About a week ago (Just guessing about this. I work at home and live in a place without seasons so I basically have zero markers for the passage of time) I watched Sacred Ground. And it's been bugging me ever since.
In this one, Kes wanders into a dangerous forcefield (that apparently no one warned her about) and instantly goes into a coma. The Doctor can't revive her. They figure out that one time this happened to a prince (you'd really think someone would've warned him) and his dad marched down to the cave and talked the spirits into restoring his life etc. Janeway says, "Sounds legit. I'm on it," and heads down to the planet armed with a tricorder and bio-scanners in an attempt to follow through with the same ancient ritual to bring Kes back. What follows is Janeway's physical and mental journey through a series of apparently alien rituals.
This isn't exactly new to Star Trek. Lots of officers have had to undergo alien rituals to save someone else or placate a pissed off culture. There are things about this episode I like. I love Janeway's dedication to Kes. I love how much she cares. I love how tirelessly she works and she suffers through the challenges like a champ. I love that this is a Janeway-centric, character-focused episode. And, I like that both George Costanza's mom and the mayor of Sunnydale both make an appearance.
But, this episode is all about faith. And it's not about "faith as perceived by this culture" it's just about faith. It's about Janeway having to gain some kind of faith in order to save Kes and, more than that, it features an alien lady who condescends to Janeway the entire episode about her reliance on science. She says folksy things like, "You sure do love that gizmo, huh?" She and George Costanza's mom (and the rest of the spirits) are smug and arrogant as they passively berate Janeway for her reliance on science. In the end, they throw us a bone by having The Doctor dash off a scientific explanation for Kes' recovery but Janeway dismisses him.
I read that this episode is about how "you can't explain everything with science" but that's not actually true. And, as one of the most accomplished scientists onboard Voyager, Janeway knows that. We can explain everything with science. We can't explain every element of every theory about everything with our science as it stands now, but science (unlike faith) is forever evolving--as long as things like doctrine and fear don't discourage the development of theories and the practice of the scientific method.
I'm not going to sit here and advocate that one ought to replace faith with science. They're not the same thing. They're not even kind of the same thing. Given that, I don't understand why they can't go hand-in-hand. If your faith is important to you, that's fine. But telling a story wherein a scientist has to turn her back on science in favor of faith or else someone she loves dies dies is pretty scary to me as a Star Trek fan.
Star Trek is all about the wonder of scientific exploration, the beautiful mysteries of space and interesting alien cultures, the overwhelming exhilaration of finding and discovering what was previously unknown. So, I guess, there are plenty of other "beauty and importance of exploration and discovery" episodes out there for me to enjoy. I'll be writing about one of them (Sacred Ground) tomorrow.