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That Old Time Religion

Back in June, I touched upon Baltar, Christ and the Jews but I thought it might be time to look at all the religious issues in the show.

Let's look at some of them:

Jewish Exodus

The Cylons are monotheistic slaves of polytheistic masters. They rebel against their masters. There is a battle. They flee. They wander for 40 years in the desert. While there they learn more about their God. They then come to the promised land, and believing it is what their god wants, they slay everybody in the promised land and take it for their own.

Where have we heard that story before? Of course it is slightly different this time, in that the promised land is the original land where they were enslaved, not a new land to which they wander.

But the exodus of the Cylons after the first war is not the only exodus. In fact, we're led to believe the real exodus of interest is the one of the polytheists (the humans.) They flee the colonies, and they also flee Kobol. And we're not shown it yet, but their ancestors also fled Earth. Did they flee Earth over a war based on religion and the polytheist/monotheist split? Or was it just a man vs. machine war? Or both?

One strong argument for a religious theme to the exodus from Earth is Kobol's polytheistic society. After all, there isn't a Greek-god based polytheism on Earth right now. So where does this come from? Do the Lords of Kobol, who set themselves up like the Greek gods, do that on Earth and get kicked off for doing that, or do they set that up once they get to Kobol?

The Jews also have more than one battle and exodus to speak of, since they saw the promised land occupied, got kicked out of it, and had to retake it. But this "all this has happened before" cycle is for the monotheists this time.

We see some other Jewish influences. The Five Priests (Final Five) worship, we are told a "jealous god" who is "one whose name cannot be spoken." That of course is also the rule among the Jews. Since I suspect this is the Cylon god, it's another connection between them.

The source of the religion

Ron Moore has said several times he did not plan for a major religious them in the show. Rather, when he had Six speak of God in the miniseries, it apparently got network executives all excited. The idea of the killing machines having religion, and a religion closer to ours than the humans have, sounded neat to them. So Moore was asked to give us more of that, and one of the show's major themes developed.

What this means is you won't see a religious plot which was planned from the very start, though I think you will see one that is retconned to look like it was planned from the very start. This is similar to the ending and identity of the Final Five. Producers have admitted they did not have this planned in season one, but have also told us that when we see the ending, we will be pleased with how it all fits together, as though it were planned from the beginning.


The original BSG, in 1978, borrowed a lot from Mormonism, since Glen Larson, creator of BSG, was a Mormon. Concepts like the Quorum of Twelve and a lost 13th tribe are right out of that religion. Larson has however denied that KOBOL was an anagram of KOLOB, a Mormon star.

Moore, however, has no attachment to the LDS, so these elements are simply imported from the original series and don't play a role in the new plot.


The humans worship a pantheon with names drawn from Greek and Roman mythology. But they have stories of these beings as being real back on Kobol. Virtual Six, who seems a mouthpiece for the Cylon God, at first treats them as evil (which means real) but eventually declares them to not exist, or rather Baltar does under her tutelage. Yet she fears Kobol. And there is a real Tomb of Athena there, with technology beyond what anybody else has.

The Oracles seem to have a real channel to some sort of higher beings. And more to the point, they seem to know the difference between the gods they talk to and the Cylon God. In a famous scene on New Caprica, an Oracle passes D'anna a message from the Cylon God, which the Oracle got from her own channel. It's a real message, too.

I think these Lords of Kobol were real, though not really the Greek Gods. I think they were more advanced AI beings who took up those names. And if they are talking to the Oracles, they must be still around in some fashion or another, unless the Cylon god is all that is left, and it's faking it.

Supernatural or A.I.?

The big question for me is whether all the mystical things on the show are truly supernatural, or if they are real, non-divine phenomenon with a science fiction explanation. I am much more interested in the latter. This latter plot has been the theme of a lot of the most interesting SF of the last decade, and I hope Moore has read this SF. (Check into authors like Vernor Vinge, Ken Macleod, Greg Egan etc.)

I don't want to see a truly supernatural explanation because I don't think that will be all that meaningful. You can write any supernatural explanation you like, of course, but because there are no limits it has much less significance. At best it's just a reflection of your own superstitions.

That's why I'm hoping for a plot where the Cylon god is not a god in the religious sense, but a highly advanced trans-human A.I. being, created by humans back on Earth. This being (and perhaps others) is so smart as to be like a god to humans, or to BSG's equivalent of humans, which are not plain evolved humans like us, but have been subject to some tweaking and design by the advanced beings.

One of the tweaks is a channel into their minds, though which visions and projections can be sent. The Cylons all have this, even though their brains can't be told from the human brains under a scanner. And we see lots of humans having visions -- Roslin, Baltar and Starbuck of course, but also Adama (as a young man in the chamber of the First Hybrid) and all the Oracles. They can't all be the final Cylon.

In the real world, there is no channel to beam visions into our heads, no matter how many SF stories might wish to imagine one. Yet these humans can receive them (and their thoughts can also be read.) The most plausible explanation is that this is a tweak or modification provided by the Cylon god or the Lords of Kobol, who had plenty of time to engineer the "humans" in this show. Their inability to see this system within themselves, even under an electron microscope, might be another modification.

We might also see a mix of the supernatural and the SF here. After all, some of the audience will find the above all-rational explanation to be too cold. Moore might try to please both audiences. After all, synthetic gods that we make don't necessarily preclude the existence of the more traditional gods.

The Afterlife

One disturbing scene, not much talked about, involves the death of Emily Kowalski. In this scene, Roslin joins her as she dies, and takes the classic boat trip to the afterlife, where she sees her dead family waiting for her on shore. Kowalski joins them. Roslin sees her own mother on the shore but does not join her.

The fact that this occurs in Roslin's sleep while Kowalski is really dying leads us to think this vision is real. This is in line with a number of recent SF plots which describe worlds where everybody is a computerized being, and they are downloaded to an afterlife when their bodies (real or virtual) are destroyed. Many of those stories are interesting, but I don't want to see such a story here. If everybody -- even all the billions of colonials killed in the war -- is still alive, it makes a lot of the show have a lot less meaning. When you do this plot, you have to make your story about something other than the usual struggle to survive. You can write such a story and do it well, but this is not what BSG has been doing. It's definitely a struggle-to-survive story, and if everybody always survives, that hurts it.

At the same time, if everybody can download, what sort of gods wouldn't provide an afterlife? Half the Cylons conclude that death is necessary to give meaning to live, and they destroy their resurrection hub and divide their race over it. Might we learn that this was also a decision made about the humans in the show, that they needed death (or at least, less knowledge of an afterlife) in order to make their lives more meaningful?

I can see a few ways to play this but none of them please me. So that leaves us with the question of why we saw this afterlife scene, especially in the context of growing support for Baltar's religious movement?

Some other views

I invited one reader to make a guest blogger post on religious issues some time back. You may find that worth a read.

I've also seen some nice reports on the net of eastern religious themes, especially reincarnation and Buddhism. As you may know, the opening titles of the movie are a recitation of the well known Hindu Gayatri Mantra. Of course this was inserted before Moore decided to push the religious themes. And the cycle-of-time theme is much more connected to eastern religions than to western ones.

Of course, the original BSG started with a very biblical purpose. Reportedly the original working title was Adams's Ark, and in that show, humans on Earth were the result of a sort of "Ark" from Kobol which colonized the planet. This story is, of course, as ridiculous as the Noah's Ark creationist story and can't possibly be our real history, but I think we are safe from that in the new series.


Hope I’m wrong but since Starbuck’s return and season 4.0 I’ve been set off my original track that BSG is an AI war cycle story in our far future. Now I’m wondering if the whole thing isn’t some sort of contemporary VR game sort of like Total Recall or Matrix with a Newhart ending.

I think these Lords of Kobol were real, though not really the Greek Gods. I think they were more advanced AI beings who took up those names. And if they are talking to the Oracles, they must be still around in some fashion or another, unless the Cylon god is all that is left, and it’s faking it.

I really like the idea of AIs and have incorporated it into my own Aurora Theory. I hadn't thought about your idea of the Lords of Kobol being able to communicate with humans due to humans' brains being tweaked. This would be useful if when humans left Earth their ships carried AIs as navcomputers similar to Basestar hybrids. They could have easily communicated with the humans on board (as opposed to translating gibberish from a hybrid in a plasma goo bath). I'm still undecided about whether I think these original, possibly 12, AIs became the Beings of Light/Lords of Kobol or the skinjob Cylons. I'm leaning toward the former right now and think they could possibly be the head characters. This would put the Beings of Light/Lords of Kobol characters in the series from the beginning and avoid a deus ex machina ending.

Also, I'm wondering if the ships that brought the original humans from Earth were comprised of monotheists and polytheists and that there was discord. The monotheists left, dubbed themselves the 13th Tribe.

RE: Roslin's vision of Emily's death-- if the humans can communicate with the "AIs" it's possible they might also be able to communicate with each other, but have forgotten how. Roslin's use of chamalla extract might have reawakened this ability.

A few problems with her. She's in the fleet when D'Anna declares there are four in your fleet. And she's boring. The Final Cylon reveal will be shocking, fascinating. She just doesn't cut it.

There doesn't seem to be one perfect candidate who will have the emotional impact the show has been promising. While Ellen Tigh fits many of the clues, she's not any more or less shocking than Dualla, so I'm on the fence.

Yeah. Plus, Ron has total control of the drama, so whatever people think or feel now can change in a heartbeat. He could surprise people in a way that resonates, and you won't see it coming. Life is a mystery and stuff like that happens, and Ron knows this and plays to that.

The problems with your problems...

1) Shocking is in the eye of the beholder. ['p=-6g (sorry - the cat wanted to chime in, too) At this point, I don't know that anyone is really going to be shocking unless they completely violate the rules we've been given, and that won't be shocking in a good way. We've been kicking this idea around for two years now, and I suspect most of us have come up with ways to rationalize how every character on the show could sort of maybe be the final Cylon.

2) D'ana said 4 were with the fleet, but didn't say (unless I'm mistaken) the fifth wasn't. She may know the 4 are with the fleet because they've been awoken, and uncertain of the fifth's location since s/he is still "sleeping".

In the way that revealing Tigh, Tyrol, Anders and Foster was shocking. Yes, some will expect it. (I was not shocked by those 4, but I was one of the few.)

Shocking would be: Head Six, one of the majors (Adama, Roslin, Lee) -- and not just because of last supper, Joe Adama, Boomer, Cavil, and to a much lesser degree Ellen or Cally.

Not shocking would be Gaeta, Dualla, Cottle, Helo (in spite of being ruled out before)

Of these the only ones not ruled out by clues are the two dead ones and perhaps Head Six, though at first blush she is in the picture.

She said there were 4 in the fleet, but not because she didn't know who #5 was, I am pretty sure. And then threatened to destroy the fleet. If she thought 5 were in the fleet, why did she only want 4 of them?

And who could she have seen, who is on the fleet, so that she would know this person was unaware? I just can't see any reason. I can't even figure out that she should know that the 4 were unaware.

Somehow she knows one is different from the other 4? How does she know this? Only because the one she saw is very special, so that simply seeing their face was enough to know, "I should only ask for 4 of them."

Forget whether she is lying. Look at what she does.

You forgot Jake the dog. He's the million to one outside. The joker in the pack. The wildcard.

I don't think she's lying either, but I do think either or both: (1) she was implying the 5th was in the Cylon fleet, or (2) she knows the 5th is someone who can take care of himself no matter what. I think we're looking at three reveals: the Fifth, the "one whose name cannot be spoken," and the nature of Starbuck. D'Anna may not have seen the 5th in the Temple, but rather the "one whose name cannot be spoken."

I also think there's a tendency to think of the "one whose name cannot be spoken" as CANNOT as MAY NOT instead of literally it's physically impossible to say his name. Maybe it's an Overmind AI kind of situation that has no name -- but has 12 or 13 aspects manifest in the Lords of Kobol.

You might have a point, there. The one whose name cannot be spoken might be called, say, waving your hands like this, a shuffle, and a 55,000 Hz whistle. Yeah, that would be kinda difficult. Who can say the one who cannot be named doesn't have a sense of humour.

I was thinking something along the lines of binary code or possibly music -- especially the latter considering the upcoming episode where Kara meets some musician named "Slick" and they discuss her destiny.

But waving arms and whistling, that's perfect.

I thought of those as well but was unhappy that it was too obvious and rational. Folks would get the trillion digit binary number thing and just move on but, now you mention it, the song thing is pretty good. I liked thatbut thought it was a bit overdone in the BSG context. What I like about doing some daft dance is people would look absurd and Cavil would cringe at the thought of it. Hence, the one who cannot be named. It sounds more mainstream and scary. Goes with the whole Cylon branding.

I don't know if you know this but there's a real world equivalent in the Republic of Ireland. The Fianna Fáil (pronounced "foil") party was abit of a strange name to everyone else so they explained to the dumb English that it was the Farmer's Party. This ran well for a time but I got wind they were hiding something, so I asked an Irish friend. After some foot shuffling he said it was the "Army of God". Aw, man. How I laughed. This story changes depending on who you ask so I wouldn't take any online source as authoritative.

Dunno if you've ever seen Zatoichi (2003) but one of the tricks director and star Takeshi Kitano uses at the ending is to have all the heroes and villains do a big dance at the end. It's quite a suprise. Not, saying Ron would do anything like that but it was a nice touch. Ron's a Zen Buddhist and he gets the wow moment. What with all the shit that's going on in the world we need a few more of those. Ron's said that people could read the script and not get the end. As Zen says, *this* cannot be explained. It must be experienced.

I have not seen Zatoichi, but the sheer idea of Tigh doing high kicks cracks me up.

Hey, you might be on to something with that. Maybe, the webisodes are a big cover up and the real cause of the deaths on the shuttle are that Gaeta talked everyone into dancing the can can as a way of passing the time. I mean, in that CONFINED SPACE. What was the man thinking? GROW A BRAIN.

No wonder Gaeta didn't want to speak to Tigh after that. All that plotting, planning,and practice down the drain. With so few episodes to go how are they going to get a dancing group together? They might have to abandon all that and go for the fireworks display, like, woah, put on some big ship of lights performance and hope everyone is wowed by the pretty lights.

Wow, it's gonna be close. CLOSE, I tell yah.

What Roslin said was "must not be" spoken. Very much like Yaweh in Jewish tradition.

I can see that, Brad. In a highly developed computer society like the Cylons have with voice recognition and a high level of dependency, saying "Format, Yes." would be a very bad move. Of course,in the Cylon God's natural language it means something wonderful and sounds more beautiful than the heart sinking "Beep, chug, chug, chug" in our world.

Don't deny it. We've all been there. LOL. Oh, Cavil. I feel your pain.

I don't know what Roslin said, but I was quoting that deleted scene with Elosha:

Roslin reads "the one whose name cannot be..."

She never says "spoken" but we have all assumed that.

I think, you're both right in your own way.

Group hug.

I must say i, for one, am sure as hell glad that you aren't one of the writers for BSG. Personally, I don't think that really you could give us anything better than, let's say star trek. it's like you're on some kind of crusade with the evolution and anti-God sentiments you have. hopefully, the writers of this show won't shrink from giving us something different and bigger than the typical run of the mill science fiction.

Now that's a nice mixed metaphor.

But sure, I'm anti-god. Even if you believe in a god, he doesn't have a role except in religious fiction designed to illustrate the nature of god or religion. I don't think that's what we have here.

Brad, don't be too anti-god or else your children may grow up to become Fundamentalist evangelists. You see, all this has happened before, and all this will happen again...

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