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Every religion has a mythology

International Atheist Conference in Reykjavik Iceland June 24 & 25, 2006
Brannon Braga’s speech:

Every religion has a mythology. Christianity: the Bible. Islam: the Koran. Hebrews: the Torah. The Boshongo tribe in Zaire: the creation myth of Bumba, who vomited into existence the Earth and all livcing creatures. Scientology: Dianetics and the story of Xenu, the alien conqueror.

These mythologies explain the world’s creation, humanity’s destiny, and they serve to codify the beliefs of these religions by telling stories about God or whatever deity has been cooked up. By definition, Atheism has no need for a mythology. Atheism is a non-belief. It is the absence of religion and belief in the existence of deities. The fact that we’re all gathered here today is kind of odd when you think about it, because we really have nothing to talk about other than our conviction that religion sucks, isn’t science great, and how the hell do we get the other 95% of the population to come to their senses?

We don’t believe anything. Therefore, we have no need for a mythology. And besides, even if we wanted one, what would it be exactly? Who would write it? Would it tell the story of the very first atheist? No doubt it would involve a great deal of persecution by his religious neighbors. Maybe we could invent some sort of Christ-like atheist tragedy. Then again, I have a feeling that anything we could come up with would probably be pretty boring. Without the historical events and supernatural catastrophes of most religious mythologies, we’d probably be left with the story of some atheist dude sitting in a room, reading a book.

But then again, like any good critical thinker, I have to reevaluate that assumption. Because in fact, I think we do need a mythology. And I think already we have one. As a group, atheists are disorganized and nomadic. A mythology could bind us together and help us articulate our goals in an entertaining and influential way. That’s what the Bible does. People cling to the Bible and quote it all the time. Atheists need to codify their non-belief and what that could mean for humanity if fully realized. We need a story. And it’s gotta be a pretty damned good one, packed with lots of different kind of fables and morality tales. It’s gotta be a pretty damned good one, packed with lots of different kind of fables and morality tales. It’s gotta be something rich and fairly long-lived with a somewhat fanatical following. Fortunately, this mythology already exists and is about to celebrate its 40th anniversary. It has tens of millions of followers. Many of whom, I suspect, are already leaning toward our way of thinking. And those followers may not be as fanatical, say, a right-wing fundamentalist, but if you’ve ever met a STAR TREK fan, they come pretty damned close.

STAR TREK, as conceived by Gene Roddenberry, portrays the epic saga of humanity’s exploration of space and, in turn, their own struggles as a species. Every episode and movie of STAR TREK is a morality tale in which human beings find solutions to conflict through enlightenment and reason. Through science. Through wit and intellect. Through a belief in our potential as animals that can supercede our baser instincts. In Gene Roddenberry’s imagining of the future (in this case the 23rd century), Earth is a paradise where we have solved all of our problems with technology, ingenuity, and compassion. There is no more hunger, war, or disease. And most importantly to the context of our meeting here today, religion is completely gone. Not a single human being on Earth believes in any of the nonsense that has plagued our civilization for thousands of years. This was an important part of Roddenberry’s mythology. He, himself, was a secular humanist and made it well-known to writers of STAR TREK and STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION that religion and superstition and mystical thinking were not to be part of his universe. On Roddenberry’s future Earth, everyone is an atheist. And that world is the better for it.

40 years, 5 TV shows, 700 episodes and 11 movies. Not exactly as ancient or infamous as the Bible, but it’s a start. It’s been around for about as long as Scientology. Of course, STAR TREK is not a religion, although some fans might argue otherwise. It’s a vision of a world where religion has been vanquished and reason drives our hearts to explore ourselves more deeply. It is a template for a world that every single one of us in this room longs for. And in that regard, it is an atheistic mythology. STAR TREK is lively, action-packed and often profound. And its message is always the same: our inherent gifts of reason and compassion alone can solve any problem, and there is no time or place for a belief in something that doesn’t exist.

What does it mean to be an atheist? What kind of morality can you have? What are your ambitions and hopes? What would the world be like if religion disappeared? How could humanity possibly keep itself together? If anybody ever asks you these questions, tell them to watch STAR TREK. You know it’s funny – I worked on the show for 15 years and wrote over 150 episodes. And it didn’t occur to me until very recently that I was creating more than just entertainment, but a wider philosophical canvas that embodied my very own beliefs. I came all the way here from California to share my thoughts on the matter, and I encourage you to do with them what you will. We have a mythology. It’s been here all along. Let’s use it.

Religious mythologies have plenty of catchphrases. “Let there be light” “The meek shall inherit the Earth.” “You reap what you sow.” “What would Jesus do?” I’ll leave you with one of our own: “Live long and prosper.”

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