"Star Trek Into Darkness" does what Star Trek has always done best: holds up a mirror to the United States and asks, "Are we the moral people we want to be?"
A brutal terrorist attack prompts this question of reflection in the film.
Like 9/11, or Boston on a smaller scale, such moments have forced Americans to ponder what does it mean to be a free nation dedicated to the rule of law and the ideal that all people are created equal under God.
In the direct aftermath of 9/11, thousands of religious leaders -- lead by Sojourners and myself included -- appealed to the government with this message:
The terrorists have offered us a stark view of the world they would create, where the remedy to every human grievance and injustice is a resort to the random and cowardly violence of revenge - even against the most innocent. Having taken thousands of our lives attacked our national symbols, forced our political leaders to flee their chambers of governance, disrupted our work and families, and struck fear into the hearts of our children, the terrorists must feel victorious. But we can deny them their victory by refusing to submit to a world created in their image. Terrorism inflicts not only death and destruction but also emotional oppression to further its aims. We must not allow this terror to drive us away from being the people God has called us to be. We assert the vision of community, tolerance, compassion, justice, and the sacredness of human life, which lies at the heart of all our religious traditions.
Our government did not listen. Civil liberties were curtailed in the name of the fight against terrorism -- liberties clearly still at risk these many years later in the growing scandal over the Obama Administration's dramatic overreach to subpoena phone records of journalists -- and an unprovoked war was launched in Iraq that violated all principles of Just War and Just Peace by the Bush Administration. Still today, we live with these consequences. President Obama rightly ended combat operations in Iraq and is continuing to draw down forces in Afghanistan but religious leaders continue to press our government to be more accountable and to better protect human rights, often with direct opposition from the GOP leaders in Congress.
In the final scene of "Star Trek Into Darkness," after so much heartbreak and loss, Captain Kirk reminds those gathered that the true test of a moral society in the response to war and terror is not how we exact vengeance but how we hold fast to the values that make free people strong. JJ Abrams, the film's director, must have been listening to America's religious leaders when so many of our government officials have not. The move condemns targeted drone strikes, opposed by many Christian leaders, and the killings of suspected criminals without the benefit of a legal process.
"Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars," once said The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. President Obama, who has dramatically expanded targeted killings, is known to be a Star Trek fan. They should screen the film at the White House.