“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.