Born-Again 'Battlestar'

Drawing from Mormonism, Roman polytheism, and even Buddhism, the reimagined sci-fi TV series is steeped in religion.

BY: Ellen Leventry


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This led Moore to flesh out the character of Number Six, a domineering, gorgeous, blonde Cylon who is the personification of the Madonna/whore complex (played by former Victoria's Secret model Tricia Helfer, left). Forever trying to win the love of atheist Dr. Baltar, the human who unwittingly helped the Cylons destroy mankind, she vacillates between seductress and fire-and-brimstone preacher. Number Six incessantly tells Baltar that he must believe in God, that God has a plan for him, that he must repent, while simultaneously leading him to the bedroom. Now that's a missionary position!

"It seems so far that the Cylons are almost a caricature of robotic evangelicalism," says Reiss. "It could be that the writers are trying to make a statement that this is what happens when evangelical Christianity runs amok, the militant nature of it. If that is the statement they're trying to make I find that very sad, that's a caricature of evangelicalism. On the other hand, I'm willing to say it's probably more complex than that."

"I think that the clash between a polytheistic culture and a monotheistic enemy helps to moderate somewhat the parallel that the show seems to draw with the current conflict between the Western world and Islamic fundamentalism," says a reader on's message boards. "By giving the Cylons the 'good' kind of religion and the humans the 'backward' kind, it makes the parallel less clunky and simplistic."

And while it certainly seems that the Cylons could be painted with the broad strokes of Christian or Islamic fundamentalism, another Cylon on the show, Leoben Conoy, espouses seemingly Buddhist beliefs when revealing, during an interrogation, he'll be "reincarnated" in an exact duplicate.

Moore concedes that the belief system of the Cylons encompasses aspects from Christian fundamentalism, Islamic jihad, and even Eastern concepts, but says that he still really hasn't "sat down and defined the theology of the Cylons."

But that's the beauty of "Battlestar Galactica." It provokes discussion without giving definitions, without giving answers.

"What's so interesting is to see how different viewers respond to the show," remarks Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University. "On one message board, one person had been very upset about the anti-Christianity of [the show], while another one fired back that this was an anti-Muslim program."

"The very porousness of the show with regards to how people interpret it is actually a very healthy thing. In a culture where we are so programmed into thinking of spiritual and religious things in these incredibly simple-minded, fundamentalist ways, the level of ambiguity that a show like `Battlestar Galactica' allows in is a healthy thing."

"The show is really supposed to be about us," concludes Moore, the show's developer/producer. "It's really about what we go through today in our society and political structure. Hopefully, the show is able to examine those things from a different perspective without making it as simple as 'the Cylons are Al Qaeda and Laura Roslin is George Bush.' We try to make it more complex than that."

"I think [the show] gives you an easy reference into how an entire culture, or entire group of people, can believe in something so fervently that seems so unfathomable," Moore adds. "Religion is used in various guises, in things good and evil."

Frank talk about religion is still a dicey topic for entertainment, according to Syracuse's Thompson. "'Battlestar Galactica' gets away with it because it's happening on another planet, in another time."

"For all of its kind of modest television, Sci Fi Channel sort of thing," continues Thompson, "'Battlestar Galactica' really tweaks some of these very large questions and issues in a way that much more serious programs don't."

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