The Religion of Battlestar Galactica
This entire post presumes that you have seen the entire final episodes of Battlestar Galactica! I will discuss aspects of the series’ finale that would be huge spoilers for you if you haven’t yet seen it. You’ve been warned.
After four exciting years, Battlestar Galactica has come to an end. The series wrapped up most of all unanswered questions and plot lines and concluded a story that has captured the hearts of millions. It was quite a gratifying end to the show for me, but that wasn’t so much the case for every other fan. It appears that many have taken issue (see the comments) with the direct religious answers the show has used for its most fundamental story lines. Whilst I was fully aware of these religious subtexts as I watched the final episode, they did not bother me in the slightest.
Now, the people who know me quite well know that I was born and raised in a Muslim family; a Turkish Muslim father and a Dutch Christian mother who, somewhere along their marriage, changed her faith to become a Muslim—entirely of her own choosing. My father never pressured her, it was her own interest that drew her towards Islam. This powerful tolerance towards religion and independent choice was embodied in my upbringing; as soon as I grew old enough to understand religion and form my own opinion of it, my parents let me make those decisions for myself and never pushed a specific religious belief onto me. This quickly led to me growing up not feeling like I was a Muslim, even though to this day I still practice some Muslim principles—albeit entirely by personal choice and preference, and not by Muslim influence.
Even so, I wander this Earth not feeling like I belong to any single known religion. I’ve looked into various religions over the years but have come to my own conclusion that I value factual, empirical evidence far too much to feel at home with any of the religions our society has. On the other hand, I don’t consider myself a full-on atheist either, because we have no empirical evidence thus far that the Big Bang was not invoked by a “higher being” or something like that. What I do believe, however, is that the existence or presence of god, multiple gods or the absence of gods entirely, is pretty much irrelevant compared to what you do with your own life. That’s a broader subject for another time, though.
So how does this relate to Battlestar Galactica and its fairly religious series ending? Well, knowing my position on religions and god or deities of any kind, you’d probably be very surprised that I enjoyed the series’ religion-dominated end as much as I did. I twittered, directly after seeing it, that it was a satisfying end to me. And it’s true; I didn’t mind Kara’s disappearance into thin air or Gaius’ and Caprica’s Angel-or-Demon preposition. I didn’t mind the Kara-dove metaphor, or that most of all the events were simply part of “God’s plan”—including the uncertainty of our future.
To better understand why I, a person so decidedly detached from religion, would really enjoy, without hesitation or distaste, such religious answers to plot questions in a Science-Fiction series, it’s worth taking a detour to look at Xenogears. For those unfamiliar with it, Xenogears is a video game created by Squaresoft in the late ‘90s. An interesting detail: it is said that Xenogears was almost not released in North America at all, due to its controversial religious content.
The relevancy is that Xenogears is one of my all-time favorite games and, on top of that, it is the second-most favorite story I’ve ever come across, right after Star Wars. Surprising? Perhaps. Unexpected? Much more so. I may not be a big fan of religion but I seem to enjoy certain religious stories or undertones just fine. Xenogears is full of them, the Battlestar Galactica ending is full of them, and I loved both. How come?
There is an explanation for this apparent disconnect. The defining thing about both Battlestar Galactica andXenogears, as well as the various other stories I like with religious influences, is that they’re not preaching one specific religion. They don’t preach a particular doctrine or faith, but perhaps more importantly, they all leave enough room for you to form to your own interpretation and ideologies. Battlestar’s ending may allude that it’s all part of God’s plan, but at the same time it very explicitly says that the law of averages means the outcome of this “cycle” of our civilization remains undetermined. You’re open to extrapolate in whatever direction you choose to or prefer. I have my own interpretations and they don’t include any deities, but someone else’s might. A particularly insightful analysis of this very principle comes from Annalee Newitz of IO9:
In fact, BSG makes a pretty passionate case for human self-determination. The humans of the 12 colonies have all used science to create life, in the form of cylons. And although those cylons are humans' downfall in the short term, they turn out to be humanity's salvation in the long term. They're the creatures humans must merge with in order to take civilization in a new direction. Looked at from that perspective, humans on Earth today are the genetically-engineered (or simply engineered) creation of an earlier species. They prove that our species is not the result of some kind of divine intervention, but is quite emphatically the result of scientific intervention mixed with a little random evolution.
So say we all? No, and that’s the beauty of it: we all have our own interpretation of it. You get to decide for yourself.