It’s widely known that Gene Roddenberry was an atheist. For the most part, Star Trek didn’t show this. “The Apple” is one exception. Here, his atheism is on full display.
The story begins with the Enterprise arriving at Gamma Triangula VI. Despite seeming like a tropical paradise akin to Eden, the environment is hostile, claiming the lives of three away team members. However, they cannot return to the Enterprise because an energy field is draining the ship’s energy reserves.
Kirk orders the away team towards a primitive village, where they meet the planet’s inhabitants. They refer to themselves as the “Feeders of Vaal”, and are led by a man named Akuta, who wears antennae that allow him to communicate with their deity, Vaal. While conversing with Akuta, Kirk learns they are not permitted to procreate or even fall in love.
While exploring, Kirk and Spock come across a stone idol, which Kirk discovers is Vaal. Vaal is displeased with the crew, especially since they are exposing its Feeders to intimacy (they happen to see Chekov and a woman kiss) and orders Akuta to teach his people how to kill. Kirk realizes that he must now destroy Vaal and free Akuta’s people.
Like many atheists, Roddenberry misrepresents Christianity in this episode. To him, Vaal represents God. (Note: I know he didn’t write this episode, but he did approve it, so he still has some responsibility.) It’s obvious the planet is supposed to represent Eden, even though the vegetation attacks the crew at the beginning. In fact, after he destroys Vaal, Kirk wonders if humans were even meant for paradise at all.
I’m offended by this episode’s intent. It wants us to see religion as an impediment to social progress. In most Star Trek shows, whenever the Prime Directive (which forbids Starfleet from interfering with the growth of societies that have yet to develop warp technology) is violated, it’s presented as a bad idea. But here, it’s actually seen as positive. I believe Roddenberry is intending for these people to represent early Judeo-Christian society. He wants us to see religion as an impediment to society’s progress and science. Actually, religion can guide social progress and science as well as impede it. The Big Bang was first proposed by a Catholic priest. Johannes Kepler believed his laws of planetary motion would help us to understand how God set the universe in motion. Even genetics itself was started by the works of a Benedictine monk. While our society has indeed advanced very far technologically since we lost our innocence, I do not think it is better than if we had followed the vision God had originally intended for us. Has moving further and further away from religion made us a better society? I don’t think it has. The episode seems to say that we are better off without such “silly superstitions”.
Next, we will discuss one of the true classics in Star Trek lore, “Arena”.