Random Thoughts – Randosity!

Is Battlestar Galactica Christian allegory? Certainly appears so.

Posted in science fiction, TV Shows by commorancy on January 9, 2009

In Battlestar Galactica season 4, the writers’ religious allegory subtext is becoming ever more clear.  Not so much that the ‘Human’ Cylons look and act like humans, but it’s more about the underlying story subtexts.   Consider the story of 12 apostles vs the 12 cylon models.  Also, apparently, when the 12 models do come together, the world will change.  Consider that the human Cylons believe in ‘the one god’ vs the human humans who still believe in the ‘pagan gods’.   This is a blatant metaphor between our history of those Greeks/Romans who believed in the pagan gods vs those who believed in God (and Christ – Christianity).  Consider now that Baltar appears to have healing abilities and is also on an unknowing teaching mission.  Baltar also looks, at times, like BSG version of Christ.  In fact, the Cylons have practically hand picked Baltar to do their ‘one god’ spread-the-word bidding.

The story of finding Earth really is less of a goal than it appears.  Sure, Earth is the hope that the BSG survivors cling in order to start a new life.  But, inevitably, the Cylons will find any place that the humans choose to inhabit.  The whole story arc has set up so so many Christian religious allegorical undertones that I’m not thrilled by this aspect of the show.   The writers are at a crux.  They can either continue down the 12 Apostles + Christ path and conclude this show as a blatant metaphor for Christianity, or they can drop this subtext and turn it back into the Sci-Fi series that it should be.

Obviously, BSG is taking liberties with the Christian history in order to fit the context of the show, but it certainly appears that allegory is where BSG is heading.  I personally like Sci-Fi series that don’t try to bring real-world religious metaphors and morality plays as the show’s subtle (or blatant) message.  But, I guess the show writers are gonna do what they’re gonna do.  I’ll keep watching until this religious allegory arc becomes so unbearably tedious to watch, I’ll stop watching.  If I really want to read the Bible, I can read it for myself.  I don’t need to see it played out in a Science Fiction show.

19 Responses

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  1. knowitall said, on June 3, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    Good to know that a whole bunch of people that did not understand the show are debating such a heavy and complex topic!

  2. chris said, on May 23, 2011 at 3:47 am

    I disagree with previous posters’ premise that the Cylons brought Christianity. As a Christian, I can identify only two important themes of Christianity present in either the Cylon religion and with respect to Baltar’s preaching. With both the Cylons and Baltar there is of course the focus of one true God. With respect to Baltar is his insistence of life after death apart from Cylon resurrection, and redemption from past sins. It is not necessarily Christianity they are advocating on the show, as Christ is…missing. Though several of His teachings are not, such as divine judgement, taking care of the poor, especially children, etc. However, several Abrahamic traditions of monotheism are indeed evident that are found in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The theme of the Cylon/Balatar religion is clearly an alternative monotheistic religion in contrast to the polytheistic views of the twelve colonies. As to other allegorical approaches such as twelve models/twelve apostles, why not also equate that with twelve models/twelve tribes of Israel?

    • commorancy said, on May 23, 2011 at 8:30 am

      Chris,

      Actually, we don’t really know what the Cylons brought to ‘Earth’. Although, we can guess. However, the show ends without really going that far into what happened next. We know that paganism was brought by the humans. We know that the ‘one true god’ ideal was brought by the Cylons. We know that Baltar really bent in the wind. That is, Baltar did the will of the Cylons because that’s what kept him alive. He did whatever suited him at the time to keep himself alive. Baltar’s character was really one of the weakest on the show. A very spineless character. We also know that there were ‘angels’ present in the form of Baltar’s vision of Caprica 6 and Caprica 6’s vision of Baltar. There was also the Starbuck angel. And, of course, the 12 colonies. All bases were covered when it came to setting the groundwork for Christianity. Yes, Christ is missing from the show, but that’s only because the show didn’t go far enough forward into human history to even see Jerusalem built. In fact, we barely even see the beginnings of the human colonization of Earth when the show ends. If the show had progressed further down the path of colonization, we very likely would have seen exactly how the religion and society played out. Basically, the writers led us to the water. We must make the decision whether or not to drink.

      I really think the most important part to the ending of the show wasn’t in bringing religion to Earth. The important part was in showing how humans ended up on Earth. The religious aspects of BSG was a way to keep both sides at odds with each other to keep the story strong and cohesive. Religion was used as a reason to keep both Cylons and humans motivated. Religion is also there to sow the seeds of what is likely to come to pass.

      Thanks.

  3. Joel said, on January 14, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    I really believe that shows such as this one are an effort to condition our thinking, mainly towards god or those who believe in god. Although it seems to put it in good light it ever so slightly as one person put it “took liberties” not just for the story sake but for very specific reasons. The story the plot the characters ext.. all this is the what makes it sweet…what alows you or feeds your desire to continue watching. Its been said about brains that its “the most amazing thing we’ve discovered in our universe” and the scary thing is we know very little about it and how it works. But there are those who do. Those who have watched generations come and go. Who are these and what are they trying to do? Whats there goal? I know writers wrote this story line but if we as people can influence others to do things is it really far fetched to consider that a being with a greater understanding of human nature can also do the same? A reasonable person and a wise person doesn’t just look at something thats presented to him or her at face value but the possible meaning behind it. So basically this is what i believe to be truth and the ultimate “reality” of whats going on in this world. I believe that a powerful being we all know as “satan” which means resister, controls the world. His rulership was given to him By God “Jehovah” which means he that causes to become. The bible clearly states this at John 14:30 and Ephesians 2:2. Jesus himself referred to him as being “the ruler of the world”. But why would Jehovah alow satan to rule the world? Its because satan in a way challenged gods right to rule, to say what is right and what is wrong. And you have to remember that mankind at the time was a completely new creation! Even though spirit creatures have free will and intelligence they are not like human as far as having the same physical makeup. So just like if you have a comp. and it comes with instu ctions on how it should function those same intructions would not apply to a car. So humans marry spirit creatures do not, we have sex they do not ect. So Satan was challenging the limits Jehovah was putting on the human family, mainly for selfish reasons. At this point Jehovah could have just destroyed the rebel but countless other spirit creatures were no doubt looking on and if Jehovah were to just destroy this rebel it would not have answered this first ever accusation that “man can decide for themselves what is good and bad”. So Satan is being allowed to make his case. But every person who has lived and is living now is part of this “universal court case”. On one end you have people who look to Jehovahs word or “intruction manual” for living life and then you have those who look to themselves or fellow humans to decide what is right and wrong. But Satan is the ruler of the world and wouldn’t you say that a rulers nation is really characterized by its ruler. So what does this entire world say about Satan and his way of thinking. The thought is almost pounded into our brains that the” eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we shall die” mentality will make us happy. That selfishness, money, power, material things, doing whatever we want will make us happy. But has it? Instead what has resulted? The human family is not a family. Were divided, killing each other, and if were not actually killing each other were spending hours each day pretending to kill people. We’ve tried every form of government but despite the desire of every living person on this earth to have peace, it continues to be an unrealized dream. We have even failed at providing everyone on earth with proper nutrition despite the earths ability to provide more than we need. I speak to you as my family now, when we were kids our parents hopefully took good care of us because we were unable to. But our heavenly father “who has been horribly missrepresented” loves us and earnestly wants to live life but to really enjoy it the way it was meant to be enjoyed. Those who choose to join the great crowd of humans that have decided to submit to Jehovahs loving direction will be rewarded with everlasting life on a paradise earth! no more death Revelation 21:4, no more dissabled Isaiah 35:6, the blind will see Isaiah 35:5, the dead will come back to life John 5:28,29, no more sickness Isaiah 33:24, no one will starve Psalms 72:16. Hope to see you in the beautiful paradise:)

    • donny said, on June 11, 2011 at 3:02 am

      Great response Joel. I’d like to hear more of your thoughts

  4. Oh no! said, on November 27, 2010 at 7:54 am

    Oh no, religious views!!! I believe in tolerance, free speech and free thinking……but not of religious views!!! They’re shoving it down my throat…..aaaagggggg……….please.

    Good show. Don’t like something in it, don’t watch it. You chose to watch it. Don’t say they are shoving something in your face. It’s commercialized for Christ’s (lol) sake!!!!!

    • ian said, on December 16, 2010 at 5:08 am

      Are you saying one shouldn’t criticize things, but should only either accept or reject them in their entirety?

  5. hoobad said, on August 11, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    Making a religious allegory is not the same as copying Biblical stories.

    • commorancy said, on August 11, 2010 at 2:25 pm

      True. But, at the time I wrote the article, the series hadn’t ended yet. So, at the time, I didn’t know the outcome. At that point in time, I thought it was only allegory. After the ending, though, it was clear that it was no longer allegory and was firmly copying the bible, right down to the ‘Starbuck Angel’. In fact, it wasn’t even really a copy. It was far more pretentious than that. It purported to be the genesis of the bible and of all biblical stories. Far and away beyond the realm of allegory. I should probably write a follow-up article about that, but I’m just not that interested in the way BSG ended. It ended with far too much emphasis on religion and not enough on the people. The writers just so casually dumped aside the people and their struggles at the end to bring about their religion ideas and colonization. It just didn’t end properly. Yes, they got to Earth, but it wasn’t in any way satisfying.

  6. Jeremy Pavier said, on March 16, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    I’ve just rewatched the entire series from beginning to end and I think the thing that struck me was not the overt religiosity. That is fairly straightforward and, as another commenter has said, fits neatly into the tradition of mytho-poetic SF writings. What concerned me more was the anti-science, anti-rational propagandising that pervades the whole series. It is incorrect to refer to BSG as a “science” fiction series, just because it has spaceship details. Quite the opposite. As a drama (and I’m not denying it was exemplary and very rewatchable TV – one of the best for decades) it relentlessly pushed the idea that science is completely wrong about everything, and so are scientists. Gaius Baltar, as a character, only becomes morally acceptable after he abandons his rationality and embraces the evanescent. The rational Cylons are destroyed, and we accept this because we are endlessly told that to be rational is to be a machine and therefore cold, unfeeling and, at best, amoral. Even the “feeling” Cylons are repulsed by the rational ones. Therefore, the Cylon that does not believe, deserves to die. Unfortunately this gets pushed too far, and becomes self-defeating in the conversation between Ellen and John Cavil, wherein he reveals a purely emotional appetite for justice against the former slavemasters. It had to be there for the plot, but it makes a mockery of the message.

    I agree that final episode was a real let down intellectually. If we take the grand Plan at face value, it resolves nothing about the evolution of humanoid species around the galaxy, because as far as I could see it was ‘turtles all the way down’ – if the remnants of the 12 Colonies and the Cylons seeded the Earth’s population, where did they come from?

    Plus, while I can accept “All Along the Watchtower” as a powerful dramatic device, I’m not going to credit Bob Dylan with channelling the voice of a higher power 🙂

    • commorancy said, on March 16, 2010 at 4:58 pm

      Yes, I’d agree the series did not turn out as I had expected (predicted?). I had written this article about half a season before the close of the show. So, the show could have unfolded in any number of ways from that point forward. However, they didn’t take it in the direction I was seeing at the time, and that was a good thing. If they had taken the series in that Christian direction, I believe they would have lost major viewership. Instead, the producers decided to take a middle ground (read safe) approach that neither fully satisfied the religious aspect they had been building up to between Baltar and Caprica nor did they end the series in a way as to make the entire journey satisfying from a science fiction perspective. And yes, both intellectually and philosophically, the show let us down. Making Starbuck an ‘angel’ without any real explanation just didn’t really work overall. The reason it didn’t (and doesn’t) work in a series story is the general reason you can’t put omnipotent beings in series (ala Q in Star Trek). This is a cop-out story technique. It’s a way to get the series out of a jam very quick and dirty. Basically, it’s Ex Deus Machina. The only saving grace for the Starbuck ‘angel’ story was the fact that she was placed there without knowing what she was (or at least, it was never revealed that she knew). I question that sincerity, though.

      The Starbuck ‘angel’ also threw a completely foreign element into the series that wasn’t repeated elsewhere. It introduced a known-dead character at a time when humans were not trusting of anything even remotely Cylon related. It also introduced her at a time when we still didn’t know the final 5. So, Starbuck’s ‘angel’ could have easily been one of the final 5 or even an unknown sixth model.

      If the Cylons weren’t involved in the creation of the Starbuck ‘angel’ to guide them to Earth, then who was? This question goes back to your question, where did these people come from? Perhaps the Caprica series will delve into that aspect?

      Anyway, the Christian story thread was completely left hanging without the slightest inkling of resolution. The writers just didn’t even touch that subject matter. To do so would have had to take the show directly into religious allegory which would have turned off too many viewers. Leaving that whole subject matter as ambiguous also, unfortunately, left the show hollow and incomplete. In fact, it ended up being a double edged sword for the producers. Basically, to actually define the Starbuck ‘angel’ in a relgious way was to delve deep into Christian allegory and that is something mainstream TV can’t do. The producers knew this. The only place where that could have been done is on a religious TV network. If the writers had defined Starbuck’s ‘angel’ as being created by the Cylons (which I half expected), the series could have, more or less, dropped the religious pretext and had a much more intellectual ending. It would have also given a lot more insight into the Cyclons role in their beliefs and ingrained knowledge of the universe. It may have also struck an unfair balance of power in the Cylon’s favor.

      I’m hoping that the Caprica series, which is getting off to a rocky and slow start, may answer many of these fundamental questions set up in BSG.

      Thanks.

      • Jeremy Pavier said, on March 16, 2010 at 5:51 pm

        Oh I didn’t even want to mention the Angel aspect.

        In the first season, the existence of Baltar’s invisible 6 was quite an intriguing conundrum. Was it his mind or was it an implant. It certainly seemed to know a lot about what was going on. Later, the revelation that Caprica 6 was seeing an equivalent Baltar started to make me feel a little bit uncomfortable. And at the end, they were just Holly Hunter and Delroy Lindo, rounding off the narrative and walking into the sunset/earning their wings. But at least there was a certain amount of comic relief to that pairing.

        The end of Season 3 was a fantastically dramatic high point. So many questions to answer and such an enthralling final scene.

        But Starbuck was an angel that everyone could see and touch. And she herself saw an angelic piano player to guide her through the Dylan. And all the visions came true. Deeply unsatisfying from a so-called science fiction plot.

        Still, the sheer strength of the acting and direction lets me forgive these sins against rationality. Still love watching it, despite its flaws.

        • commorancy said, on March 16, 2010 at 6:50 pm

          Agreed. The angel was a bad plot device. It didn’t really service the series properly. The Starbuck ‘angel’ was introduced at a bad time and, worse, was never explained. But then, as many religious scholars will point out, you have to on faith. Faith is fine for real life, but not in stories where the ending needs to feel satisfying. Again, introducing a character like Starbuck’s ‘angel’ basically introduced a character with not only inside information on the final outcome, but omnipotent information. Information that was dribbled slowly to guide the humans to Earth. Personally, I don’t feel the character was necessary. I believe the humans and Cylons could have found Earth themselves without ‘divine’ intervention.

          Yes, the season closers were always very good cliffhangers. The show was very good at this. As is with many shows, it’s easy to develop cliffhangers because you can pick up in a satisfying way. However, writing an ending can be difficult because by the end of 4 seasons, you have a lot of threads that need to be wrapped up. Few shows can manage to do this properly. The only way it can be done properly is to begin wrapping up threads along the way and not wait until the very end close them all… because they never can manage to close them all properly. For example, the Starbuck ‘angel’ would have served the series better by being revealed several episodes before the end and disappearing then. This would have taken away the disappearing angel sequence as part of the ending and let that final episode focus on arriving at Earth.

          In general, the drama was very well done. The cast was superb. They couldn’t have picked a better set of actors to fill the roles. The stories were, for the most part, done well. Unlike the Lost series which seems lost much of the time, BSG never really got lost (except towards the very end). I believe the rush to close the series put them at a disadvantage to get everything wrapped up. So, instead of spending the final season wrapping up threads throughout the season, they tried to introduce new concepts at a time when they already had enough older material left to close. So, instead of focusing on older threads, they focused on creating new threads at a time when they wouldn’t have time to complete them. So, the ending was rushed and incomplete. It’s too bad too because a spectacular closer would have capped that series as nearly perfect.

  7. Darren said, on November 5, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    I don’t think that the religion is propaganda or an attempt to force viewpoint on the audience. I think that the Cylon’s mantra – “All of this has happened before and all of this will happen again” – refers as much to the pattern of storytelling as it does to the cyclic nature of human history.

    Most of the religious components which you highlight are merely reiterations of classical concepts. I just think you are noticing them because their are framed as such in the religious context of the series (the power of religion as an instrument). The storytelling devices – the child who will lead the world to the path of peace, the angels who speak only to a selected few heralds, and so many others – are just one set of devices used by the authors and writers to tell a story. There are any number of Shakespearean archetypes and even pseudo-classical references thrown in (Cavil as Oedipus, except he gouges his father’s eye out).

    With due respect to the original poster, the religious metaphors have been present from the start of the show. For example the twelve tribes (minus the lost one) as the twelve tribes of Israel. The original series was “The Book of Mormon IN SPACE” (I’m not kidding), so this is just that concept taken to its logical conclusion.

    The entire series is one large allegory for any number of things (most people like the War on Terror idea, or the role of religion in a secular world). I think it’s only natural that the references ramp up as the series nears it’s conclusion.

    I think it’s incredibly difficult for science fiction not to be allegory. Even if we don’t intend it as such, there’s still arguably a subconscious desire to incorporate ideas or an over-zealous audience member who will read into things.

    • commorancy said, on November 6, 2009 at 10:01 am

      Actually, now that the series is over, they have revealed what they intend to reveal. Thankfully, the show did not go down the path I was expecting them to go down. But, they did end the show on the note that basically says that the Galactica fleet humans began the Earth we know it. The humans brought Paganism and the Cylons brought Christianity. That doesn’t really jibe with our actual history, but the fantasy worked for the show.

      As far as the ‘All happened before’, that was a regular theme throughout the series. That part of the message never bothered me. What bothered me was all of the in-your-face Christian references and allegory. Thankfully, they didn’t make that as overt as they could have. I also understand why it didn’t happen. If they had made it any more overt, the Christian church would have come down on the show like a ton bricks. But, it was definitely overt enough to make the show a tad uncomfortable to watch at times.

      For Sci-Fi in general, people write it based on their own experiences. Dune was a metaphor for the middle east and the spice was a direct metaphor for oil. Frank Herbert went even so far as to pull in direct cultural references (Feydakin). But, he didn’t pull in religion on the same way as the new BSG. The only religion he touched on was the sects like the Bene Gesserits and the Guild Navigators and their ‘powers’. But, there was no praying, atonement or whatever. I guess you could say that Paul Atreides was to become the ‘Messiah’, but not in the same way as Jesus… which would become very apparent in later Dune novels. Yes, Paul was revered initially, but that didn’t last. Paul’s kids were actually more revered than he was overall.

      It may be difficult to avoid religion because it’s so much a part of our culture. But, it doesn’t have to be a primary theme. BSG almost went overboard with these concepts. Thankfully, they backed way off on it at the end of the series and left it nebulous. This is exactly how it should have been all along. There, but in the background.. not in our faces.

      Thanks for your comment.

  8. Jay Rogers said, on May 11, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    You can see my most recent blog entry fora full commentary on this idea.

    There is a reason why sci-fi / fantasy writers use religious and mythic allegory. Mythology is also drawing upon universal symbolism or “archetypes” by science fiction and fantasy writers to capture the audience’s sense of wonder by appealing to a deeper level of emotion or spiritual awareness. Therefore, George Lucas became an avid follower of Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero With a Thousand Faces, and self-consciously used these symbols and stories in each of the Star Wars movies. Ursula K. LeGuin, author of The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness, wrote what she called not science fiction but “thought experiments” relying on Jungian psychology and Eastern symbolism found in the Tao Te Ching. Frank Herbert, author of Dune, drew from biblical messianic prophecy tinged with ancient mythology and Arabic sounding words suggesting the religion of Islam. Other fantasy authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis used Christian symbolism, although Tolkien claimed he hated the very idea of allegory and had no such intentions.

    All good sci-fi is allegory of some type. It works best when the audience is affected on an unconscious level. It draws them in. That the writers of BG use Christian allegory probably is due to the fact that we are largely a Christian culture. However, when we overanalyze (as you and I like to do) the allegory loses some of its magic. It’s most effective when we don’t realize we are being preached to in the comfort of a dark movie theater — which is in many ways like going to church.

    David Puttnam, producer of the award-winning Chariots of Fire and The Mission, observed: “Movies are powerful. Good or bad, they tinker around inside your brain. They steal up on you in the darkness of the cinema to form or conform social attitudes…. In short, cinema is propaganda.”

    And just because we know we are being propagandized doesn’t mean that it is not effective. You will keep watching anyway.

  9. Richard said, on March 21, 2009 at 4:36 am

    Was talking about this theory with someone, I can see where you’re going but I think both yourself and that person are reading far to into something.

    Battlestar pulls (pulled) a lot of ideas from what is happening in our lives today, and with it having such incredibly strong religious overtones (or at least divine being overtones) it can be easy to quickly connect it with certain religions.

    Not to mention that though I am skeptical that the writers purposefully made it Christian in nature, even if they did, it would have been done most likely to draw parallels with the large Western European / North American audience, and not as there avenue to preach the gospel to the Sci-Fi channel.

    People will always see many different things from the show, which is one of the things that made it great.

    For people thinking it’s “shoving beliefs” down your throat, learn to have your own mind and come up with your own thoughts. Shows will talk about religion until the end of time, as well as other topics you may not like, it’s your job as a free thinking person to form opinions.

    Richard

    • commorancy said, on March 31, 2009 at 11:46 pm

      Due to the ending of the series and the way the producers ended BSG, they kind of avoided the direct religious references.. but, at the same time, they were blatant references to ‘how it all started’ due to the subject matter of the ending of the series. I’m kind of glad that it’s now over because if they had continued along the path they were on without the way it ended, they would have had to deal with the subject matter more in-depth. Frankly, the end of the series was underwhelming, contrived and predictable. But, satisfying endings are extremely hard to write.. primarily because in real-life nothing really ‘ends’ in the way that TV series do.

  10. agreed said, on February 27, 2009 at 10:27 pm

    I couldnt agree more with this. I started watching this series and became hooked. But each show I watch seems to push more and more religious beliefs onto my lap. Correction, its starting to shove religious beliefs in my face and down my throat. Very sad too. It was starting out so well. Like he said. “If I really wanted to read the Bible, I can read it for myself.”


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