Great Morning Beloved!
The Measure of a Man
Last week we were introduced to our Summer Series on Science Fiction and some of the Lessons we can learn from it. I say some, because there is so very much material, we could not get through it all in a year, most likely several years, maybe.
We were reminded of a few of the modern conveniences that we have now that were based upon the imagination of the many Sci-fi writers. I think Charles would be proud of their use of IMAGINATION.
Many scientists and NASA engineers received their inspiration from sci-fi shows, books and movies.
The technological advancement alone received from these innovators is amazing. But also, a look into what we, as humans can experience if we just let our minds wander to what if’s
What if there was no more poverty?
What if there was no longer discrimination?
What if there were no ‘impossibles’?
Let your mind wander for a moment….what is that world like?
We ended the Lesson with the question: “What God have we created?”
Did you ponder that this week?
This week we look at an episode from Star Trek, The Next Generation, titled “The Measure of a Man.”.
When the U.S.S. Enterprise arrives at the newly established Starbase 173, Data is ordered to serve under Captain Bruce Maddox, a powerful and well-respected Starfleet cybernetics expert who wishes to disassemble and study him so that more androids can be made for Starfleet’s use.
If you didn’t know it before, Data is a machine, an anroid, that acts, in many ways, like a human, though thinks like the Vulcan from the original series, Mr. Spock..
After Data learns that Maddox may not be able to reassemble him, he refuses to submit to the procedure. When Captain Picard is unable to have the orders changed, Data’s only option is to resign from Starfleet. His decision to resign, however, is challenged by Maddox on the basis that Data is not a person with rights, but property of the Federation. In fact, throughout the episode, Maddox refers to Data as “it,” not “him,” much to the dismay of his Enterprise friends and colleagues.
Picard announces that he will challenge that ruling at a hearing. Since the base is new and insufficiently staffed; Picard would have to defend Data, while the next most senior officer, Commander Riker, would have to prosecute. Riker is warned that if he does not give his best effort, the judge will summarily rule in favor of Maddox.
This sets the stage for an interesting and sometimes emotional court battle. At stake is far more than Data’s own future but the morality of the Federation itself. Faced with no other choice, Riker must contend in his prosecution that Data is simply a machine — the creation of man. This is definitely not an open and shut case. When Riker presents Starfleet’s case, however, he proves Data’s artificiality in a devastating way by merely hitting his off switch, leaving him lifeless in his seat.
Certain of his defeat, Picard has a discussion with Guinan, the wise bartender on board, played by Whoopie Goldberg. She has an interesting suggestion; that the Federation’s desire to create and own a race of disposable androids is the recreation of slavery.
Picard brings this point to the discussion and declares that in a sense, all beings are created but that does not necessarily make them the property of their creator.
Think about our lives. Are we not created in the image and likeness of OUR Creator? Yet we have free will. We are not owned by that Creator.
Picard reminds the court: “Our mission is to seek out new life.” He points at Data and states, “Well, there it sits!”
The judge agrees with him, asserting that Data may be a machine, but he is owned by no one and has the right to make his own decisions regarding his life.
This court-theme deals on the surface, with concepts such as “what is sentience” and “when does machine end and man begin.”
While defining “what is life,” there is an even richer lesson for us here.
Throughout this episode, the characters are challenged to let go of what they had previously believed to be true, what constitutes a living being. This is particularly true for Commander Maddox, but to some degree, every person involved in this drama is changed by their experience.
Commander Riker is perhaps the most heroic player in this episode. He agrees to prosecute Data, one of his closest friends, because if he doesn’t, the judge will summarily find against him. He does this at great personal expense, for Riker sacrificed his own happiness in agreeing to prosecute his friend.
Think about a time when you may have had to go against a friend to remain true to your own integrity….
Everyone on the ship, everyone involved in this story, comes out of it with a new perspective on Data. There is now no doubt that Data is independent, his own “person” so to speak, but no one is clearer on this at the end than Commander Maddox, as Socrates so succinctly put it, “The truly wise man is he who knows how ignorant he is.”
This reminds us mostly of the nature of our most closely held beliefs, and particularly of stereotypes. We tend to cling most tightly to what we want to believe the most, whether it’s working for us or not. Remember the definition of insanity? To do the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result?
I believe that the angels weep at our ignorance of our ignorance, because it causes such suffering. To hold so tightly to our beliefs takes a lot of energy… energy that we could be putting into enjoying life.
To realize that you do not understand is a virtue; Not to realize that you do not understand is a defect. — Lao-Tzu, “Tao Teh Ching”
One of the Buddha’s most famous teachings is the Parable of the Raft. In it he likened his teachings to a raft for crossing a fast-flowing river.
A man is trapped on one side of a river. On this side of the river, there is great danger and uncertainty; on the far side is safety. But there is no bridge spanning the river, nor is there a ferry to cross over. What to do? The man gathers together logs, leaves, and creepers and by his wit fashions a raft from these materials. By lying on the raft and using his hands and feet as paddles he manages to cross the river from the dangerous side to the side of safety.
The Buddha then asks the listeners a question. What would you think if the man, having crossed over the river thought to himself, That raft has served me well I will carry it on my back over the land now?
The monks replied that it would not be a very sensible idea to cling to the raft in such a way.
The Buddha went on, What if he lay the raft down gratefully thinking that this raft has served him well but is no longer of use and can thus be laid down upon the shore?
The monks replied that this would be the proper attitude.
The Buddha concluded by saying, So it is with my teachings which are like a raft and are for crossing over with—not for seizing hold of.
In the early stages of faith and life there is a lot of raft-seizing. We find a truth or a piece of the truth, and we make it absolute. It starts out with things like, My family is the best. My country is the greatest. My team is all. My race is the crown of civilization. My religion is the only true one. There are gifts and blessings in all these things, but they can all be absolutized and used to defend the ego—the individual ego or the group ego.
Don’t we see this right now in our own country?.
One of the principles behind this parable is the Buddha’s sense that spirituality ought to be practical. He did not want to waste any time on what he called “speculation,” on things like, How can God be three and one at the same time? Is there a real heaven and hell somewhere? Which sins are mortal and which are only venial? Did this miracle in the Bible actually happen? Who are the ‘elect’? Was Mary really a virgin? None of these things can be known, and we waste our time and energies pursuing them, and often debating and even fighting over them.
Spirituality ought to be practical. Nice that Unity is called Practical Christianity…
Use the truths that are given to you as a raft, to carry you through troubled times, to help you find your way to safety and blessing. But don’t keep carrying the raft around. Don’t set the raft up in a chapel somewhere and start worshiping it. And for sure, don’t fight with others about whose raft is really the true raft.
This is certainly a parable for our day.
What if the path to enlightenment, the path to true joy in life, is to be willing to let go of even our most closely held beliefs, to be willing, as the masters did, to be open to all the evidence presented to us… and to be willing to change our minds? To be willing to leave our rafts behind and walk on without them?
Charles was quoted as stating that he reserved the right to change his mind about what he believed at the time.
Our Way-shower, Jesus was raised in the strict purity laws of his day, he was willing to look at what he was taught in a new and different way. He saw, that while these laws were necessary at one time, that they had served their effectiveness, and that his people were ready for the next step.
Although he had been taught that it was what went into his mouth that made him pure or not, he saw that it was what was in his heart, and what came out of his mouth, that was more important.
While he had been taught that man was made for the Sabbath, he saw that the Sabbath had really been made for man. He saw that rules and principles are two different things, and that although he had been raised to see rules as more important, he grew to realize that principle was our path to true wisdom, and joy.
You can see a lot of what Charles brought out of Jesus’ teachings and put into the foundation of Unity.
Like the prophets of sci-fi that we looked at last week, Jesus, and other masters that we admire, were willing to think outside of the box. They believed in miracles, not as something outside of nature or their experience, but as the possibility inherent in being willing to see beyond our current experience.
Are we willing to change our minds? Are we willing to believe in miracles, seeing that real miracles, as Willa Cather described them, “rest not so much upon healing power coming suddenly near us from afar but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that, for the moment, our eyes can see and our ears can hear what has been around us always.”
In the Measure of a Man, Picard becomes clear that the real issue at hand isn’t whether or not Data is an android, or even sentient. The real issue is how we treat anyone who is different from us in society. And how we reduce those who are different to non-beings. It’s happened repeatedly in this country and around the world with slavery, the subjugation of women, the Nazi holocaust, and more recent examples of genocide, and now with the immigrant situation coming to a head. The worldwide swing to the “right” is another example of fear of our differences.
How easily we justify enslaving and killing anyone, or anything, not like us. And yet, our differences are absolutely necessary to make us strong. Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins to not just, tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in lifeforms. -. – Gene Roddenberry
Diversity is necessary for the survival of our species. Ironically, we continue to fear that which is different from ourselves.
We see this clearly in the episode this morning. Maddox calls Data “IT” throughout the entire episode. It is only in the last minutes of the final scene that he refers to Data as “he” recognizing his “humanity.”
“It is not so important to know everything as to appreciate what we learn.” Hannah More