Get ready for a lengthy dissection of faith, angels, The One True God and the Lords of Kobol.
SPOILERS abound for all four books in the Lords of Kobol series.
Download them HERE.
This post is going to be text heavy and philosophical. Well, not completely. But still. I think it would be best to start after a JUMP.
So, religion in Battlestar Galactica. This won't be brief.
I've spoken before about why I chose to make the Lords of Kobol Cylons (like I said, SPOILERS). It had to do with preserving the "realism ratio" in the show (natural versus supernatural; about 95-to-5, I figured ... more on the ratio HERE). More on that later, but I felt that making the gods into angels (like "Head Six") would skew the ratio so far the other way that it wouldn't feel like the same universe any longer.
But there's another reason, too.
Battlestar Galactica didn't give us all the answers. For many, that was frustrating. For me, it was intriguing. (After all, I've spent the last two years making my own answers.) If I decided to make the Lords of Kobol messengers of The One True God, I would have to fill in too many blanks, from my own perspective. I would have to outline who and what "God" was, its aims and so on. I would have to pull back the curtain on what was deliberately mysterious and not meant to be fully understood. I didn't want to do that.
So the gods would be Cylons. Easy choice, because their apparent immortality and innate technology level would confound primitive tribal types (plus, they're basically human, so writing for them would be simpler and answering the "where did they come from?" question would be lots of fun). While not the gods, the angels (Head Six/Head Baltar/Head Zoe) would be key figures. God would be spoken of but never directly seen or a focal character. Just like the show.
Early on, I crafted a basic "plan" for The One. It is explicitly said by Head Six at the very end of Book Three: "For humanity to live at peace with themselves, their technology and their world." To me, this was simple enough: no wars, treat your sentient creations well and keep your home in good order so mankind can live there safely.
As you can see in the show, the angels are guides. They suggest and prod but they do not directly interfere. In the case of Baltar and his Angel Six, she can be downright forceful in her prodding sometimes, but it is Baltar's choice, in the end, to do what she wants him to do. It's his malleability that makes him such a prime candidate for the angel's purposes. (And her purpose is to see that The One's plan is fulfilled.)
I noticed long ago the guiding nature of these beings and the importance of free will within the show. The Cylons desired free will. Cavil took it away from the Centurions (likely garnering the ire of The One, in retrospect). So by simply being guides, the angels have allowed free will to be preserved. ... Free will becomes very important a little later on. (Kara Thrace is a special case. More on her later, too.)
Another thing I gleaned from the show, probably not by intent of the writers/producers, is the need for "back up plans."
Here's where we get deep, folks.
Since the beginning of time when a grunting primitive believed a powerful being was carrying a giant torch across the sky every day, the concept of free will has been debated in religion. Does free will cancel out the power of a supreme being? Does a supreme being's knowledge of a choice invalidate that choice? How can a supreme being have a plan when one puny mortal could just say, "No," while crossing his arms defiantly?
For the purposes of storytelling, I have left The One out of it, for the most part. Its agents, though, these angels, have some ability to foresee events (evidenced on occasion in the show). When it comes to the supreme being I've created here, free will is an absolute. Foreknowledge is incomplete because it depends on these mortals making their own choices and one unexpected choice can change it all. That's why there are back up plans.
"Contingencies upon contingencies." That phrase was used more than a few times in the trilogy because I needed it to be clear that there were lots of irons in the fire. That if Apollo chose not to do something someone else may come along and make their own choice, altering humanity's path back toward the plan. The angels, after all, could only guide and prod. Witness Prometheus in Book Two. He flat out refused to adhere to Anaxo's advice and the plan was thrown for a loop. Zeus was nowhere near as malleable as Baltar and so attempts to change the course of events using him were fruitless.
Regardless, this idea of "contingencies upon contingencies" is one I got from the show. For years, Head Six told Baltar about "their child." That child, of course, was Hera, and for years it was drilled into Baltar's head that she needed to be protected and that they were going to be protecting her. Eventually, the vision of The Opera House was fulfilled and Six and Baltar protected Hera in the halls of Galactica and in CIC.
Moreso than in my trilogy (or even Book Four), The One takes a more active role in events. It begins in late season three when we get to the Algae Planet. The timing of having the Galactica and the Cylons there at the same time the star goes nova is crazy-coincidental. Several times in the episode, the characters themselves refer to "God" willing it.
Another point wherein The One was directly involved?
Could her "Destiny" have been realized without her death and resurrection? I'm sure it could have been. If Starbuck had been able to keep her wits for a while longer, she may have been the one who later found the rebel Cylons and then found Earth I. Instead, she was falling apart. She wasn't going to make it so The One intervened.
Was her free will thwarted, however? If we believe that her choices would not have led the fleet to Earth (something I don't buy into), then perhaps The One and its agents could justify predetermining the fate of one person. "Needs of the many" and all that.
But what happened afterward leaves little doubt as to the involvement of a higher power.
In my mind, there is no question that The One was directly involved.
Also, there's the music.
You get what I'm saying. The angels certainly wielded their influence throughout the show and The One made its presence felt, too. In fact, in the fourth season, that realism ratio may have shifted to 90-to-10. Still, there are lots of moving pieces and I believe the finish line could have been reached without them falling into place as snugly as they did.
Why would The One be so involved? Given that humanity had gotten so small (numerically speaking), perhaps desperate times called for desperate measures. With fewer people, there would be fewer contingencies for the angels and The One to rely upon. That's my thought, anyway.
(Sidenote for Caprica fans: I had finished all of Book One and most of Book Two where the characters constantly refer to it as "The One" by the time I saw the pilot episode which featured a certain terrorist group:
Another Caprica sidenote: I devised the title for Book One after several episodes of the show aired. "Apotheosis" was mentioned several times by then and I knew what it meant, thanks to my year of Greek in college. It means "to make divine or godlike." Well, now. In the show, of course this makes sense as the believers in The One will be given an eternal life in their V-world construct. I chose it for the title of Book One because the makers of the Thirteenth Tribe (well, at least one of them) wanted to be immortal and show the gods a thing or two. Plus, as we learned later in the book, the gods themselves are not gods and have set themselves up as deities as part of some sort of experiment. Apotheosis not only is a nice nod to the short-lived show, but it works swell for the subject, too.)
Before I move on, I think I'll touch on the frequent complaint regarding the show, particularly the final episode. And it involves three words:
Literally translating as "god out of the machine," in storytelling, this phrase refers to the sudden introduction of a plot-solving character/device/whatever. Something heretofore unseen and unknown that ties everything up in a bow. So, when it comes to Battlestar Galactica (and the episode "Daybreak"), was deus ex machina used? Short answer: no.
Long answer: everything we see in "Daybreak" is something that has been revealed before. That there was a divine hand involved has been alluded to ever since Head Six opened her mouth. That Head Six was an angel was something mentioned in Season One and emphatically stated by her to be the case in the Season Two episode "Home II" (which I believe coincides with the point in time that the writers/producers solidified their thoughts on her). That the fleet would find our Earth was confirmed by the stars in the Tomb of Athena (again, in "Home II"). That Kara Thrace had some sort of destiny beyond the here-and-now was first explored in Season One's "Flesh and Bone," continued in detail in Season Four's "Maelstrom" and confirmed to be frakking weird with the discovery of her corpse on Earth I (Season Four's "Sometimes a Great Notion"). My point is ... there was always, always, a deus in this machina.
"Look upon your handiwork, Lord Apollo! It is your doing!"
"No," he said.
"Make no mistake!" He tried to pull away, but Leto was always there, tugging on his arm, clawing at his chest, wrenching his heart. "Your city, your fires!"
"No!" he screamed.
"You and your Olympians have doomed Kobol to destruction for millennia."
He stopped fighting her advances and stood still, listening, but still avoiding eye contact.
"Chances for redemption came and went and before long, your self-proclaimed godhood doomed billions to death and denied them salvation."
Apollo shook his head and Leto put her hands on either side of his cheeks to still him. "Not me," he said.
"Yes, you." Leto pressed his face harder, forcing him to look at her. "You and only you, my son. Your Cylons. Your actions. You put it all in motion. You activated them and brought them to the Temple. You gave them the gift of thought and they returned the favor with destruction."
"Not me," he said again.
"Accept it!" she yelled, again grabbing him forcefully by the arms. "You've done so very well. God is very pleased."
Apollo stopped squirming and he looked into his mother's face. "God? This … this is what God wanted? I thought God was … "
"Of course," she said, scoffing. "Nothing happens that isn't God's will. Or part of his plan."
Apollo shook his head wildly and pressed his palms against his face, "I don't understand."
"Of course you don't. Granted, God's desired outcome would be far less messy than this, but … free will." She shrugged. "Both humans and now Cylons have it. And just the right person at the right time with the wrong idea can throw things for a loop."
Apollo became still. "God wanted this?"
Leto placed her hand, almost lovingly, on Apollo's face. "My son, don't over think it. And don't carry the guilt too heavily." He looked at her as though she were crazy. "You're not grasping the other side of the coin."
"Thanks to you, humanity will survive. Kobol's humans will live on." She smiled and again, Apollo was not comforted. "If it weren't for you, son, no human would walk away from this." She pointed toward Delphi. "No ship would be waiting to carry anyone away. Your society would be dead. Right here."
"You've done your part, mostly. Your job is almost done. You've saved mankind!" She paused and then said, "What was it you almost asked?"
Apollo was barely able to focus on her. "When?"
"You almost said, 'I thought God was love?'"
"Yes," Apollo said.
"He is. God loves mankind. That's why it will survive this. If he didn't love humanity, then they would all die here. There wouldn't be a second chance."
Apollo looked away from her and toward Delphi again. The grey-black mushroom was taller and more stretched. It was partially illuminated by the moon and the winds higher above the ground were beginning to tilt it to the east.
He collapsed in a heap and sat on the road. Crying again, he asked, "How is this saving mankind?"
Leto knelt beside him and wrapped her arms around his neck. She laid her head on Apollo's and said, "Those that remain on Kobol, human and Cylon alike, will kill each other and die out on their own." Her son whimpered and she continued, "But a few hundred thousand people will survive this day. They will carry life into the stars. And they will multiply, giving humanity another chance for peace and salvation. They will plant more trees. You have given them that chance."
He shook his head, still sobbing. "It's just numbers to you. Two and a half billion people, dead."
"True," she said. "A few hundred thousand people survive and you bear the guilt for bringing about the instrument of their destruction or, if you didn't bring about this doom, zero survive. Zero survive and there's nothing you or anyone else could do about it."
A lot of that speaks for itself.
The One loves mankind and wants it to survive. But the Lords of Kobol have kept humanity trapped, restricted their choices and denied them "salvation." It's all pretty nebulous and that's the way I liked it.
What about direct involvement? Did I need The One to step in as boldly as it apparently did in the show? No, not really. There was only one thing I really needed The One to do.
She adjusted the Streamset on her face and rubbed her hands together. For whatever reason, Hecate was giddy at the prospect of interfering with Apollo's work. She had thought about it nonstop for months and now, here she was. In the Tomb of Athena.
The hologram wasn't activated in the room around her, but Hecate was able to manipulate the images and sounds via her Streamset. She didn't want to change too much. It needed to seem genuine. But, again, she wanted to mess with everyone's minds.
She couldn't deny that she felt pushed toward the tomb. Pushed may not be right. Pulled felt more correct. Something drew her here. She had to see the mechanics of the projection and she had to play with them. She reached up toward the constellation Taurus. She lightly moved a star out of position.
The lines connecting the dots in the sky shifted and, to her pleasant surprise, the jewels on the stone pillar changed as well. She moved another star. And another. Then she moved to Gemini and toyed with the tiny balls of fire. She grinned, feeling the resistance of each stellar body as she moved them. She moved on to another constellation. And then another.
Hecate walked toward the entrance of the tomb and the Quorum members backed out into the dusk. She glanced back once at the Sagittarius statue. For a moment, she was concerned that she had only altered a few of the constellations. But then, relief washed over her. She looked out of the tomb and didn't give it a second thought. Whatever she felt compelled to do to the projection had been done.
another post, the stars in the Tomb of Athena were difficult to deal with. We know they were initially set to show the way to Earth I (for the Thirteenth Tribe), but by the time the Galactica crew got there, the stars showed the way to Earth II. (I also typed about Kevin Grazier's info on this subject in that other post and how if Earth I and II are close enough in a line to each other, the constellations Gaeta saw around Earth I may still look like the ones seen around Earth II.)
So, yeah. I needed a way for the stars to be changed and I didn't want an angel to talk to Gideon. I could have had Leto make Apollo change them, but involving Hecate in all of this felt so much more ... intriguing. Therefore, I insinuate that God made Hecate want to change them. It gave her character a lot to do, plus it puts her in the right place at the right time to conduct some human sacrifices.
What about prophecy and Pythia? We know from the show that Pythia lived 1,600 years before the exodus of humanity from Kobol. Now, in Book Four, Pythia has been merged with Gaia and she has the power to foresee certain things. In the trilogy, since I was trying to be more realistic, I had no desire to make Pythia truly prophetic. Having the angel Ino visit her and give her insights and advice to hone her writing and perception ... that's fine. As the messenger came to realize by the end of the night with her, she did have a gift for the writing. Maybe she was divinely inspired.
But why is she credited with knowing so much more than she could possibly have predicted?
In my more realistic take, my solution has real world parallels. I said that Pythia was also an editor and compiler of the Sacred Scrolls and that many people credited her with writing things she didn't. So she could have written her poetic stuff about the Thirteenth Tribe's exodus and some vagueries about a future exodus. The details would be filled in later by actual witnesses to these events (like Alexandra Gideon) and those writings could have been edited into Pythia's earlier work by some monk or something centuries later. Such is the way holy books are made.
It's true. Take the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Torah or Old Testament). Traditionally, people believe that it was written by Moses (except for the verses that describe his death). Problem is, the textual style of those books shifts, sometimes from chapter to chapter, and information given sometimes conflicts with information given on other pages (did you know there are two different creation myths in Genesis?). What's the answer here? Most likely, this text was created by editing together multiple sources.
Also, in the New Testament, you know the Gospels? Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? More than likely, they were not written by the guys whose names they bear. In fact, they weren't even written when Jesus was supposedly still alive (the earliest of the four is Mark, written around 70 CE and also shows evidence of having been compiled from multiple sources). There's also a lost gospel called Quelle (German for "source") that shows influences in both Matthew and Luke. And beyond these four, there were dozens of other gospels about Jesus that were later cast aside because they contained things the church just plain didn't like (read up on the Nag Hammadi for more info ... like the Gospel of Philip which tells us Jesus liked to make out with Mary Magdalene).
For centuries, the believers fought among themselves (sometimes violently; most often not) as to which writings were legit. Several councils were held by leaders as they refined their belief systems and, most germane to this discussion, refined their texts. The Council of Rome and the Council of Trent are probably the two most important. Hundreds of texts were tossed for various reasons and the Bible began to take the form we know today.
What was I talking about?
Oh yeah. I'm trying to explain how I can believe that Pythia didn't write everything the people on the show attribute to her. Also, how specific information about the exodus found its way into texts of a person who couldn't possibly have known about them. All of this, primarily, to avoid making her a full-on prophet. In some conversations, other writers of the Scrolls are mentioned (Menander, for one, is said to have written stuff about Earth I and Apollo says he was on the Pegasus that returned to Kobol). In Book Four, the process of writing and pulling together the texts of the Scrolls is a specific event that we see Pythia doing, even though she herself has certain powers moreso than the oracle we see in the trilogy.
(Perhaps there are various books of the Scrolls that were eliminated in some Councils of their own. Maybe these were lost to most of the Colonials, but discovered by the Cylons later. Remember what Athena said on Kobol? Paraphrasing, "I'm pulling this information from a lot of different sources. We know more about your gods than you do." Maybe those sources include some rejected from the official Sacred Scrolls ...
Or ... maybe those sources came from the Final Five when they met the Cylons and helped build the skinjobs. Since they came from Earth and, therefore, had early writings from Kobol themselves, most likely, the texts in their version of the Sacred Scrolls is different than the one that was developed later.)
Since I brought up the Cylons and the Final Five, let's talk about the Cylon god for a bit. Colonial Cylons were monotheist, thanks to Zoe Graystone and Sister Clarice Willow. (For me, it's fun to think that their worship of The One is tied to some remaining strand of the Draco from Kobol, who, in turn, got their monotheism from survivors of Larsa.) It's intriguing to note that a messenger of The One in the form of Zoe appeared several times in Caprica and may have been the Zoe we saw in Sister Clarice's congregation at the end of the series finale.
So. The Cylon god is The One. I've never questioned that. Fostered over the years by Sister Clarice Willow and perhaps even by some remnant of Zoe within the Cylon programming, the root message of this particular faith, even some sixteen thousand years after the destruction of Larsa, is the simple line "God is love." You read what Angel Leto told Apollo about that above and I'll have a few more thoughts on it nearer the end of this post.
On a related matter, in a season one deleted scene, Elosha told Tigh that humanity left Kobol because, "One jealous god desired that he be elevated above all the other gods. And the war on Kobol began." So, I made The One the "jealous god." The angels (mostly Leto/Six) treat The One as a jealous god, desiring of humanity's adoration and worship. We see this sometimes in the series, too. But does The One truly desire worship? I don't think so. I think Leto/Six often says things to turn people's thoughts toward achieving the aims of The One's plan even though those things are not always 100% true.
For the longest time, this was how the theology in the series was. There was a basic plan, the angels guided people toward that plan and The One wasn't in it at all.
While I edited, I began to realize how integral the angels were to the story. Book Three is primarily about the end of the Olympians' reign and the departure of humanity, it's also about the victory of The One's messengers. For thousands of years, they laid their plans, had them waylaid occasionally only to right the path later on. Finally, the culmination of their work was paying off and they won. The Pantheon was destroyed, a portion of humanity saved and the most harmful elements purged. There was a chance for mankind to truly live according to the plan later on ... though the Colonies squandered that opportunity, too.
I knew the angels needed a better hook than what they were given. I felt that something was missing. Something that might be corrected by adding a single chapter. The last thing I wrote for the trilogy is the first chapter in Book Two. Since that book was subtitled Descent, it made sense as that was what the angels were doing ... descending to Larsa/Kobol much as the gods would later descend the mountaintop.
I could have focused this new chapter on one or both of the angels, but I felt like I wanted to give something new a try. For nearly two years, I avoided stepping into the mind of The One because I didn't want to pull the curtain back. I didn't want to even try to explain what so many millions of people had tried and failed to adequately describe for thousands of years: the very nature of a supreme being.
Being a science and science fiction dork, I long ago told myself that the angels were "inter-dimensional beings." Now, this was before Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, so that had no negative connotations. Still ... I thought they were beings from a different plane/dimension/universe intersecting with our own. Like Flatland. (You ever hear about that in your physics class? Did you know they made a movie? With the voices of Martin Sheen, Kristen Bell and Michael York?)
In Flatland (if I'm remembering semi-correctly), a third-dimensional being intersects with a 2D universe. Since this 3D being is a sphere, when he appears in the 2D-verse, his 3D form is reduced to a 2D version of himself; a circle. The 2D beings can only perceive him that way because they have 2D minds and 2D thinking.
And what if "God," The One, is a being from a higher dimension than those angels? What if it uses the angels as agents to interact with us extraordinarily lower beings?
Analogy-wise, let's think of The One as a scientist, looking at a bunch of amoeba and such on a slide. To interact with us lowly types, he uses a variety of tools ... maybe he even takes some advanced computers and robotics to fashion single-cell nanobots. The scientist injects these agents of his onto the slide to see if he can make the amoeba do what he wants. Maybe ...
This is what I had in my head for "God" and his angels before I even thought about seriously writing these books. (And how cool is it to think about the experiment of Zeus' people thwarting some higher-dimensional being's experiment for a few thousand years?) There was a nagging thought, though, and not a unique one when it comes to thinking about deities: what does God get out of it?
Worship? No. That's humanity imposing its own vanity on the divine. (The same goes for jealousy, too. Humans love projecting their own emotions, flaws, etc., on animals and gods. They've done it forever.)
When I sat down to actually write this chapter featuring The One as a focal character, I knew I needed some sort of ... thing for The One to seek. Something for it to want to get out of this. I couldn't fall into the trap, though, of over-humanizing this superior being. Whatever it wants needs to be beyond our comprehension. (That way, I don't have to explain it too much, thereby diluting the mystery of The One.)
Getting back briefly to the popularly uttered tenet, "God is love," I believe that's the way the angels (Leto/Six, mostly) chose to convey their messages to the people. In three words, the basic concept of The One's plan is laid bare. For The One to harvest a full and healthy tree, it needs mankind to survive and flourish. For that to happen, people must live and allow others to live. They must love their fellow man to keep them going and keep them watering the tree. They must also recognize the ability for free will and consciousness in non-humans (Cylons).
When the Final Five encountered Cylons in the midst of war, they found machines that had adopted a monotheist faith (unlike Earth I's own polytheist faith). The primary tenet of the Cylons' beliefs was that God is love, again thanks to the programming of Zoe Graystone and the reformed teachings of Sister Clarice (being a terrorist and all, she may have had a harder time convincing people of that message if she hadn't changed her ways) . How they came to fight against humanity ... well, that might be a story for a different time (or book), but I think it's safe to say they were tired of being slaves and conscripted soldiers. Ellen mentioned in the episode "No Exit" that the Five realized this monotheist faith with "God is love" at its heart could bring true peace. The Five knew this because they themselves had been visited by angels, too, also trumpeting this belief (I assume). Once the Cylons were able to break free of humanity, they might have lived their own lives according to their beliefs, but the machinations of Cavil (Number One) interfered and war broke out again later with love being the furthest thing from their reprogrammed minds.
"God is love" is the key. It leads to the plan the angels were trying to implement and it helps grow the tree for The One to harvest. If everyone treated everyone better, humanity would last longer and the tree would be huge. But mankind is selfish and repressive. And, judging by the self-destructions of Larsa, Kobol, Earth I and the Colonies, mankind requires several tries to get it right. (Not that we on Earth II have, mind you.)