Hollywood Hypocrisy: The Prime Directive

In various Star Trek series, the “Prime Directive” ordered a strict policy of noninterference in the cultures of developing planets. For Gene Roddenberry, the show’s creator, the plot device was aimed squarely at the perceived evils of Western civilization, including traditional Christian faith. Indeed, religion always provided a convenient exception to the Prime Directive. Principal characters, especially in the original series and in The Next Generation, were frequently called upon to debunk religious belief or quash its development.[1] For someone like Roddenberry, tolerance was the first and greatest command unless, of course, an inhabitant of the galaxy happened to believe in God.

At Play in the Fields of the Lord (1991) is a tragic story of missionaries in the jungles of Brazil who fail both in their ministry and in their personal lives. According to film critic, Roger Ebert, the movie shows convincingly that “peoples have a right to worship their own gods without interference.”[2] Even their plane is a machine “bearing destruction.” Ebert and many of his fellow critics had nothing but praise for this dark and dismal movie.

The same could not be said for the End of the Spear (2005). Desson Thomson, writing in the Washington Post, faults the film for portraying missionaries in a positive light. The movie, he thought, should have addressed the possibility that “one man’s missionary work is another’s ideological aggression.”[3] Apparently, taking a message of forgiveness to a dwindling population of warring tribes is an unforgivable act of mental abuse.

Clearly, Hollywood hates Christian missionaries. Only atheists like Roddenberry, and gatekeepers like Ebert and Thomson, get to proselytize the American public through their monopoly on pop culture.

Beyond the box office, there is a definite evangelistic flavor in the musings of Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens and other apostles of militant atheism. Charles Simonyi, who made millions of dollars with Microsoft, endowed a “Chair for the Public Understanding of Science” at Oxford University. The first and only person to fill that position is hyper-Darwinist Richard Dawkins. As you might have guessed, Dawkins spends very little time explaining science and lot of time stumping for atheism. In an unguarded moment, one of my own philosophy professors made the following confession: “If there is one less Christian in my class at the end of the quarter, I have done a good job.” Everyone deserves to evangelize, except Christians.

The media is not the only place where we see these double standards at work. There is now a general consensus in academia that Christians are under no compulsion to proselytize.[4] You might think this leaves a convenient loophole: evangelism is not required, but it is some we can do if we so desire. That, of course, would be a mistake. Only simple-minded fundamentalists would take the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28:19 at face value. As we all know, religious fundamentalism is the greatest threat to humankind since, like, forever.[5] The “solution” is education. Professors, aided and abetted by their administrations, proselyte freely on behalf of Marx and Darwin. In the name of open-mindedness, they get to close their students’ minds to the possibility of faith. If this sounds a little exaggerated, I can only recommend a careful viewing of two film-length documentaries: Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, and Indoctrinate-U. Watching both movies should be on the “to-do” list of college-bound students and their tax-paying, check-writing parents.

Critics of Christianity are quick to recount the horrors of forced conversions during the Inquisition and Crusades, but this is nothing like the Christianity I know and love. No matter what the church may have become in later centuries, Jesus consistently preached a message of humility, purity, and nonviolence (Matthew 5:3-12, 38-39; John 18:10-11).

The call to evangelize is part and parcel of being a Christian, and so is the negative backlash. We were told to expect hatred from the world (John 17:14). Today this hatred comes dressed in the hypocritical garb of multiculturalism. When it comes to Hollywood and faith, we should remember a line from one of the characters in Galaxy Quest, which spoofed Star Trek more than anything else: “On our planet we pretend, to entertain.”

[A version of this article appeared originally in Think, August 2010, p. 23.]


[1] Gregory Peterson. “Religion and Science in Star Trek: The Next Generation: God, Q, and Evolutionary Eschatology on the Final Frontier,” in Star Trek and Sacred Ground. Albany: SUNY Press, 1999, pp. 61-76.

[2] Roger Ebert. “At Play in the Fields of the Lord,” December 6, 1991. [Online] http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19911206/REVIEWS/112060301/1023

[3] Desson Thomson. “A ‘Spear’ Without Sharpness,” The Washington Post, January 20, 2006.

[4] David Basinger. “Religious Diversity (Pluralism),” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2007. [Online] http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/religious-pluralism/

[5] Scott Bidstrup, “Why the ‘Fundamentalist’ Approach to Religion Must be Wrong.” [Online] http://www.bidstrup.com/religion.htm. Also see my Smart Faith column for April 2010.

© 2010 – 2011, Trevor Major. All rights reserved.

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