If you had to name a current television show that was featured in a major panel discussion at the United Nations, would you choose a show that airs at 10p Friday nights on the SciFi Channel? Probably not, but there is such a show – Battlestar Galactica. The UN hosted such a discussion panel yesterday focusing on the themes of “human rights, terrorism, children & armed conflict, and reconciliation between civilians and faith” that were present throughout the series.
Not many shows have the distinct honor of being recognized and utilized in such a way. And for one who has watched this show from nearly its beginning four years ago until Friday night’s series finale, it was very encouraging to see that the brilliance of this show was picked up outside the sci-fi world.
I discovered the “reimagined” version of BSG several years ago when I had to spend a few days on the couch (doctor’s orders). I picked up the series after reading an article in Christianity Today about the role of religion in the show. I had watched the original series back in the last 70s, but I had largely forgotten it because of the corny storylines and Mormon-heavy theology throughout the show. So, I was a bit apprehensive in watching the new version of the show. After just a few episodes, I was immediately hooked.
For those unfamiliar with the show, BSG tells the story of the human survivors of an attack that devastates their homeworlds at the hands of the Cylons. The humans flee their homeworlds with a ragtag fleet of cargo ships and one “Battlestar” to defend them against the Cylons.
While I am a sci-fi fan and I always have a soft spot for stories about space, aliens, et al, I was hooked by BSG not because of those reasons, but instead because it was a show that over the course of its four seasons was not afraid to tackle the tough topics of our day. During the four seasons, it has dealt with abortion, genocide, the role of government in peoples’ lives, unionization, just war theories, the war in Iraq, insurgencies, the rule of law, freedom of the press, the death penalty, and many other topics that I could continue to list. And through all of these is a continual thread of religion, of a higher power that is at work. A higher power that is understood differently by the humans and the Cylons.
What was most significant about the way that BSG dealt with these topics was the unpredictability. It did not follow a specific political or religious viewpoint, but instead tried to reflect the reality of how many things in life are not simply black or white, but varying shades of grey. It made the viewer look at each of these topics in ways that might not be comfortable or easy, but showed some of the reality of the difficulties in each.
BSG has been a show that was not afraid to deal with the legitimate role religion plays in the lives of people and how religion can be at its very best at times and how it can be at its very worst. BSG has allowed people to act consistently upon their faith, to deny the role of faith, and for the inconsistencies that often come when people try to follow faith in their lives. Several years ago, Christianity Today reflected upon BSG as one of the most faith-affirming shows on television and in January named it as a 5-star television show.
Many have written about how BSG has redefined sci-fi for our age. I disagree. BSG has been classic sci-fi at its very best. What I appreciate the most about sci-fi is when it is a reflection upon our lives and upon the world with an eye towards the trajectories upon which we are heading.
Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today – but the core of science fiction, its essence has become crucial to our salvation if we are to be saved at all.
Science Fiction is at its very best when it is not simply telling a story about robots, spaceships, and distant galaxies. It is at its best when it is saying something about our lives here and now, today. Writers such as Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, Orson Scott Card, and many others have led readers to reflect upon issues of the nuclear arms race, genocide, racism, the relationship of science and religion, and countless other highly relevant and important topics.
It is important to note that BSG is not a show for everyone as there is content throughout that is difficult, challenging, even offensive. There have been points where I have watched and wondered why I am still on this journey with the show. What kept me coming back week after week is that BSG was not escapist entertainment, but instead a critical and consistent examination of the realities of our world. As Asimov noted, science fiction presents a mirror for today’s world about the trajectories of the future. BSG, while taking place (potentially) in a vastly different era, struggles with many of the same issues we ourselves struggle with and pushes us regardless of our specific positions.
It has been a great journey and one that I am sad to see go away on Friday night, but one that has caused me to not just enjoy a great show, but to be pushed and challenged in my perspectives. And so, I will wait to hear one last time on the show Friday night…So Say We All.