It may surprise you to find out that I have been a “trekkie” for many, many years. I have loved the original Star Trek T.V. series since it premiered on September 8, 1966. My husband, knowing my affinity for the series, bought collector coins for my birthday this year that commemorate the 50 year anniversary of the show. I think I can recite by memory the “Trouble with Tribbles” episode with no “tribble at all”! My kids patiently indulge my Star Trek guilty pleasure, but have not joined me to “boldly go where no one has gone before”. If asked, they would probably say they can “take or leave” the new Star Trek movies with Chris Pine in the role of Captain James T. Kirk, mostly because the modern day movies showcase an extravaganza of special effects which capture their millennial interests but nothing more.
I will admit that I am more a fan of the original series, but I reluctantly warmed up to the Next Generation when it debuted in 1987. I know of the other Star Trek spinoffs (Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise etc.) and have watched a few episodes from all of them, but they never seemed to capture my attention or my imagination as much as the original series did. And just so you know, I don’t go to Trek conventions or dress up in Starfleet uniforms, nor do I have a collection of Star Trek memorabilia…just those three collector coins I got this year for my birthday. I have a collection of Star Trek movie DVD’s but mostly I watch the syndicated reruns on T.V. I may be a fan but I’m not a full-fledged fanatic.
That said, I am celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the series by binge-watching the original episodes and I may give the Vulcan hand-salute to “Live Long and Prosper” to my kids every once in a while just to tick them off.
Star Trek was the brain child of Gene Roddenberry, a man who grew up in a Southern Baptist home according to his biography but eventually grew to reject religion of any kind:
“I handed them a script and they turned it down. It was too controversial. It talked about concepts like, ‘Who is God?’ The Enterprise meets God in space; God is a life form, and I wanted to suggest that there may have been, at one time in the human beginning, an alien entity that early man believed was God, and kept those legends. But I also wanted to suggest that it might have been as much the Devil as it was God. After all, what kind of god would throw humans out of Paradise for eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. One of the Vulcans on board, in a very logical way, says, ‘If this is your God, he’s not very impressive. He’s got so many psychological problems; he’s so insecure. He demands worship every seven days. He goes out and creates faulty humans and then blames them for his own mistakes. He’s a pretty poor excuse for a supreme being.” Gene Roddenberry
It was because of his rejection of religion that many called him an atheist, but he disagreed with them: “It’s not true that I don’t believe in God. I believe in a kind of god. It’s just not other people’s god. I reject religion. I accept the notion of God.” It is obvious to all of us of faith who watch the Star Trek series that he was a man who desperately wanted to find answers to the universal philosophical questions: Why am I here and how do I fit into God’s Story? and he created a science-fiction series to “boldly go” in quest of that knowledge. Roddenberry admitted that science would always fall short in that quest:
“Reality is incredibly larger, infinitely more exciting, than the flesh and blood vehicle we travel in here. If you read science fiction, the more you read it the more you realize that you and the universe are part of the same thing. Science knows still practically nothing about the real nature of matter, energy, dimension, or time; and even less about those remarkable things called life and thought. But whatever the meaning and purpose of this universe, you are a legitimate part of it. And since you are part of the all that is, part of its purpose, there is more to you than just this brief speck of existence. You are just a visitor here in this time and this place, a traveler through it.” Gene Roddenberry
In Roddenberry’s imaginative attempt to explore galaxies far, far away while creating the Star Trek enterprise (pun intended), several biographies indicate that while the franchise soared to new heights, he struggled personally with drug and alcohol addiction here on Earth. He had affairs with women while married to his first wife, Eileen, including Nichelle Nichols, the actress who played Uhura in the original series, and Majel Barrett (Nurse Chapel). He had numerous health issues that were exacerbated by his drug abuse. When he passed away following a stroke in September 1989, he was but a shell of a man, who had in his last years been confined to a wheelchair. Grace Lee Whitney, who played Yeoman Janice Rand in the original series shares in her book, “The Longest Trek: My Tour of the Galaxy” that while attending Roddenberry’s funeral, she was surprised when two kilted pipers played “Amazing Grace” towards the end of the service.
“The theme of that famous hymn is God’s amazing grace to sinners… That hymn is my anthem. It’s the story of this book, the story of my life. People sometimes call me “Amazing Grace,” but I’m not amazing – I’m a lost, blind wretch, saved by the amazing grace of God. The reason the piping of that song at Gene’s funeral seems so odd is that Gene hated that song. When “Amazing Grace” was bagpiped during Spock’s funeral near the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Gene objected strenuously, and was overruled by Harve Bennett and Nick Meyer. It really seemed out of place at Gene’s funeral – and I doubt he would have approved.” Grace Lee Whitney
Unlike Roddenberry, Grace Lee Whitney understood what it meant to be saved by grace. She had battled addictions, depression and the horror of a sexual assault to find peace only God can give.
“You can’t lead anyone out of the desert unless you’ve been to the desert yourself. You can’t lead anyone out of the gutter unless you’ve spent some time there… I think that’s why God saved me, and why he saves a certain remnant of alcoholics and addicts and doesn’t let them die in their addictions. A lot of his precious children are out wandering in the desert, they’re dying in the gutters, and it’s breaking his heart. So he let Grace Lee Whitney go to hell and back so that she could point the way out of the desert… Apart from God, Grace Lee Whitney is a miserable wretch who hasn’t enough sense to stay out of the gutter. And that’s okay. Because, as it turns out, that’s exactly the kind of person God was looking for. God uses the foolish to confound the wise. He uses miserable wretches like me to tell his good news to all the other miserable wretches—the news that there is hope, there is love, there is a way out of hell, there is a way home.” Grace Lee Whitney
Grace passed away at the age of 85 in 2015, and as much as I love the series, I will never be able to watch the episodes that feature Janice Rand in them without remembering the powerful testimony of the actress who played her. I will also not be able to watch the shows and movies without feeling profoundly sad that the creator of Star Trek, ended his life journey without ever discovering what Amazing Grace is all about…