Picard’s Precepts: Star Trek and Spiritual Naturalism
In February of 2016, B.T. Newberg wrote an article for the Spiritual Naturalist Society entitled “Ten Reasons to Complete Your Training Today: Spiritual Naturalism 101 and Star Wars.” I highly recommend it. That article got me thinking (as the articles here always do), and I realized that Star Wars wasn’t the only science fiction phenomenon that creatively captures so many Spiritual Naturalist ideas and values.
I have loved Star Trek ever since I was a child growing up in the seventies. The original series was canceled the year I was born, but I watched reruns of the show all through my elementary years and it resonated with me in ways I was not able to articulate at the time. I cannot remember a time in my life when Star Trek was not there in one form or another. There are 782 episodes of Star Trek television available for anyone to see, and 13 major motion pictures to date. What other science fiction property could make such a claim? I know, Star Wars is picking up steam again these days, but it has a ways to go to catch up, and Star Trek shows no signs of slowing down.
Of all the Star Trek manifestations out there, my favorite has to be Star Trek: The Next Generation, which aired from 1987 to 1994. I had just started college when this show came out, and as an English/Education major, I was inexorably drawn to the stalwart and literary captain of the new Enterprise, Jean-Luc Picard. British actor Patrick Stewart brought to life a character that embodied everything I valued and aspired to be, and I have held this character up as a source of inspiration in my life and career for decades. My goal here is to share some of Captain Picard’s statements over the years that have most resonated with me, and connect them to Spiritual Naturalist philosophies. So, let’s boldly go where no Spiritual Naturalists have gone before, and explore some of what Spiritual Naturalism and Captain Picard have in common. Make it so.
- “Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives. But I rather believe that time is a companion who goes with us on the journey and reminds us to cherish every moment because they’ll never come again. What we leave behind is not as important as how we’ve lived” (Star Trek: Generations).
As we age, we all become acutely aware that there are fewer years ahead than there are behind. We begin to wonder if our lives have been properly spent; have our careers been worthwhile and meaningful, have we accomplished all we wished to? Injuries and illnesses become more common. The realization that we aren’t going to live forever takes firm hold as we begin to look into the face of our own mortality. But, as Jean-Luc Picard also once said, “It is our mortality that defines us…it’s part of the truth of our existence” (Star Trek: Generations). We need to follow his advice and cherish the moments of our lives, for there is no telling when those we love will be taken from us or when our life conditions will suddenly change. We must be constantly thankful and appreciative of what we have and of those with whom we spend our lives, for these lives we have been given are delicate, precious, and brief. This sets the stage for the next of Picard’s quotes, which reads:
- “Seize the time…Live now! Make now always the most precious time…” (Star Trek: The Next Generation—“The Inner Light”).
Too often we live in the past, regretting the decisions of yesterday that cannot be altered, or in the future, fearing events which have not yet come to pass. We need to work to live in the present moment. Mindfulness and meditation practices discussed on this website can help cultivate that appreciation for the “now,” helping to build a mental resiliency to cope with those inevitable challenges of the future and the ghosts of the past that still try to haunt us.
- “Inside you is the potential to make yourself better…and that is what it is to be human. To make yourself more than you are” (Star Trek: Nemesis).
We all have the capacity to improve ourselves…to enrich ourselves. We can learn new skills, travel to new places, and treat ourselves to new experiences. Only through risk and experimentation can we reach our full potential as human beings. We can never be satisfied with what we currently are, for when that happens, we dishonor the gift of our life. We as Spiritual Naturalists are on a journey; we seek to find meaning and fulfillment through human relationships and philosophies, forgoing beliefs in the supernatural. Captain Picard won’t go there, as you can see below:
- “A millennia ago, they abandoned their belief in the supernatural. Now you are asking me to sabotage that achievement…to send them back to the dark ages of superstition, and ignorance, and fear…NO!” (Star Trek: The Next Generation—“Who Watches the Watchers”)
Putting supernatural beliefs behind us is a cultural imperative. We must make decisions based on reason, common sense, and logic. We need to honor and respect one another based on our inherent dignity and worth as human beings, seeking to build an equitable and just society, learning from the mistakes of our ancestors while honoring and perpetuating the lessons of their greatest achievements. We cannot allow ourselves to regress or descend back into another dark age where fear and ignorance stifled the mind. We have come too far—we can’t go back now.
- “No being is so important that he can usurp the rights of another” (Star Trek: The Next Generation—“The Schizoid Man”).
We are facing challenging times, where whole classes of individuals throughout the world seek to suppress, if not exterminate, those they find to be somehow lesser than themselves. This has happened throughout human history, and sadly continues to this day. We must stand up for the rights of the oppressed in whatever ways prove the most expedient and effective. All of us can do something to stand in solidarity with those who are at the mercy of people who would usurp their rights as human beings. If we turn a blind eye to injustice, we become complicit in it.
- “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness. That is life” (Star Trek: The Next Generation—“Peak Performance”).
None of us is perfect. We strive to not repeat mistakes, to not be wrong one minute longer than we have to be. Despite our best efforts, we will at times fail. Even the most flawless performances may still result in defeats. We must come to accept that failure is a universal human experience with which we all must learn to cope. There are many practices and philosophies shared here at The Spiritual Naturalist Society that can help build the spiritual resilience to bounce back from failure when it inevitably comes. I urge you to review the articles and podcasts available here and explore those practices for your own benefit. Even though we all must at times endure failure, defeat is choice. We win, or we learn. To be defeated is to quit for all time, to abandon the quest and refuse to learn from past mistakes. Choose to stay undefeated.
- “I wonder if the Emperor Honorius watching the Visigoths coming over the Seventh Hill truly realized that the Roman Empire was about to fall. This is just another page in history, isn’t it? Will this be the end of our civilization? Turn the page” (Star Trek: The Next Generation—The Best of Both Worlds, Part One”).
In recent years, I have been watching with apprehension the disturbing similarities between our own civilization and the Roman Empire in its waning years. The parallels are uncanny. Where the Romans eventually faced civilizational collapse, as all past civilizations have, the world went on. We stand ready to drag the rest of the world down with us should we—when we—collapse. This time, there will be no future empire. We will have exhausted our resource base, corrupted and polluted the biosphere, and may descend into what could be a dark age where ignorance and fear once again hold sway. Must it be this way? Is it too late for us?
One of the greatest appeals of Star Trek is its vision for the future, a future in which hunger, poverty, disease and war among the nations of the world have been eliminated. In the Star Trek Universe, after emerging from a dark period, a new civilization arises where all the citizens of the Earth unite to reach out to the stars, encountering and learning from new and exotic cultures out in the cosmos. Money becomes obsolete, no longer serving as a driving force in human life. With material accumulation no longer holding such a central place in life, the humans of the world, with the help of various alien races along the way, are able to turn their energies to the tasks of bettering themselves and pursuing their full potentials. Yes, our civilization is likely to go the way of the Romans and all that came before us, but once we get our priorities straight, we may yet learn what is most deserving of value and forge a civilization capable of sustaining itself. We have to believe that and work for that, for what other options have we?
Star Trek gives us hope. We have great challenges ahead, but once we are able to put our petty differences behind us and unite together in common causes, there is nothing we as a race cannot achieve. We too can build a future transcending the problems of the past. How? By watching Star Trek! Well, it may take more than that, but that’s a great start—so long as we learn its lessons and apply them to our individual lives in an effort to make the world better, one life at a time. If we can do that, we will live long and prosper. Let the Spiritual Naturalists, and Jean-Luc Picard, lead the way.
May you all have a relaxing and enjoyable holiday season.
The Spiritual Naturalist Society works to spread awareness of spiritual naturalism as a way of life, develop its thought and practice, and help bring together like-minded practitioners in fellowship.