I’m geeky enough to have been a fan of Star Trek most of my life, and I’m seriously saddened by Leonard Nimoy’s death last week. So was the famous Jesus mythicist Robert Price, who wrote a eulogy, The Second Death of Mr. Spock.
“Anyone remotely familiar with the Star Trek episodes and movies,” he says, “knows that Mr. Spock was a Christ figure.” The tenor of his piece is reflected by a comment left there by “BiologicalBert”, which reads in part, “I wonder if in 2000 years, followers of Spock will be debating if Leonard Nimoy really ever existed.”
I don’t think there’s any need to wonder. No one is going to care about Spock or Nimoy anywhere near that long—unlike Jesus Christ, who remains the central figure in the lives of billions of people, two thousand years after he walked the earth.
Dr. Price would probably side with BiologicalBert. While his article is mostly a tribute to Nimoy and his character Spock, it also tries to situate Jesus Christ and Mr. Spock on the same plane, as creations of fiction and mythology. Dr. Price is a professor of philosophy and religion, and a leading voice among a fringe group of New Testament-era historians known as “Jesus mythicists,” who doubt not only that Jesus did miracles and rose from the dead, but that he ever existed at all.
To call that a minority view would be to overstate its credibility. Even the prolific skeptic Bart Ehrman argues argues that Jesus was a real person (though not, in his view, the real person Christians think he was). Find a professional NT-era historian and ask him or her to name a credible scholar among the mythicists, and odds are they’ll tell you there are none. That includes Dr. Price.
But that’s mere background information. What about this article of his? On one level he’s right: it makes perfectly good sense to recognize parallels between Spock and Christ. Yes, he stretches terminology to an almost comical extreme when he writes, “In Jungian terms, one could say Jesus had become a Christ figure!” Still, he’s right when he says this about Spock:
Anyone remotely familiar with the Star Trek episodes and movies knows that Mr. Spock was a Christ figure. Nor was this simply a matter of his death and resurrection. Throughout the series he had been a perfect blend of spirit and reason, of cross-bearing and selfless duty. He was a kind of demigod along the lines of the Jesus of Matthew and Luke, not a divine incarnation but rather a hybrid of heaven and earth.
There have been many such Christ figures. (If you want to pick one out from popular culture, I think you’d do better with Superman.) Dr. Price seems to think these many mythical Christ figures count as evidence that Christ himself was a myth. That’s not necessarily the case. It could be that they’re all re-tellings (or in some cases pre-tellings) of a great story, an original story: the story of which all other stories–even the great ones, like Spock’s–are pale imitations: the story of God in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.
I think this can be shown simply by considering Jesus Christ as a character in his story. I suppose I could take another tack and boldly proclaim, “The difference between Jesus and Spock is that the story of Jesus is true.” That would be an accurate statement. Believing readers would nod their heads in agreement. They might also wonder why I bothered to say it. There’s not much in it that would be helpful ever for them, but especially for inquirers, skeptics, and atheists.
Jesus Christ and Mr. Spock
There are few things we can all agree on with respect to Christ, but there are some. One of them is that he is a character in a story. Dr. Price thinks he’s a character in a story like all the other Christ-figure stories. I think the story itself refutes him. Let’s see how, by looking at some of the similarities and differences between Spock and Christ.
Price tells us Spock was like Christ in that, “Throughout the series he had been a perfect blend of spirit and reason, of cross-bearing and selfless duty.” There is some truth to that, but note well that he did not suggest that Spock had been a perfect blend of spirit, reason, and heart. We see signs of love in him from time to time, most notably when he tells Kirk , “I have been, and always shall be, your friend,” as lets the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one. Even then, however, he says, “Don’t grieve, Admiral. It was logical.”
At his funeral, Kirk said of him, “Of all the souls I have met on my journeys, his was the most human.” The irony was intentional. To be human, he had to deny his Vulcan side. He could not be great without being at odds with himself.
Try To Imagine Spock…
He was a great soul, but nowhere near the greatest. Try to imagine the story of the Good Samaritan coming out of Spock’s mouth. Try to imagine him teaching us to love our enemies. Spock had a virtue that almost looked like love: I don’t think he was ever angry, even at Romulans or Klingons. (If he was, it was in an episode or movie I missed.)
It wasn’t really love, however, but mere equanimity, the lack or suppression of emotion rather than any positively directed expression. Anger was illogical for Spock. I can’t remember him suggesting it might also be unloving.
Spock died for his friends, in The Wrath of Khan. It was an unfortunate necessity, which he took on because the situation demanded it. He would have died with the ship anyway, had he not sacrificed himself to repair the warp core. Nevertheless it was a great deed, and showed great love (John 13:34-35).
Jesus, in contrast, came willingly and under no compulsion died for his enemies, as his later follower Paul described in Phil. 2:5-11 and Romans 5:8. He didn’t have to be born and, unlike Spock, he didn’t have to die. Both sacrifices were his by choice, not necessity. His death was therefore an infinitely greater act of love than Spock’s.
Try to imagine Spock calling the crowds to follow him. Try to image crowds following. My guess is that this would be one thing that might make him angry. “Go away!” I can hear him crying. “I’m not the one.” Jesus claimed to be the one, according to the story, and billions since him have considered his call compelling. Try to imagine that of Spock.
Spock was certainly selfless, but (again, according to the story) he didn’t give all the way Jesus did, because he didn’t have all the way Jesus did. I have written previously on the unparalleled account of One who had all power and yet never employed his extraordinary power for his own purposes, but only for others.
One more thing to consider: Try to imagine anyone falling to his knees before Spock, proclaiming, “My Lord and my God!” There’s a reason it makes sense in the story of Christ. It wouldn’t work anywhere else.
Whence Came The Truly Great Story?
Someone once noted that Shakespeare never tried to create a saint. Neither did Gene Roddenberry. There have been stories of saints throughout all time, but only one who never needed to confess a flaw, who never failed, never sinned, and yet remained an enduring, believable, compelling character.
Who then created this Jesus, if Jesus was only a story, as Price believes? Phillip Schaff asked it this way: “If the early Christians produced Christ, who produced the early Christians? … The poets must in this case have been superior to the hero.”
Superior, that is, to the greatest hero ever sung or told of in any story, including the story of Mr. Spock. I put it to you that it makes more sense to believe the hero lived as the story says, and the poets were right to consider themselves inferior.