About a year ago, I became intrigued with the phenomenon known as “Trek.” I wanted to experience Star Trek for myself, to know just what it was that made all those people act so weird. While watching the second season of The Original Series (known to Trekkies/Trekkers as TOS) I felt compelled to write about it in my English 101 class, in a “choose your own topic” assignment. The teacher loved my writing, and added glowing comments to my paper, even speaking with me about it after class. The topic was about the parallels between Star Trek and the Cold War – which my teacher found quite compelling. I did, too – and I even found other papers on the same subject – papers much longer and more scholarly than mine!
It didn’t take long for me to point out the scientific irregularities in the Star Trek universe. For one thing, their engines would not have to be running continuously – there is no friction in space. All they would need was a burst of energy, and off they would go – and a burst of energy, in the other direction, to stop. Despite the scientific irregularities, I found the series even more compelling. I liked it, and slowly but surely, I began to love it. I purchased Trek merchandise – plushes, an animated tribble, a t-shirt, a lovely velvet painting of Spock by Velvetgeek, etc. I eventually got a Science badge tattoo. When I went without an episode for days, I went through “Trek Withdrawal” – and ultimately gave in and watched my favorite TOS episode, “This Side of Paradise.” My favorite character was, unsurprisingly, Spock – I was intrigued by beings - and a society no less – that was governed by logic. It gave form to an idea that had only henceforth been an unnamable urge, voiced in my trademark phrase: “Why can’t everything just make sense?” It instilled in me a love of science, of diagnostic tests, of forensic tools – after all, life would be pretty dull without the desire to know about ourselves, our world, and our universe.
So, for me, Star Trek became much more than just a television series. It became a jumping-off point – NO – a launching pad - for ideas, feelings, musings, and philosophical questions. It became the base of my interest and love for all things related to space, and my current interest in the Universe. If not for Star Trek, I wouldn't know who Neil deGrasse Tyson was. If not for Star Trek, I wouldn't know that the sun rotates. If not for Spock, I would not have discovered ‘The God Delusion’ by Richard Dawkins.
I became enamored, not with the thought of a God, but with Space itself; transfixed and brought to tears by the sight of the Milky Way, viewed from a small hot springs in Eastern Oregon. I realized what a gift life was – it was not a gift from some untouchable, invisible, omnipotent God – but from the vast universe itself. The universe does not love, it does not hate – it does not bless or smite. It just is.
I also became a better Buddhist because of Star Trek. I know it sounds improbable, but hear me out: There are a few ways that Buddhists attempt to cultivate compassion. The one that I hear most often is to imagine every living thing as one’s mother. My childhood wasn't exactly rosy, so that would have crashed and burned, if I would have had the audacity to attempt it. After watching a video called “Science Saved My Soul,” I had an epiphany. With my new-found atheism and wonder about the universe, it seemed so clear now – I was made out of the particles of an exploded star – and so were the rest of humanity, and all life. We were all made of the same thing – and that had a profound effect on me. I was able to relate to people, animals, and even insects – because of this.
Star Trek had a profound effect on my life. It was the catalyst of my love for all things space, my thirst for knowledge of the universe, the basis of my compassion, and yes – the facilitator of my newfound atheism.
I used to wonder what made those Star Trek geeks so crazy. Now that I am looking at it from the inside, I know why. Star Trek isn’t just a show – it’s a phenomenon. It presents a universe spurred on by hope and peace, undivided by religious beliefs, guided by social idealism. It attempts to explore why we can’t all just get along, and humanity's potential to destroy itself with murderous glee. It celebrates scientific discovery, reason, peace, and logic.
I know that for many people, Star Trek has made a similar impact on their lives. I’ve heard of Trekkies getting married after meeting at conventions and people from different cultures and countries being able to converse with ease by speaking Klingon. Dressing up and going to conventions is most probably fun – I have never been to one, although I may one day join the throngs of fellow Trek fans at a nearby convention venue. But doing it keeps the imagination alive; it lets us live - briefly - in a world that’s a little more ordered, a little more peaceful, much more exotic, and a tad more optimistic than the one we’re in now. It allows us to engage in a fantasy where space exploration is given paramount importance, where peace is actively sought rather than just given lip service, and where the majesty, beauty, and mind-boggling diversity of the universe is accessible to everyone.
…and THAT my friends, is how Star Trek made me an atheist.