2016-06-30
Ron Moore is producer of the Sci Fi Channel series "Battlestar Galactica," based on the 1978 TV show of the same name. He spoke with writer Ellen Leventry about religious themes in the original series and the reimagined show.

Glen Larson, creator and producer of the first show, is a member of the Church of Latter-day Saints. He based much of the first series on Mormon cosmology. Was there a concerted effort to move away from that in this version?

Not specifically, no. I looked at the original series as mythos and the way it dealt with religion as sort of a global sense. I was aware that Glen had used Mormon influences and how he had created the cosmology, but I'm not that familiar with Mormon belief or practice. To me there were things that were sort of obvious, the twelve tribes, the twelve tribes of Israel.

At the beginning, I sort of assumed that the Colonials--the human beings--would have a belief system, probably polytheistic. In the original, the "Lords of Kobol" were referred to several times. But it wasn't until the development of the miniseries when I sort of randomly gave the Cylons a belief system. I was creating the characters and working on some lines for Number 6 and I thought it was interesting if she professed a belief in a single God. I had really given her a belief in a singular God almost by accident.

I compared that with the polytheistic religion of the colonials, I started to realize that an interesting pattern was developing--the Cylons believing in the one true God and the Colonials having an older, multifaceted system of deities that was obviously patterned on the Romans. As the series went on, I started to believe that the Cylon belief was going to be a guiding principal.

People are really noticing the dichotomy between the Pagan and the monotheistic themes. It strongly parallels the rise of Christianity and the demise of paganism in the Western world.

That's true. There was a book that I started reading about the one god driving out the many--the rise of monotheism in the Western world and how it came to displace pagan religion. Those themes were interesting to play with in the show: The dynamic whereby the pagan religious practices tended to be tolerant and tended to allow monotheistic beliefs within their own culture.

That's true. There was a book that I started reading about the one god driving out the many--the rise of monotheism in the Western world and how it came to displace pagan religion. Those themes were interesting to play with in the show: The dynamic whereby the pagan religious practices tended to be tolerant and tended to allow monotheistic beliefs within their own culture.

And then there came this came this notion of this outside monotheistic belief, of the one true God that could not tolerate others, that started to drive out pagan worship and that fit very nicely with what we were doing with the show. Because you had this apocalyptic moment of genocide which kicked off the entire series, of this Cylon culture that has this belief system in one god that is literally wiping out this pagan belief system and then is pursuing them across the galaxy. There was a certain resonance in history.

Some viewers say the show stereotypes fundamentalist Christians as kind of robotic, while others are saying, "This is great...pagans are finally the good guys!"

The parallels between the Cylon beliefs and fundamentalist Christian beliefs, yeah, there are certain aspects of it there, but there's also the roots of the drama, also contains things such as Al Qaeda's use of its religious practice to justify what it does. That's part of who the Cylons are too, they aren't just really stalking horses for fundamentalist Christianity.

There also seem to be elements of Eastern religions in the show with Leoben Conoy, another Cylon, talking about consciousness and reincarnation. Does each of the different models of Cylons represent a different religious point of view?

I think that's true. Part of the idea of Leobon was to separate it from easy stereotypes of Christian beliefs. There wasn't really a hierarchical church, there wasn't an easy notion of heaven and hell. Leoben was starting to talk about things that were more Buddhist--consciousness, enlightenment and reincarnation. I thought it was interesting to marry those notions to the idea of one deity.

The Cylon named Number 6 seems to be suffering from a Madonna/whore complex, talking about sin and redemption while leading Dr. Baltar to bed.

Part of that is who those characters are within the Cylon pantheon. We've said that there are only 12 models of Cylons, because the Cylons look at humanity and say there's only 12 different kinds of human, when you get right down to it.

Part of that is who those characters are within the Cylon pantheon. We've said that there are only 12 models of Cylons, because the Cylons look at humanity and say there's only 12 different kinds of human, when you get right down to it.

Six's belief system and the way she practices it is very specific to her character and her model of Cylon. She is sort of a Madonna/whore made real and has a very strict, if odd, sense of God and what God wants. Leobon is more of a thinker and has a more esoteric idea of how things work in the universe. But they both proceed from the same root, that they both believe there is one God who sets everything in motion and has a real sort of impact and interaction with the universe.

Why focus so heavily on the Cylon religion and not the human beliefs?

Because the Cylons are the engine that drives the entire series. The Cylons come back with a vengeance and have this belief system in place.

Because the Cylons are the engine that drives the entire series. The Cylons come back with a vengeance and have this belief system in place.

The interest in the Cylons is this notion of "why are our enemies doing this? What is it they believe, why would anybody behave like this, what kind of monsters would carry out something like that?" It's not just that they're space Nazis, it's that they have an intricate belief system that leads them to this horrific answer.

The show is paralleling today's political climate and reflecting world events...

Absolutely. The show is really supposed to be about our society and political structure, the conversations we have today in the culture. 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 (the President) is George Bush. I don't think the show offers you easy answers on why Al Qaeda does what Al Qaeda does, but I think it gives you an easy reference into how an entire culture, or entire group of people can believe something so fervently that seems so unfathomable at the beginning.

Absolutely. The show is really supposed to be about our society and political structure, the conversations we have today in the culture. 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 (the President) is George Bush. I don't think the show offers you easy answers on why Al Qaeda does what Al Qaeda does, but I think it gives you an easy reference into how an entire culture, or entire group of people can believe something so fervently that seems so unfathomable at the beginning.

Many of the episodes deal with religion very heavily. Why do you think people will watch a sci-fi show that involves a lot of religious themes, but might not watch a "Joan of Arcadia" type show?

I think it's like a lot of things in science fiction. People are a lot more comfortable allowing us to go into areas that are controversial or charged. People put in this automatic filter. It's why the original Star Trek series was able to deal with things like racism in the middle of the 1960's on primetime television.

I think it's like a lot of things in science fiction. People are a lot more comfortable allowing us to go into areas that are controversial or charged. People put in this automatic filter. It's why the original Star Trek series was able to deal with things like racism in the middle of the 1960's on primetime television.

It's all pretend and it gives people permission not to get pissed off.

Do your own religious views shape the story lines?

I'm an Irish Catholic, not practicing. It probably just reflects my interest in my movement from Catholicism to atheism to agnosticism to interest in Eastern religions. I think the show is a reflection of my acknowledgement that faith and religion are a part of the human experience, even if I'm not quite clear on exactly what it all means and what I truly believe. The most direct reflection of me in the show is this idea that when the Cylons became self-aware, when they became sentient, when they became people, they began to ask themselves the existential questions: "Why am I here? What is this all about? Is this all that I am? Is there something more?"

I'm an Irish Catholic, not practicing. It probably just reflects my interest in my movement from Catholicism to atheism to agnosticism to interest in Eastern religions. I think the show is a reflection of my acknowledgement that faith and religion are a part of the human experience, even if I'm not quite clear on exactly what it all means and what I truly believe. The most direct reflection of me in the show is this idea that when the Cylons became self-aware, when they became sentient, when they became people, they began to ask themselves the existential questions: "Why am I here? What is this all about? Is this all that I am? Is there something more?"

My view is that that's fundamental to a thinking person. And that inevitably leads you to questions of faith and religion and "what will happen to me when I die?"

In "Galactica 1980," we actually meet the "Imperious Commander" of the Cylons who turns out to be the Devil in the guise of a humanoid. Will we ever meet the maker of the Cylons in this version?

I think if we ever found an answer to why the Cylons have a god or who the god is--you know, the guy steps out from behind the curtain--I think you'd be disappointed. They're in an interesting place in that their faith is as legitimate as the human faith. Human beings have souls given by the gods, and Cylons have a soul given by their one true god and that has to be just as valid. That means there is a plan for their soul and something for them after they die too. It's a fundamental element of their faith.

I think if we ever found an answer to why the Cylons have a god or who the god is--you know, the guy steps out from behind the curtain--I think you'd be disappointed. They're in an interesting place in that their faith is as legitimate as the human faith. Human beings have souls given by the gods, and Cylons have a soul given by their one true god and that has to be just as valid. That means there is a plan for their soul and something for them after they die too. It's a fundamental element of their faith.

There's been a lot of chatter on the message boards about the spiritual character of the show, with many people saying they enjoy it.

It's fun to do a science-fiction series that isn't just dealing with secular matters. I'm really glad people are responding to it.

It's fun to do a science-fiction series that isn't just dealing with secular matters. I'm really glad people are responding to it.