Cultural phenomena, mythology, or religion?

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Medievalist

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I have a lot of fannish friends, many of them Trek fans.

Many of them actually do try to live their lives on a foundation of ethics and values inspired by Star Trek. I know people who were married in Trek-inspired ceremonies at cons--and who have been married for thirty years.

So it's awfully interesting to read articles like this: "Star Trek Fandom as Religious Phenomenon.

Keep in mind that I am a fan, and a hard-core geek, as are many others here. Be gentle.
 

Vincent

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Trekies aren't the only ones taking it "above and beyond". If you really want to get into weird territory (taking inspiration from fantasy novels, no less)... have you ever heard of Gor?
 

Medievalist

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Yeah, I've heard of Gor. It's all good as long as no laws are being violated.
 

Monkey

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There are people who are practicing Jedi, too.

As I said in my intro, I believe in a higher power that's so all encompassing and complex that it's beyond human understanding. To make that power more understandable...more human in a way...we give it names, we create stories, dogmas, and we focus on that one aspect that we need the most. So to me, most names and Dogmas are to some extent created by man, even if influenced heavily by the Divine.

To my world view, people who believe in these more modern mythologies are hardly different from those whose mythologies have been around longer. I bet if you ask enough of them, some will have stories of answered prayers or unexplainable happenings that they chalk up to their Higher Power. And I can't argue that. Wouldn't want to try.

May they find the Divine wherever they choose to seek it.
 

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When I first became a Christian I would read that having an idol was bad and I would think that this was outdated because the world had given up idols. But then I realized that anything we put our trust in instead of God is an idol. So if I put my trust in some philosophy it becomes my idol, an affront to God. But in spite of the attitude of a great many western Christians, Christianity is very adaptable to different cultural norms. To my way of thinking there are any number of ways to live that are compatible to Christianity.
 

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Cultural phenomena, mythology, or religion?

As Star Trek is a cultural phenomenon that may reflect the views of the writer (and the society/cultural context of the writer) makes it relatable to other human beings, and as part of the culture, "even" television shows add into the culture as a whole, give it meaning, and, sure, examples of ethics. I won't say that's bad or good since I can't comment on the ethics of characters on the show. But I do know that Westerns are part of the American mythology now (or what else was the point of Blood Meridian?) and much of that mythology has been shared on television. I used to think my grandfather was a cowboy. Tough man from Texas, drank whiskey, saw combat, and wore jeans everyday but Sunday.

Would I call my grandfather or myself, observing him from afar, part of a religion? Probably not. Although I'd be willing to say that it, and Star Trek, has religious elements, including "belonging" among fellow Trekkies, for example.

AMC
 

Ruv Draba

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Here's the thesis:
And yet as I looked at it further, it had features that paralleled a religious-type movement: an origin myth, a set of beliefs, an organization, and some of the most active and creative members to be found anywhere. (from p2)​
Amusing though the idea is, it's poorly-structured argument sloppily researched and poorly presented. At 22 pages it's also far, far too long, and not a conclusion to be found. (Who is it that teaches these people, for pity's sake?)

Religions try and change you; that's a key reason people join them. Systematic thought reform is what separates religion from immersive entertainment, and any serious sociologist should recognise that.

A good football game can be awe-inspiring, spiritually uplifting and full of tribal community but when we leave the gates it doesn't ask us to be anyone different; religious services do. Whether it's communion or a bacchanalia, religious rituals are not just about worship; they're about personal change.

Jim Kirk may have a cult following, but not in the same sense that Jim Jones did. Cult in the first sense means fringe fetishism; in the second sense it means systematic thought reform. Alcoholics Anonymous has a cult; a Trekky convention has Spock ears. But entertainments thrive on fetishism these days, whether it's football, a rock concert or Cirque du Soleil. Go to any merchandise concession at any large cultural event. So Star Trek has a cult. So too (still) do the Bay City Rollers.

22 pages. Sheesh. :e2hammer:
 
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Guffy

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Religions try and change you; that's a key reason people join them. Systematic thought reform is what separates religion from immersive entertainment, and any serious sociologist should recognise that.

Absolutely correct, religions call on their followers to fulfill what every that religion considers improvement. But more than just thought reform, the imputes is improvement, making me a better person. In some cases this (maybe a lot) this is perverted to conformity. Instead of trying to improve we try to be the same, using fellow converts as our guide or model instead of God.
 

Medievalist

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Amusing though the idea is, it's poorly-structured argument sloppily researched and poorly presented. At 22 pages it's also far, far too long, and not a conclusion to be found. (Who is it that teaches these people, for pity's sake?)

I realized, just now, that the entire article isn't available to people without an account. It ends right in the middle of the conclusion; there's text missing. I'll see what I can do about that.

However, I'm not sure why you say it's "poorly researched"; there are citations to appropriate primary and secondary sources, for instances, as well as personal research. The page length is the nature of Web pages and html, by the way, and not the author's fault.

Religions try and change you; that's a key reason people join them. Systematic thought reform is what separates religion from immersive entertainment, and any serious sociologist should recognise that.

Remember that there are now twenty years of sociologists looking at Trek and other fandoms and comparing them to religions?

I think perhaps you didn't read the article very carefully--Trek fandom, as described in the article, does in fact encourage people to "change." But I'm a little distressed by the hostile tone, particularly in this bit:

Jim Kirk may have a cult following, but not in the same sense that Jim Jones did. Cult in the first sense means fringe fetishism; in the second sense it means systematic thought reform. Alcoholics Anonymous has a cult; a Trekky convention has Spock ears.

The use of cult, particularly given Mac's initial statements, and discussions here, is a little less than appropriate--particularly in reference to AA.

There's a change from the article's reference to cultural phenomenon, and religion, to cult--the article does not use the word. There's a single secondary source which refers to "cultic" movements.

The reference to "Trekky" btw is using a diminutive in an example of meiosis--I was absolutely serious when I said "be nice."
 
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Dawnstorm

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There are people who are practicing Jedi, too.

jedichurch.org

They have votes on various issues.

Interestingly, on the question "Is it okay for Jedis to be gay?", you find this comment under "reasons to remain neutral":

Who asked this? Some trekkie??

However seriously you may or may not take these movements: doesn't this demonstrate that they're associating specific morals with different communities?

If you read their doctrine page you'll realise that they've just appropriated the movie terminology for a way of life. I'm thinking it must be much the same with Star Trek: what informs the creation of Star Trek also informs the moral (and perhaps ethical?) cohesion of the movement.

Maybe similar things are happening to the religious parodies such as the Invisible Pink Unicorn or the Pastafarians. Where people get together on common moral grounds certain ritualistic behaviour will eventually emerge I'm thinking of a report I read somewhere that had a "Pastafarian" mumble "Come on, Spaghetti Monster," when trying to start a car. I'm seeing the same sort of ironic distancing at work with the Jedis. But the irony is directed at the unifying imagery (Lucas' films) rather than the underlying morality.

The question is this: as a Catholic by (unsuccessful) upbringing, I know I'm used to thinking of the unifying imagery in terms of scripture and believe. But is this a prerequisit to be religious? Do Christians have to take the Bible at face value (either literal truth, or metaphoric truth) to be good Christians? What if a Christian would show the same ironic distancing to the unifying imagery than a Jedi would to the Lucas films? Isn't there still an underlying morality (if not even an ethical system) to hold on to?

An interesting comparison: The Star Wars inspried imagery - Jedi - does already take the form of an "Order". The Star Trek inspired imagery, on the other, hand takes the form of an "academy". I wonder what sort of effect this has on public perception and identity building.
 
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Medievalist

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Do Christians have to take the Bible at face value (either literal truth, or metaphoric truth) to be good Christians? What if a Christian would show the same ironic distancing to the unifying imagery than a Jedi would to the Lucas films? Isn't there still an underlying morality (if not even an ethical system) to hold on to?

It's a good question--particularly given that until the Protestant Reformation in the fifteen hundreds, and the ready availability of affordable Bibles in "vulgar" languages, people didn't know, really, what the Bible said--even if they could read.
 

rugcat

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Or the very very BDSM SF novels by John Norman.
As I mentioned in a different thread, I loved those books when I was fifteen or so. That's my only excuse.

But I must admit, I never understood the consuming interest in Star Trek. A fun show, but to me nothing more.
 

Ruv Draba

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I realized, just now, that the entire article isn't available to people without an account. It ends right in the middle of the conclusion; there's text missing. I'll see what I can do about that.
The conclusion did look weak.

However, I'm not sure why you say it's "poorly researched";
The glossed approach to characterising religion was my biggest concern. I couldn't find references for the definition in the paper either.

The use of cult, particularly given Mac's initial statements, and discussions here, is a little less than appropriate--particularly in reference to AA.
In an earlier version of my post I wrote something like: AA -- a well-respected organisation -- is a cult (in a non pejorative sense of the word). Then I thought all that qualification shouldn't be necessary because in sociology the word cult doesn't carry the pejorative sense, so I took it out. Here's a wiki quote supporting my usage:
New religions are often considered "cults" before they are considered religions by social scientists,[10]
And elsewhere...
A little-known example is Alexander and Rollins' 1984 study, which concluded that the socially well-received group Alcoholics Anonymous is a cult by using the model of Lifton's thought reform techniques[7] and applying those to AA's group indoctrination methodology.[8]
The reference to "Trekky" btw is using a diminutive in an example of meiosis
What is the accepted collective noun for the tribe of Star Trek fans? Among my Trekky friends it's 'Trekky'. I didn't invent the diminutive; it's in common use at conventions and the only term I know of.

I don't have any hostility to the topic and certainly not to Trekkies. I do have scorn for the paper though -- or as much of it as was made available. Maybe the full version will change my mind.
 

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The question is this: as a Catholic by (unsuccessful) upbringing, I know I'm used to thinking of the unifying imagery in terms of scripture and believe. But is this a prerequisit to be religious? Do Christians have to take the Bible at face value (either literal truth, or metaphoric truth) to be good Christians? What if a Christian would show the same ironic distancing to the unifying imagery than a Jedi would to the Lucas films? Isn't there still an underlying morality (if not even an ethical system) to hold on to?

this is a question I have been asking myself lately. If I look at the book of Acts which describes the beginning of the church and Paul' letters exactly how much of what is written in the New Testament do we really need to know? Its Bad form to bring this up and not have an answer of some kind but I'm afraid I don't.
 

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As I mentioned in a different thread, I loved those books when I was fifteen or so. That's my only excuse.

But I must admit, I never understood the consuming interest in Star Trek. A fun show, but to me nothing more.

You must not remember what the world was like when Star Trek first came out. We where supposed to be getting around in flying cars with robot maids by 1966. Instead we where at war in Viet Nam, on the verge of civil war at home and still worrying about nuclear missiles from Russia. An all the while we where slipping more and more into divisiveness and hate for one another. Star Trek offered hope for the future of man kind, a new and better people. It was the end of racism, war, and a common purpose for all man kind. They had done away with huger and poverty and nobody had lost any of their humanity.
 

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Two personal experiences I've had on the 'is it a religion/cult or something else' front were with Aikido and capoeira. Both are martial arts. One is self-defence; the other is something between a sport and a game. But each is also a discipline and a philosophy with ritual and myth. Each has (or some versions have) a profound reverence for its founders and major influences. Each asks its practitioners to change who they are. A former teacher of mine considered one Aikido organisation to be a cult in the 'take over your life' sense of the word, because in addition to the above, he felt they were very rigid in their canon and proscriptions.

With that said, one characteristic of religion is that it gradually penetrates every aspect of social and personal life. I don't know of Aikido or capoeira weddings, baptisms or interment ceremonies, for example, but there are certainly people who consider Aikido to extend far beyond training in a dojo, say. For instance, the book Aikido in everyday life.

I mention this to illustrate that perhaps between social phenomenon and religion is Philosophy or Way. While I haven't seen any evidence that Trekkies have made a true religion of their passion (any more than sports-fans or Rocky Horror devotees have), perhaps some Trekkies are trying to make a Tao or Way of it.
 
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Monkey

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Funny you should mention martial arts, Ruv.

My mother-in-law once asked my Senseii what religion he was; he quite seriously told her "Karate is my religion." For him, the answer to every moral, ethical, and religious question can be found in his art.

And he has told me of a wedding he attended in rural Okinawa that was, indeed, a "martial arts wedding".
 

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I still say that what defines a religion as opposed to a way of life is what you put your faith in. Forgive me if I am a little to general here, but a Christian puts their faith in Christ, a humanist puts their faith in the human spirit or human ingenuity (again forgive the broad generalizations) and so on. I know some policemen that have every aspect of their social and personalives tied to law enforcement. Their only friends are other policemen and everyone else they know are criminals. It skews their perspective of the world but it doesn't get to the point of faith. If we believe in some deity we will go through our rituals because we believe that they will respond us that way. If we believe in the human spirit we will strive to make improvements in ourselves and those we know. If you'll pardon the expression, our religion is what ever we willing to go out on a limb for.
 

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I'm an old Trek fan - I was SERIOUS about the first series when it came out, but I was nine years old. What guffy said about 1966 was true, though I wasn't aware enough at that age to connect much of any of it. I did hear "Eve Of Destruction" on the radio and it scared me, because I knew some of the things it talked about had actually happened (in retrorpect, they had ALL happened). But Star Trek was an escape from a painful childhood.

By college in the late 1970's the reruns were still going, but I wasn't sure I wanted to be too associated with Star Trek, I was already enough of a nerd being an engineering student. It's not that there was anything I disliked about it, I just didn't want to be NOTICED liking it (and end up being called a "trekkie").

But this thread can't go on without the mention of:

Elvis.
 

Ruv Draba

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I still say that what defines a religion as opposed to a way of life is what you put your faith in.
People go to wars over their way of life (in fact 'defending one's way of life' is what military doctrine describes as the chief reason for war), so I'm not sure that this distinction is strong enough.

The proposition that 'everyone is religious' is a popular one among some religious folk, but it alienates people like me who are not at all religious. As an atheist friend of mine says, atheism is no more a religion than baldness is a hair-style.

The proposition that secular humanism is a religion would certainly bother some secular humanists too, who don't necessarily have a lot of faith in humanity; they just see that investing in people is the most pragmatic way to improve our lot in life. I'd probably number among those as well.
If you'll pardon the expression, our religion is what ever we willing to go out on a limb for.
Put another way I think you're saying that religion is wherever we're willing to sacrifice for our ideals. But that fails to distinguish between secular and sectarian ideals. Economically, some Christians might have ideals about a free market economy that they're willing to fight for say, but is there actually a Church of Neoliberal Christian Capitalism?
 

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It's not that there was anything I disliked about it, I just didn't want to be NOTICED liking it (and end up being called a "trekkie").
So what's wrong with liking Star Trek or being called a 'trekkie' anyway? Surely we're long past geekery being embarrassing, and after four generations of ST-enthusiasts, with box-office smashes like Star Wars and Matrix, and nerd squillionaires like Bill Gates I'd have thought any SF cringe had evaporated. There are some funny Trekky parodies around, e.g. those in Sharyn McCrumb's award-winning Bimbos of the Death Sun or the Hugo-winning Galaxy Quest but I think we're a long way short of vilification here, religious or otherwise.
 
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Guffy

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People go to wars over their way of life (in fact 'defending one's way of life' is what military doctrine describes as the chief reason for war), so I'm not sure that this distinction is strong enough.

The proposition that 'everyone is religious' is a popular one among some religious folk, but it alienates people like me who are not at all religious. As an atheist friend of mine says, atheism is no more a religion than baldness is a hair-style.

The proposition that secular humanism is a religion would certainly bother some secular humanists too, who don't necessarily have a lot of faith in humanity; they just see that investing in people is the most pragmatic way to improve our lot in life. I'd probably number among those as well.
Put another way I think you're saying that religion is wherever we're willing to sacrifice for our ideals. But that fails to distinguish between secular and sectarian ideals. Economically, some Christians might have ideals about a free market economy that they're willing to fight for say, but is there actually a Church of Neoliberal Christian Capitalism?

I meant to answer this earlier but could get the computer to work.

Ruv, you make a great point, I didn’t mean to imply that secular humanism was a religion. I was trying to point out the difference between a life style and a religion. I think you can live a certain life style without believing there is anything divine in it. IMO you need some aspect of the divine for a religion. And yes unfortunately people will go to war for just about anything.

The “out on limb” thing was an allusion to the Shirley Mac Laine book of the same name. What I was really trying to refer to was the bible story about Jesus walking on the water. Peter was willing to get out of the boat and that is what people should be willing to do for a strongly held religious belief. In other words we must be willing to put faith in the divine before what is logical or natural.
 

Ruv Draba

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In other words we must be willing to put faith in the divine before what is logical or natural.
This forum has some injunctions about saying definitively whether a practice is or isn't religious but seems amicable to the idea of using real-world examples to discuss what the word 'religion' means. This post continues in that spirit.

I don't believe that we'll get anything like consensus on the question, but here are some key things I look for to recognise religion:
  • A notion of the sacred (though not necessarily the divine)
  • A received mythic tradition that includes lore and/or ritual
  • A cultural foundation, by which I mean people with common ground setting aside differences and make sacrifices to propagate values and beliefs
  • A sense of permeation throughout all aspects of one's public and private life
There are certainly beliefs and activities that don't meet all those criteria but which I'd still consider spiritual.

There are also some beliefs and activities that come close but don't quite meet all those criteria. For a personal example, some branches of Aikido have a received mythic and ritual tradition, a strong cultural foundation and a permeation through public and private life, but lack much of a sacred element. Those branches I'd call a Way or Tao. Other branches of Aikido include outright worship (e.g. of leaders, places and/or weaponry) and those I'd call a religion -- though as far as I know, it's not generally recognised in that way.

Back to the original topic, the Trekky fandom I've seen seems to be strong on (e.g.) mythic tradition, and some more devoted Trekky fans may permeate Trekkiness through public and private life. What I haven't seen is a common cultural thread of life-beliefs, or any emergent sense of the sacred.

So what's 'sacred' mean then? I think that it has to do with taboos. Sacred items are those set apart. They have different rules both in how we think and how we act about them.

As far as I know there's no Trekky sub-culture with strong taboos. Over-all, Trekky fan culture seems to even enjoy breaking the default taboos of its own mythos, as the range of Trekky slash-fic illustrates. More than anything, that makes it look secular to me, rather than sectarian.
 
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