Rant by Gene
I was watching Star Trek: Into Darkness a few days ago and it occurred to me that far more than just the first scene of the movie revolve around this dilemma: the good of the many vs. the good of the few. The first scene is easy enough to identify, Spock comes right out and says it. But it’s also present in the second scene, and a scene later involving Kirk. When considering all the various dilemmas that are possible in life, this has to be at the pinnacle. Particularly when this ‘good’ is referring to the lives of the many or the few. I want to examine these three scenes and see if we can draw some conclusions on the worldviews these characters put into action, then contrast that with what scripture has to say on the matter.
First Scene: The movie opens with the Enterprise on a mission to save an indigenous people from sure extinction as the volcano they live near is about to erupt. Spock is charged with triggering a device that will freeze (or turn to stone) the lava in the volcano and save the people. Meanwhile, Kirk and Bones have drawn the people away from the danger of the volcano and are awaiting Spock to complete his task. When Spock’s smaller ship cannot retrieve him from the volcano, he is ready to die there rather than expose these people to seeing the Enterprise and learning of other life forms in the universe. He refers to this as the “prime directive” and values meeting that objective more than his own life. After pleading with Spock to no avail, Kirk violates the prime directive and emerges from the sea so they can beam Spock aboard. His life is saved, but the indigenous people learn they are not alone.
Second Scene: A Starfleet employee and his wife have a daughter that, it appears, is deathly ill. He is approached by a mysterious man whom we later learn is Khan. Khan promises this Starfleet employee that he can save his daughter’s life. In exchange for this favor a bomb must be triggered in the middle of a top-secret Starfleet facility in London. The man accepts the trade and triggers the bomb, killing himself and hundreds more, but his daughter is alive and well.
Kirk Scene: With the enterprise in a free-fall toward earth, we find Spock in the Captains seat while Kirk and Scotty are racing through the ship toward the warp core. Repairing the core will enable the ship to regain power and control over it’s decent. However, it is located in an area full of dangerous radiation. Kirk and Scotty locate it and Kirk exposes himself to the radiation for an extended period of time to repair the dislocated injectors. Unfortunately, he is unable to exit the area and is overcome with radiation poisoning. Kirk dies, but the crew of the Enterprise is able to regain power and is saved.
In the first scene, Spock displays a high value for the lives of others, but a lower value on his own life. We can determine this because he was willing to sacrifice his own life for something less than the lives of the many. All he was protecting was their knowledge of other beings in the universe. So we’re not talking about life for life in this scenario. We admire his bravery and humility in putting others interests ahead of his own, but as Kirk rightly exclaimed to him, “Spock, we’re talking about your LIFE here!” His life is inherently more valuable than whatever knowledge the indigenous people might have gained by seeing their ship.
In the second scene, the Starfleet employee displayed a high value of life, but only those lives which he cared for. It is clear that he knows he will be destroying his own life and many around him when he triggers the bomb. He’s willing to sacrifice many lives, of which he is only loosely acquainted with, in order to save one life which he personally loves and cares for. This is obviously a life for life exchange, but it is from a relativistic/subjective worldview. Only that life which he deemed valuable was worth protecting or saving. He placed his desires above the lives of the many by determining them unworthy to continue living if it means he can save his daughter’s life. Within the relativist worldview, there is nothing to tell him that this action is wrong. It’s just his preference. It’s a worldview that says, “Someone dies either way, so why not be sure it’s not someone I love.” All the while not realizing there are factors other than his feelings to consider.
Finally, with Kirk’s sacrifice we see an objective, life for life scenario with this dilemma. If the enterprise is not repaired it would mean the death of the entire crew, including Kirk. If however he can repair the ship he can save everyone on board at the cost of just one life, his own. Unlike Spock’s sacrifice, Kirk displays a high value of both his life and that of his crew. He does not consider his life more or less valuable than the others. He sees them as equally valuable. We’re talking about a fair exchange; life for life. If he didn’t act, he would die with the rest of them anyway. But because he acted, everyone else can survive. He is choosing life even though it results in his death.
I think a few conclusions can be made. First, it should go without saying that holding all life as valuable is a desirable position. I will provide some scripture for this later, but if you have to be convinced of this then I pray you’re never in a ‘many vs. few’ dilemma. The only scenario which holds a high value of all lives in question is Kirk’s: a life for a life. Additionally, the only scenarios which hold a proper objective judgment are when the lives given are given by their own choice. We find this with both Spock and Kirk, but not with the Starfleet employee. Sure he chose to give his own life, but he also chose on behalf of everyone else in that building, which he had no right to do.
Second, I think we can extrapolate some general moral standards for which the basis is that all lives are valuable. This does not mean all people are equal in their abilities or opinions, but their lives are equally valuable. Because all lives are valuable, a person’s life is not to be given lightly or for vain reasons. We see this contrast in Spock and Kirk’s scenarios. Also, if life is valuable then it is first and foremost valuable to the person living. If a choice is made as to the termination of a life, it should be made by the one whose life will end. Therefore, we can understand both Spock and Kirk’s choice (as far as whom they were choosing for) but we find fault with the Starfleet employee. He was choosing to end the lives of others without their consent. These conclusions have important ramifications when it comes to issues like abortion and suicide. Abortion takes the life of another without their consent. Suicide is a choice to end your own life, but for vain reasons. (Please understand, I draw an important distinction between suicide and self-sacrifice – Jn. 15:13). These are conclusions we can draw not just from observations of a film, but in basic reflection on life in general.
The penalty for murder under the Law of Moses was death, but when Cain killed Abel (Genesis 4), God did not sentence him to death as a punishment. God instead sentenced him to be a vagrant and a wanderer. He further gave him a sign so that anyone who took vengeance and killed Cain would suffer seven-fold. God tried to stop murder right there, with Cain, by this threat of a more severe punishment. This was meant to be a deterrent. God has given us this life (Eccl. 5:18) and he is angered when we abuse and destroy it. Because life is a gift from God, it is inherently valuable. We don’t have to meet a standard or accomplish some grand task. Isaiah and David speak of how they were formed in the very womb of their mothers with care by God (Isa. 49:5, Psa. 139:13). In Jeremiah, God even exclaims, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” (Jer. 1:5). We are valued, loved and known by God before we even take our first breath. If that doesn’t give inherent value to human life, nothing can.
I hope this breakdown of these scenes in Star Trek has led you to the same basic conclusions as I have drawn regarding the inherent value of life and the acceptable ways in which to regard our lives. And I hope you can see that God’s word already gives us those conclusions! We don’t need to take exhaustive steps to reason through this. We can trust in God’s word and subject ourselves to His will.