In honor of Glen A. Larson’s recent passing on November 14, 2014, I am running several reviews about books related to Battlestar Galactica, his most famous and greatest creation.
Battlestar Galactica clearly deals with issues of faith and religion. One of the most controversial twists in the BSG remake was that the Cylons believed in God. In later seasons, religious themes become more prominent as various cults come into conflict with each other. However, I admit that I didn’t quite appreciate the complexity of the show’s treatment of faith until reading Kevin J. Westmore’s The Theology of Battlestar Galactica.
Westmore begins with three chapters describing the different belief systems in BSG: Colonial polytheism, the Cylon monotheism, and Baltar’s cult. He picks out subtle points about religious practice in each community, especially in how Colonial polytheism tended to be communal whereas Cylon monotheism was individualistic. These three chapters do a great job framing religion in the series and are probably worth the (Kindle) price of the book alone.
Westmore then looks at theological themes in the series, from salvation to prophets. Again, Westmore’s analysis helped transform my understanding of the show. He compares events and characters in BSG to biblical stories, showing some fascinating parallels. He explains that theologians’ understanding of divine intervention into mundane life often relies upon a “divine plan” in which humanity is subject to disaster to test the faithful. Sound familiar?
More than simply pointing out a few parallels between BSG and the Bible, Westmore connects the religious themes in BSG to demonstrate how they tell a fairly coherent story – even if the show’s writers couldn’t always manage to do so. When I first watched BSG, I had considered the religious aspects to be a distraction from the hard sci-fi. However, the second time I watched the show – after having read Westmore’s book – I found that paying attention to the religious themes added a new dimension to the story. Perhaps the best compliment I can pay to the book is that it helped me to come to peace with the controversial series finale
Westmore assumes fairly intimate knowledge of BSG, but relatively little about religion, so the book is very accessible to those of use who haven’t read the Bible (or attended church recently). Moreover, although the book focuses on Christianity, I appreciated that Westmore is respectful to atheists. Indeed, he argues that BSG succeeds so well on theological grounds because it depicts a wide variety of believers and types, from the mystic Roslin to the non-believing Adama.
Definitely recommended for fans of the show. Also useful for scholars of religion in popular culture.