Sunday, July 5, 2009

Caprica and Religion

Tragically, Battlestar Galactica’s four-season narrative is now complete; the Galactica has guided the remnants of humanity to their final destination. Thankfully, in this case Love and Rockets is mistaken: there are new tales to tell!

Sometime in the near future we’ll be treated to The Plan, which will relate some familiar BSG incidents from a Cylon perspective. Remember: “…and they have a plan!”

And then, of course, we’ve already been given Caprica, the pilot for a 2010 prequel series on Sci Fi (soon to be renamed Syfy, sadly). Set some fifty years prior to the events depicted in BSG, this series will tell the tale of the creation of the Cylons. If you’re already a fan of BSG, or if you’re a fan of sf that makes you think, I strongly encourage you to check out this pilot (now available on DVD or from Netflix, iTunes, or whatever). In this post, I'll talk a little about Caprica's religious themes; in a future post I'll spend some time exploring what it suggests about personal identity.

One of the revelations in Caprica is that the Cylon's monotheistic faith seems to have its roots in a very human heresy. In the polytheistic chaos of Caprican society, rife with racism, uncertainty, and complacency, the One True God offers a path to follow, a way to tell the difference between good and evil, right and wrong. Yet to the faithful followers of the many gods, such talk is dangerous. Consider the following exchange, also discussed over at SF Gospel:
It doesn’t concern you, Sister, that kind of absolutist view of the universe? Right and Wrong determined solely by a single all-knowing, all-powerful being whose judgment cannot be questioned, and in whose name the most horrendous of acts can be sanctioned without appeal?

You seem to know a great deal about the subject.

Know your enemy, Sister Clarice.

Love your enemy, Agent Duram.
Throughout BSG's arc, a mix of good and evil, wisdom and foolishness, have been on display both in traditional polytheism and in the monotheism espoused by the Cylons and later by Baltar and his disciples. That seems the case here, too. Zoe's belief in the One God seems to have animated her and galvanized her into action. Her friend says this God gave Zoe the gift of creating life itself, and indeed Zoe has created an avatar of herself that's much more than a mere avatar. Yet one of Zoe's classmates, also a follower of the One God, strapped explosives to his chest and caused the blast that killed a train full of people, including himself and Zoe. Agent Duram is worried about this religious sect for good reason.

Yet it's not clear to me that his worries really have all that much to do with the fact that this new heresy is monotheistic rather than polytheistic. What's troubling, and dangerous, is the bomber's blind certitude that he's right and others are wrong and his willingness to follow a god that (he thinks) approves of the massacre of innocents. But these tendencies can be present (or absent!) in a worshipper of one god among many as well as in a follower of a single god. Religion of any kind is a powerful force. Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and other so-called "new atheists" paint all religion as a force for evil. Unsurprisingly, religious folks have had plenty to say in response. The writers of BSG and Caprica wisely refuse to take sides. As for me, well, I'm not a fan of religion in general. But I am a follower of a certain criminal who was crucified by the powers of religion some two thousand years ago.


Anonymous said...

This is going to be an interesting series, can't wait for it to begin in earnest.

Austin said...

This was a really good article on the ideas/themes in Caprica. I love to see duality when exploring philosophical topics, such as religion; I think that's the only way we seem to get anything worthwhile from any one particular thought process or ideal. Keep it up!