Captain Kirk on Atheism

You know it’s a crazy world if a sci-fi hero like Captain Kirk can weigh in on real-life philosophical issues and be right. Well, it must be a crazy world then because we have at least one such example. Get your trekkie shoes on as we gaze into the vault of 1989’s Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Sybok are on the surface of a distant world called Nimbus III beyond “The Great Barrier,” where the ambitious Vulcan half-brother of Spock named Sybok has forcefully led them on a quest to find ultimate universal truth and meaning—a.k.a. the search for Eden and God. Moments after their arrival, they are met by a Father Time-ish being who, incidentally, couldn’t have looked more like Caucasian humanity’s version of God if all the artists in the world tried to get him to…but I digress.

This sagely-looking, incorporeal being of obviously great presence and power learns of the starship that brought them to his world. He informs them that he has been imprisoned in this distant world for an eternity, unable to reach the rest of the galaxy, and that the Enterprise would be his means of travel beyond it. But the red flag of skepticism had already been raised in the mind of Kirk, who boldly asked: “What does God need with a starship?”

Now, the situation becomes especially tense. McCoy says, “Jim, what are you doing?” Kirk says, “I'm asking a question.” The so-called “God” says, “Who is this creature?” Kirk asks, “Who am I? Don't you know? Aren't you God?” Comically, Sybok remarks, “He has his doubts.” “God” asks, “You doubt me?” Kirk says, “I seek proof.” McCoy says, “Jim! You don't ask the Almighty for his ID!” “God” tells Kirk, “Then here is the proof you seek.” At this point, Kirk is struck by a bolt of energy and knocked to the ground.

Despite the brutal nature of this “God” emerging in such a terrifying fashion, the planted seeds of doubt begin to grow into what would be considered by any god a tree of heresy. Kirk asks, “Why is God angry?” Even Sybok, the kooky believer of the bunch, is now compelled to ask, “Why? Why have you done this to my friend?” Coldly and bluntly, “God” says, “He doubts me.” But that evil, heretical Kirk had already spread the disease of disbelief. Spock reminds “God,” “You have not answered his question. What does God need with a starship?” So “God” hits Spock with lightning as well, and then it addresses McCoy: “Do you doubt me?” And at this point, even emotional, sentimental, non-reasoning McCoy is forced to go with his mind: “I doubt any God who inflicts pain for his own pleasure.”

Now this perceived “God” and the God of the Bible should do lunch sometime. They have lots in common, don’t they? In any other context, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart judging by their actions and attitudes. For instance, they both believe they are the final authority and should be obeyed without question. They both prefer human instrumentality to get their will done (even though they shouldn’t), they both use torture to enforce their demands, and they both hate the living hell out of skeptics! As with just about every god there ever was, doubt is the most damnable of all offenses. Make no mistake about it—asking the Alpha-and-Omega probing questions will get your ass struck down! This tendency describes the God of the Bible to a “T”.

But that’s not what I’m hitting at here. I’m honing in on the question asked by Kirk: “What does God need with a starship?” The question is priceless in that no matter what theistic concept is under investigation, it is the mere asking of the “need” question that leads to the unraveling of theism. Ask a lot of questions and you’ll be called an annoying kid, ask a few more questions and you’ll be called a UFOologist or a new-ager, but ask too many questions and you’ll end up an atheist! You have been warned! But again, I digress.

The gods have always hated questions as badly as they hate the questioners. To question God is to totally rob him of all power whatsoever because when you begin to question him, you naturally undercut his authority as you take on the role of one asking a subservient to give an account of himself to a superior. And when God’s authority is undercut, not only is his power rendered inert, his afflicting guilt can’t get to you either, nor can his tug at your pocketbook. So the logic of inquiry and God just don’t line up, much like Air Traffic Control scoping for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.

Now God doesn’t “need” anything. He can’t need anything, being that he’s omnipotent as the fully self-sufficient prime mover and sustainer of the cosmos. And Christians will fully agree. God doesn’t need to have children sacrificed to him by having babies thrown to the hungry crocs of the Nile. God doesn’t need to have the still-beating heart ripped out of a young Aztec man’s chest and held up to the sun as a means to preserve or sustain the universe and “feed” God. God doesn’t need to be clothed or bathed or groomed. He doesn’t need a W-2 booklet for tax time, he doesn’t need Febreaze air freshener, he doesn’t need patio furniture, and he doesn’t need Limewire. He just doesn’t.

But Christians don’t go far enough. It’s not enough to look down on the pagan gods and goddesses of old and talk up how inferior they are for having typically carnal (and often conjugal) needs. They need to look down on their own God as well. Christians gloat in the supposed superiority of their own deity, but their gloating is as short-lived as an Oprah trim-down. The God of Christianity is, in fact, guilty of the very same absurdity of having unjustifiable needs as any pagan god ever was. To be forthrightly logical about it, if God exists, he can’t want anything at all – nothing – because to want is to have a lack of something, which is to have a need. And as we have already seen, a God cannot “have needs,” like I do at the moment (Ohhh Belindaaaaa? Where are you, hun? I’m a comin’ for ya!) Well, for yet a third time, I digress!

What application does this have for the Christian? It means that God doesn’t need a starship for the same reason that he doesn’t need a temple, a church, a mosque, a synagogue, or a shrine. And God doesn’t need worshippers, and therefore, a universe to house them. It means that even if an omnimax deity like the God of the scriptures existed, that being would have no desire to create us or anything else at all. Nope, God doesn’t need solar systems or planetary bodies, and he doesn’t need fleshly flattery in the form of blubbering blood-bags to tell him he’s so, so, so, so, so, sooooo worthy. He would know that already and wouldn’t have a complex about it, causing him to fixate on himself so much with the neurotic narcissism of a throat-slashing serial killer.

And God wouldn’t need or want a son. The idea of a god having a son doesn’t even make sense on the face of it. That is, it makes about as much sense as a god who ejaculates to make a son (if you can imagine that?!) Nope, God wouldn’t have a son and he certainly wouldn’t have a virgin-born son, and he wouldn’t have his son brutally killed and then raised to life again for the purpose of setting up a death-glorifying, cannibalistic cult where beings who are infinitely less powerful than he sit around and eat the flesh of his dead/resurrected little boy, and then proceed to clamor on about how junior’s the greatest thing since sliced bread (well, actually before sliced bread!)

Now God may not need anything, but it is definitely an understandable mistake for Christians to think that he wants things. Talking about a God creating a people to be tokens of his glory or sending disciples on a mission to do “his will” is understandable. I mean, we collect keepsakes and send people to the store for us. We build houses and make plans, and so it should come as no surprise when the gods we create in our image “do things” just as we do. That’s why the gods get angry just like we do and command to have the heads of their enemies placed on sticks to face the sky until the evening so that their fierce anger will be turned away (Numbers 25:4).

But that’s another problem; a god can’t be angry anymore than a god can need or want a thing, because getting angry can only happen when a being is limited in power and unable to rectify a situation or is put in an edgy predicament of some sort. But you can’t put the great “I Am” in a predicament, and so to say that he can get angry (or become jealous, or regretful, or embarrassed, or amused) makes no clear sense. We’re dealing with the classic anthropomorphic problem here—you can’t take the emotions found in limited beings and expect them to fit beings who transcend all limits. This tells us that the gods were made in our image and not the other way around.

So no, God wouldn’t need a starship, but he also wouldn’t need us.