Religious subjectivism and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

A little while back there was a post here about how religion in America is “personalized, psychologized, and pragmatized.” As long as your personal religious beliefs seems to help you they’re fine for you, and if I want to hold some different religious beliefs, that’s fine for me. The actual truth or validity of the belief seems to be a secondary concern.

The Ferengi bartender Quark praying.

I’ve been slowly rewatching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine while I’m grading or whatnot, and this sci-fi television show seems to take that kind of subjectivism to the nth degree. This show is filled with all kinds of aliens with all kinds of religious beliefs – the beliefs of the money-obsessed Ferengi are especially amusing. (They hope to enter the “Divine Treasury” when they die, and deposit little slips of gold-pressed latinum into their idols when they pray.) But the television show is centered around a space station (Deep Space Nine) near the planet Bajor, and the religion of the Bajoran people plays a significant role. The Bajorans worship gods they call the “Prophets” who live in the “Celestial Temple”, watching over Bajor, and send Bajor prophets (with a little “p”) and will one day send them a sort of super-prophet called the Emissary.

OK so far, but here’s the thing – beginning with the very first episode of the show, we learn that the Prophets are actually real. Commander Sisko, the main character, discovers a wormhole in space that the Bajorans quickly identify as the Celestial Temple. The wormhole is inhabited by a species of aliens (the Prophets) who live outside of time, seeing past, present, and future, and really do care for Bajor – and Commander Sisko is to be their promised Emissary. Over time, we also learn that the Prophets are quite powerful – they make an entire enemy fleet simply vanish, communicate with Sisko when he’s far away and apparently played a role in arranging his birth on Earth, etc. In other words, so far as I can tell, the Bajoran religion is empirically verified.

Yet somehow, despite this, many of the characters continue talking about the Bajoran religion just like they would talk about any other religion. Characters get asked questions like “do you really believe in the Prophets” – um, shouldn’t everyone believe in the Prophets? An Admiral gets annoyed by Commander Sisko’s inclination to “follow the will of the Prophets” – Sisko’s main job is to protect Bajor, and if you’ve got a group of aliens living outside of time who also want the best for Bajor, wouldn’t it just be good sense to listen to what those aliens have to tell you? One Bajoran character is asked if she would mind if her significant other believed in a different religion – personally, I would say “have you looked at the window at the wormhole, bub? My religion is actually true!”

Anyway! Kind of a nerdy post, and draw what conclusions you’d like. But it’s surprising to me, at least in this fictional environment, just how far the subjective treatment of religion extends.

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