Wednesday, March 25, 2009
With the recent end of long-running sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica, many of the nerds were unhappy with the apparent theological conclusion to the space opera.
Moans of 'God did it! What a cop out!' seem to me to expose the huge gulf in understanding between those of a sci-fi (or scientific) bent and those of a more religious one.
One of the things I greatly appreciated about this fine TV show was its many attempts to incorporate difficult contemporary debates into its story arc.
It questioned the nature of democracy and its tendency towards demagoguery. It examined the legitimacy or otherwise of terrorist insurgency when under occupation. These were brave, maybe even dangerous discussions to hold in Dubya's America.
And by bringing them to the TV-consuming sheeple, one might even say that the producers and scriptwriters of BSG were serving a vital purpose in providing a platform for such essential debates in the US at that time.
But the element that intrigued me the most was how BSG, of all recent dramas, gave serious airtime to relative theologies.
The human contingent of the colonies were clearly depicted as polytheist, worshipping a Greco-Romanesque pantheon known as the 'Lords of Kobol.' They believed their Gods appeared, like the Roman and Greek pantheons, to be amoral, flawed and constantly interceding in their lives.
But in many ways, the classical names masked a more Eastern polytheism. From the Gayatri Mantra that was the show's theme music, it is clear that Hindu elements played a part too.
Seers, visions, prophecies all fulfilled important roles in the human theology, implying a much more Hindu vision of polytheism than the names Ares, Apollo and so on might indicate.
On the other side of the war, the Cylons were depicted as rigid monotheists, believing in a one true God. Their Abrahamic theology is particularly focused on predestination and fate, indicating a Calvinist or Jansenist vision of progression that is at odds with the concept of free will - which makes sense in the context of software for a brain.
Others have discerned elements of Mormonism in the show, while some have even posited the thought that the a la carte approach to belief systems presented in BSG could be a template for the future of religious faith in America.
And in its depiction of how women gathered around Gaius Baltar, the programme showed clearly how guru cults are formed, which is the point of origin for all religions we know today, be it an Abraham cult, a Jesus cult, or a Krishna, Buddha or Mohammed cult.
The ending of the series, however, resolved itself in a concept of human history as cyclical, requiring enlightenment of those involved in order to break a cycle of suffering, illusion and destruction.
This, in a nutshell, is the core belief of Buddhism. But even that Buddhist finale was undercut by a vision of angels on the streets of Manhattan, speculating about the amoral, Manichean nature of a solitary godhead.
The result is that the series offered a melange of theological positions, and gave each its own space to be considered in conjunction and in opposition to others.
It's rare these days to see such serious considerations of theology outside of factual documentaries featuring Michael Wood or the like. I for one welcome it.
I hope that one day someone qualified will produce some good academic research that teases out all of the relative theologies and their relationships with science and technology in this superlative TV show.
Some people have made initial attempts, and I suppose this post is mine.
In the meantime, perhaps it will have provoked pause for thought among its many viewers, who may not have been exposed, or taken seriously, other theological positions before. It's possible that the viewers may also take the same a la carte approach to religious beliefs as the authors of the show did while writing it.
I don't see that as anything other than positive. Exposing oneself to alternative beliefs is a creative and productive process, one that destroys sectarian interests and broadens the mind and one's conception of the universe.
And for the nerds who moaned about the presence of God in a fiction, I think they've missed the point and been blinded by their own blinkered attachment to the concept that science is atheistic.
It need not be, as recent research indicates.
I'm an atheist, but I loved the spirituality and relative theologies present in BSG. I hope the debates it raised will run in its viewers' minds long after the show is consigned to late-night satellite station re-runs.
PS: I claim 'Geek of the Week' for learning off the Gayatri Mantra as set to the music of the BSG soundtrack. Maybe that's enlightened of me, or maybe it's just sad. I dunno. But I do find it very soothing.