As regular readers know, I’m a huge fan of the re-vamped Battlestar Galactica, which is currently airing on Sci-Fi.
At its heart, the new BSG is about faith and politics and – to some extent – the relationship between the two. Since the show is about a small remnant of humans on the run from an enemy that seeks to annihilate them, it provides the perfect backdrop for questions about what it means to be human, and how civilization and government serve (or even interfere with) our ability to function and survive. The stark survival scenario also forces the characters to confront their beliefs about spirituality and the nature of the universe.
Fans of the series know that it is in its last season, and we are now presumably less than 17 episodes away from the end, when the Galactica will inevitably find the reported home of its long lost brothers and sisters on Earth.
In episodes that are currently airing, the writers and producers are exploring a plotline relating to spirituality that I find incredibly fascinating, not only because it is intriguing in and of itself, but because of how accurately it reflects the tensions and struggles that are present in our own world.
At this point, there are three theologies at play in the story. To make this post readable for those who aren’t familiar with the minutiae of the BSG universe, I’ll keep things general.
The first theology is a classic polytheism. The followers of this religion believe that there are gods that are supposed to protect them. However, this religion seems very hollow, since the gods have (obviously) failed to provide much help at all in the face of annihilation. They seem empty and distant, and they are silent and powerless, if not non-existent.
The second theology is a form of monotheism that in some ways is similar to early Christian Gnosticism. It is a theology which says that God is love, and that a spark of the divine love is in all of us (Gnostics would probably say it only exists in a select few). We need only to accept ourselves as we really are (rather than live in guilt for what we are or what we’ve done) to embrace that love. This belief seems dangerous, because it is a denial of the dangers of human lust, violence, greed, etc.
The third theology really isn’t a theology at all. It is atheism. Those who embrace atheism either never believed in the gods or God, or they have come to a point of skepticism because of their experiences during the purging of humanity.
What is interesting to me is the way that the writers have carefully presented these options so that none of them are satisfying. They are all, so to speak “pseudo-spiritualities.” To the viewer, they feel inauthentic. Even atheism fails, because there is just enough of a “hint” of a transcendent spiritual force at work in the plot that it just doesn’t seem plausible.
Now, here is what fascinates me about the currently developing plot lines. I’m convinced that, at their heart, none of these theologies “work” because they aren’t ultimately redemptive in nature.
Polytheism relies on the gods for protection, but the gods are powerless to provide protection, particularly from things that humanity has brought on itself.
A monotheism that merely urges us to accept our flaws is dangerous because it leads to arrogance. We think we are perfect, but we are not. The results in the past have been just that ugly – humanity itself has nearly been destroyed because of an enemy that was convinced of their superiority.
Atheism, likewise, ultimately leads one to a point of despair. Can we hope in our own power to make things better? Retaliation and violence only result in more death and pain. Governments and judicial systems are weak and corrupt. Revolutionary subversion of the current order only leads to chaos, followed by a new “order” that is also weak and corrupt. Humanity, left to its own devices, seems powerless to avoid annihilation.
Whether the story will go this route or not, I don’t know, but what this story is begging for is the emergence of an authentic spirituality – one which, when embraced begins to move things along a redemptive path.
As is the case with most good writing (even on TV), I think the tension between the three theologies of BSG, and the portrayal of a need for a new, more authentic spirituality – mirrors our own world. People are disturbed, frightened even, by the seemingly certain and arrogant attitudes of fundamentalists (Christian, Islamic, or otherwise), yet they also find the more liberalized versions of the various faith to be hollow and irrelevant. Atheism, on the other hand, with its nihilistic view of the universe is equally uninviting. Like the characters in the universe of BSG, we long for the emergence of a spirituality that feels authentic within the context the universe that we inhabit; one which gives us hope that there is a redemptive path out of the mess that we’ve created for ourselves. Yet a spirituality of that nature seems elusive.
In the end, I am certain that one of two things will happen in BSG: either the characters will discover that there is no hope for humanity, or they will discover hope that things can be different – that we can be different. I’m waiting on the edge of my seat, because I want to to see whether a redemptive element, possibly even a redemptive spirituality, will find its way into the plot. And…most interestingly, if that discovery comes – we can expect it to happen at about the same time the world of BSG collides with our own.
Its going to be a great ride.