For a contrast between the state of the world and Star Trek, see Part 1. For the similarities between Captain Picard and Pope Francis, see Part 2. For the differences between Captain Picard and Pope Francis, see Part 3.
Some readers will no doubt take offense at the connection I have made between a religious leader and a franchise that is most often described as “humanist”. Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, was himself a vocal atheist. I can only reiterate that I am inspired by Star Trek-type reminders wherever I happen to see them, and I see them in Pope Francis.
To the pope’s mind I don’t think there is a zero-sum conflict between humanists and Catholics. He once asserted that the litmus test for spiritual utility is not faith, but doing good for others. To atheists the pope expressed without cynicism the expectation that they can “do good. We will meet one another there.” This invitation to cooperation is as close to a Star Trek overture as First Contact with the Vulcans.
If any of us are inspired by the philosophy of Star Trek, let us begin to live out its ideals. Let us treat one another as co-equal participants in an open and inclusive federation. Let us make our life’s work about self-improvement and the discovery of breakthroughs that will improve many lives. Let us go boldly to the frontiers and fringes, where people of goodwill are simply awaiting an invitation.
You don’t have to be a pope to do that. You simply need to say with a loving heart, “Come to me”.
How is Pope Francis like Captain Picard? Read Part 2 for the answer!
Is Pope Francis a few pips short of Starfleet captaincy? Well, he is not the perfect personification of Star Trek, and arguably he should not be. The Church has different goals to those of the United Federation of Planets. While the pope’s approach to the world has been friendlier than that of some of his predecessors, his ship is the Barque of St. Peter, not the Starship Enterprise. One can understand his duty to preserve the Deposit of Faith just as he received it, even if its claims do not always prove to be true. (In similar fashion, Picard generally upheld the Prime Directive.) And in order to avoid the very real possibility of schism perhaps he feels he must do his best to please everyone, including the most tradition-bound elements in the Church.
So how exactly has Pope Francis not mirrored Star Trek? For starters, he has been inconsistent in his commitment to equality, especially as it pertains to LGBTQI+ people and women. He has also articulated a bizarre misunderstanding of gender identity, one that doesn’t match what science tells us about the actual complexity of gender. I cannot imagine Captain Picard giving the same didactic speech to members of a culture that exists outside the bounds of his personal norms, nor can I imagine him resisting the latest discoveries of science. To be fair the pope would be the first person to call himself flawed. Still, he’s closer to Picard than Gul Madred, if you know what I’m sayin’.
And there is at least one respect in which Pope Francis is better than Captain Picard — he is better at welcoming children to his side and praising their contributions than the good captain of the Enterprise!
The pope has, despite his personal limitations and those imposed on him by his office, been a catalyst for church-wide progress toward greater dialogue and encounter. These are Star Trek goals if ever there were any. If the institutional church continues to follow this line of progress there is no telling how much friendlier and inclusive — and more Star Trek-y — it will become.
Why blog about Star Trek? Check out Part 4 as I get to “the point”!
For an Introduction please read Part 1!
Pope Francis is a man who has washed the feet of people traditionally excluded from this loving ceremony, including women, Muslims, Hindus, Copts, and prison inmates. If foot-washing were a Starfleet custom, I think Captain Picard would have gladly done the same. The pope has engaged in ecumenical outreach and shared prayer services with Rabbis, Imams, and other holy people. Captain Picard as well was no stranger to cooperation with people not entirely like himself.
Pope Francis has centered his energy on reforming his own institution rather than criticizing the traditions of others. Likewise, Captain Picard was never afraid to confront and expose the hypocrisies and errors of Starfleet. The pope called for unity with the Lutheran church, which has historically been the Catholic church’s biggest foil. In similar fashion Captain Picard solidified unity with the Klingons, the Federation’s former enemy, by accepting the first Klingon Starfleet officer aboard his vessel and later promoting him to Chief of Security.
Both Pope Francis and Captain Picard in their ecumenism are counter-cultural as compared to the “tribal” social climate of today. The pope’s call for radical unity, and the Star Trek vision of peaceful cooperation between diverse peoples, contrasts starkly with the “struggle” of us vs. them that characterizes so much of the dominant cultural discourse. Not to put too fine a point on it, but just consider how totally consonant the Gospel values are with the Star Trek ideals I have described, and how dissonant they are with the antagonism and mistrust that characterize so much social intercourse.
How is the Pope Francis not like Captain Picard? Read Part 3!