Doug Zeitlin and Jim Caswell, the prime movers behind TWERPs (Time Well Electronic Productions) who, for the third year in a row have contributed a specially dedicated podcast for the Twelve Trek Days of Christmas. This year they have taken the bit between the teeth and tackled one of the thorniest questions in Star Trek fandom: Why, in a programme that prides itself on its intellectual content, is there so little said about religion and politics?
Download this year's Trekcast from the TWERPs website, http://www.twerponline.net/twerpcast
I love Christmas. Not in a shallow way because of the commercialism but in the way that it changes people.Old enmities are shelved, people's spm rate (smiles per minute) increases and kids are absolutely maniacal about it! There are those who would draw "lines in the sand" and say that Christmas is a purely religious holiday but, as I said in my opening post for the Twelve Trek Days, "Whilst the religious aspects of the holiday are still observed in Christian communities, not everyone celebrates it as they do. The Christmas message holds two aspects that can be respected by every person on the globe whether they be Christian, Humanist, Buddhist or Moslem: Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all men"
Just those two aspects are reason enough to cherish this tradition. The globalisation of Christmas could be the closest that humanity comes to standing as one brotherhood of mankind and yet Star Trek seems silent on the subject of Christmas.
Why is there such a taboo about discussing religion and politics in Star Trek canon?
Some brave souls have broached the subject in the past. Julia Houston, for instance, had an excellent little article on About.com which is still available on the Wayback machine where she points out that the only major reference to Christmas is the idealistic dream scene of Picard in the Nexus shown in Generations.
The problem as I see it is that the writers of Star Trek - and yes, I'm taking Gene to task here as well - fail to realise that religious holidays represent definite philosophical as well as spiritual values. I am not as conversant with the religious holidays of other cultures as I should be, but I do have a firm grasp of the principles that our Christian holidays are supposed to espouse.
I suppose it is understandable that in a future that is ruled by technology, faith as such could be seen as illogical. Christians cannot prove the virgin birth of Christ even though they celebrate it, nor for that matter can they prove the resurrection that is the basis of Easter. That's why they call it faith - you accept them even though there is no empirical proof. However I would assume that there would be at least pockets of traditionalists left, just as Chakotay's people survived as a culture. As an aside, I might point out that Star Trek makes a great show of tolerance towards less well developed cultures, as evidenced by the Prime Directive - surely they would not show any less tolerance towards human religions?
Even if we put asside the religious basis of the celebrations, does this mean that the celebration itself is redundant? Christmas is a time of celebration, fellowship with strangers, family gatherings, gift giving, feasting and generally wishing for 'peace on Earth and goodwill towards all sentient beings.' Surely all of these are good ideals and to NOT celebrate Christmas because it might not be "politically correct" to celebrate a western, Christian holiday is to lose more than we could possibly gain!
Even if the religious significance of the celebrations were to be ignored, the celebration days we recognise now hold an objective significance that any Vulcan would admit to. Easter as a time of contemplation of mortality, Valentines Day as a celebration of love, Lent as a time of fasting, Remembrance day (whenever your nation celebrates it) as a time to remember the sacrifices of those who have defended our freedom. In our household we celebrate St Patrick's day, not because we are Irish (although we have the Orange and the Green in our family from my wife's side) but because it is my Grandfather's birthday and I liked him!
I would be interested to hear what a Humanist would suggest as replacements for these events, since they represent a need in humans, specific traditions that allow us the opportunity to place life, the universe and everything into context. It need not be a Christian context. Your frame of reference might be Buddhist, Taoist or Jeddi Knight... or it might be a personal standard that you have worked out yourself. Would a Humanist frame of reference be based on philosophy, ethics, the Code of Chivalry?
People will remain people even in the 24th century, unless there is some form of mind control or genetic manipulation and we are told that neither of these is accepted as permissible. A spacecraft as huge as the Galaxy class will be like a flying city and will require celebrations in just the same way that any society requires them, as focal points for communal values, strengthening social ties and as release valves for what could become antisocial behaviour. People will need celebrations to "let their hair down" in an acceptable way whether they call it Christmas or Ancestors Eve.
Extrapolating on the idea of spare time on a spaceship, one wonders whether the entertainment will be recorded or live? If the best entertainment in the federation can be played back as a HoloNovel, would people want to listen to amateurs live? My personal guess is that everyone aboard a space ship will have at least two duties - eg: First Officer & jazz player, CO & Archaeologist. They would have their primary function (say Medical Officer) as well as a secondary function (theatrical producer) that would contribute something towards the cultural life of the ship.
I remember reading once that, with the increase of technology and automation in industry, we will have more free time and working out what to do with that free time will become an industry in itself! Even within Star Trek canon this can be seen, with the different ways that the holodeck can be used, Harry Kim's clarinet practise and Riker's jazz Trombone performances, Spock's Vulcan lute playing and Bev Crusher's dance studio and amateur theatre (fan productions on Star Trek?).
Who then would take the place of a priest in such a society? Sure, the ship's counsellor helps with psychological problems, but does Deanna Troi provide a social focal point for spiritual matters? Her job seems more of an extension of the medical profession and at best would give what is termed pastoral care. Who would be the mentor, the confessor, the moral and ethical guide? Picard? Perhaps, but I think he might be a little busy on the bridge to spend too much time adjudicating moral dilemmas and he's not exactly the kind to run a Sunday School!
This is what speculative fiction is all about, asking questions such as these. If you can't find one that addresses the questions you have … why not write one? Fanfic as social commentary? Absolutely!