Good Sci-Fi is about people

I am a big fan of Star Trek. All my friends and family know (and sometimes shake their head in annoyment or puzzlement). And I have a friend who has the whole collection of ST Voyager DVDs, so I am screening right now through season 6.

Season 5 had a nice surprise for me. Episode 22 "Someone to watch over me" is a jewel and a shining example of what good Sci-Fi is all about. In this episode (spoiler alert!) Seven of Nine is encouraged by the Doctor to date and the whole episode is a delightful insight into what a normal human activity looks like to a human child raised by aliens. There is even a cliche right at the end where Seven finds out that the Doctor made a wager with Tom over her and she is infuriated, in typical movie female fashion, betraying her robotic Borg ways.

What this show had was a wonderful example of what good doctor Asimov indicated as the fascination of Sci-Fi. It is not the gadgets or the special effects; it is about people, only that we are seeing them in an extrapolation of our current life and we get to wonder how people will react when they are in this extraordinary environment. And not surprisingly, the extrapolation will tell us that people are people are people.

I remember that my father-in-law strongly criticized my liking Star Trek because "he wouldn't like to live in that world". Guess what: people would still be people. And a good science fiction story will always try to reach into the human side and indicate to the audience how human traits will remain, in spite of any technology you may care to throw upon us.

Picture above is, of course, Jeri Ryan in her Seven of Nine regalia. Talk about a good incentive to watch Voyager...

The Merchants of Faith

"Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful."
Lucius Annaeus Seneca, 4BC - 65 AD - Roman stoic philosopher

This week I ran into an old college colleague at an airport. We started talking about the price of gas, which is a very current topic, went on to traffic patterns and ended up discussing the antics of one of our most popular exports to the world and whom I call #1 merchant of faith in our country.

This friend filled me in on another little scam of this scoundrel. It turns out that he organizes youth in small groups he calls "cells". When he shows up at one of these saturday evening meetings, he tells the youngsters, especially if they are mostly girls, that in order to prove their faith, they have to "donate" something that they really value. Family heirlooms have been lost this way: grandma's old earrings, mom's engagement ring, things like those. We couldn't help but wonder what happens to these pieces of jewelry at the end of the saturday evening meeting? Do the pastor and his wife check the spoils of the day? Do the pastor's daughters now wear grandma's earrings?

And this is not the first time I heard about these scams. An acquaintance claims she was coerced out of a pearl necklace she later saw hanging from the neck of this very same preacher's wife at a social event. She went over to the woman and demanded her necklace back. Good for her!

This is what upsets me royally about these charlatans. They claim to be inspired by God, yet they will not stop requesting their faithful to tithe. And they keep looking for ways to go above and beyond the customary "10 percent". Isn't God supposed to be uninterested in money? Aren't the "real riches" to be found in heaven and not in earth?

Regardless of whether there is a heaven or not, the problem with these greedy scoundrels is that they are benefitting from the gullibility of their faithful and taking unfair advantage of them, to their personal benefit. At the end of last year, U. S. Senator Chuck Grassley started an investigation into the finances of six large ministeries. The reason behind this investigation was not related to faith or anything divine. It related to very mundane things:
  • Personal use of church aircraft (for vacation, not for preaching)
  • Real state purchases (for living, not for worship)
  • Furniture purchases (for household use, not church)
  • Purchase of luxury vehicles (Rolls Royce and Bentley)
  • Jewelry received as Donations (sounds familiar?)

Need I say more?

So... these are the rulers for whom the belief of the common man that religion is "true" is "useful". Words of a wise man.