134: Ready to Blast Off Soon into … Battlestar Galactica’s Spiritual Cosmos?

(JUST UPDATED with the “coded” photo (above) — see link at the end of today’s story for more on what this photo “means.”)

     Are you already planning what snacks you’ll serve at 10 p.m., Friday April 4, when you gather with your friends for the Fourth Season premiere of “Battlestar Galactica”?

    And why, on Earth, are we asking this question at ReadTheSpirit?
    We’re asking, because (as you’ll soon discover today), “Battlestar” is the most
sophisticated, weekly meditation on the deeper nature of faith
that’s running on television today. That’s a bold statement — and I’d love to hear what you think about all of this. But, I do think it’s quite true — and we’re going to share with you today an impressive voice on this issue: an old friend, the Los Angeles-based business writer Tammy Audi, who — when she’s not covering major news across the U.S. — is one of the country’s most articulate analysts of Battlestar’s spiritual themes.

    Tammy cares so deeply about this that she sent us a guest column today, which we’ll share with you in just a moment.
    AND, we’ve got 2 cool videos to watch at the end of today’s story — AND — if you’re just starting to enjoy this amazing space saga, click on the cover of the Season 3 DVD set (at right) and you’ll jump to our Amazon-related store, where you can order a copy at discounts deeper than you’ll find in many stores.

    OK — but first — many of our regular readers must be scratching their heads! If you know anything at all about Battlestar, then you know that it’s marketed with typical TV appeals to its action-oriented and even its sexier elements. If that’s all you’ve seen, so far, then you’re shaking your head as you read these words, right?

    But, wait! This is serious stuff!
    Late last year, Fuller Theological Seminary in California hosted a national conference on “Reel
Spirituality,” promising potential attendees that the high-level discussion at the
conference would revolve around “the sharpest questions about the
smartest shows” — especially “the timely parallels of ‘Battlestar
    Fuller is not alone — not by a long shot. The University of Texas at Austin posts a series of scholarly articles online about emerging issues in media — and “Battlestar” is a major theme. On the Texas Web site, I spotted a paper by a scholar from Brown University exploring “the questions of textuality and technology, history and futuricity, production and reception, love and aggression” in Battlestar.
    From Swarthmore College comes a scholarly reflections on “the ability of genre myths to reconfigure themselves around new cultural priorities” in Battlestar. Yet another paper examines “polymorphous triangulations” in Battlestar.

    You’ll be sooooo glad we’ve got Tammy writing our guest column today. Here’s what she has to say in far clearer terms:

    Strip away the cool space battles, evil robots and half-human babies, and “Battlestar Galactica” is really a story about faith (or lack of), belief and the human relationship to a creator.
     For the uninitiated, “Battlestar” is a new television series based on an old television series that was very much about evil robots and space battles. The updated version, on the SciFi Channel, is a much more complex narrative anchored in religious themes.

    The premise is this: In a distant galaxy, a colony of planets is attacked and its human population is nearly destroyed by the Cylons — highly sophisticated robots created by humans who once served as their slaves.The Cylons rebelled, freed themselves, then attacked their makers. A small number of humans survive the attacks, and flee into space in a “rag tag” group of ships led by an old battleship called Galactica.
   Of course, we root for the humans who have been ejected from their homes into the wilderness of space searching for a promised land — sound familiar Old Testament fans? In this case, the promised land is Earth itself, which these futuristic folks fear may be only a myth that their ancestors have perpetuated.
    The humans’ leader is a respected, determined man named Adama, who commands Galactica and promises to lead the survivors to Earth. If he is the Moses of this operation, he is a conflicted one. Adama orders and encourages his struggling followers to focus on the goal of Earth, an idea that’s written into their scriptures as a lost 13th colony.
    But Adama privately admits that he does not believe the old scriptures and is doubtful that Earth even exists. He just needs to keep the survivors going and give them hope. As a counterpoint to Adama’s doubt, we have the Colonial President Laura Roslin. President Roslin is a believer. She reads the scriptures as prophesy, and sees herself in them. One prophesy says that a dying leader would save the people. When Laura is diagnosed with breast cancer, her belief in Earth is cemented even as her life is threatened.

    I should mention here an important twist: while the humans naturally win our empathy and sympathy, they are not always portrayed in ways that enforce a Judeo-Christian point of view. For one thing, the humans in this futuristic society have become poly-theistic. They worship many gods, and their religion seems loosely based on Greek and Roman mythology. (As a side note, the writers of the show do a great job of incorporating this into dialogue and making it seem natural. When something goes wrong, the characters exclaim “My Gods!” instead of “My God!” It’s a neat little trick and it works).

    Many of the characters, the rebellious but brave Starbuck, the decent and dedicated Chief, the morally conflicted Apollo — wrestle with profound crises of faith. Starbuck resists unusual visions and abilities that seem to point to a special destiny. She even jokes at one point “Starbuck and her Special Purpose, sounds like a bad rock band.” The Chief, brought up in a religious family that he rejected, is struck with emotion when he stumbles on a holy site, seemingly led there by the gods.
     But the humans’ religion did not keep them from creating a slave class in the Cylons. There are hints that the humans were terrible masters, abusive and arrogant — even as the Cylons developed higher levels of intelligence, started to look more and more human, and began to push back against their slave-owner/creators.

    For their part, the Cylons, who seem to play the villains, are mono-theistic. They worship one God, and talk constantly of their Creator and the purpose He has for them, and for the humans. The reasoning goes that Cylons were created by Man, but Man was created by God. And so Cylons are also the children of God.
    While the humans struggle and argue over faith, gods, and debate whether following the old scriptures will lead anywhere, the Cylons are unified in their belief in one God and his purpose. Cylons are also used to explore the theme of resurrection and rebirth. When a Cylon is killed, his personality is downloaded (we assume wirelessly, which must result in one hell of a Verizon bill) into a new body on the “Resurrection Ship”.
    This process is painful, and seems to affect each ressurected Cylon in different ways. But the monotheistic Cylons are also presented as group-thinkers who are not given the option of free will. The human-looking Cylons make identical copies of themselves. And some Cylons don’t even know they are robots, but have been programmed to think they are human so they can act as moles. When they realize they are Cylons, they each experience a terrible shock, but still are compelled to carry out their orders.
    The Cylons, portrayed at times as monotheistic fanatics, have no ability to change course and act as individuals. In some ways, they are the perfect disciples: efficient and obedient. Meanwhile, the humans and their many gods and conflicting individual agendas often result in chaos aboard the Galactica and throughout the fleet.

   Now here’s where it gets really interesting:
    Cylon religion and human religion begin to overlap in later seasons. Both humans and Cylons have prophets. The Cylon prophets are kept in bathtubs of some type of organic goo where they utter what sounds like gibberish. Cylons believe that their words are prophesies and loaded with meaning. Eventually, Cylons come to believe they are meant to find Earth and the lost 13th colony.
    God, says the lead Cylon (a hot, human-like blond whose deeply held religious beliefs do not forbid sex outside of marriage or flimsy red dresses), has a plan. By the end of the last season, Cylons are trying to convince humans that their destinies are linked. Both Cylons and humans are searching for a group of mysterious super-beings called “The Final Five”.
    It’s unclear if the Final Five are prophets, Gods, or just fantasy and legend.

    Complicating matters even further is the birth of a baby to a Cylon mother and human father. The baby, which is hidden in the human fleet for a time (again, strains of Moses and now strains of Christ) is critical to the futures of both Cylon and human.

    At least that’s what they believe.
    We’ll just all have to tune in on April 4 to see where it all leads.

    AND, Thus Ends Tammy’s light-speed overview of Battlestar’s spiritual themes.
    If your head is spinning, check out these 2 videos. The first gives you at least a tiny YouTube glimpse at Battlestar’s visual style. The second is David Letterman’s humorous “take” on the upcoming Season 4 premiere.

To watch the Season 4 “Battlestar Galactica” preview clip, CLICK on the video screen that appears below. (If you don’t see a screen, go directly to YouTube to view this video on spiritual reading.)


To watch the “Battlestar” Top 10 List from the Letterman show, CLICK on the video screen that appears below. (If you don’t see a screen, go directly to YouTube to view this video on spiritual reading.)


The “Coded” Photo of “Battlestar Galactica” in a Last Supper pose:

    ReadTheSpirit reader “Jen92” from Colorado alerted us on Saturday morning to this very cool Last Supper image in which creators of the series borrowed from DaVinci (and the gospels, of course) to provide tantalizing clues to viewers about the season ahead. You can click on the photo to see it enlarge. This photo was produced in conjunction with Entertainment Weekly — and, there’s an interactive guide to the clues embedded in the photo on EW’s Web site.
    We told you, didn’t we? “Battlestar” fans love puzzling over spiritual associations with the series!

    COME BACK ON MONDAY for more stories, reviews, quizzes and interviews!
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