded that to do so would have crossed the line.
More than once the show alluded to “the line” between right and wrong, between the Star Fleet way and the abandonment of those principles.
As a Christian, I can ask the question: Is it ever right to abandon the principles of my faith—love of neighbor, for instance? Or even love of an enemy.
I think of the early Christians who served others in their community during times of illness, often to their own peril. The results, however, are memorable.
Rodney Stark, author of The Rise of Christianity, argues that some of the marked growth of the church in the early centuries can be attributed to care and compassion Christians showed for the sick. He tracks increased conversion rates during three plagues: the Antonine plague (2nd c.), the Cyprian plague (3rd c.), and the Justinian plague (6th c.). Christians demonstrated their love for God and biblical values, and they offered a very attractive witness. (“The Witness Of Christian Compassion,” Melinda Penner, published at Stand To Reason, accessed 3/30/20)
So I wonder, what is memorable today? What narrative will be most repeated in a year, two years, five? What will go down in history about the reaction of Christians during the Coronavirus-19?
Of course, just like the good, memorable stories, the answer is not one that can be imposed upon anyone. We all have to make the personal choice. The outcome is unknown until we actually act (or, in the case of hoarding, refrain from acting; and refrain all over again next week, and the week after that).
Yes, we are locked into a true to life “story,” but like all good fiction, we are called to examine ourselves, to consider our ways, to think. And that’s a good thing.
Voyager does have a good episode once in awhile. I still wish someone would remake it better as a graphic novel series or something, just save those good episodes.
Also Travis, I’ve heard some people who went to Mardi Gras have died from the COVID. Have you died since last Thursday?
I have shown no signs of COVID 19 infection at all. Thanks for asking.
Yeah, it makes me feel bad to think about how much people were touching one another just walking through a crowd back then as if it was no big deal. Not to mention all the sex I have clear reasons to believe was happening behind the scenes. It’s no surprise hordes of people got infected. Mardi Gras should have been cancelled this year.
That could bring up a discussion of human action versus fate, but I’ve already talked about that recently in my 12 Monkeys post…
Janeway though rather regularly threw her convictions to the wind at various moments. Like, giving the Borg assistance and some other doozies. She was really an equivalent to Kirk in the Original Series, without all the fooling around. Kirk didn’t mind moralizing about Federation values from time to time–even though he also violated the Prime Directive often enough.
Though of course the crew of the Equinox was doing things not even Janeway would do…
But yes, the very belief that Star Trek has in absolute principles like the Prime Directive, seen in all the series, no matter what the captains do about that principle, points away from moral relativism. Though its morality is very progressive at times (on the other hand, at times Star Trek morality is simply ordinary morality, like, it’s bad to invade, kill, and enslave people), Star Trek in general takes a stand that morality matters. Which is something we can celebrate, even as we at the same time recognize parts of Star Trek’s morality are non-Christian or even anti-Christian in a way we should be alert to.
That episode bothered me because of how quickly the Doctor changed loyalties when his ethical subroutines were removed. It didn’t make sense that removing them would suddenly cause him to ignore the chain of command and not obey Captain Janeway.
I’d also agree with Travis, Janeway ignored her ethics when it was convenient for her. Having just finished watching through all 7 seasons a few days ago, I found her to be a frustrating captain who played favorites and enforced rules whimsically.
But to the actual question you posed. I’ve been debating that one in my mind in two ways. First, I’ve noticed my non-Christian friends reacting to this pandemic in a completely different way from my Christian friends. My non-Christian friends have been looking at this as an end of the world event, and they are scared. My Christian friends are concerned for various specific things (health of friends with compromised immune systems or jobs and the like), but they aren’t overly worried. Admittedly this is a small sample set, but it interested me.
Second, my church has started sending out “How you can help” emails. Some are things like donating blood at pre-scheduled times to limit the number of people interacting, but one was a service opportunity for gathering and distributing food while still maintaining social distancing, I’m not sure how you do that. It’s got me thinking about what is the correct response of churches right now. We’ve been meeting online for 3 weeks now, but what is the right thing to do beyond that. Groups are working here to make masks that can be used to extend the “proper medical masks” (totally forgetting technical name). But, it’s unclear what is the best way to help if there is any.