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Looking for God in Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica is no stranger to the exploration of faith and religion in the human (and Cylon) experience. The original series supposedly built itself around Mormon theology, but the current incarnation plays fast and free with elements of monotheism (hints at Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths), polytheism (Greek mythology in particular) and elements of Eastern religions (in particular, reincarnation). But in the promotional campaign leading up to this fourth and final season, BSG got a little more direct with the above photo, an intentional allusion to Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper.

With the central characters placed in an intentional pose of the painting, the writers are more or less inviting the series’ fans and viewers to consider the characters and the story, at the very least, in the context of this biblical allusion if not within a fuller biblical context. The series’ executive producer alluded to its biblical symbolism when he discussed this promotional photo, and the commercials running during the breaks in last week’s episode used the photo and language related to its biblical context (in particular, the word “savior”).

Where are they going with all this? Heh, that’s anyone’s guess (and, believe me, folks are guessing). But it does lead to some interesting speculation and rumination.

First off, it immediately makes me think anew about the phrase the Cylon hybrid repeated over and over on the Cylong basestar in Razor: “All this has happened before, and will happen again.” With the recent invitation to consider the series in a religious context, it isn’t a big leap to wonder if what those words are referring to might include the larger religious stories in which we earthlings are placed. And that tempts us to consider anew why is it the humans and Cylons have similar religious and faith-oriented theologies to us here on Earth. Is it all a universal experience—a common way we seek to understand that which is beyond us, the Someone or Something that seems to reveal itself in the matter around us? Or could we be watching a theory being unveiled as to how these ideas came to we earthlings? Heh, when I ran this general observation by my husband, he wryly wondered if when the fleet finally reached Earth we’d see the humans settle in what would become ancient Greece and Baltar lead the Cylons off to Israel. Ack.

It does play on the somewhat universal human experience of trying to make sense of something or someone we can’t help but think is out there. That is certainly echoed by those who’ve lived in the biblical story. Job calls out to and seeks to understand a God he believes must be there even if he seems to have all but vanished—and discovers a God bigger and grander and deeper than he imagined. Paul tells us this is a God who wants to be known, that this God is all around us: “He's not remote; he's near. We live and move in him, can't get away from him!” (Acts 17). If nothing else, says Paul, we can see evidence of him in creation (Romans 1:18-23). Indeed, the psalmists seeks him out and discovers him in the stars, creation, and the people and events around them. “Deep calls to deep,” says one psalmist.

But is BSG’s Someone or Something anything like God as he reveals himself in the Bible—which followers of Jesus embrace as not only a book of wisdom about how the world and life works but also the story of God working in the dust, mess, blood and hearts of man and this world from the beginning of time?

In some ways, there’s a resemblance. For example, the Someone or Something in the BSG universe—whether it’s the plural gods of the humans or the One God of the Cylons—has a penchant for working through broken and imperfect people. Both seemed concerned with the continuation of life, and both seem to allow themselves to be rejected (in other words, neither forces folks to believe or follow). In an echo of our God, the Cylon’s One God chose an unlikely and oppressed people through which to reveal itself (the Cylons are not even considered to have a soul by most humans). And in both cases, folks are extremely skeptical (and even violent towards) the prophets (sometimes with good reason, as some of them go astray in a big way), which includes the likes of Starbuck, President Laura Roslin, Caprica Six and Deanna.

But there are also some big differences. For example, while the Someone or Something in the BSG universe is moving in big ways, there seems little interest in loving intimately in ordinary lives. It seems more into moving pieces across a board than transforming or writing upon hearts of human and Cylon alike the truths of justice, love, right-ness and above all love. More often than not, it seems humans and Cylons alike are groping around in the dark, like the divine is playing hide-and-seek instead of wanting to be found (the opposite of how Paul describes God in Acts 17:24-29). (Though I’ll be the first admit that sometimes it feels that way with God, too, even if that’s not necessarily reality.) And while there is a larger call to life and even love, there is little or no deep call to personal and community life transformation or relationship. (To be fair, one could argue that is present among the Cylons, but it seems more religious in nature than the intensely intimate nature of God).

And of course, at least in the context of the Judeo-Christian faith (which The Last Supper photo propels us into), there is no Jesus. However, that doesn’t mean BSG’s Someone or Something isn’t biblically related. Perhaps, in some ways, this is how some experienced God before Jesus took on flesh and blood, particularly those living outside of God’s people.

Which begs another interesting speculation: In this particular time and space of the BSG universe, the story makes me wonder how God might reveal himself to a people who didn’t yet know him or have his most revealing revelation of himself (Jesus) in their history. In some ways, the humans and Cylons hover at the verge of the kind of divine revelation that we experienced with Jesus. Times are at a crux, the divine is pressing through into creation and something new is at hand. Whether or not the writers follow through along this line, it does lend some insights into what a time like that might be like—both from the perspective of those who welcome that as well as those who resist it.

I’m not sure how all this will play out. Maybe I’ll be throwing the remote at the television screen by the end of the season. Maybe I’ll be yelping cheers aloud. Right now, however, I’m glad the series is playing out the way it is. I love good stories, and this series is in the midst of one of the better on the small screen—and it’s bringing a lot of God-talk into open spaces. Which is what good stories do.

Update: For more on this subject see There is more: God and hope in 'Battlestar Galactica'

(Friendly word of caution: BSG episodes may focus on adult themes and contain scenes of violence and sexual situations.)

(Images: SciFi Channel; screencapture of first hybrid from Battlestar Wiki Media) bsgctgy

Comments

Ken Brown said…
Great thoughts! I'm particularly curious whether they are going to follow the orignal series and have them arrive at earth in the present day, or whether they will have it be the distant past.

I also like your take on the whole "all this has happened before and all this will happen again" theme. I've always thought of it as an allusion to the old Greek idea of eternal recurrance, but I suppose you could be right that it simply points to the commonalities among all our searches for meaning/God/hope. Actually just this morning I was reading Ecclesiastes and noticed that almost that exact expression occurs there as well: "Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before;" (Eccl. 3:15).
Carmen Andres said…
ken, nice find on the ecclessiastes text! wish i'd remembered it when i was writing this post. thanks!