Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Baltar's Sermon


Nicholas left a comment on my "Cylon God" post saying he wanted to know my thoughts on the sermon Baltar gave at the end of the "Escape Velocity" episode. Nicholas thinks he might have misunderstood because it sounded like Baltar was saying that the one true God was really people rather than a singular entity.

I have to say that yes, you are, in my opinion, a bit off, Nick. What Baltar did was try to make a statement that could be understood by anyone of any theological persuasion, even atheists and Zeus worshipers.

At the end of the episode, beaten and bloody, Baltar delivers a sermon to his followers. I can't find a transcript for it so I have to paraphrase the essentials as I remember them. Feel free to correct any errors or link a transcript.

Baltar starts by admitting that he has not been a particularly good man, he has been a profoundly selfish man, but he says that doesn't matter because there is something in the universe that loves him, that loves the entity that is Baltar. He chooses to call that something "God."

That's a pretty loose definition of "God." It's just something Baltar feels and that he thinks loves him. So, he feels loved. That "God" who loves him could be just a part of his own psyche or it could be an all powerful force. If you don't know Baltar from the show you could assume that entity that loves Baltar is his pet cat.

Baltar is not claiming to know that this entity is the "one true God," all powerful, all knowing, as his own followers seem to believe and as he has been told by his head Six. There was just a spark inside him and his belief that other people at least had this spark and intuition of being loved, at least by themselves, was also part of them. This is the only testimony offered, his own subjective experience that there was an entity in the universe that loved him. A singular spark that dwells in the soul of every living being, and that every being can find within himself if only you look for it: That could be the beginning of either theobabble or psychobabble.

Next, Baltar claims that God loves them all, at least those gathered to hear his sermon, because they are all perfect, just as they are. In the background, Lee Adama leaves, with a very worried and disgusted look on his face. Now what does "perfection" mean here? This is where Tory's influence comes in and where things begin to diverge from a lot of standard Christian beliefs.

In standard Christianity one of the problems with the world is that everyone falls short of God's glory. In Romans 3:23 Paul says: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." That implies that people lack perfection. In standard interpretations of the Bible sin is defined as falling short of a standard of perfection established and evidenced by Jesus. Since no one can live up to that we're all sinners and imperfect. That view makes Baltar something of an Anti-Christ.

However, what is and isn't a sin varies from one sect to another. For Ted Haggard, one time leader of the National Association of Evangelicals, things like homosexual behavior and drug use would be sins, while for Andrew Sullivan being gay is no sin, it's something he openly embraces.

This is certainly not our Baltar:


This thing called "sin" and concepts about "good" and "evil," heaven and hell, God and Satan, angels and demons are missing from Baltar's theology so far. They are an important part of the standard Christian mindfrak that I've dealt with elsewhere on my blog, and in other writings, so I'm not going to dwell on that much beyond saying this is where Baltar diverges from standard Christianity.

Next, Baltar says you must love your faults, embrace them. If God embraces them, how can they be faults? (Are faults the same as sins? If God didn't want us to be sinners, why did he give us sinful desires? He would seem to be punishing us for his own mistakes.) Baltar also says; "You must love yourself because otherwise you can't love others." That sentiment is not alien to many forms of Christianity and there is some truth to it and we are given a particular example when we are shown, while Baltar is saying it, a picture of Starbuck collapsed on a table in the Demetrius. Then we see Sam Anders quietly approaching the sleeping Starbuck. She does have a problem loving others and it seems that's because she doesn't love herself enough.

As we watch the Demetrius scene Baltar goes on to say that when we know what we are we can see the truth about others. And that truth is that they are perfect, perfect just as they are. God only loves what is perfect, and he loves us, therefore he loves us just as we are, because we are perfect.

If not for the particular examples shown during Baltar's sermon I would say Baltar's preaching is a pretty vacuous, meaningless feel-good theology. The sermon could almost have been given by some TV evangelist in our world. Exactly what does it mean to love yourself? Does it mean to indulge all your desires? Does it mean you can abandon guilt? Maybe to Tory. And will loving yourself really give you the ability to see "the truth about others"? I don't think so. It might be a good place to start though, but the truth is not that we are all "perfect."

There is no perfection for any human being. It can't even be imagined what that would be. If there is anything close to a perfect person in Galactica I think it would be Helo. Tall, strong, solid and an on target moral compass, willing to look for humanity in the Cylons. However, he's not perfect for every situation. He's perhaps a perfect soldier who won't follow immoral orders and will give his life for the good of the civilization -- but he doesn't seem to be a leader people follow, he's not a scientist who could come up with a Cylon detector. His role and character has limits.

1 comment:

Nicholas said...

I listened to the sermon again and I can see what you mean. I was thrown off by the whole spark thing. Thanks for the post.