Friday, May 19, 2006

Babylon 5: On Religion

After watching two seasons of B5, I have noticed one thing: A very purposeful and intentional focus on religion. The characters all seem to be motivated by issues that are much larger than themselves. For many of these characters religion is either a driving force behind their motives or they guide their decisions by their religious background, for better or for worse.

Most obvious is the Minbari civilization seem to be the most advanced society of the younger races. Their culture is divided into three distinct castes of which the religious caste is one. The castes act as a check and balance between them. In fact one of the major plot points in B5 is that the religious caste demanded that the Warriors surrender to the Earthers on the brink of victory based on the belief in the eternal soul. The Minbari discovered that the Human souls and Minbari souls were related. Though they do not have a central god figure-they believe the entire universe is sentient-Valen is a figure from their religious past, a prophet who helped save the Minbari from the Shadows and rebuilt their society, instituting the Gray Council.

The Narn have various religions but G’Kar the main character represented from the Narn frequently calling on or reading from holy Book of G'Quan. The deep patience and ability to suffer greatly all the while quietly building strength and resistance probably comes from their religious beliefs.

Though the Centari are thought to resemble the Napoleonic Era in their costuming and design their society is most akin to the Roman Empire with a Manifest Destiny to rule and conquor. In several episodes Londo celebrates the main religion of his world but mostly by drinking heavily. There seems to be no greater thing to the Centari than military rule and their family clans. In a unique way it may have been revealed that the Centrai have no true religious soul when Kosh revealed himself to the populance saving John Sheridan’s life all the races saw a prophet or angelic symbol of their world’s religion except Londo who admitted he saw nothing. This was a very telling line. Do the Cebtari have no true religion or were they not favored enough by the Vorlons to visit them in the fashion of their religious figures?

The Vorlon place is confusing. It seems so far that they are a very old race, one of the First Ones along with the Shadows. They stayed behind when the First Ones left the galaxy to help the younger races evolve. When they appeared to the other races their visage was so beautiful that each race worshipped them as gods. It is not clear at this point if it is the reason for religion or if the Vorlons only closely resemble angelic and godlike figures across the cultures of the galaxy. Their forms seem to be pure glowing energy able to take many forms and their technology is far in advance of anything the inhabitants of the B5 galaxy have being organic in nature.

Humans have the most diverse religious beliefs in the show. This is evidenced in an episode from Season 1 Parliament of Dreams. In that show Jeffrey Sinclair shows that Earth has many varied religions and that none is dominate for our world. This may be why Earth is seen as the crux point for all races and the co-supporter of B5, because it is a very diverse planet with many different cultures.

One of the most intreiging things about the show is how integrated religious ideas and characters are interwoven intot he plot. Religion both moves along and helps in B5’s plot. In one episode, Susan Ivonova must face her father’s death by sitting shiva, a Jewish ritual of honoring the dead. In another a group of monks come on board the station seeking God in all the many alien races. And of course the as-yet unresolved plot point where Kosh is shown to be interpreted by all the alien races as a prophet from their individual religious belief systems. This moral sensitivity is a basis for the entire show as many of the characters are constantly faced with problems and conflicts that seem large and consequential to the future of all races in the galaxy. It seems to me that J. Michael Straczynski wanted to explore all sides of culture from moral issues, to pilotical and militaristic ones on both galactic and personal levels.

5 comments:

The Phoenix said...

I've often seen a ton of religion injected into sci-fi. It's a great way to examine religion.

Take Star Wars, for example. The Jedi order is often referred to as a "religion." And it's the guardians of peace. Eventually, the jedis are wiped out, and the galazy sees The Jedi Order as an antiquated and obsolete way of life - but by ressurecting that religion does the galaxy find peace once again.

Interesting indeed.

ObilonKenobi said...

It's not only a great way to examine religion it's a great way to examine the characters. A society can be described by many things, one being how they worship whatever god or gods they've invented.

Anonymous said...

get a life nerds

Knuje said...

The Minbari religion is a form of Pantheism or Pandeism (which one is not entirely clear, but either is as likely).

ObilonKenobi said...

I often wonder if I should "get a life" when I delve so deeply in the meaning and symbolism in science fiction, which I love. Then I see trolls anonymously leaving bitter and hateful comments and I realize how much worse I could be. In short, anonymous commentors need to get a life.