Gene Roddenberry, creator and executive producer of the television series Star Trek, believed that: human beings can solve problems through reason and co-operation; that there is no need to turn to superstition or religion for help; that human understanding and intelligence will help us to develop and progress; and that the universe is a natural wonder waiting to be explored and understood. This philosophy shines through the many adventures in Star Trek.
Although Roddenberry’s family were churchgoers, he became an atheist when a teenager. He didn’t believe the claims of many preachers, and found from experience that many people who were concerned to improve the world were, like him, atheists. He began writing when he was a pilot during the Second World War (in which he was awarded two medals) and launched Star Trek in 1966.
Some of the values Gene Roddenberry expressed in Star Trek include:
• Co-operation and mutual encouragement – the crew smooth tensions by treating each other with care and concern.
• Peaceful problem solving – Kirk and Picard do not start fights – they try to talk first and work out peaceful solutions. At the same time, they are firm about their right to defend themselves against aggression.
• Equal dignity and respect for every life form – nothing is automatically considered worthless or inferior.
• No dogma or doctrine – personal beliefs are respected but dogma is not imposed on anyone as if it were the one and only truth.
• Reliance on science to find facts, but enjoyment of human emotions, spirituality and intuition.
Roddenberry did not think of Star Trek as just science-fiction. He saw it as mainly a series about people, which is why it is so popular. And he always insisted that all people in the show be treated equally. This led to some arguments with television producers who thought otherwise. Some of the problems he had as a humanist writer were:
• Some Christians wanted a chaplain on board the ship, and when characters died, he was asked to give them Christian funerals. But Gene Roddenberry thought it would be illogical to have a Christian funeral for Mr Spock (when he was was temporarily “killed”), and he wanted us to realise that our values and ideas do not depend on religious dogma. He pointed out that it was illogical to expect everyone from Earth and other planets to share the same beliefs in the 24th century.
• He wasn’t allowed a woman second-in-command, and against his wishes early programmes had sexist costumes for women.
• He had to struggle to keep black officers in his cast. When some TV executives didn’t want black and white people working together, Roddenberry replied: “If we don’t have blacks and whites working together when our civilisation reaches that time frame, there won’t be any people.” Television’s first inter-racial kiss was seen on Star Trek, between Kirk and Uhura.
In wanting sexual and racial equality, Gene Roddenberry was going against all the stereotypes common in the 1960s. But he stood by his values, and so created a very hopeful vision of the future. Science and rational thinking are very important in Star Trek, but Gene Roddenberry included another humanist theme – that logic and reason are not enough on their own. The half-Vulcan Mr Spock shows this when he tries to suppress his human side, and appears cold and unfeeling. Roddenberry’s message is that we need to cultivate human emotions as well as reason.