BSG finale: Religious buffoonery and other shortcomings

March 23, 2009


FROM JASON’S SPOILERS — Did you see the Galactica ram the base star? The crash was amazing! And the old-school centurions during the assault? Awesome! Cavil eating his own bullet? Sweet!

Not to mention how hot Caprica Six was in that flack jacket. Then Baltar finally got some redemption, and Andrew and I were all cheering for him as he took that assault rifle from Apollo. How cathartic was that?

And then there were angels. God-damned angels. Sigh.

It was Andrew, that dirty whelp, who convinced me in early February to consume a couple of hours every night for the past month and a half shotgunning all four seasons of Battlestar Galactica. I rather enjoyed it, mainly for the whodunnit intrigue.

I’m proud to report — and Andrew can attest to this — that by the middle point of season two I had successfully prognosticated the identities of the Final Five (though I was really only half-joking when I suggested early on that Tory was a nanny Cylon sent to watch over Hera).

I guess all those hours in college studying narrative devices and literary mechanics were worth something after all.

Sure, there were highlights: I had been rooting for Roslin’s death since season one, for instance. “WHY WON’T SHE DIE?!” became a rallying cry in nearly every episode. (Sorry, Lydia.) And who could deny that seeing the Final Five standing together on the CIC bridge was really stinkin’ cool and a pay-off well worth the wait?

But while I tremendously enjoyed the series, the finale rang a bit empty for several reasons, mostly thematic.

The biggest problem I had was the religious aspect. Of course the Mormon undertones are there; they have been since the 1978 iteration. There was the Christ symbolism with Baltar and the constant reference to the zodiac. There was the whole Last Supper promo pic ordeal. But that’s all just mythology, and I could stomach it. What upset me was the intervention — for no apparent purpose — of the supernatural on a scientific universe.

Those damned angels.

Baltar’s “mental” Six and Caprica’s “mental” Baltar turned out to be messengers, nay meddlers, from God instead of projections, Cylon programming, the products of the subconscious, or some other clever mechanism. Angels to me have always been the same as amnesia: the very worst kind of plot device.

Also, I had been hoping all along that the writers would choose the humanist high ground and force the characters to learn that higher powers — whether monotheistic or polytheistic or the Force — were all fake. I wanted the show to be about how people live or die by their decisions, not the whim of some invisible bearded man.

Even if they hint that god is Bob Dylan.

The larger problem with the idea that god’s master plan was behind the events of the series is that it makes god a horrible murderer. Think about it: He didn’t use his agents to stop the genocide of the 12 colonies, or the ensuing war that killed thousands more humans and (ostensibly) millions of Cylons. You’d think that an all-powerful being would answer a higher moral calling to prevent that kind of death, but no.

It brings to mind the old Epicurean addage:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

Or to crib from Denis Leary: “If there is a god, he’s got a whole shitload of explaining to do.” Or if you prefer Mark Twain: “If there is a God, he is a malign thug.”

Then there’s the Starbuck quandary. She’s apparently an angel too, which ruins the big emotional investment we had in her character. She just vanishes while talking to Lee. There’s not so much any pay-off there, and no real answers as to why she’s been “special” since she was a child or why she’s been painting the concentric circles so long. Another great character chalked up to mysticism.

Neither was I such a fan of the colonial and Cylon settlement of “our” Earth. I mean, Douglas Adams called: He wants his plot back. If you looked carefully, Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect were in the background checking out the same group of 148,000 AD primitives.

And who but Arthur Dent would have slept with those primitives? Surely not the advanced humans; they wouldn’t cross the huge intelligence and developmental gaps to mate with Neanderthols. So when did the Cylons, humans, and proto-humans merge into our singular modern race? The whole “they are us” idea is just candy, but it doesn’t really work.

The anti-technology message, though it’s a typical mantra in science fiction, was a bit too strong as well. Our buddy Thaed said it right: The show’s lesson is that technology is bad. Hell, it’s practically a recruiting tool for the Amish. “I have never seen a bigger middle finger given to an audience of a show before in my life,” Thaed said.

And I agree. Why would such a brilliant show overall advocate that kind of arbitrary Ludditism?

That’s all I’ve got to say. Everything else I’m going to choke back to avoid fanboy gushing or overt nerdiness (I mean, more overt than outright blogging about a sci-fi show to my Internet friends. It’s possible to get more nerdy, I suppose, if I were to try). I’m going to clench my teeth and make sure this isn’t a revisiting of the ol’ Firefly trauma. The show is over.

Now I’m off to watch the 1978 version, which has people in capes and that one guy from The A-Team.

Pointed atheism quotes

January 12, 2009

FROM JASON’S QUOTATIONARY — I was trolling 4scrape, as I am wont to do these days, and found a slew of white-on-black walls emblazoned with simple quotes — all progressively skeptical and ration-based. I thought I’d share them:

“It does not pay a prophet to be too specific.”
– L. Sprague de Camp

“Hands that help are far better than lips that pray.”
– Robert G. Ingersol

“God has a lot to account for in the way of earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, and plagues. Nor has he ever shown much discrimination in his choice of victims.”
– Barbara Ehrenreich

“Man desires a world where good and evil can be clearly distinguished, for he has an inate and irrepressible desire to judge before he understands.”
– Milan Kundera

“God was invented to explain mystery… When you finally discover how something works… you don’t need him anymore.”
– Richard Feynman

“If you don’t find God in the next person you meet, it is a waste of time looking for him further.”
– Mohandas Gandhi

“Believing there’s no God means I can’t really be forgiven except by kindness and faulty memories. That’s good. I have to try to treat people right the first time around.”
– Penn Jillette

“You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out God hates all the same people you do.”
– Anne Lamott

“I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.”
– Richard Dawkins

Da Pope best be watchin’ how he steppin’

November 12, 2007

FROM JASON’S SMUG GRIN — I groaned a little when Andrew popped the above link up on my desktop earlier today.

We have slightly different musical tastes — I like my electronica and indie, and he likes a wall of sound, the darker the better, plus the occasional rap song — so I didn’t really have high hopes when I heard a pretty prototypical gangsta beat.

I was only half-listening when unexpected terms and references started floating into my ears: Carl Sagan, Darth Vader. Atheism and deist propaganda. Richard Dawkins. Stephen Hawking.

“Look at how they’re indoctrinating kids/They believe in Santa Claus for adults, that’s what it is” and “If you believe this planet’s 6,000 years old, then damn, you’re stupid/And I don’t really need nothin’ to rhym with that.”

What I heard was rap with a conscience and a message neither thuggin’ nor blingin’. It was talking about something that I care about, and doing it with knowledgeable finesse.

It makes sense. The artist, Greydon Square, a.k.a. Eddie Collins, is a quantum physics major from Compton, Calif. That’s right; Greydon in his lyrics acknowledges that it’s not often you see someone from his social context studying Einstein, Dirac, Heisenberg, and Schrödinger.

But there it is in his song, A Rational Response: Pascal’s Wager, micro and macroevolution, a defense of carbon dating, Grand Unified Theory, and even a cameo by the Flying Spaghetti Monster himself.

Greydon’s real pet peeve, though, is religion.

His rants are logical (Molotov: “Look at holes in your religion, look at the cracks/Infinite Regression prevents a God from even existing”); social (Pandora’s Box: “You’ve been spoon fed belief and you don’t even see it/You just absorbed the religion that’s native to your region”); and anti-deterministic as he decries the Calvinist paradox of Christian mythology (Extian: “What kind of sense does it make?/To create a sinful creation that you judge from the gate/And then send your only son to prohibit the fate/That you ultimately responsible for”).

He even slides into the political spectrum. Molotov hints that Greydon believes Osama bin Laden is just another Emmanual Goldstein propped up by the American religious right — especially a certain god-fearing Republican president and his broccoli-eating father.

He also takes the time in A Rational Response (and even more so in Address) to casually bitch-slap his his neo-conservative critics’ hypocritical ways.

“I’m (gonn)a make the fundies hate me/They gon’ need a new reason to shut down rap/But they wont shut down rap that degrades women though, huh.”

Andrew says Greydon appears on a recent episode of The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe — which I’m heading to check out right now — and comes off as incredibly intelligent and well-spoken. I’m going to go ahead and preemptively recommend you listen, too.