Saturday, March 21, 2009

There is more: God and hope in 'Battlestar Galactica'

There is more
More than all this pain
More than all the falling down
And the getting up again
There is more
More than we can see
From our tiny vantage point
In this vast eternity
There is more

--from “More”, on Andrew Peterson's, Far Country

One of the central aspects of human experience is grappling with whether there is something more or Other to the universe—and, if so, what is that Other like? After last night’s finale, we now know that Battlestar Galactica comes down firmly on the side that there is indeed a higher power or an Other, not only in BSG’s universe but in our own as well—and there is a lot about that Other that I find surprisingly and satisfyingly familiar.

(Warning: there be major spoilers below.)

After seeing the finale, I am more convinced than ever that BSG’s Other leans towards benevolence. It deems life sacred. It wants Cylon and humanity alike to survive—and it intervenes in order to make sure that happens. Life, at least in the larger sense of humanity and Cylon as a whole, is valuable enough for that intervention—and, as the final scene reveals, that intervention (as detached as it may be) continues into our own time and space. And I can’t help but resonate with that kind of take on a higher power because it echoes the biblical revelation of who God is. If God is who he says and can and does do what he says in Scripture, then all of humanity—“the whole world”—is held in highest value by him, even more so than the Other of BSG. So much so that he goes to incredible lengths to make sure that we not only survive but live.

I also resonated with how the Other of BSG uses humans and Cylons in working out "his plan"—and he seems to have an affinity for choosing the unlikely through which to do so. A frakked up viper pilot. A woman dying of cancer. A selfish and devious scientist. A Cylon who helped orchestrate the deaths of millions. A small child of questionable parentage. And again, I resonated with this because it echoes the God in Scripture, who invites the unlikely—like a selfish and devious man who deceives his father and robs his brother, a shepherd boy, and uneducated fishermen as well as women of little means and dubious reputation—to work with him in his plans to save humanity.

And in working out his plans in BSG, that God also seems to have an affinity for choice as a part of the deliverance he offers—and the salvation of the individual is inexorably linked to the salvation of the community.

I found this most poignantly and satisfyingly played out in Gaius Baltar. Baltar had multiple opportunities for salvation throughout the series, but it always seemed that even as he reached for it he left himself a fallback or safety net. He didn’t really trust that deliverance and ended up giving into his own bents and fears each time—and that had negative effects on his relationships and the community as a whole. But when he decides to stay on Galactica and join the mission to rescue Hera, there is no fallback or safety net for him. That kind of choice is best summarized in Boomer’s words, later in the episode, as she hands Hera back to Athena: “We all make our choices. Today I made a choice. I think it’s my last one.” And it was. For Gaius, his choice to stay on Galactica could have been the last choice he makes as well. But, in the end, that kind of willingness to step out—to “lay down his life” and cross that thin red line—leads to real and authentic change. And his personal deliverance from his own bents and fears ripples out, healing his relationships with others as well as playing a role in the salvation of humanity and Cylon as a whole.

And once more, I couldn’t help but resonate with how all of this echoes how faith works in this world. A couple of years ago, I was struck by how often Jesus seems to invite some sort of act on the part of those around him before transformation occurs. He tells the leper to hold out his hand before he heals him. He asks the blind man what he wants and then he gives him sight. The hemorrhaging woman reaches out to touch his cloak. There seems to be some action required on our part—some choice—when it comes to faith. A reaching out of or stepping out in trust that goes deeper than an assent to or belief in doctrines or ideas. It is, in a sense, a reaching out with no fallback or safety net. It is an act that could leave us in despair if that in which we trust fails, or bring deliverance and life. In the end, it seems to be an action within our power that indicates that even a small part of us trusts—or even simply hopes—that God is who he says, that he can do what he says. That the world works the way he says it does. To my own amazement, my experience in God’s kingdom seems to indicate that even the smallest of actions of real trust can bring explosions of Life and transformation.

And the salvation and deliverance our God offers is not only for the individual but for the world as a whole. As we enter into the Life and Deliverance of God, he invites and compels us to participate with him in his plan to restore, redeem and bring Life to the whole of his creation. Our own deliverance and salvation ripple out into our relationships and the world around us.

On a large scale, I find that that the exploration of the Other in BSG reveals that any God worth our respect and worship will be beyond our ability to understand or control—and that sometimes we will get it wrong, or at the very least, not quite right when it comes to understanding who he is and what he wants. And that is where the value of comparing our experiences and understanding with that of others comes into play. For example, in the CIC, Baltar tries to convince Cavil that there is a greater power at work in their lives:

Baltar: . . . . Because there’s another force at work here. There always has been. It’s undeniable. We’ve all experienced it. Everyone in this room has witnessed events that they can’t fathom, let alone explain away by rational means. Puzzles deciphered in prophecy. Dreams given to a chosen few. Our loved ones dead. Risen. Whether we want to call that “God” or “Gods” or some sublime inspiration or a divine force that we can’t know or understand, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. It’s here. It exists. And our two destines are intertwined in its force.

Cavil: If that were true—and that’s a big “if”—how do I know this force has our best interests in mind? How do you know that God is on your side, Doctor?

Baltar: I don’t. God’s not on any one side. God’s a force of nature, beyond good and evil . . . .
Baltar definitely gets some things right. BSG’s God is undeniable. It does exists. And he’s revealed himself to both human and Cylon. And BSG’s God is indeed not on one side—he is obviously interested in the survival of Cylon and human alike. But is the God of BSG “a force of nature” and “beyond good and evil,” like some sort of non-moral deity or (as creator and producer Ron Moore suggests) possibly without “motivation”? And does that play out in the experiences of others in BSG? I suggest that is debatable. The experiences of Emily and Laura Roslin would argue against a non-moral or force-type deity, as the Other they encounter radiates love, care and comfort. That suggests this Other loves—that it does indeed have the best interests (which, it could be argued, suggests the existence of a greater “good”) of creatures like humans and Cylons in mind. On the other hand, the “servants” this Other uses—the “Head Six” and “Head Baltar”—are questionable in their morality. Then again, these eternal creatures are less angels (good) or demons (evil) than they are human/Cylon-like in their nature. Perhaps rather than angel-or-demon-like servants, they are simply another kind of being this Other works chooses to work with and even possibly care for.

Incidentally, I think this kind of comparing of experiences and understandings of God is a basic thread in Scripture. There is value deemed in sharing and wrestling with our experiences and understandings of God with others, which often reveals where we are getting it right—and wrong. This plays out all the way from Job (in which Job and his friends struggle to figure out who God is) to Peter and Paul in Antioch (where they work out the implications of God’s large and free Kingdom).

Ultimately, I think an argument could be made for either a good or non-moral Other in BSG. As for me, I gravitate towards a good God with a penchant for using flawed beings in working out his plans—and I’ll freely admit that is probably because that’s the God most like the one Scripture describes. The older I get, the longer I live, the more I am convinced that God is who says he is in Scripture. Is BSG’s Other a perfect representation of that? No. But I love that BSG’s creator and producer Ron Moore has given us a vision of hope and salvation—a salvation that comes not from a human-driven utopia but a deliverance that involves a purposeful and ultimately benevolent Other.

In the end, I must say that BSG has been one of the greatest rides I’ve experienced on television. I recently discovered that science fiction is often described as the modern myth, a means by which we explore the human condition and strive to explain the world around us. Indeed, I would say Moore uses the genre well in that arena.

The finale, like the rest of the series, had both strengths and weaknesses. I must admit, it did take a great deal of will to suspend my disbelief when the human and Cylons gave up life-saving technology and sent all their ships into the sun once they reach Earth. Not only does that fly in the face of our bent human nature (which BSG has well explored) but it also flies in the face of logic.

But there were by far many more moments of greatness—like watching Galactica slam into the colony basestar, the shot of Galactica undulating in space after her final jump, seeing Galactica move over Earth’s moon and the rest of the fleet jump into her orbit, and hearing strains of the original BSG music as the fleet flew towards the sun. Then there was the moment Caprica and Gaius realize each sees the other’s Head Six and Baltar, Gaius’ emotional declaration that he does know “about farming” (and Caprica’s love-filled acknowledgement), watching Adama’s final goodbye to Starbuck, Tory’s comeuppance, Roslin’s hand falling at her side beside Adama, and Head Six and Head Baltar walk through modern New York’s Time Square.

But ultimately, the greatest moment for me was when I realized BSG embraced that there is indeed “more”:

There is more than what the naked eye can see
Clothing all our days with mystery
Watching over everything
Wilder than our wildest dreams
Could ever dream to be
There is more

--from “More”


(Images: SciFi Channel) bsgctgy

4 comments:

Leighton Tebay said...

For me the most powerful part in the finale hit me a few hours after I watched it. I was reflecting on Starbuck as an angel. My mind jumped back a few episodes to 417: "Someone to watch over me." It is the one where Starbuck's "father" was helping her play the song that led them to our earth.

I was touched by his love and care. His distress as he reflected on the separation, his attempts to write a song that conveyed a sense of loss. Then I made the connection that if Starbuck is an angel, her father is probably God. Their interactions were a beautiful metaphor of God's love for us, his sense of loss, his angst over the divide etc...

Carmen Andres said...

what a great insight! which convinces me even more that somehow, whether moore intended it or not, the Other in BSG leans towards the benevolent.

vern said...

i loved the finale and it was the best way to end such a fabulous show Finally Humans and cylons find the way by which not only they can survive but can live. it just moved me. now this show is over and i have decided to Download Battlestar Galactica Episodes as i want this master piece with me

shinya said...

Thank you so much for sharing such a nice post here. Battlestar Galactica is good show to watch online. One must watch this show.