Star Trek and the state of our churches

Refuse to Compromise – Daniel 1:3-5, 8-16

Star Trek:  First Contact, was one of the hit movies of the franchise.  It pitted Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the Starship Enterprise against an enemy known as the Borg – a part flesh and part android race of creatures unified in a single collective.  The Borg’s intention was never to destroy their enemies but rather to conquer and assimilate them into their larger collective.

 In a sense, the strategies of the Borg and Babylonian Empire were the same.  King Nebuchadnezzar was not intent on the annihilation of his enemies, but rather on their assimilation into the Babylonian culture.  After the conquest of Jerusalem, the Babylonian Empire used four strategies to assimilate the Hebrew people.

First, Nebuchadnezzar ordered that items from the Jewish temple be removed and placed in the temple of his god.  For many, the defeat of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonian Empire indicated the defeat of Yahweh at the hands of the Babylonian gods.  By placing these items in the temple of their gods, the Babylonians were attempting to break the spirit of the Hebrew people.  This would make their assimilation into the Babylonian culture an easier task.  If they thought their God was powerless, they might be tempted to see their situation as hopeless.

Assimilation was also the goal of the name changes referred to in Daniel 1:6-7.  The young Jewish boys were stripped of their Hebrew names (which each contained a reference to God) and renamed with a moniker that contained a reference to a Babylonian deity.  The name changes indicated the dependent status of the Hebrew boys to Nebuchadnezzar and his empire.

The third step toward assimilation was indoctrination.  Daniel 1:3-5 tells us that the youngest and brightest of the Hebrew boys were forced to endure three years of education about the culture of the empire.  No doubt, this education included tolerance training for the various religious traditions being assimilated into the empire.

The final act of assimilation was ordering the Hebrew boys to receive their nourishment from the “king’s table.”  This was meant to remind them that their livelihood depended on their subservience to the king.  In other words, the king was to be viewed as their god.  It was at this point that Nebuchadnezzar’s attempt at assimilation hit a brick wall.  Daniel refused to “pollute” himself by eating the king’s food.  No doubt the king’s table included foods considered “unclean” by Hebrew dietary laws.  Additionally, it included food used in the worship of idols.  To eat such food would be a compromise of his faith.

Adding to Daniel’s objection to eating the king’s food was the wealth and opulence represented by the king’s table.  Nebuchadnezzar’s food would have been the most splendid in the land – containing the highest grades of meat and the sweetest tasting wine.  For the Hebrew people, such foods were eaten only at times of celebration.  They were not appropriate for people in exile.  In fact, the prophets often pointed to such foods to symbolize the excesses of the wealthy.

Daniel’s refusal to eat the king’s food was a subversive act of political rebellion against the empire.  By rejecting the king’s food, Daniel rejected the empire’s implicit claim to be sole provider.  In other words, Daniel refused to compromise.  In a condition of subordination, Daniel did the only thing he could do – he maintained his integrity.  The purity laws of the Israelite people were a barrier against assimilation and a means of preserving their identity.

In an age when the church is tempted to assimilate its traditions, worship styles, doctrines, morals and ethics into the larger collective society, Christians would do well to remember the example of Daniel.  He refused to accept the power claims of the empire and instead sought ways to maintain his identity and the character of his faith.

In addition, it would also serve the church well not to fall prey to the temptation to become the empire using the resources of political power as a means of forcing others to become assimilated to its beliefs and practices.  Christians ought to reject the notion that the ends justify the means.  The church should never employ the methods of the secular empires to advance the values of God’s kingdom.

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