Grace in the Gamma Quadrant

[This post contains moderate spoilers for the plot of Episode 12, Season 1 of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, "Battle Lines."  The greater plot arcs of Deep Space Nine are not discussed.]

When I was a teenager, I used to interpret everything allegorically, mainly trying to interject the Christian framework into whatever form of storytelling I encountered. Since then, I've discovered that re-interpretation is a shallow method of discovering the legitimate spiritual value in any particular story. There are universal truths that I believe to be Christian truths, and I can reflect on their deep significance without imposing an artificial structure onto a story that may have been written by people with other worldviews.

Yesterday I watched an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and I was impressed by the clarity and simplicity of one of those universal truths. "Battle Lines," the 12th episode of Season 1, depicts a two warring factions of the same humanoid race, condemned to kill one another over and over again on a moon set up as a penal colony. The spiritual leader of the Bajoran people was along for the ride with a segment of the regular cast when they ended up crash-landing on the hell-like environment. With the awkward convenience of fiction, the spacecraft crashes just around the corner from the headquarters of the leader of one of the two factions. The leader generally treats them well and expresses a longing to be free from the prison. However, he is utterly unable to stop hating the other faction. Despite admitting that the other faction feels the same about him as he does about them and that the original cause of the conflict has been meaningless for long ages, he is unwilling to consider that his group has also done wrong. As much as he longs for freedom, he ultimately prefers to remain in damnation so he can continue to seek vengeance to satisfy his hate.

The spiritual leader confronts Major Kira, the cast's most prominent Bajoran character, about Kira's own hate and self-righteous violence. Kira is devastated, but as she tries to justify her own hate, she is forced to confess that she really is not much different from the people imprisoned on the penal moon. The realization brings her to her knees and puts tears in her eyes as she worries that the Bajoran "prophets" might not be able to forgive her. The spiritual leader replies that the prophets are only waiting for Kira to forgive herself.

That powerful scene is not even all there is to the potential Christian themes in that episode. There's a death and a resurrection and a Christ-figure, if the viewer cares to find such things. But even without mining for forced allegory or symbolism, this scene is amazingly similar to an Evangelical conversion. Maybe the whole "forgive yourself" thing is too liberal-sounding for Evangelical tastes, but the context of that line implies that the "prophets" (whose function in the Bajoran religion is not yet very well specified) have already forgiven Kira, and she just needs to accept their forgiveness for herself. And the scene does not at all imply that Kira could merely go on hating the Cardassians because the prophets have already forgiven her. She was brought to repentance. Otherwise, she would have remained like the stubborn prisoners.

Major Kira in "Battle Lines"
"getting saved" in Star Trek?

If I had encountered this same story apart from the Star Trek franchise and was told that it was a work of Christian speculative fiction, I might have condemned the presence of an "explicit" conversion scene.  Encountering this story without believing that it was written with religious motivation or deliberately looking for religious symbolism allowed me once again to be moved by a powerful truth. I still believe in that truth, and I still very much need it. (And I think Kira will also need it again and again, but in the Star Trek universe she will likely not worry about whether or not she is really "saved.")

The episode ends with a note of hope even for the stubborn prisoners of hate and vengeance.  If I still interpreted everything allegorically, I would have to conclude that the episode teaches universalism (which I believe to be a fallacy and a heresy). Without forcing an allegory onto the story, I can easily appreciate the concept of grace and hope all the more, and find more parallels to my own religion, in the way the episode ends.

I think that it is unlikely that humans will ever be able to explore the galaxy. But if I am wrong, and we do one day journey to the stars, I know at least one thing that we will certainly find. Grace.

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