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Star Trek – Who Mourns For Adonais? (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

In many respects, Who Mourns for Adonais? is a formative episode for Star Trek as a franchise. It’s a show that really informs a lot of the franchise that would follow, even beyond the confines of the original television show. It’s an episode that represents the first clear articulation of a strand of thought that has been bubbling away through the first season of Star Trek and into the second, exploring the religious side of the Star Trek universe and mankind’s place in the cosmos.

The episode is iconic and memorable. It is packed with images that are familiar to even the most casual of fans. “Kirk confronts a Greek god in deep space!” is a catchy premise. “A giant hand grabs the Enterprise and threatens to crush the ship!” is the type of delightfully insane visual that ranks with “Captain Kirk as a Nazi!” or “space Lincoln!” when it comes to Star Trek visuals that stick with people outside the context of the show itself. Coupled with the distillation of those themes, this is a “big” episode.

"Jack, I'm flying!"

“Jack, I’m flying!”

Unfortunately, Who Mourns for Adonais? is also a deeply troubling episode. It has problems heaped upon problems. Some of those problems are inherited from the general aesthetic of the show, and are not specific to this episode. However, some of those problems are explicitly articulated here. Who Mourns for Adonais? is an episode that embodies quite a few of the very serious problems that run through the original Star Trek and haunt the franchise for quite some time.

The fact that these problems come baked into an iconic and memorable episode is disappointing.

"Oh, your gods..."

“Oh, your gods…”

Gene Roddenberry was an atheist. He was aggressively atheistic. “Religions vary in their degree of idiocy, but I reject them all,” he had stated in a statement that was surprisingly confrontational for a man who claimed to have created a franchise built on tolerance and open-mindedness. “For most people, religion is nothing more than a substitute for a malfunctioning brain.” It should come as no surprise that his views were reflected in the show itself.

As with a lot of things, Star Trek‘s position on religion varied from episode to episode, and occasionally within the same episode. After all, Balance of Terror suggested that the Enterprise had its own chapel, and shows like Who Mourns for Adonais? and Bread and Circuses suggest that the Federation is monotheistic, worshipping “the Son.” However, much like Star Trek seemed to change position on the Vietnam War between broadcasts, the show could also be quite strongly atheist when the mood took it.

Taking the matter in hand...

Taking the matter in hand…

There was arguably an atheist subtext to The Return of the Archons in the first season, as Kirk defeats a super-computer that has declared itself the ruler of a gullible population. However, the most obvious example of the franchise’s aggressive rejection of religion would come in The Apple. Even the title of that episode refers to The Book of Genesis, and sees Kirk playing the role of the serpent liberating a primitive people from a malicious self-proclaimed “god.”

Despite a throw-away line from Kirk about how the Federation finds “one god” is quite enough, Who Mourns for Adonais? really codifies this atheistic approach. Kirk and his crew stumble across a genuine god from Ancient Greece. They discover a planet that is controlled by Apollo, who has only simple command for the crew of the Enterprise. “You will gather laurel leaves, light the ancient fires, kill a deer, make your sacrifices to me,” he declares. “Apollo has spoken!”

Razing the temple...

Razing the temple…

As such, Kirk and his crew are forced to vanquish the deity once and for all. Who Mourns for Adonais? is endearingly honest in its central theme. There’s no attempt to dismiss Apollo as an imposter or a fake. The episode makes a strong case that Apollo is who he claims to be. Even Kirk and his crew seem to accept the probability that Apollo did visit Ancient Greek and was accepted as a god by the native populations at face value.

However, even accepting Apollo’s boasts at face value, Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise are forced to respond with force. In an act layered rather heavily with symbolism, Kirk orders the Enterprise to destroy the temple. With the place of worship reduced to ruin, Apollo himself literally fades away. He is a nightmare from Earth’s past successfully vanquished by Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise. This is as much a victory for Kirk as the destruction of the fake “God” in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

A god am I.

A god am I.

To be fair, the script for Who Mourns for Adonais? does offer the smallest gesture of respect for religious belief. “Mankind has no need for gods,” Kirk boasts. “We find the one quite adequate.” Even ignoring the way that Kirk’s statement dismisses all polytheistic religions, there’s reason to suspect it was a cynical bone thrown from Roddenberry to the network or the public. As Ross Kraemer, William Cassidy and Susan L. Schwartz contend in Religions Of Star Trek:

After he tells Apollo that mankind “has no need for gods” the apparently irreligious Kirk claims “we find the one quite adequate.” As our introduction discussion of Roddenberry’s tactics for dealing with the religious sensibilities of his audiences suggests, such a line seems more likely to be one of the creator’s throwaway lines designed to mollify American viewers than any serious indication of Kirk’s offended or outraged monotheist beliefs. Kirk might even be understood to suggest that one god is more than enough to handle.

Certainly, while Apollo is nominally a Greek god, Who Mourns for Adonais? paints him a decidedly Judeo-Christian light. He first attracts the attention of the Enterprise as a gigantic hand, recalling the popular depiction of a Judeo-Christian God. (After all, God is the only character on The Simpsons to get five fingers.) Who Mourns for Adonais? also paints Apollo as a “father” dealing with errant “children”, a view of divinity perhaps more appropriate to Judeo-Christian traditions than to Apollo in his classical form.

Talk about indulging Kirk's god complex...

Talk about indulging Kirk’s god complex…

As such, Who Mourns for Adonais? uses Apollo as a stand-in for all religious deities, with particular emphasis on the major religions in the United States. The episode is very much about Kirk’s refusal to bend down before a god. This isn’t simply a character claiming to be a god, but a character with historical precedent of being worshipped and recognised as a deity. Kirk and his crew come face to face with a god and destroy him.

This sets something of a precedent. The show would reinforce this idea in The Apple, a show that would draw even more firmly on Christian religious traditions and imagery. However, this perspective that suggested religious belief was inherently toxic and needed to be vanquished would be reiterated time and again over the course of the franchise. Even Picard gives voice to it in Who Watches the Watchers?, where he takes for granted that a religious resurgence will set back social progression on an alien world.

"I told you it was a mistake to beam Scotty down as the only member of the team in a red shirt!"

“I told you it was a mistake to beam Scotty down as the only member of the team in a red shirt!”

There’s a slightly unsettling subtext to all of this, a sense of hubris on the part of Kirk and his crew. As Paul A. Cantor notes in Gilligan Unbound: Pop Culture in the Age of Globalization, the episode espouses a particularly one-sided vision of divinity:

Once again democratic ideology demands that Apollo’s superiority be exposed as a merely technological advantage, not a superiority of nature. …The result of breaking Apollo’s spell is to destroy possibly the greatest single archaeological find in the history of the universe – an authentic Greek god. This episode teaches a basic truth about Kirk – as in Star Trek IV, he is willing to save whales, but he feels compelled to kill gods. Kirk can be quite solicitous of the welfare of lower beings, but he cannot accept the idea that there might be something higher than humanity in the universe, something to which human will might have to be subordinated.

This is not tolerance or open-mindedness or understanding. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine would be a lot more insightful in its exploration of religious themes. This is jingoism finding expression through atheism.

"Welshie! Err... I mean, Scotty!"

“Welshie! Err… I mean, Scotty!”

The universe exists precisely as Kirk understands it to exist. Kirk’s outlook is absolutely and empirically correct. Kirk’s appeals to Carolyn Palamas’ sense of loyalty and duty is  do not appeal to her capacity for rational thought or her own experience or education. Instead, Kirk appeals to her directly as a human. Fearing she is getting too close to Apollo, he pleads, “Now feel that. Human flesh against human flesh. We’re the same. We share the same history, the same heritage, the same lives.”

Kirk and Palamas are not bonded because they are rational actors trying to find the best possible solution to this crisis. They are bonded because they are human beings and human beings are much better than anything else in the cosmos. “We’re tied together beyond any untying,” he explains. “Man or woman, it makes no difference. We’re human. We couldn’t escape from each other even if we wanted to. That’s how you do it, Lieutenant. By remembering who and what you are. A bit of flesh and blood afloat in a universe without end. The only thing that’s truly yours is the rest of humanity. That’s where our duty lies.”

Dress to impress...

Dress to impress…

This outlook has some unsettling implications. For one thing, it means the immediate rejection of anything that does not conform to Kirk’s outlook on the universe. It paves the way for the human superiority complex that would exist during the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Kirk’s compulsion to kill a god because it challenges his preconception of humanity’s place in the universe foreshadows the smug superiority demonstrated by humans in episodes like The Last Outpost or Lonely Among Us.

Kirk’s self-centred viewpoint is reflected in closing monologue. “They gave us so much,” Kirk reflects. “The Greek civilisation, much of our culture and philosophy came from a worship of those beings. In a way, they began the Golden Age.” Of course, he ignores any non-European civilisations that developed around the same time, and overlooks some of the more reasonable criticisms of Ancient Greece that get somewhat glossed over in the rush to romanticise it.

Pillar of the community...

Pillar of the community…

It’s very clear that despite the ethnically diverse cast of characters working on the Enterprise, Kirk and Star Trek operated from an almost exclusively western perspective. Consider Chekov’s boast about how the Cheshire Cat originated in Minsk, demonstrating that it is a “Russian story.” However, Minsk is actually in Belarus. Sure, this can be excused any number of ways – maybe Belarus has merged with Russia? maybe the cat is a foreigner? – but it plays as if the writers just couldn’t be bothered with the distinction.

There’s another interesting idea at play in Who Mourns for Adonais? What if Kirk isn’t simply vanquishing an old pantheon? What if Kirk is actually making room for a new mythology by burning the old belief systems to the ground? What if this is actually about literalising Star Trek‘s aggressive attempts to establish itself as something of a modern mythology? That would be a suitably bold interpretation of the episode.

"He is awake. And you will worship him."

“He is awake. And you will worship him.”

John Shelton Lawrence suggests as much in Star Trek as American Monomyth:

This episode bears the clear message that the era of myths is over, that retreating into slavery to the gods of the past would be terrible. Moreover, the episode suggests that the ancient myths can be scientifically explained by assuming that space travelers played the role of gods. The episode implies that meaning is purely of this world; it denies any threshold to mysterious, transcendent reality. In contrast to the illusive message of myths and religions, the meaning of Carolyn Palamas’ life is simply her ‘duty’ to the only reality of which she can be sure, the ‘humanity’ she shares. This conviction of Captain Kirk fits the spirit of the entire series. It is unthinkable that he or his crew, not to mention the strictly scientific Spock, would give credence to myths for a moment. As if to affirm a strongly anti-mythos for the series, a parallel plot of demythification was played out a quarter of century later in the Devil’s Due of TNG. There Picard’s crew exposes the devilishly powered Ardra as a mere hoax.

Yet these storylines follow a mythic pattern. David Gerrold defined Star Trek as “a set of fables – morality plays, entertainments, and diversions about contemporary man, but set against a science-fiction background. The background is subordinate to the fable.”

It’s worth noting that Devil’s Due began its life as a script for Star Trek: Phase II. As such, the connection to the sentiments of Who Mourns for Adonais? seems entirely reasonable and logical.

It's rude to point...

It’s rude to point…

The suggestion that Star Trek might be attempting to supplant older mythological systems suggests an incredible amount of confidence. However, it doesn’t seem unreasonable. Gene Roddenberry would work really hard to sell the idea of Star Trek as an ideology. Ronald D. Moore once observed that he thought “that Gene sort of started to believe in himself as more of a visionary than a writer at a certain point.” Roddenberry’s novelisation of Star Trek: The Motion Picture reads like a manifesto.

So it’s possible to see Who Mourns for Adonais? as Star Trek staking a claim on mythology, with the franchise demolishing what came before so it could build itself back up. There’s a certain appeal to this idea. It’s fun to imagine Star Trek aggressively asserting that it is a mythology for the modern day. Fans frequently claim that the show has inspired them, and that it presents an optimistic glimpse at a potential future for mankind. Why wouldn’t that philosophy trump Apollo’s fearful worship?

Sizing him up...

Sizing him up…

Well, the problem is that Star Trek isn’t quite that enlightened and idealised a television show yet. To be frank, Star Trek really isn’t in a place where it is developed enough to build itself up as a mythology. The show doesn’t have a truly consistent philosophical perspective at this point, as the show’s outlook changes from episode to episode. Roddenberry’s own philosophies and politics are hardly a solid foundation for a modern mythology; Roddenberry would be the driving force behind The Omega Glory.

One need look no further than the treatment of female characters so far this season to see why Star Trek needs a bit more work before proclaiming itself a suitable modern mythology or philosophy. Carolyn Palamas is female guest character of the week, and she suffers the sorts of indignities common to female characters appearing on the original Star Trek show. Although some of this casual sexism can be excused as a product of the show’s time, it remains a bit disheartening to see it so frequently.

This doesn't scan...

This doesn’t scan…

In A Brief Guide to Star Trek, Brian J. Robb rather effectively documents some of the show’s gender issues – particularly those that apply to Palamas:

Women in The Original Series often find themselves in thrall to powerful men, whether it be Marla McGivers with Khan (Space Seed) or Carolyn Palamas and faux-god Apollo (Who Mourns For Adonais?). The spectre of rape, or at least forced physical contact, seems to haunt some of these relationships. In Shore Leave, the men’s fantasies revolve around whimsy (McCoy sees Alice and the White Rabbit, Kirk encounters Finnegan, a joker from his past, and old flame Ruth), while Tonia Barrows’ fantasy involves a violent seduction at the hands of Don Juan. Similarly, Carolyn Palamas is ravaged by a violent storm of Apollo’s making when she rejects his advances. Both encounters leave the women traumatised and in torn clothing, yet both events are depicted as being a result of their own wishes or desires.

The show has a long history of being worryingly flippant about rape and sexual assault, and Who Mourns for Adonais? is just the latest example.

He's choking out there!

He’s choking out there!

It’s worth noting that the episode originally ended with the revelation that Palamas was pregnant by Apollo. Kirk, Spock and McCoy would joke about it in the stinger. The scene was ultimately cut, but not because it had a bunch of male characters joking about a rape victim. As Marc Cushman reveals in These Are the Voyages: Season Two:

“The network absolutely would not allow that,” Dorothy Fontana said. “Oh my God, intercourse outside marriage! Usually we could sneak by a lot of stuff, [but] it was ultimately stricken.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise that good taste wasn’t the deciding factor here. After all The Enemy Within had ended with Spock cracking a joke about Captain Kirk’s attempted rape of Yeoman Janice Rand, a female character who would be phased out after her actress was the victim of a sexual assault. So Star Trek has a long history of being terrible with female guest stars.

Strike a pose!

Strike a pose!

To be fair, you could argue that the show is trying to explore abusive relationships and marriages. After all Who Mourns for Adonais? tries to position Apollo as a stern father figure, claiming Palamas as his wife. There’s an argument to be made that Who Mourns for Adonais? is about the kind of power that these men hold over their victims. Palamas is treated like a woman trapped in an abusive marriage. “A father doesn’t destroy his children,” she insists. “You said you were gentle and understanding.”

Kirk must convince her to see Apollo for the monster that he is, rather than the man that she wishes he were. She struggles with that, despite his brutality and violence. “Oh, but you don’t understand,” she pleads with Kirk. “He’s kind, and he wants the best for us. And he’s so lonely. What you ask would break his heart. How can I?” It’s an argument that sounds like the rationalisations of many abuse victims.

Cooking up a storm!

Cooking up a storm!

Still, this reading doesn’t quite hold true, for a number of reasons. The most obvious is that Kirk actively enables Apollo’s abuse of Palamas. He sends Palamas into a situation where he has to suspect some form of abuse or violence is inevitable. He uses her as leverage to help him defeat Apollo, leading directly to her assault. Who Mourns for Adonais? does not present this as an ambiguous decision on Kirk’s part. The audience is clearly meant to believe that Kirk is simply doing what he can to protect his ship.

However, there are other problems here. Even before Apollo arrives, Who Mourns for Adonais? is dismissive of Carolyn Palamas. While not as dismissive of Palamas as he had been as McGivers back in Space Seed, Kirk and McCoy still idly gossip about her. The two notice Scotty and Palamas flirting. “I’m not sure I like that, Jim,” McCoy notes. “Why, Bones?” Kirk asks. “Scotty’s a good man.” Their concern seems primarily for Scotty rather than the junior officer being pursued by the ship’s third-in-command.

"Step to me!"

“Step to me!”

“And he thinks he’s the right man for her,” McCoy replies, “but I’m not sure she thinks he’s the right man. On the other hand, she’s a woman. All woman. One day she’ll find the right man and off she’ll go, out of the service.” It seems that – even in the future – women are held to a double standard. Apparently a woman cannot have a career and a family. Interestingly, there’s no suggestion that Scotty would leave the service for the right woman.

Kirk and McCoy seem to be whining about the fickleness of women. You almost expect to hear one or either complaining about the fact that they are allowed to join the service at all. These are the sorts of sexist attitudes that still inform certain hiring practices – the worry that a female employee will run off to start a family, leaving her employer in the lurch. It’s not too hard to believe, if Kirk and McCoy are any indication, that Starfleet has its own “mommy-track.”

"You never dress like this on casual Fridays?"

“You never dress like this on casual Fridays?”

Who Mourns for Adonais? encapsulated a lot of the themes that would come to be associated with Star Trek. It is perhaps the strongest atheistic statement from the series to date, and it sees Kirk arguing that mankind has ascended beyond the need for worship or faith. It lays out the show’s position quite clearly and quite elegantly, setting a precedent that will continue into the era of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Unfortunately, it’s also a deeply flawed episode. It is very firmly anchored in a narrow understanding of faith and religion, as if to suggest that these things are inherently oppressive. Entire generations will attest that they can be, but this also dismisses the idea that faith can exist alongside science and development, and can strengthen and enable people. It is also rather bullish in presenting Kirk’s world view as unequivocally superior and unquestionably correct, endorsing Kirk’s politics and principles.

Case in point...

Case in point…

As such, it replaces one form of worship with another. Who Mourns for Adonais? cements the worrying implication that Kirk and his crew are not exploring the cosmos to learn about new life forms and new civilisations, but instead to affirm mankind’s superiority. The first half of the first season portrayed space as a mostly-empty graveyard haunted by the ghosts of its past inhabitants. Who Mourns for Adonais? pushes that idea a bit further, suggesting that Kirk and his crew are kings of that graveyard.

The problem is that Kirk’s posturing only emphasises the problems that exist with Star Trek at this phase of its life-cycle. Kirk’s perspective is too narrow, too jingoistic. He suggests that Ancient Greece is the biggest influence on human culture, ignoring the fact that his crew is populated by characters who should be coming from outside the framework of western culture. The show still tries to reduce rape victims to closing scene punchlines.

The god killer...

The god killer…

The show has a lot of improvements to make and a long way to go before it can truly claim to offer an enlightened future. There is much more to be done, more to be learned. This is no time for Star Trek to rest on its laurels.

You might be interested in our other reviews from the second season of the classic Star Trek:

8 Responses

  1. Once again, a very insightful and thought-provoking analysis, Darren. You raise several valid points. I can certainly understand why you, like myself, are fond of both Star Trek: The Next Generation from Season Three on and Deep Space Nine… they often used the foundation laid down by Roddenberry in the original series and offered up different alternate perspectives, often challenging the confort of the of the status quo.

    Utopia is a noble, if probably unattanable, ideal to strive for in the real world. However I have found it is very difficult to depcit a genuine utopia in a fictional setting and make it dramatic. To one degree or another, all fiction thrives on a certain amount of conflict.

    • More than that, I think, is the idea that utopia is something deeply personal. Would I want to live in utopia as imagined by somebody with whom I profoundly disagree? One of the clumsier aspects of Roddenberry’s utopia was that it was exclusive. This was the right way to live. There’s a great story about The Measure of a Man where Roddenberry insisted that there was no story; the Federation was right to want to cut up Data and construct an army of slaves. The moment that Picard realises that this is a horrible idea is the moment that Star Trek becomes a bit more aware of the problems.

      I think that one of the real triumphs of DS9 is not so much adding conflict to utopia, but accepting that utopia can mean different things to different people. That’s why the show ends with so many members of the cast going their separate ways; Odo’s version of utopia (going home) is incompatible with Kira’s version of utopia (an independent and healthy Bajor); Bashir’s version of utopia (frontier medicine with the woman he loves) is incompatible with O’Brien’s version of utopia (family life somewhere quiet); Worf’s version of utopia (being accepted as a Klingon) is incompatible with his role on Deep Space Nine.

      (Indeed, the Dominion itself is a delightful twist on the Federation utopia. They provide for their subjects, bring peace to the Gamma Quadrant. Most of the casual members – the Karemma, the Dosi – seem quite happy with their arrangements. The Gamma Quadrant seems relatively stable, compared to the other three quadrants. However, the Dominion version of utopia – one built on fascism, slavery, fear – is incompatible with the Federation’s model of liberal democracy. Conflict ensues.)

      I think that conflict stems from that willingness to acknowledge that utopia means different things to different people, but I think the basic idea that different people might want different things, and that no one vision trumps all the others, is what DS9 really adds to the mythos. It’s no coincidence that the show completely ignores Sisko’s mission to integrate Bajor into the Federation. Bajor’s version of utopia might be a little different from membership of the Federation, and who is Sisko to impose his version of utopia on Bajor?

      • Thank you for the reply to my reply. Once again, brilliant observations and insights. It’s no wonder that I am really enjoying going through the archives of your blog and reading your in-depth analyses of the various incarnations of Star Trek. Keep up the great work.

      • I hope you continue to enjoy! Although I am a little embarrassed by some of my earlier stuff, some of the stuff I wrote before properly researching. I’ve been meaning to go back to re-work some of them. But, as ever, there is seldom time!

  2. Kirk’s line to Apollo was intended to be simply, “Mankind has no need for gods.” It was the network censors who insisted that “We find the one quite adequate” be added.

    You say that Kirk feels compelled “to kill a god because it challenges his preconception of humanity’s place in the universe.” No, he kills a god because that god kidnaps Kirk and his crew and intends to hold them prisoner for the rest of their lives. Apollo is a would-be dictator, a tyrant who wants control of everyone on the Enterprise. If Apollo had let them all go, Kirk would have been content to live and let live; it’s the undermining of his own freedom — and the freedom of the 429 people with him — that requires him to take strong measures. This is classic Kirk, dismantling control systems wherever he finds them. 🙂

    Plus, Kirk didn’t KILL Apollo. Kirk destroyed Apollo’s POWER, and Apollo committed suicide rather than live without that power and without worshipers. No one has a right to be worshipped by others; no one has a right to kidnap hundreds of people and keep them as pets. It was Apollo’s own inability to handle the emotional reality of his situation that led him to take his own life.

    • Fair points, all.

      That said, Apollo tries to hold them prisoner because he demands worship. As Apollo sees it, Kirk and the Enterprise have to give up that stupid exploring stuff to pay him proper homage. The script sets it up as that classic “religion vs. science” dichotomy that you get with people like creationists on the one hand and Richard Dawkins on the other – both parties effectively argue that the other must be destroyed for the greater good, which is the sort of nonsensical “mutually exclusive” debate that I think is responsible for a lot of the problems around religion.

      (And that’s not to blame one side or the other, or to argue that any group is entitled to complete protection beyond common sense, merely to argue that “tolerance” and “coexistence” are good ideas that should not be rejected out-of-hand. I don’t think that groups like the Westboro Baptist Church will ever peacefully coexist with anybody, and I think that the Catholic Church holds some offensive views on women and homosexuals, but I also think that treating the relationship as inherently adversarial – and the “people with faith are idiots” line of thought that runs through a significant volume of atheist discourse – does not necessary help.)

      If this were just one instance where a divine figure refuses to let Kirk go on his way before forcing Kirk to destroy it, that would just be a plot point. However, given that The Apple is just a little further along the production line, it becomes more of a theme. The takeaway from stories like Who Mourns for Adonais? and The Apple is that rational science has to destroy crazy religion, because crazy religion won’t let rational science get on with its business. Which is a rhetorical position that seems needlessly confrontational and simplistic. (Just as the opposite “a society needs to be Christian to be worthwhile” message from Bread and Circuses is similarly reductive and offensive.)

      (Compare this with – say – In the Hands of the Prophets, where the extremist advocated by Winn is undoubtedly wrong, but the story also seems to reject Keiko O’Brien’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge the religion of the native population. Instead, Sisko and Bareil work to mediate between religion and rationality, demonstrating that there they can coexist. Rather pointedly, Kira is allowed to agree with Winn in principle, but disagree with her methods.)

      Also, thanks for the clarification on the censors’ addition of the line. I had suspected as much, but I couldn’t find a source for it. Do you have one to hand?

      • I’ve read so many behind-the-scenes books about Star Trek that I don’t remember which one contained that tidbit. I do know that I read it somewhere, because I had the same reaction that you did — an “Aha! Yes, I thought so.” It’s something I read in the last six months, which means that Solow & Justman is the most likely candidate as far as books go, though it could have been an article whose clipping I saw recently. (I got Solow & Justman from the library — I don’t own a copy — which means that I can’t check it.)

        As for the idea that this episode is anti-religion, I think that’s a bit of a stretch because Apollo ISN’T a god. He’s a powerful being who once set himself up to be worshiped as a god, but his having CALLED himself a god doesn’t make him one. It’s possible that the underlying message is that NONE of the gods that people have ever believed in exist, but that’s seeing the episode in black-and-white terms and suggesting that it was all planned this way. But everything we know suggests that most of TOS was a jury-rigged contraption that was cobbled together in a blinding hurry. (The amazing thing about TOS is always that it was as good as it was, given the astonishing constraints they were working under. :-D)

        It’s also very easy to try to hold TOS to contemporary standards, forgetting just how much the world has changed in the 47 years since this episode was made. This was the era when on-screen married couples slept in separate twin beds, because it would be shocking and immoral to suggest that married couples slept in the same bed. (insert eye-roll here :-D) The United States has become VASTLY more secular since this episode aired, and my understanding is that Europe has, as well. It is now possible to publicly suggest that atheists might have a point, but in the US in 1967, even SUGGESTING that we might want to re-think this whole god thing was brave and ground-breaking. Sure, it’s a good idea NOW for atheists to have some manners, but in 1967, they had to shout at the top of their lungs to be heard at all.

        Plus, I don’t think that science and religion are equal. Many good people find that their religions inspire them to do good deeds, while many bad people find that their religions give them justifications or excuses for them to do bad deeds. We could look at that and decide that the whole religion thing is a wash, neither positive nor negative, much like other human tools, except for one important thing.

        Most religions require belief in things that can’t be proven and that (to my mind, at least) are probably not true. In order to get people to believe improbable things that are not demonstrably true, the folks in charge generally indoctrinate children into religious thinking at an early age. But what does that do? It teaches children that it’s a good idea to believe whatever powerful people tell you. It teaches children that truth or falsity has no relation to actual evidence. It teaches children that thinking for oneself is bad.

        I would argue that these three habits of mind are incredibly destructive and have produced much of what’s wrong with the world. In the US, half the population thinks that global warming isn’t real, because powerful people tell them so. The fact that science has evidence that global warming IS real, the fact that science shows us that unless we change our ways dramatically, the Greenland ice sheet will melt, and all the world’s coastal cities will be under water in another few decades, all of this can be dismissed because people have learned that they don’t have to believe in demonstrable truth; it’s fine for them to have faith in things that can’t be proved. That’s dangerous, Darren. It’s dangerous to the individual, and it’s dangerous to the world.

        Whew! That TOS, it’s a great inspiration, isn’t it? It’s frequently cheesy, frequently clumsy, and almost always terribly sexist. But it’s been inspiring people to talk about important issues for nearly fifty years. Pretty damned good for an old TV show. 😉

      • Fair points, and I’m not entirely sure I completely disagree.

        However, I would make the point that the problems with religion are not exclusive to (or even inherent to) religion. There are plenty of religious justifications for wars, and plenty of close-minded religious indoctrinations. These are not things that I would endorse, and are things that do need to be dealt with.

        However, I’m hard-pressed to think of a war that is purely religious, without a more pragmatic and cynical political, social or economic motivation – from the Crusades to the present day. Similarly, teaching kids not to question authority and just take things at face value is by no means exclusive to religion – groupthink is not exclusively the realm of religious education, and even exists in contexts where religion is discouraged or completely absent.

        Yes, particular forms of religion are bad, just as particular forms of nationalism or particular forms of political expression are bad. The problem is those forms of expression and the underlying theories behind those. I can criticise the Catholic Church or the Westboro Baptist Church with criticising faith as a concept; just as I can criticise UKIP or Sinn Fein without criticising democracy as a concept.

        (And I’ll happily concede that religion is a tough nut to crack. That old Jehovah Witness blood transfusion dilemma is something I would have difficulty answering. Gun to my head, I don’t think I could morally justify allowing parents to decide to allow their child to die because of a faith the child isn’t old enough to commit to; just as any parent teaching their child to be racist should probably get a visit from social services. Which perhaps serves to illustrate how crazily useless the political spectrum is. My broad “live and let live” attitude to religion – which would mark me as a left-leaning liberal is juxtaposed with my borderline fascism towards relativistic parenting – which would make me seem hard right. Our would my fondness for religion make me right-wing, countered by my willingness to let the state intervene in cases of bad parenting make me a leftie?)

        My problem is not with the fact that The Apple or Who Mourns For Adonais? criticise organised religion, but in the way that they are so clumsy and generic that they feel like stock criticisms that border on that old cliché about people who have faith being gullable fools and how science and faith cannot possibly coexist, despite demonstrable evidence that they can. After all, Kirk’s mission is to explore strange new worlds, and in doing so explore the human condition; destroying those who think differently (or the things that challenge his view) feels a little close-minded.

        (In my defense, I am also quite harsh on Bread and Circuses in the opposite direction, for the bizarre implication that Christianity is a pre-requisite for a civilised world. I even get to make a terrible Spanish Inquisition joke.)

        But you’re right. It’s great there’s so much to talk about here.

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