As we say goodbye to Spocktober 2011, I’d like to take a moment to share some thoughts on our favorite Vulcan. As the above image illustrates, I think there’s something distinctive – even sacred – about Spock that causes us to be continually drawn to him.
Spock is not just Star Trek‘s most popular character; he is at its very core. Spock has been with Star Trek from the very beginning. He is the only character from the original, rejected pilot “The Cage” to continue as a series regular. Spock has been Star Trek‘s wisdom, its conscience, its moral core. Because of that, Leonard Nimoy, the actor who portrayed him for Star Trek‘s first 45 years, has been the same.
But what’s sacred about Spock? To be sacred means to be set apart, dedicated, consecrated. It can mean dedication to God or to a particular purpose. In Spock, we see a character who is set apart in many ways.
As both Lisa M. Lynch and T’Nara Valdrin Kelensa have noted in their Spocktober guest posts, Spock is a citizen of two cultures. In both cultures, however, he is different – unique, but also alone. His dedication to Vulcan principles makes him an outsider among humans because he rejects their way of life, but also, oddly enough, among Vulcans as well because he is half human.
In this way, he reflects the Biblical prophecy regarding Jesus: “He was despised and rejected by people, one who experienced pain and was acquainted with illness; people hid their faces from him; he was despised, and we considered him insignificant.” (Isaiah 53:3, NET)
Rejection seems an odd way to come by holiness, but it’s one that the Scriptures continually refer to. As Jesus himself said, “I tell you the truth, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.” (Luke 4:24, NET) But Spock also sets himself apart.
Though he had the opportunity to continue his family’s tradition and complete his studies at the Vulcan Science Academy, Spock chose instead to join Starfleet. Similarly, he left Starfleet to return to Vulcan and complete the kolinahr ritual, which would rid him of all emotions. However, he later rejected this plan and returned to Starfleet.
In each of these three decisions, we see Spock seeking his true self by separating himself off from others. Jesus behaved similarly, isolating himself in the desert before he began his ministry, across a sea after the death of John the Baptist and away from his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane before his crucifixion.
Each of these moments of separation seem to represent Jesus’ desire to re-center himself, to seek the right path and to prepare for great changes in his life. He sought purity in the desert in preparation for his ministry, sought solace during a time of grief when the man he admired most was killed and begged his Father for another answer when he was called to sacrifice his life.
Spock left Vulcan for Starfleet to live apart from both Earth and Vulcan, two planets that could not be his home. He sought purity in the desert through kolinahr, but realized that this was a temptation toward an easier life – much like the desert temptation Jesus faced to give in to disordered human desires.
When he again left Vulcan to accompany Kirk and his old Enterprise comrades during the V’Ger incident, Spock remained somewhat distant and isolated, ultimately venturing out into space alone and carrying his personal quest deep into the heart of V’Ger. In this way, he separated himself from Vulcan and also from his friends (as Christ did in Gethsemane) in a quest for balance in his life, which he found.
Spock is also dedicated. Whether loyal by duty to Starfleet, by upbringing to Logic or (whether he admits it or not) by love to his friends, Spock is a devotee.
Given that the Star Trek universe is supposed to be a place where religion has passed away from human experience, it seems to me that it is not insignificant that its central character is also its most religious. From “Amok Time” onward, the ritualistic and spiritual nature of Vulcan culture takes a larger and larger role in the development of Spock’s character.
With his strange powers like the Vulcan mind meld and nerve pinch, his quiet calm and cool reserve, Spock seems in touch with something otherworldly and ethereal. His bowl-like haircut mimics that of a Catholic monk and from Star Trek: The Motion Picture onward, we frequently see him in ceremonial robes and engaged in deep meditation.
Spock is, in essence, a monk. He seeks wisdom, solitude and spiritual purity. His race is a deeply spiritual one that recognizes the essence in themselves – their katra or soul – as their truest being. His quest for Logic and a higher Vulcan existence leads him also to a higher humanity, as he ultimately shows the greatest love humans are capable of by sacrificing himself for his friends. (John 15:13)
But Spock’s spiritual significance goes even deeper and I’ll be sharing more about it in my next post.