Saturday, May 09, 2009

Battlestar Galactica and Mormonism


Michael Lorenzen

(This paper was written in the late 90s and is only based on the original BSG series.)

Religion and television directly influence one another. This often is made obvious when television programs openly talk about or are based on religious themes. The same is true when religious figures decry the influence of television on American culture from the pulpit. However, sometimes this connection is not always so obvious. This is made clear by the influence of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints (popularly known as the Mormon Church) on the 1970s science fiction television series Battlestar Galactica. The show was heavily based on similarities in plot with the Mormon Church and several of the church's doctrines were incorporated into the series.

The topic of Mormonism and Battlestar Galactica has been previously written about (Ford 83-87). This paper will explore some of the issues raised in that article more closely and examine some other issues that were not written about. Ford's examination of the Battlestar Galactica series appears to have been based solely on the key episode "War of the Gods." His lack of knowledge of the series is evidenced by his misspellings of Galactica (as Gallactica) and the character Baltar (as Boltar). Ford also mistakenly places the events in the series in the far future when the series clearly places the story as being contemporary. (See episodes "The Hand of God" and "Galactica Discovers the Earth.") However, Ford's article is worth reading, in particular for his plot synopsis of the episode "War of the Gods." Ford's article also appears to be the only published scholarship on the Battlestar Galactica series.

Battlestar Galactica aired on ABC beginning on Sept. 17, 1978 and it ran for eight months until it was cancelled after seventeen episodes. The show was revived briefly as Galactica 1980 in January 1980 but it was again cancelled this time after only six episodes. The series had been popular (according to The World Almanac and Book of Facts 1980 it ranked 20th out of 100 series in the Nielsen ratings) but its expensive production costs dictated a higher rating than it received and ABC cancelled it.

At Battlestar Galactica's peak in 1979, the show had generated a comic book series and a line of novels. Battlestar Galactica continues to have fans and it remains a mainstay at science fiction conventions. Battlestar Galactica continues to air in primetime in the form of reruns on the cable Sci-Fi Channel and most of the episodes of the series are still available for purchase on videocassette. Maximum Press began issuing new stories in a Battlestar Galactica comic book series in 1995. Richard Hatch, the actor who played Apollo in the series, released a novel in 1997 continuing the storyline of the show. The SCI-FI Channel remade the show as a TV mini-series in 2003.

The plot of Battlestar Galactica centers around the search for the lost colony of Earth by the survivors of the original twelve colonies of man. The original twelve colonies had been destroyed by the mechanical Cylon Empire which had waged a thousand year genocidal war against all humanity. The Cylons had won the war by resorting to treachery and destroying the war fleet of the colonies during peace talks. Only the Battlestar Galactica, a huge spaceship that functioned much as an aircraft carrier does, survived the attack and it led what was left of humanity in a desperate race to find Earth before pursuing Cylon fleets destroyed them.

The creator of Battlestar Galactica is television writer and producer Glen Larson. According to the 42nd edition of Who's Who in America, Larson has an impressive array of credits as a writer, editor, or producer of a long list of television shows including McCloud, The Virginian, Six Million Dollar Man, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and Magnum P.I. Also according to Who's Who in America, Glen Larson is a member of the Mormon Church. This makes the appearance of Mormon theology in Battlestar Galactica as a coincidence highly unlikely.

Similarities in the Plot of Battlestar Galactica and Mormonism

There are many parallels between the story of Battlestar Galactica and Mormon teachings. The Book of Mormon tells the story of how the Prophet Lehi took the remnant of the Tribe of Joseph to ancient America around the year 600 BC. In Battlestar Galactica, mankind founded twelve different colonies. In addition, mankind also founded a thirteenth colony on Earth that was lost from the other twelve. In the same way that The Book of Mormon has a Tribe of Israel lost on another continent beyond the knowledge of the other tribes, Battlestar Galactica has a lost colony of man separate from the main body of humanity. The lost Tribe of Israel is central to The Book of Mormon in the same way that the lost colony of Earth is central to Battlestar Galactica.

In the Battlestar Galactica episode originally aired on the 24th of September and 1st of October 1978 titled "Lost Planet of the Gods", the home world of all humanity is revealed to be the planet Kobol. This name is strikingly similar to the star Kolob which is discussed in Mormon theology. In The Pearl of Great Price, The Book of Abraham Chapter Three, Kolob is described as the star "nearest onto the Throne of God." Interestingly, the ship on which armistice talks between the colonies and the Cylons took place was the "Star Kobol" as revealed in the premier episode which aired on 17th September 1978.

Another similarity between Mormonism and Battlestar Galactica is in the political structure of the ruling bodies of each. The Mormon Church is run by a Quorum of the Twelve which is headed by a president. In Battlestar Galactica, the colonies are ruled by a Council of Twelve which is also headed by a president (Ford 84).

Similarities in Mormon Doctrine and Battlestar Galactica

One of the central tenants of Mormonism is the doctrine of free agency. Basically, this doctrine holds that the existence of evil is necessary for righteous choices to have meaning. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism defines free agency:

Agency refers both to the capacity of beings "to act for themselves" and their accountability for those actions. Exercising agency is a spiritual matter; it consists in either receiving the enlightment and commandments that come from God or resisting and ejecting them by yielding to the devil's temptations. Without awareness of alternatives an individual could not choose, and that is why being tempted by evil is as essential to agency as being enticed by the Spirit of God. Furthermore, no one is forced either to act virtuously or to sin. (Warner 26)
Free agency is a theme that is played out in the ongoing Battlestar Galactica plot. The crew is forced to choose between a charismatic newcomer named Count Iblis and the leader of the Battlestar Galactica Commander Adama in the episode "War of the Gods" which aired on 14th of January and 21st of January 1979. Count Iblis promised to complete several tasks including plotting the course to Earth in exchange for the leadership of humanity. Count Iblis is revealed in the course of the episode to be Mephistopheles, the devil.

The crew is forced to make a fundamental decision between deliverance from the Cylons by Count Iblis or to follow their righteous leader, Commander Adama. The choice is between accepting the temptation of evil and giving the devil dominion over the Battlestar Galactica and humanity or remaining true to Adama and goodness but facing an uncertain and possibly deadly future. The crew chooses to reject Count Iblis and remains loyal to Commander Adama. This is Mormon free agency in action. The choice to follow righteousness is meaningless to the crew of the Battlestar Galactica until they have the choice to follow evil. Only after the crew has had the opportunity to be tempted by evil is the crew following a righteous path.

The revelation that Count Iblis is the devil follows Mormon teachings on free agency as well. Mormon theology teaches that Satan never wanted mankind to have free agency in the first place. It was because Satan sought to destroy the agency of man that the war was fought in the heavens before life on Earth and this is why Satan was cast out of the heavens (Warner 26). Count Iblis allowed the crew of the Battlestar Galactica the choice that allowed for free agency. However, if he had been accepted as leader by the crew the choice of free agency would have been lost as the devil would never have voluntary given up his hold on humanity. The right to choose would have been difficult if not impossible for the crew to exercise again. "Satan can control only those who give themselves to his power" (Ford 85).

The "War of the Gods" episode of Battlestar Galactica also introduced the key Mormon teaching of eternal progression. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism defines eternal progression:

Eternal progression refers to anything that people learn and experience by their choices as they progress from premortal life, to mortality, to postmortal spirit life, and to a resurrected state in the presence of God...Progression apparently occurred in the premortal life, for most spirits there chose to follow Christ...while others chose to follow Lucifer. Entering mortality affords opportunities for further progression. (Adams 465-66)
After choices are made in the premortal life and bodies are assigned, further choices are made that result in the fate of the person when he is returned to the spirit world. Ultimately,those who are righteous will become gods and have the opportunity to have their own spirit children who also will become mortals and make their own choices and follow their own eternal progression (Martin 178-79).

This doctrine of eternal progression is introduced through angels in ships of light who also make their appearance in the "War of the Gods" episode. The angelic beings appear to warn the Battlestar Galactica crew about Count Iblis although they refuse to interfere in the crew's exercise of free agency. The angels also make it clear that they are simply an advanced form of humanity that all humans can aspire to. One of the angels said, "As you are now, we once were; as we are now, you may become." This is a rewording of a quote from former Mormon President Lorenzo Snow who said, "As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become" (Martin 178).

Another Mormon doctrine introduced in the Battlestar Galactica series is the concept of marriage for eternity. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism defines marriage for eternity:

Latter-day Saints believe that life is more secure and more joyous when it is experienced in the sacred relationships of the eternal family. Those who maintain such worthy relationships on earth will live as families in the celestial kingdom following the resurrection. Thus, a person who lives a righteous life in mortality and who has entered into an eternal marriage may look forward to an association in the postmortal world with a worthy spouse, and with those who were earthly children, fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters. (Duke 858)
Mormons believe that a marriage should be for eternity. Those who live righteous lives and are married in a temple for eternity will always be married to their spouses and can look forward to having the right to beget children after the resurrection (Ricks 465).

The eternal marriage is introduced as an aspect of colonial culture in the premier episode of Battlestar Galactica. Captain Apollo and Serina are married by Commander Adama with the words, "A union between this man and this woman not only for now but for all eternities." As eternal marriage is a prerequisite for spiritual children after the resurrection and eternal progression towards godhood (Rick 465), this also fits into the eternal progression concept that was introduced in Battlestar Galactica.

Finally, a phrase from Doctrine and Covenants (which is considered an inspired text by the Mormon Church equal to The Book of Mormon and The Bible), is referred to twice in the Battlestar Galactica series. Doctrine and Covenants #93 has the phrase, "the glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth" in it. This is paraphrased in the Galactica 1980 episode "The Super Scouts" which aired on the 16th and 23rd of March 1980 by a character as "the glory of the universe is intelligence." This phrase is also referred to in a conversation between the character Apollo and an angelic being in the "War of the Gods" episode. The angel tells Apollo that he has no physical body but that the body that Apollo perceives is "a reflection of intelligence. My spirit, if you will."

Ford wrote about the Mormon influences on Battlestar Galactica that, "these doctrines are generalized and 'philosophied' enough to lose any direct identification with Mormon theology" (Ford 87). However, this does not appear to be the case. No other Christian denomination teaches the doctrines of eternal progression or marriage for eternity. The Mormon belief in man having the potential to advance to godhood in the afterlife is a polytheistic belief that no other mainstream Christian denomination teaches. The elements of Mormonism in Battlestar Galactica are directly identifiable as Mormon.

Conclusion

Religion and television do influence each other. The influence of the Mormon Church on the plot of Battlestar Galactica is a clear example. Mormon themes and doctrines can be found in the plot of the series. Several of these doctrines are key elements in the resolution of at least one episode and are recurring themes throughout the series. Battlestar Galactica was a pivotal series in the development of science fiction and further studies on it would certainly be beneficial in understanding future developments in science fiction.

Works Cited

Adams, Lisa Ramsey. "Eternal Progression." Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Ludlow, Daniel, ed. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992. 465,66.

Delury, George, ed. The World Almanac and Book of Facts 1980. New York: Newspapers Enterprise Association, 1979.

Duke, James. "Eternal Marriage." Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Ludlow, Daniel, ed. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992. 857-59.

Ford, James E. "Battlestar Gallactica and Mormon Theology." Journal of Popular Culture 17 (1983):83-87.

Martin, Walter R. The Kingdom of the Cults. Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, Inc., Publishers, 1965.

Ricks, Shirley S. "Eternal Lives, Eternal Increase." Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Ludlow, Daniel, ed. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992. 465.

Smith, Joseph. The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981.

Smith, Joseph and Orson Pratt. Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Containing the Revelations Given to Joseph Smith, Jun., the Prophet, for the Building Up of the Kingdom of God in the Last Days. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1971.

Smith, Joseph. The Pearl of Great Price: Being a Choice Selection from the Revelations, Translations and Narrations. Salt Lake City, Deseret News Company, 1888.

Warner, C. Terry. "Agency." Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Ludlow, Daniel, ed. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992. 26,27.

Who's Who in America, 42nd Edition, 1982-1983. Chicago: Marquis Who's Who, 1982.

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