Please assume that this post contains spoilers for all seasons of Battlestar Galactica and also for Caprica.
One of the themes in Battlestar Galactica which I was really struggling with, as a viewer, was the God stuff. Because, boy howdy, there was a lot of God stuff. There was the faith followed by the majority of the humans, one based on a polytheistic religion which was pretty closely linked with that of the Greeks, and then there was the monotheism espoused by the Cylons, and by Gaius Baltar, who eventually turns into a monotheist prophet with a pretty big following.
At various points while I was watching the series, I said “you know, all the God stuff is really making me uncomfortable.” And I couldn’t quite put my finger on why and then, one day, I realized that the show actually contained some pretty great embedded commentary on the clash between religions, and on the Crusades. Yes, the Crusades had to do with clashes between two monotheistic religions, but there sure are a lot of parallels, both on Galatica and Caprica, especially when you get into talking about how history repeats itself and the same patterns manifest over and over. And once I got into understanding why the God stuff was there, I got a lot more comfortable with it and was able to delve into a bit, rather than just feeling stiff and resistant because it riled me up.
On Caprica before the fall, we have a model of a human society which predominantly follows the Gods of Kobol. However, it’s tolerant of other religious faiths, to some extent, and according to official policy. In a way, I see some parallels with Spain under Muslim rule; most notably, the idea that society is tolerant while the actual expression in fact is somewhat different. In Spain, there was definitely suppression of non-dominant religious faiths, and there were pogroms, so it might better be termed a truce which was uneasy at times, rather than the all-inclusive paradise it is sometimes made out to be. Which is exactly how it was on Caprica; the Gods of Kobol were supreme, and people with other ideas about faith definitely had to do a bit of sneaking around.
We also see the beginning of aggressive splinter factions of monotheists, exemplified in the character of Zoe, who literally dies for her faith. Zoe, of course, is the root of the Cylons, which explains a lot about their approach to religion in Battlestar Galactica, and she’s mirrored by the character of Gaius Baltar; another person who is raised in a polytheistic faith, who finds “the one true God,” and who is stirred by it.
In the Crusades, we had a situation in which faiths were clashing and members of one faith were trying to impose their values and beliefs on another. On Battlestar Galactica, the occupation of New Caprica is a pretty clear parallel. The Cylons are occupying “for the good of humanity,” in an attempt to lead them back to the path of righteousness since they have strayed. The Cylons are chasing the remainders of humanity across the universe because they care. Much as the Christian Crusaders descended upon the Middle East in waves during the Crusades claimed to care. Clearly, in both cases, these ostensibly selfless actions, of bringing enlightenment to the fallen, were wrapped up with some other issues.
And, of course, parallels have been drawn between the Crusades and the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan by United States forces. The same claims are repeated; that we are occupying for their own good, that we are rescuing them from the darkness they brought about themselves, that by imposing our values on them, we can help them. Clearly, the occupation of New Caprica was meant to be a commentary on the involvement of the United States in the Middle East, but it also referenced and played with an even more ancient theme from the same locale in the form of the Crusades.
Like a lot of good science fiction, Battlestar Galactica was not afraid to embed commentary about modern society. And once I got to the point where I unlocked what was going on with the God stuff, I started to appreciate it for what it was. We live in a society today where there are huge cultural clashes related to religion, ranging from minority sects which are persecuted and attacked while they are just trying to do their own thing to majority ones which are trying to make the whole world conform with their values.
Is this something that we are just fated to repeat, over and over? And will religion continue to be used as the scrim to conceal the real motivations behind our actions?
I’m kind of inclined to think that this is the case. Religion is such a personal issue while at the same time being such a contentious and complex one that it’s certainly not going to subside. And as long as at least some religions preach that their way is The Way and that people not of that faith are doomed, we are going to experience clashes. Clashes between these dominant religions and more tolerant ones, including more tolerant sects within larger ones. Clashes between atheists, agnostics, and members of these faiths.
People will continue to fight and die over religion, to justify occupation with religion (whether in the literal sense or the metaphoric one; the United States clearly thinks it’s “bringing religion” to the Middle East even though it won’t say it), to be driven to acts of extreme desperation by religion. To repeat history.
The ending of Battlestar Galactica seemed to reflect the status quo into which some societies fall, in which polytheism is driven out by monotheism. But this isn’t the case everywhere, and that’s actually one of the things which disappointed me about the ending; it kind of seemed to reinforce the idea that the Crusaders (and their allies) were right all along. And the idea that, ultimately, monotheism will come out on top.