Battlestar Galactica: Gaius’ Progress

“Life can be a curse as well as a blessing.” –Gaius (“Gleaming I”)

Probably the most intriguing character on Battlestar Galactica is Dr. Gaius Baltar (James Callis). The reason he resonates especially with me is because of his internal struggle, as a man of science, to embrace the idea of faith. His is the battle of the scientist versus the theologian, trying to reconcile worlds for faith and facts.

“What is the most basic article of faith? This is not all that we are.” –Leoben Conoy (Callum Keith Rennie)

All truth journeys begin with a leap of faith, that is, what we choose to put our trust in. For some, it is ourselves (the individual or humanity); for some, it is science (the determination of our senses, empirical evidence, and measurable/reproducible data); for some, it is the spiritual (under the assumption that there is more to this life than presented, both in terms of the spiritual and in terms of after this life; that there is more to us than body and consciousness including a spiritual dimension to the universe beyond our senses).

The fact that there might be a world beyond what his science could measure, categorize, and deal with was the thing that sent Gaius into his version of the dark night of the soul, nearly driving him mad at one point.

“We’re all just trying to discover who we are.” –Gaius

If you watch what drives Gaius, beyond self-preservation, it is redemption. He begins with the search for his true identity, in order to quit being a traitor either to the Cylons or humanity. He wants to come to terms with who he really is and is looking for a place to belong. Once he finds the community to which he can belong, it would provide his identity (this is who you are), provide his mission (this is what we do), provide training (this is how we do it), and then send him out to live their mission (now go do it).

In other words, Gaius Baltar is on the journey of what it means to be fully human.

“Life has a melody, Gaius. A rhythm of notes that become your existence once played in harmony with God’s plan.” –Caprica Six (Tricia Helfer)

He realizes that we live in a “failure condition,” that we largely sleepwalk through life, wondering what’s it all about, why we are here, and what we’re supposed to do and be. He wrestles with the idea of being originally created in God’s image, related to God, in right relationship with Him, under His rule and agenda. Something along the way went wrong, with humanity, with the Cylons, with creation. Something cause humanity to disconnect themselves from the rhythm of life set out by God, becoming alienated not only from each other, but God and creation.
“Our people need a new beginning, a new way to live in God’s love. Without hate. Without all the lies. All they need is for someone to show them the way.” –Caprica Six

With the half-human, half-Cylon child, we have echoes of the story of Christ. With Christ, He seeks to rescue His people and usher in His kingdom, modeling a new way of living.

“Repent of your sins and you will be saved.” –Caprica Six

Embracing this new way of living, this way of being fully human, begins with repentance, exchanging your old way of life for a new way. Gaius offers up this prayer: “Dear God, I now acknowledge that you are the one true God. Deliver me from this evil and I will spread the rest of my wretched life to doing good. I want to carry out your divine will is what I want to do. To carry out your divine will.”

“Stop running from our lives and start living them.” –Gaius

The final and longest part of the journey is joining the story of the mission to restore. To live out a life of love, becoming part of the ministry of reconciliation between God and creation.

Science and religion don’t have to be at war with one another. If allowed room for each to do what they are called to do, there are areas where the two meet. True spirituality and true science abhor certainty, it is because an attitude of certainty stops you from questioning. once you’re certain, you “know” and not only do you close your mind to further conversations, but there is no point in further investigation. Both science and religion are truth pursuits, and all truth is God’s Truth.

Gaius continues to have what passes for his faith tested. It’s uncertain whether he understands what he believes, the tenets of his faith, or even the idea of who God is and how He works. Only by continuing to question and test does he stand a chance at the redemption he so desperately craves.

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Battlestar Galactica (Seasons 1-3) – A Commentary

“Spiritual Colonialism”
Battlestar Galactica continues to intrigue with it twists and turns as well as its political (a world at war) and religious subtext. The introductory mini-series had its 9/11 overtones to the traumatic attack of the cylons on the colonies. Throughout the series, the Cylons are portrayed as colonizers, using God as a weapon, essentially forcing faith on Gaius (and by proxy, the colonies). Seeing humanity as pagans, the Cylons are cast in the role of religious fundamentalists, terrorists (though in the file of there are no villains because we’re all heroes in our own story: you’re not a terrorist when you’re fighting for your cause and outnumbered)—who even use suicide bomber tactics such as in the episode “Tigh me up, Tigh me down”—after having declared their Jihad on humanity.

“Genocide murder vengeance they’re all sins in the eyes of God. That’s what you and I know. That’s what they don’t want to hear. Because then they’d have to re-think what they’re doing. They’d have to consider that maybe the slaughter of mankind was a mistake.” –Caprica Six

The show comments on our own history with spreading the Gospel message and our often questionable methods. In some ways, our missionary work, our Manifest Destiny, was a Bible and whip theology: taking the land of native peoples, stripping their cultural identity, and profiting from their resources. If slaves weren’t made of the people, then at the very least their inferior culture was replaced with the colonizers superior one.

This mélange of cultural supremacy linked to a message of salvation reduced religion to a weapon. That mindset bled into all areas of religion, life, and culture, blinding them to the fact that God was already at work in the cultures they traveled to (as He is already at work in everyone’s lives). Instead, the colonizers brought in and attached their own cultural baggage: trading one sin-soaked culture for the dominant sin-soaked culture. Naturally, this had to impact the portrait of the God they were presenting, first in their own minds and next in the minds of the people they were presenting Him to.

“God has a plan for you guys. He has a plan for everyone and everything.” –Caprica Six
For a view from the flip side, we only have to think back to the exile of Israel. The Israelites were taken to a foreign land, not all of them, but their best and brightest young men. In effect, the exile robbed Israel of its brain trust, its future. Those men were in turn re-enculturated: indoctrinated with new language, new customs, even new names. Essentially using culture to brainwash, to be a form of systematic control, this is the fate that awaits humanity at the hands of their Cylon oppressors.

In effect, the message was that in order to come to know God, you have to become civilized, absorbed into the dominant culture. Change your language. Change your names. Change your gods. Change your native ways. Become assimilated. Integrated.

This partial, baggage-laden Gospel (has been and) will be rejected. It isn’t true to their heritage, pride, and sense of self-worth. It isn’t true to the Gospel of the Bible and it certainly isn’t true to the triune God in whom we find our worth, identity, and mission. You can judge the truth of the message by the fruit of the lives of the messengers.

“We need to be free men and women. If we’re not free then we’re no different than Cylons.” –Tom Zarek (Richard Hatch)

The colonialist mindset tends to creep into our American brand of Christianity. It leads to a mentality of “reclaiming” or “taking back” communities for Jesus. It works its way into our language, as we have evangelism “Crusades.” Battlestar Galactica continues to bring real world relevance to what some might dismiss as escapist science fiction fare. Through it we can continue to examine and question both the message of our faith as well as its political impact.

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Battlestar Galactica: The Mini-Series – A Review

“Ruminations on Wrath”

The original Battlestar Galactica premiered on Sept. 17, 1978 on ABC on a wave of Star Wars mania. The show became a syndicated cult, though cancelled after a year, returning to television in the sequel Galactica 1980. I barely remember the original series, moreso Galactica 1980 (which I remember fondly, but I was also going through an inexplicable ChiPs phase). Still I remember enough so that once the new show came along, the names were familiar and I found myself missing the silver robots with the scanning red eye.

In the re-imagining the original series, Starbuck is now a woman (Katie Sackhoff), the Cylons look like humans, and the special effects are a little better. Some of the names are familiar and the show still follows the ragtag fleet of ships that search for that mystical colony known as Earth. To get caught up, humans created Cylons to ease their work load and, par for every robot dependent dystopian future, the robots turn against them. The two races go to their neutral corners for 40 years only to have the new generation of Cylons mount an attack that nearly wipes out humanity. This new model of Cylons, actually there are 12 Cylon models who are indistinguishable from human beings, have the computer equivalent of souls: when their bodies die, their consciousness is transferred to another body.

For such a sci-fi hardened show, Battlestar Galactica, much like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, is undergirded by religious thought. In fact, you’ll notice a lot of Biblical imagery in the show: the 40 year silence of the Cylons; the twelve colonies, the same number as the number of tribes of ancient Israel, are nearly wiped out in a surprise attack by the Cylons – a disaster of Biblical proportions; the survivors wander the wilderness of space like a lost tribe in search of the Promise Land.

Echoing many of our recent tragedies, the Cylons are a natural disaster of sorts, set in motion/made worse by the actions of man. One of many spiritual themes, including the prophetic language and the need for faith to sustain them in their journey, however, I keep coming back to the apocalyptic terror that sets the series in motion: the idea of God’s retribution upon man. As one of the Cylons, apparently the instruments of God’s wrath, puts it, “When you get right down to it, humanity is not a pretty race. I mean we’re only one step a way from beating each other with clubs like savages, fighting over scraps of meat. Maybe the Cylons are God’s retribution for our many sins.” The idea of the Cylons as an expression of God’s wrath demands further examination.

Number Six: God wanted me to help you.
Dr. Baltar: Right. He spoke to you did He? You had a chat?
Number Six: He didn’t speak to me in a little voice. And you don’t have to mock my faith.
Dr. Baltar: I’m sorry. Im just not very religious.
Number Six: Does it bother you that I am?
Dr. Baltar: It puzzles me that an intelligent, attractive woman such as yourself should be taken in by all that mysticism and superstition.

One of the first question people ask in the face of tragedies this is “why?” And it is a perfectly reasonable question to ask: how could a good God allow such evil things to happen? Many chalk such natural disasters up to this simply being a consequence of living in a “fallen world” (that because of Adam’s sin, nothing about God’s created order is as it should be. The violence and evil we experience is the result of our alienation from God and the alienation from creation itself). At best this is an incomplete, and wholly unsatisfactory, depiction of things.

“Must be hard for you. To have something you created twisted and misused. It must be horrible.” –said to Dr. Baltar

Dr. Gaius Baltar (James Callis), the height of human weakness. All pride, intellect, and self-sufficiency, who keeps managing to do wrong because he lacks any spine to stand up and do what’s right. He inadvertently helps the Cylons by taking one as his lover, Number Six (Tricia Helfer), and then continuing to “see” her once he’s one of the straggling survivors. Still, his is the perspective of “the Creator.” We often forget how God grieves over us.

Before the judgment of the flood, we read “Then Yahweh saw the wickedness of man? and Yahweh was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in his heart” (Genesis 6:5-6) … Passages could be multiplied that speak of God’s deep feelings of love, joy, delight, sorrow, grief, and even anger in regard to his creation. Finally, God’s ultimate revelation in the person of Christ indicates that God is a God who feels deeply … The climax of his ministry has been labeled by theologians as “The Passion” because of the intense suffering Christ experienced on behalf of others.

“Don’t you understand? God is love.” –Number Six

The image of God as both good and severe, a God that fit readily into our (Old Testament kind of) paradigm, was gradually replaced with that of a one-dimensional, only-good God, as if Love is the only dimension of who He is. So of course people couldn’t reconcile how a supposedly good God allowed horrible things to happen, especially to the most innocent among us. We forget passages like “Make sure you stay alert to these qualities of gentle kindness and ruthless severity that exist side by side in God” (Romans 11:22a, The Message version).

“It’s not enough to just live. You have to have something to live for.” –Commander Adama

Disasters are horrific and sometimes bring out the worst in some of us (Dr. Baltar’s continual concern about how the Cylons nearly wiping out humanity might tarnish his legacy); however, they can also cause us to pull together in ways few other things can (causing ordinary people to rise to the occasion). They cause us to shake ourselves and take stock of our “problems” by forcing us to step outside of our daily complaints. Tragedies bring out our generosity as we reevaluate what is truly important, how much many of us have, and how good we really have things.

“The rag tag fugitive fleet” live in hope of finding a (new) Earth. Living in light of hope, we act – being witnesses for that hope and the first ones to protest the violent order of the way things are. We draw near to the suffering, continue to ask “why?”, and then act in compassion. That is our response to how could God allow this: be the arms of God in comforting the victims of suffering.

Apocalyptic literature has always had a place in genre fiction, from The Stand to Left Behind, we’ve been fascinated with end of the world scenarios. Much about the new Battlestar Galactica resonates with us. It builds on our r
eal life fears of nuclear holocaust (see Jericho) and EMP technology crippling us (convenience leading to our downfall is an apocalyptic terror that rings with a different tenor in a post-911 world).

Though I’m a fan of Babylon 5 and Farscape, Battlestar Galactica is not your typical brand of space opera. Going against the grain of CGI-heavy effects (and the million dollars per episode budget that led to its demise the first go around), the new Battlestar Galactica is more low-tech and, more importantly, alien-free. Without the crutch of new aliens to encounter week to week, it focuses on the human drama and real, all-too-human conflict. It’s smartly written, though sometimes a bit too self-conscious of its philosophical underpinnings. But we want that brand of intellectual dynamism from our science fiction, to speak to us in metaphor and ground us in reality. Here we have a world of fully realized characters caught up in a compelling story. Battlestar Galactica delivers.