Wednesday, May 27, 2009

New Trekkers and Post-Rapture Christians

I finally got around to watching the new Star Trek movie this past weekend. In an earlier lifetime, I would have been one of those lining up the theater on opening night (but not one of those waiting outside on the streets the night before. I'm a fan, but I've never been that fanatic!), but Star Trek has fallen a bit on my scale of pop-culture importance in the past several years, falling somewhere behind Doctor Who and (obviously) Transformers.

Although long-time fans will continue to debate whether or not rebooting the franchise was a good idea, and indeed whether the actions depicted in the movie actively erased the continuity they remember and love, or merely created a parallel (or perhaps divergent) continuity that co-exists with the original (but which future live-action installments will continue to follow to the exclusion to the original, no doubt), the movie seems to have achieved its intended goal of bringing in large audiences of movie-goers, only a fraction of which can be assumed to have the knowledge of Trek's history sufficient to care about such concerns.*

Perhaps this influx of new potential Trek fans was on Slacktivist's mind as he used Trek in his own blog recently. While trying to describe how utterly unnatural a depiction of the church central to the apocalyptic Left Behind series was, in that it more or less resembled a pre-Rapture church in a post-Rapture world, populated by people who somehow resembled pre-Rapture Christians despite all such Christians having... well... been Raptured, he says that a "real" post-Rapture church would more closely resemble the following scenario:

Imagine some guy sitting at home watching the local news and laughing along with the reporter at the costumed geeks attending a local Star Trek convention. This guy, The Skeptic, has never seen a single episode of the show -- he couldn't tell Kirk from Picard if you paid him to guess. He thinks the whole thing is ridiculous.

But then, as he watches this live news report, a Klingon warship decloaks over the convention center and starts blowing up cars in the parking lot. As the news reporter stands there, dumbfounded and speechless, The Skeptic hears what even he recognizes as the beam-me-up-Scotty sound effect and suddenly all of the costumed geeks and conventioneers twinkle and vanish. Just before the cameraman faints and the signal is lost, The Skeptic sees the briefest glimpse of the starship Enterprise swooping in to engage the Klingon vessel.

It doesn't matter at this point that he's never seen the show -- the iconic spaceship is instantly recognizable even to The Skeptic. Instantly, The Skeptic realizes that everything he thought he knew was wrong -- that he is living in a Star Trek world and that everyone who might have been able to explain to him what that means is now gone.

Two weeks later, the former Skeptic finds himself at a Star Trek convention -- a convention he helped to organize along with hundreds of others, all of whom, like him, never watched the show and know next to nothing about it. And there is no one there to explain it to them. It is a Star Trek convention without Trekkers -- a Star Trek convention comprised entirely of people who haven't seen Star Trek and don't understand it.

That is what the congregation of the new New Hope Village Church would be like.

When considering what the post-Rapture world might look like, I've found myself wondering how it would be possible for "new believers" like the heroes of Left Behind to become believers in the absence of Christians who could tell them what Christianity was all about. I posit one possible (if intentionally humorous) option in my Hitchhiker's Guide to Christianity series. It seems to be enough to the writers of Left Behind to posit that--between the existing texts, videos left behind by believers for post-Rapture humans to discover, and the power of God--such post-Rapture conversions wouldn't really be a problem. While I certainly don't want to limit the power of God, one only has to look at the multitude of ways in which Christians today live out their faith to make such a scenario seem implausible. Without the existence of people who have years of life-experience to share their faith, how would post-Rapture Christians truly follow the God they think they're following? How are they to know that they have interpreted the texts, and the videos, and God's powerful works correctly?

Perhaps it seems like I'm arguing that this post-Rapture scenario is actually not so different from the situation in our real world after all, but that's not my intention. As I've argued earlier, scholarship does give us real ways of saying that some interpretations really are better than others. But if you remove the scholars (howevermuch some Christians may actually think this is a good idea), who's going to explain those teachings to everyone else? If this is a world where we already see people arguing for some pretty screwy interpretations of Scripture, a world where wiser Christians are missing altogether can hardly be anything other than a complete mess where "correct" is simply determined by either "who has the loudest voice?" or (worse!) "who has the biggest gun?".

At least new fans brought into the Star Trek fold by the new movie have an "alternate reality" explanation for why their understanding of Trek may not match what came before....

*Oddly enough, those of us in the Transformers fandom have had time to get familiar with all these different possible continuity configurations for years now. Although the concept isn't wholly unexplored in Trek before now, the idea that the original continuity is no longer the "main" one is nonetheless a comparatively new concept for many Trek fans.

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