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BSG: Making 'Escape Velocity' into darkness

Ack, it’s almost Friday, so I’d better punch out some quick thoughts on last week’s Battlestar Galactica episode, "Escape Velocity". This post isn't as polished as I’d like, but I just don’t have any more time this week to get this stuff together, heh.

My first thought on the episode is that it could have just as easily been titled “A Dark Downward Spiral,” a phrase Eugene Peterson uses in translating Paul's letter to Roman believers as he sums up what happens when folks turn away from truth and God (Romans 2:1 Message). Several key characters have toed over the line and down paths leading away from right and good, descending rapidly on slippery slopes towards ruthlessness, heartlessness, foolishness, faithlessness, deceit, malice, strife, craftiness, slander, haughtiness, wickedness, evil and the like (1:28-32).

Of course, there’s the obvious downward spirals of recently-revealed Cylons Tigh, Tyrol and Tory (who’s way further downhill than the rest), but the more disconcerting to me is President Laura Roslin’s slide. She’s been one of the moral centers of the series until recently. The suffering of humanity’s remnants (for whom she feels responsible), their captivity on and fight to escape New Caprica, Baltar’s “not-guilty” verdict, and the return of her cancer appear to be taking their toll. At one point, she laments to Admiral Bill Adama that his son (Lee “Apollo” Adama) isn’t facing up to some pragmatic realities after Lee argues for civil liberties that would benefit Baltar and his religious movement—civil liberties Roslin herself is fighting to curtail. When the Admiral comments that Lee is doing what he believes is “the right thing,” Roslin says:
Well, yeah. He is Lee. Thing is, it probably is the right thing, but . . . sometimes the right thing is a luxury. And it can have profoundly dangerous consequences. And it's almost as if he doesn't want that to be true.
This is a slippery slope to go down—and one she’s been down before. When she had the opportunity to fix the vote in the presidential election, she ultimately rejected it. She did the right thing, a choice of integrity and risk. However, it was a choice that inadvertently led to humanity’s captivity under the Cylons on New Caprica. It now appears that she’s prepared to do what it takes—even if it includes ruthlessness and machinations—to do what she thinks needs to be done to protect the humans of the fleet. She hints at this rather directly in her conversation with Baltar, when she tells him:
I'm going to be slipping away from this life very soon, and I've gotten kind of curious as to what that's going to be like. So I did some research. And there are some people who say that when people are getting closer to their death, they just don't care about rules and laws and conventional morality. . . . I'm just saying I have a quiet life, and I'll die a quiet little death. And everyone will be happy. It's just that I'm not in the mood any longer to indulge you, so that's all.
Then there’s the whole Baltar speech thing at the end of the episode, which personally gave me the heebie-jeebies:
I am not a priest. I've never even been a particularly good man. I am in fact a profoundly selfish man. But that doesn't matter, you see. Something in the universe loves me. (smiles) Something in the universe loves the entity that is me. I would choose to call this something "God", a singular spark that dwells in the soul of every living being. If you look inside yourself you will find that spark too. You will. But you have to look deep. Love your faults. Embrace them. If God embraces them, then how can they be faults? Love yourself. You have to love yourself. If we don't love ourselves, how can we love others? And when we know what we are, then we can find the truth out about others, seek what they are; the truth about them. And you know what the truth is? The truth about them? About you? About me? Do you? The truth is, we're all perfect. Just as we are. God only loves that which is perfect and he loves you. He loves you because you are perfect. You are perfect. Just as you are.
Some take this turn of events as more evidence of Baltar’s kinship to Jesus Christ or Mormonism’s Joseph Smith. Some see his theology with a grain of truth—and with a challenge to those who would dismiss Baltar’s speech out of hand. Heh, and then there are some for whom the episode simply had too much religion.

In my ongoing ruminations about religion in BSG, this episode made me begin to wonder if the Cylon’s One God has more in common with Lucifer than Yahweh. There are elements of truth in Baltar’s speech that gel with biblical reality: the truth that indeed Someone out there does loves us, that we must love ourselves to love others (“love others as yourself”), all mixed with shades of Pascal’s God-shaped vacuum and the Quaker inner light. But I think Baltar’s speech veers off the Way when he ignores the whole sin thing.

Jesus’ invitation to the Kingdom is one drenched in love, forgiveness, deliverance and atonement. And it is come-as-you-are and where you are: poor, mourning, longing, hungry, addicted, struggling, angry, and broken. But it is not stay-as-you-are. God is all about change towards life, love, right-ness, just-ness, healing and restoration. He wants us to experience life as it was meant to be lived, and we can’t do that if we choose to stay bent towards selfishness—which leads to that long list of actions in Romans 1:18-32. In his commentary notes on that text in the Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible, Eugene Peterson says:
When we do wrong, we are not “just being human.” The many synonyms for “sin” that pile up here are evidence, not of our humanity, but of our loss of it. The spiritual life is a radical recovery of our true God-created selves, our souls.
While we won’t (as Douglas Moo puts it) become sinless in this part of the Story—and it is living a lie to pretend to be or claim to be perfect either because we don’t want to deal with our brokenness or because we’re buying into a false religion or (as James McGrath interestingly lays out) a corrupted version of Christianity—we will sin less as we walk with God.

Jesus’ message is too often misconstrued as a ticket-to-heaven or punishment-in-hell, but the truth is that he makes possible and calls us back to the relationship we were created for, a relationship that explodes with new life and transformation that is available here-and-now. It is life as it was meant to be lived—full of life and love, a "with-God life" (as the Renovare folks put it). Not choosing that life is choosing another kind of life, one that eventually leads to individuals, relationships and communities with the characteristics Paul describes in Romans 1.

Baltar’s speech has elements of truth, but they are twisted and eventually emerge as more darkness than light—something that leans more towards the Angel of Light than Jesus. At least that’s my humble opinion. It’s still too early to tell where the writers are going with all this, but it is making for some interesting conversation and speculation.

So, there you have it: for what it’s worth, this blogger’s thoughts.

A big hat tip to imdb and BSG Wiki site, which provided some of the quotes for this post, and James McGrath’s Exploring our Matrix, which provided a lot of the links above. Also, as always, be aware that this series often contains scenes of sexual and violent content. Use viewer discretion.

(Images: SciFi Channel) bsgctgy


Ken Brown said…
Well as much fun as I had playing the cynical card, this was a much more helpful response to the episode. Well done!

Oh, and your Lucifer thought is not that much of a stretch. The closest thing to Baltar's Six in the original series was named Lucifer...
Carmen Andres said…
your post was more fun - i still grin when i think of it, heh.

and i'd forgotten about that pointed-headed robot. boy, is this series LEAGUES above the old one. yoozers.
Tristan Macdonald said…
I completely agree with your criticism of Baltar's speech. It does completely disregard sin. I would say that this speech by Romo Lampkin more fully captures the Christian worldview:

“Joe Adama cared about one thing: understanding why people do what they do. Why we cheat our friends, why we reward our enemies. Why we go to war, sacrificing our lives for lost causes. Why we build machines in the hope of correcting our flaws and our shortcomings. Why we forgive, defying logic and the laws of nature with one stupid little act of compassion. We’re flawed. All of us. I wanted to know why, so I did what he did. I spent my life with the fallen. The corrupt. The damaged. Look at you: you were so ready to get on that Raptor with me, be the bad boy, the Prodigal Son!”

I love contrasting Baltar's speech and Lampkin's speech. Lampkin's speech makes a direct reference to Christ's parables (i.e. the Prodigal Son), and it prescribes living with and aiding the fallen, just as Christ did. Moreover, the point about forgiveness defying the laws of nature is a perfect description of grace. Of course, Romo seems to include grace with humanity's flaws, which would be a mistake, but the way he emphasizes the point about forgiveness actually sets it apart from the flaws he lists. Perhaps I am giving Lampkin too much credit. After all, it is ironic that I agree more with the speech of a lawyer who is manipulating Lee, when Baltar is evidently sincere.

But still, it is a fun exercise to contrast those speeches and try to ascertain which message the show promotes.