Saturday, January 17, 2009

Meandering thoughts about dark ‘Notions’

Battlestar Galactica has taken us to some dark places, but “Sometimes a Great Notion” (the first of the final episodes) pulls us into the darkest point yet. Earth—the place that would bring them life and salvation—is a planet ruined by radiation after a cataclysmic nuclear event 2,000 years before, whose inhabitants weren’t human but Cylon. The hopes of both human and Cylon for a new life and a safe place are gone. They don’t know where to go from here, and we watch them all stumble about in the sludge of that abyss.

This episode, according to one of the writers, was designed to explore that darkness:
We wanted to take the time to examine what happens to people when their dreams are shattered, when everything they held as true turns out to be an illusion. After a blow like that, how do you pick yourself up from the floor and go on? Are you able to pick yourself up at all? This is perhaps the most universal theme you can explore.

For the people of ragtag fleet, the dream was Earth. For those of us here on Earth, the dream could be many other things. It may be the house you saved all your life for but now can no longer afford to make payments on. The career you fantasized about since high school, went to college to prepare for, finally landed and loved, then lost when your company downsized. The woman or man you met who seemed to be everything you ever wanted to find in a lover, who betrayed your trust or left you or died. The flood waters that swept your entire neighborhood away. The war in a far away land that took your son or daughter or husband or wife. The spot on an X-ray that now wants to eat you alive.
Indeed, times like these force us to examine what we believe—and this episode explores what happens when we discover that in which we’ve placed our hope and faith isn’t worthy of it. Along with the loss of hope goes the desire to live. Life is sucked dry of attractiveness. Some give up and die while others find a way to keep putting one foot in front of the other, even if they do so with reluctance and resistance, without heart.

As a follower of Jesus, I can’t help but see this episode in a larger context: what happens when we trust and believe something other than God—be it a job, person, country, doctrine, system of beliefs or whatever else—holds our deliverance. If Scripture is right, all else will ultimately disappoint because we were made to be in relationship with and receive our life from God; everything else is temporal and falls short. As we walk with God, at some point we come to the place Peter did when he declares, “[N]o other name has been or will be given to us by which we can be saved, only this one." Not a religion, system of beliefs, or doctrine but a Person.

For many of those in the BSG universe, their faith that Earth held their salvation is tied to their religion. The loss of Earth leads them to question and reject that religion, too. This is not an uncommon experience for us, either. For some of us, suffering leads to questions about God’s character or existence. For others of us, it’s when things don’t work the way we think they should that causes us to reject or question God; our worldview or doctrine falls apart and, with it, our trust in God.

But if we allow them, these moments can strip away those places where our understandings of who God is are wrong, allowing us to experience and understand more of the truth of who he actually is and what he can do. Job, whose suffering plays out in some of the most painful detail in Scripture, comes to a greater understanding of who God is and his faith is strengthened. For the disciples of Jesus, the darkest moment of their lives exposes their false beliefs about Jesus being a political messiah—which opens the door for them to discover just how much greater he really is in the days that follow. God wants us to know him, and if we pay attention, he will use our darkest moments to reveal himself as the Person he is—and he is good.

That doesn’t mean those moments will be easy. In fact, they are the most painful in our lives. As this episode so aptly reveals, hope seems gone and darkness seems all there is or ever will be. In the brief but compelling book he wrote after his wife’s death, C.S. Lewis says:

And poor C. quotes to me, “Do not mourn like those who have no hope.” It astonishes me, the way we are invited to apply to ourselves words so obviously addressed to our betters. What St. Paul says can comfort only those who love God better than the dead, and the dead better than themselves. If a mother is mourning not for what she has lost but for what her dead child has lost, it is a comfort to believe that the child has not lost the end for which it was created. And it is a comfort to believe that she herself, in losing her chief or only natural happiness, has not lost a greater thing, that she may still hope to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” A comfort to the God-aimed eternal spirit within her. But not to her motherhood. The specifically maternal happiness must be written off. Never, in any place or time, will she have her son on her knees, or bathe him, or tell him a story, or plan for his future, or see her grandchild.”
Yet, even as he passes through the darkness, Lewis finds himself “sidling” up to God. He records this sense of God stripping away his false beliefs and understandings—knocking them down like the house of cards they are—and revealing himself instead: “Not my idea of God, but God.” And in Lewis’ experience in the darkness, God is both mind-boggling as well as love. In the darkness, Lewis finds his way back to trust and life.

Time will tell if and how many of those in the BSG universe will find their way back to faith and life. Time will tell if this is a moment of stripping away for a grander moment of revelation of something better and good. More than once, executive producer Ron Moore has hinted that things might not get much better—that “maybe it’s all been for nothing. Maybe there is no God . . . .” Let’s hope he’s just teasing. Let’s hope this plunge into darkness—by a series that has explored the idea that there is something Other in the universe that cares—is a way to the discovery of something better. If not—if as SF Gospel puts it and “the whole point of this occasionally very upsetting journey has been that there's no point to anything”—I’m with Barbara Nicolsi: “If the show shrugs off that human beings are just another kind of machine/material being, then it seems to me the whole journey of the show will be wrecked and it will not then be something that I would ever want to return to as a viewer. Because who will ever want to revisit the toils of a bunch of things who weren't really 'alive' but were rather delusional piles of matter?”

But I don't think that is how it will go. Maybe I'm naive, but I just can't believe that a story that has moments of such profound truth could end that way. So, let there be light.

Update: For more thoughts on this episode, see Gabriel Mckee at SF Gospel (who aptly titles his post "Dark Night of the Fleet's Soul") and Barbara Nicolosi at Church of the Masses (who's got some mixed feelings about how this episode played out).

Update again: Also, you can read Ken's reaction at C-Orthodoxy.

(Images: SciFi Channel) bsgctgy

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Carmie-

I love your extending the meaning of this episode into the way losing our dreams and hopes works in our lives. As a fiction writer for children, I've put alot of time into studying how stories are made. One of the master movie storyteachers, Robert McKee, in his Story seminar, talks about how many Hollywood movies use the redemptive plot structure, which goes exactly as you outline the BSG plot. In the redemption plot, it is almost always the darkest and most terrible just before the happy ending. The things one has come to value in the story are not only dashed away, but they are destroyed in the most terrible way imaginable. This sets the viewer up for the maximum power of the "happy" ending--i.e. for a realization that although his or her dreams are in ruins, something better has come to take their place.

The story of Jesus on the cross follows this pattern.

McKee thinks it's really interesting how moviegoers never seem to catch on to this sequence of terrible darkness before a happy ending.

Which is all to say that if the makers of BSG are planning some beautiful hopeful better truth to come from their story, they might set it up in just this way.

yours, susie

Never Settle said...

Hmmm, I'm wondering what happened to the comment I left last night before bed. It appears it didn't make it through.

"And in Lewis’ experience in the darkness, God is both mind-boggling as well as love. In the darkness, Lewis finds his way back to trust and life."
This really strikes a chord deep within me because this past year and a half has been very, very dark. But in that darkness, God has revealed Himself to me in a way that has restored my faith and I have felt love so deep and amazing that my human mind and heart can barely handle it, let alone understand it. God is so good and I have to say that I am THANKFUL for all the dark places I've been because of how incredible I find the Light now.

Thank you for your insightful post.

Carmen Andres said...

susie, the most powerful of stories seem to do that, don't they. it is the essence of the truest redemptive story. i'm a bit nervous, though, after reading some of the recent interviews with exec producer Ron Moore. it makes me a little queesy to think that this story has had so much ad hoc activity - as if he's writing a novel but letting each chapter go public before he's actually finished it, heh. i'm hoping he's taking us somewhere better, somewhere redemptive. time will tell.

neversettle, i'm glad you took the time to repost the comment my blog obviously ate. i resonate with your words; that in darkness we can discover such love and hope boggles my mind. it's impossible to convey, something stories (our own or those we read or watch) communicate much better than theology. thanks again for taking the time to share. blessings.