Sci-Fi & Religion.
June 4, 2009
A few nights ago, Nuno and I watched the Battlestar Galactica movie Caprica; a chronicle of the creation of human-consciousness possessing robots. Not mere artificial-intelligence – actual human consciousness that was downloaded into robot bodies. This idea of a non-human non-living being possessing actual consciousness forms the backbone of Battlestar Galactica, the ensuing conflict being: if you have human consciousness without human mortality, what becomes the relative value of humanity as a collection of living, dying human beings?
The story is thought provoking, but still, as a sci-fi TV show set on another planet in a distant future, the morality is rather predictable and it’s often the stilted dialogue that requires the greatest suspension of disbelief. Indeed, I tried to get into BSG while Nuno was watching the series, but found that the writing was my biggest stumbling block in developing anything more than a passing interest. Anyhow, in the BSG universe, mortality is found to be fundamental to what it means to be truly human and the “cylon” copies are a threat to a linear, progressive future. Caprica goes back fifty years before the start of BSG to detail the ideas behind the initial creation of the cylons.
Caprica details a society torn apart by religious conflict between the polytheistic majority and an emerging group of monotheists, including a terrorist organization which resorts to suicide bombing to “cleanse” the infidels and show them “the way.” What’s most interesting here is that these very real, very timely religious issues are dealt with sensitively and intelligent by a TV show – and a Sci-Fi TV show at that. Somehow, Sci-Fi/Fantasy is a natural genre for religious narrative: His Dark Materials, the Narnia series, the underlying Mormon themes of the Twilight series…
Very often these stories are targeted towards “young adults” as adult media tends not to touch serious religious allegory with a ten foot pole (The DaVinci Code notwithstanding; I am referring to the discussion of actual religious philosophy and not with “doctrine challenging discoveries.”). It seems to feel “safer” to writers to couch religious narrative in fantasy; it keeps everything on the hypothetical level. Your ideas are automatically free from being judged on the basis of truth if you’re on another planet. Religious thought feels somehow less thorny when confined to “What if?” rather than shelved with “This is.” That said, while I enjoyed Caprica, I would really love to see a show tackle religious ideas right here on Earth.