If you’re into Star Trek at all, you know about the Prime Directive. It is Starfleet’s No. 1 rule dictating that there can be no interference with the internal development of alien civilizations. In the opening scene of the new movie Star Trek: Into Darkness, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) runs at top speed through a forest of weird red trees chased by the primitive natives of some planet he and the crew of the Enterprise are trying to save from a devastating volcano. The catch is, according to the Prime Directive they can’t let said natives know they are being helped. Saving this particular alien civilization could cost Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) his life. He’s arguing with Kirk via their com units that his life has to be sacrificed because they cannot violate the Prime Directive and risk exposing themselves to the natives. Somewhat loose with the rules, Kirk toys with the idea of ignoring the Prime Directive to save Spock’s life. His decision sets the stage for what follows in the rest of the film.
We Catholics have our own Prime Directive that even outweighs Starfleet’s. Jesus articulates it in what we call the Great Commandment. “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27).” The Church embodies this saying of Jesus in the No. 1 rule that comes from the social teachings of the Church: respect for the life and dignity of the human person. We proclaim that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. From this core teaching stems the Church’s understanding of a number of moral issues including abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, war and peace, and violence in society. It tells us that respect and love for one another is how we outwardly show that we love God.
One dimension of respect that is sometimes overlooked today is the respectful use of language. When I was a kid the only time I heard “four letter words” was when frustrating plumbing or car repairs were underway. Not long ago, while waiting for a bus, I overheard two teens in conversation. Their exchange was liberally punctuated with a plethora of swear words. Since when has swearing become an acceptable part of everyday conversation and what can we do to reclaim respect in language?
It might seem like a leap to connect seeing the new Star Trek movie to talking with kids about using respectful language. The Prime Directive has been central to the Star Trek mythos from the original television series of the 60’s all the way up to the movie just released. Foul language is disrespectful and violates the Catholic “prime directive.” Let’s use every avenue we can to help kids realize this and live by Jesus’s rules.