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'To boldly go' in a biblical direction

For good or ill – and sadly, too often the latter – Gene Roddenberry’s original TV series “Star Trek” was far more than a sci-fi drama, but a cutting edge exploration into social ethics.

Don’t get me wrong: I love when TV shows and movies transcend mere entertainment to become more of a true art form – and “Star Trek” often did – and I appreciate the journey Roddenberry took us on, but too often the conclusion left audiences further from biblical truth, rather than deeper into it.

Take for instance, the pithy proverb of the uber-rationalist Mr. Spock: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

This moral directive is utilitarianism boiled down to an easily swallowed nugget … of pure poison.

For utilitarianism – as rational as it sounds – is an utter failure as a moral system, for it holds no moral judgment upon any individual action and leaves it wide open for fallible humans to determine what constitutes a “need” or not. Adolf Hitler, for example, facing a cataclysmic depression in Germany that made the one in the U.S. look like a small dip in the stock market came to the conclusion the needs (hunger, starvation) of the many Germans in his nation outweighed the needs (life, personal property) of the comparatively few Jews. History told us where that leads.

Put more succinctly (and in a less inflammatory comparison), utilitarianism is flawed in that it lends itself too easily to a Machiavellian “ends justifies the means” ethic, which in turn is morally bankrupt.

Curiously enough, however, “Star Trek into Darkness” toys with the “needs of the many” argument, but then actually redeems what is a broken moral philosophy with an example of a similar, but far more biblical axiom. In other words, “Into Darkness” actually gets it right.

As a film, “Into Darkness” is a summer blockbuster of the best sort, with a clever, laugh-out-loud script, plenty of action, fun and curious characters, a fantastic villain and entertainment value to the max. Especially for Trekkers, “Into Darkness” intentionally harkens back to classic episodes and “Star Trek” movies in outrageously funny fashion. I daresay it’s even better than first in this recent reboot of the franchise. Yet even for those not a fan of the original TV series, “Into Darkness” packs plenty of entertainment value for the dollar.

If you can forgive just a few breaks of logic that weasel into the final cut, “Star Trek into Darkness” may have even surpassed “Iron Man 3” as the most must-see blockbuster of the summer (until “Man of Steel” comes out, anyway).

Harkening back to the moral of the story, “Into Darkness” also reveals a better way than utilitarianism: the ethic of self-sacrifice.

“No greater love has a man,” says the Bible’s John 15:13, “than he lay down his life for a friend,” and in Philippians 2:3, “In humility, value others above yourself.”

The Bible’s ethic – which the “needs of the many” construct only vaguely resembles (or distorts) – is not that I can decide whose sacrifice is necessary for whom, but that I can choose to sacrifice myself for others. It’s not that virtue is measured by scales of sheer numbers, but that it is fulfilled when we value others above ourselves, regardless of the others’ merit.

Obviously, Hitler missed that distinction. So did Machiavelli.

“Into Darkness” did not.

And even beyond the examples of self-sacrifice, the main moral of the story in the new “Star Trek” film is something else altogether: the journey of Captain Kirk from cocksure and irresponsible rebel to a man of humility who knows how to take responsibility for his actions. It portrays his early success, a humiliating moment of crisis and a rise again as a new man, a servant leader. The film ends with a message about turning aside from the path of revenge.

In the end, it turns out this voyage of the Starship Enterprise has indeed discovered “new life” – both as an entertaining movie franchise and as a vehicle for biblical truth.

A trailer for the film can be seen below (Editor’s note: Trailer contains an instance of obscenity):

Content advisory: