Star Trek's vision of a better future, in which humans are expected to progress beyond prejudice, aggression, and self-interest, is described and evaluated in its various and changing forms throughout the first four series. These texts are interpreted in the contexts of science fiction as a genre, the American frontier myth, and the heroic or religious quest. Methods from a variety of disciplines are used, including feminist cultural criticism, comparative religions, sociology, psychology, literary criticism, and American history. The series' views on human nature and religion are explored, from the scientific humanism and rejection of God in Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation, to the tale of Captain Sisko's religious quest in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, to New Age elaborations of a feminine divine in Star Trek: Voyager.
A comparison of these series shows a link between ideals of social justice and visions of spiritual transcendence in each series. This link is found to support Peter Berger's theory in The Sacred Canopy, that religious visions of the divine work to maintain a given society's social status quo. In the context of Star Trek's fictional world, visions of transcendence, expressed in both sacred and secular terms, support the social ideal in each series. Simultaneously, symbolic readings of Star Trek's alien encounter narratives suggest tension between the series vision of the ideal community as a united interplanetary coalition and its use of aliens as a foil.
The structure, language, and logic of the American frontier myth are found to express a binary vision in the series, of self versus other, human versus the strange, which reflects the socio-political periods of American history in which each series was produced. Thus, the past and present, the old and new, are found to contribute to the ambiguous moral stance in Star Trek's vision of a better future for everyone regardless of gender, race, or species.
from Chapter 1, Introduction
Star Trek's ideal of unity in diversity seems to express a commonly held desire within American culture, a desire apparent in the contemporary movement toward gender and racial integration in schools, jobs, and housing, as well as in the frustration over social division expressed by Rodney King in the statement, “Can’t we all just get along?” In the chapters that follow, I explore the way Star Trek sets up a utopian vision of the future, or, "vision of transcendence" beyond humanity's current limitations, by attempting to envision a community of justice for diverse members. Each of the chapters looks at what Star Trek's ideal future is like, how the series suggests we transcend division and injustice, and what role myth and religion play in creating and affirming this ideal. Insight is also gained both into the meanings to be found in Star Trek's changing message and into how these reflect on American cultural identity, by connecting the development of Star Trek's vision of transcendence to the socio-historical context in which each series was produced.
As I interpret these stories, I look for the ways in which Star Trek draws on religion and myth. Although as science fiction, Star Trek involves the creation of unfamiliar worlds (especially our own world in the imagined future), the creation of new worlds must always draw on and incorporate aspects of the world we know. Without familiar signposts, no writer could create and no audience comprehend. And it is here, where past and present forms in American and Western culture are used to create a vision of the future, that new ideas are developed through a blending with older ideas. One thing is clear in looking at these series: all of the elements necessary for exploring religious meaning are present in Star Trek's vision of the future, including myth, religion, and science—the great competitor of religion in the modern world.