What God and 'Battlestar Galactica' Have in Common


Baylor University Press

Possibly we are becoming differently religious, as you say. Yet it seems that people can be so blinkered by religious structures they know that they're unable to evaluate or even discuss other forms of faith...or of reality, for that matter.

That's what I talk about towards the end of the book, when I talk about "Christianizing a Galaxy Far, Far Away". People have taken Star Wars and basically just baptized it in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. It is just a this equals that way of doing theology, which I, at least, find very unsatisfying. I think it does precisely what you say, it limits our imagination. If this equals that, then how much further do we have to go?

I'm proposing a paper for next year's meeting of our big professional organization, the American Academy of Religion, on putting a moratorium on looking for Jesus in movies. Because if every time you see someone with his or her arms flung out in something that can be construed as a cruciform pose, you can't just say they're all Jesus. Once you do that, everything grinds to a halt.

For me, The Matrix was an interesting allegory, clearly about maya—the world illusion—and how we transcend that. It meshed perfectly with my Vedantic outlook. So I have to admit I was disappointed when you said the film was a tabula rasa—a blank slate onto which we project whatever we believe.

No, what I'm pointing out is not that you should be disappointed but that it means what it means to you because of who you are.

One of the things that I try to get my students to pick up on is this incredible intertextuality that exists among both religion and science fiction. Everything's related, everything's referential. Picking up on those references helps us understand the culture in which we are embedded.

In your book you cited What the Bleep Do We Know, The Dancing Wu Li Masters, and The Tao of Physics. One of the fundamental concepts of theoretical physics is that all the complexity of the universe, matter, energy, space, even time itself is just a more expressed manifestation of an underlying unified field.

Exactly. The wholeness of the implicate order—David Bohm.

That's really my measuring stick when I look at something as visionary as science fiction films can be—how deep are they going to go with this thing? Are they going to show, as Deepak Chopra likes to tell us, that as is the microcosm, so is the macrocosm? What are some of the science fiction films and television shows that have dealt most successfully with those sorts of ultimate topics?

The kinds of films I'd mention are not so much science fiction, but they're films that I'm going to talk about in one of the chapters of my next book, Sacred Visions: Fantasy, Film, and the Mythic Imagination. They're films that I think touch on the issue of death.

I deal with that a little bit on the chapter on robots, where I discuss Blade Runner. It seems like our connection to the universe is as much as anything a function of our being able to imagine a universe in which we don't exist. The moment of which is, of course, at least insofar as we know, our death.

Because we humans imagine death, we construct a Self-world and another world—an interior world and an exterior world. It's all basic child developmental psychology. But I think that some science fiction films play very well with that because they ask certain questions about how we know what we know.

The reason I'm sort of hedging on this is because what you've identified is the single hardest concept to try to deal with on film. This is where I think Battlestar Galactica ultimately, for me, failed in the fourth season. It asked big, big, big questions. Is there a plan? Is there a plan that the humans are following to find Earth? There are signs and portents all the way along. Is there a plan that the Cylons have? Who is this Cylon god that has the plan? These are big, big questions that go to the core—is there some sort of matrix underneath what we see?

I think the fact that, for me, it kind of fell apart in the fourth season is a pretty good example of exactly how hard it is to talk about those kinds of questions. I mean, religions have been arguing about those questions for thousands of years. And nobody has come up with one, single definitive statement. What we have a myriad of definitive statements, many of which are contradictory. And my position is that I'm not smart enough to know and don't know that anybody else is, either.

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Douglas Gorney is a writer living in San Francisco.

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