Worf and the Book of Acts

You don’t often see Klingons apologize.  Sure, Worf does it from time to time, but only in the stilted and awkward manner of someone uncertainly trying to fit into another culture, and even then – tellingly – only at the end of an episode.  So when Star Trek’s main Klingon does apologize, it’s pretty much always an episode-wrapping revelation indicating personal growth.  It is, essentially, un-Klingon, and so while it does happen, it’s rare.

This makes perfect sense.  Apologizing requires admitting one was wrong, and generally speaking, Klingons communicate right vs. wrong with blades, not words.  It’s not like this is entirely without parallel in the real world, either: shame/honor cultures may not typically resort to Klingon-like violence (honor killings notwithstanding), but they don’t exactly major in apologies either.  To admit you are wrong is a difficult step to take for a member of a shame/honor based society (because of the shame it entails), and that’s why Worf does it so rarely.

It’s also why, incidentally, demanding an apology from a Klingon is not done lightly.  In order for the result to be anything other than violent, the Klingon will need to be both convicted of his/her error and enlightened enough to respond with patient humility.  In any other case, honor will be defended by any means necessary.

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If we say that Jesus wasn’t a Christian (which seems fair, since he was Christ, not a follower of Christ, yes?), then we may also say that the very first Christian sermon necessitated precisely the type of response from its hearers that we should think least likely to occur.  Acts 2 relates the events of the day of Pentecost, the day on which the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples gathered in the upper room for prayer.  The text of Acts isn’t entirely clear on what happened between the disciples’ speaking in tongues and the gathering of a crowd outside – did they run outside in their excitement?  Were they shouting so loudly that passers by could hear them? – but whatever took place, it attracted attention.

The details of the interaction that follow are probably familiar to most of the people who read this blog.  The disciples are accused of being blind drunk at 9 in the morning, and Peter rises to defend them, explaining that this is all a miracle from God, and it has been poured out by Jesus, who is the Christ and has risen from the dead.  In the end, 3000 people who hear Peter’s speech are baptized that same day.

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Years ago, MTV always made a big deal about spring break.  Starting in March (if I remember correctly), the VJs would move their set to a sun covered beach somewhere for a few weeks, and the cut scenes between music videos (remember those days?) would feature the VJs and crowds of drunken college kids wilding on the beach.  It always looked so debauched and completely amoral that I was willing to believe any spring break story I head from someone who had been at one of the destinations lionized by MTV – Panama City, South Padre Island, Cancun, etc.  In fact, I once heard a story from a high school classmate involving Daytona, a trunk full of marijuana, a botched police inspection, and a WWE (back then it was WWF) style flying-elbow, and to this day I believe every word of it.  In light of what I saw on MTV, it seemed credible.

I tell you this because I want it to sink in that one story of debauchery I would never have believed even from a Cancun spring-breaker is that a party either lasted so long or started so soon as for everyone to be hammered at 9 a.m.  No way.  But that’s what the disciples were accused of, and that should draw our attention to two things.  First of all, the events were so hard to explain (and so loud, apparently) that this seemed the most plausible explanation.  Never forget how strange that day looked to outsiders.  The second thing, of course, is to note that in an honor-based culture, the disciples were accused of excess so extreme that not even the old MTV could’ve sold it.  This, mildly stated, was shameful, and it was the accusation leveled against the disciples.  Don’t miss that Peter didn’t just give a sermon; it was a defense of the disciples’ honor and integrity.

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That Peter’s defense went well is unsurprising; the Holy Spirit has just arrived on the scene, and there could be little doubt that it would move as Peter spoke.  Even so, it is important to notice that Peter’s defense isn’t merely “we’re not drunk, it’s God.”  No, instead Peter’s defense is more, “we’re not shameful drunks, but you are shameful murderers.”  He absolutely places the blame for Jesus’ death on those who hear him, and in moving from the accused to the accuser, he places the honor of those listening at stake.

The crowd gets it.  They understand that Peter has leveled an accusation against them, and, crucially, they accept the accusation, asking what they should do now.  This is also of monumental significance; for Peter, to accuse the crowd of killing Jesus – a massively celebrated rabbi – is implicitly to acknowledge that they might also kill him.  After all, Jesus himself said that the servant is no greater than the master.  Why shouldn’t Peter’s accusation provoke the crowd and lead to regrettable consequences?

Obviously, if not for the Holy Spirit, it might have.  Instead, however, the crowd asks what is to be done about their guilt, and Peter’s response, “Repent and be baptized,” actually ups the ante.  It’s one thing to decide not to kill Peter for suggesting you’re a murderer; it’s another thing altogether for him to insist on repentance.  Essentially, Peter has told them they’re wrong, they’ve asked ‘so what,’ and his response is to demand a public admission of culpability and an apology, because that’s what repentance amounts to.  It’s not enough that they feel shame; they have to publicly own and renounce their shame.  It’s not technically an apology, but it is fundamentally the same thing, at least (I would argue) from God’s perspective.

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Again, I don’t know exactly what – apart from an explosion of languages – drew the crowd to the apostles that day, but I do have trouble imagining a crowd of much more than 3,000 gathering.  That’s a huge number for a densely-packed ancient city.  The crow was likely even larger, of course, but either way, the text indicate 3,000 apologies.  If Star Trek ran for another hundred years, I doubt you’d see that many Klingon apologies in total.  And that’s a part of Pentecost that I think we miss without Worf’s help.

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