Saturday, December 29, 2012


Earlier this year I finally saw the 1999 film Trekkies for the first time.  Despite being a lifelong Star Trek fan I'd never made an effort to see this documentary, in part because I was already familiar with the lengths that some diehard fans go to, and the laughter (not always kind) that accompanies their displays of devotion to all things Trek.

And Trekkies does introduce viewers to a number of fans whose lives revolve around Star Trek to an extreme.  Despite a handful of cringeworthy moments, however, the documentary also reminded me why Star Trek has such a devoted fan base (myself included, even if I've never worn a Starfleet uniform in my everyday life or learned to speak Klingon) in the first place.  Its positive vision of a future in which mankind has overcome the problems that threaten our present existence - racism, poverty, war, pollution, etc. - and joined with alien races to form a federation based on our highest ideals, has inspired hope in many who saw little reason for hope in the present-day world around them.

In addition to that reminder, the subjects of Trekkies point us toward an aspect of our humanity that sometimes gets forgotten in our age of science and rationalism: the power of myth.  For too long our modern world has conflated myth with fiction and thereby reduced it to mere entertainment.  Myth may not be intended to live up to the factual standards of literal history, but "real" or not it connects us with the deeper truths of human existence that aren't so easily quantified in textbooks and instruction manuals.

For some, Star Trek really is nothing more than entertainment.  But for others, it's the mythology that informs their lives and shapes the lens through which they interpret the world around them.  Religious or not, we humans long to be part of a greater story.  On an intuitive level the modern church has never completely forgotten that; even the most ardent literalists still teach their children the stories of Moses, David, Joseph, Esther and the other great heroes of the Bible.

Where we get tripped up is in the dichotomy that modern society has created between fact and fiction.  It's a necessary distinction when one is dealing with matters of science, but when we apply it to all realms of life we lose something vital.  A friend of mine who attended an evangelical seminary once took a class on the writings of CS Lewis that was taught by a theology professor who had never read the Chronicles of Narnia because he adamantly refused to read fiction.  Not coincidentally, this professor wasn't known for being a very interesting person when he wasn't standing behind a podium.  And no doubt he finds it exasperating that so many children love Aslan more than they love the God they hear about in church on Sundays.

Christian apologetics is still a highly popular pursuit in evangelical circles.  If we can just prove the Bible is literally true, the world will have no choice but to fall in line behind us - or so advocates of apologetics seem to believe.  All we have to do is win the argument once and for all, and anyone who still dissents will be exposed as a fraud.  Unfortunately, the stories and poems that encounter us through so much of the Bible don't readily lend themselves to this approach.

That's not to say that logic and reason have no place in theological discussions, simply that their use has been misdirected.  At the end of the day, which has the greater influence on our spiritual lives - debates over the age and authorship of the book of Daniel, or the stories of courage and wisdom that become part of our own stories as we read it?

Perhaps the church would be a more Christ-like place if we worried less about being right about everything.  As Rob Bell puts it, "a good story has a powerful way of rescuing us from abstract theological discussions that can tie us up in knots for years."  Rediscovering the Bible as Divine myth rather than as a book of facts and rules may seem an invitation to anarchy, given how a story can mean something different to every person who hears it.

Some may even think it reduces the Christian faith to the level of a fairy tale if we cannot state with certainty that every story in the Bible is historically accurate.  But perhaps the open-endedness of myth is the only way mankind can connect with the Infinite.  And perhaps that same open-endedness will serve to weed out those whose quest for certainty and rules is less about that connection than it is about attempting to control God.

And maybe the Bible would once again inspire Christians as powerfully as Star Trek inspires Trekkies.

No comments: