What does God need with a starship?

More theological wisdom from Captain Kirk, the best moment of the otherwise rather poor Star Trek V (useful rule of thumb: the odd-numbered films are bad, even numbers are good). It’s a question that’s worth asking about all areas of religious practice, even if the starships tend to be metaphorical, rather than literal.

If you’ve ever been involved in a communal prayer session, there’s a very good chance that you’ve experienced “horizontal prayer”, a strange phenomenon where the person praying spends a lot of their time telling God things He surely already knows. The intention is undoubtedly good, and it can be explained as a slightly confused way of letting everyone else know the details of what you’re praying about, but the idea that an omniscient God needs to be told that Julie’s mum has just been readmitted to hospital – you know, the one down the road – and is in Ward 7 is a very strange one.

That’s a strange but ultimately inconsequential example, but how about the whole idea of petitionary prayer? If God knows everything, why do we need to tell Him what’s upsetting us, and what we want him to do about it? If He loves us and wants what’s best for us, why do we need to ask Him to step in and sort it out? If you believe that prayer is ever answered, that must mean that God changed something in response. So He either got it wrong first time around, didn’t realise you’d prefer something else, or just wanted to play games. Not very perfect, loving or omniscient.

And what about worship? If there’s an perfect, omniscient God, He surely knows how great He is. And as He knows everything, He knows what we think of Him. So what’s the aim of worship – to tell God something He surely knows? Is God forgetful, or just really insecure?

Or preaching and theological study – if God was able to create the world, and to become a man and to preach to crowds in 1st Century Palestine, not to mention inspiring the entire Bible (however you understand that), why does He need people to speak for Him, to explain what He wants? Maybe it’s asking a bit much for Him to leave a comprehensive and unambiguous list of instructions, but couldn’t He come and sort it out Himself when we get it wrong? He did it before, so what’s the problem?

There are plenty more – things that are an accepted part of religion, but when you step back and look at them in this way, they make God out to be either ignorant, impotent or a monster, none of which fit with orthodox descriptions of God. In fact, it’s amazing how much of Christianity fails the Kirk test.

Sometimes, I think it’s all just made up.

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About Recovering Agnostic

I'm Christian by upbringing, agnostic by belief, cynical by temperament, broadly scientific in approach, and looking for answers. My main interest at the moment is in turning my current disengaged shrug into at least a working hypothesis.

4 responses to “What does God need with a starship?”

  1. Kevin says :

    On the question of why do we pray, have you come across what some people refer to as the ‘warfare worldview’? the basic idea is that our praying (especially for things beyond ourselves) is an engagement in battle with spiritual forces of evil – God has given us the power and responsibility to fight this battle. Have a quick read of this article; it’ll explain better than I can:


    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      Come across it? I spent years in a church which taught it. But like the problem of evil, it only makes sense as an explanation if you drop one or other of the “omnis”. Omnipotence would be the most obvious choice. Otherwise it’s still just God playing games.

  2. Chris says :

    Great post mate. I particularly approve of using Star Trek to make analogies. However… the odd/even rule doesn’t work for me 😛 That means Nemesis has to be good… which it isn’t. AND I really like Generations. And Insurrection ain’t that shabby either. And the new JJA one is technically 11 and it was PHENOMENAL 😛

    Not that this is ever a winnable argument 🙂

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      Isn’t the whole point of a rule of thumb that it doesn’t work in every case?

      I’m possibly slightly out of touch these days, but the odd-even rule definitely holds for Classic Trek, and I thought it was still generally accepted as a fairly good approximation. Maybe that’s changed recently.

      Mind you, I was the weird kid who used to quite like III because of a few minutes of decent Klingon action. I think I just got bored and did something else during all the tedious Spock-searching.

      (And I just discovered that my phone autocorrect recognises “Klingon” but not “autocorrect”!)

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