Sci Fi Friday: Ron Moore on Religion vs. Humanism in Star Trek and BSG

Interviews with Ron Moore are almost becoming a regular part of SciFi Friday. This week I have some excerpts from an interview conducted by Harlan Ellison:

Ellison: The parallels to current events are obvious; in particular, I think that the analogies to the Iraqi War are very clear. Did the parallels come from you or from some Sci-Fi [Channel] exec?

Moore: Fundamentally, they came from me. I felt, in that first week of thinking about it, that, okay, this is going to deal with 9-11 and a lot of the things we were going through as a society at that moment. It was just part of the premise. It was always going to be in the show, and once we were on that path, it just felt like we were going to keep doing this and we’re going to deal with things that are happening in our contemporary reality, but we were going to view them through a different prism.

The show was never going to be a direct allegory; Laura Roslin was not going to be George W. Bush, and the Cylons were not going to be al-Qaeda. But they were going to share elements. And part of the opportunity of doing a show like this was the opportunity to sort of move the pieces around the game board a little bit and say: “Well, we’ve all experienced this set of events. What if I move this piece over here, and put you over there? How would you feel about it then?”
There was a Sci-Fi [Channel] exec that had a key impact on the show, surprisingly enough. His name is Michael Jackson (no relation to the singer.) He worked for the network, and while I was working on the script for the miniseries, he read a line from Number Six, the blonde Cylon played by Tricia Helfer. She had a conversation with Baltar, and at one point she says, “God is love.” It was just something that I found on the page as I was writing it. And I wrote, and I was struck by it because it’s an odd thing for a robot to say. I liked it, but didn’t really know what it meant, and it wasn’t a focal point of the script.

But when Michael read the script, one of his notes was: “That’s fascinating. You already have elements of al-Qaeda and religious fanaticism hovering around the edges of what you’re doing. Why don’t you embrace that and go for that element because they don’t typically do that in Sci-Fi.” And my first reaction was: “Oh my God! Nobody ever gives you that kind of note, especially not an executive.”

So I just ran with it, and it became one of foundational elements of the show: the religious conflict between the two civilizations; the monotheism of the Cylons and the polytheism of the Colonials; what is God, what is human, and what does it mean to be alive. All of these metaphysical ideas and religious concepts sort of groove from that one line in the teleplay.

Ellison: My next question is about religion. The Cylons are the monotheists; they believe in God and are good Christian folk. And the crew, who are our heroes, are polytheists like the ancient Egyptians or Greeks. It was always interesting, but until recently there was never a third element; now the venue has changed and there’s a supernatural quality. A spiritual force is at work. Can you codify that?

Moore: I sort of felt that as the religious aspects of the show were becoming more common and started to dominate plot lines and certain character attributes, you sort of had to make a choice at some level about whether that was all bullshit or not. Does it mean something? Is all this worship just about talk and about made up religions that don’t mean anything? Or is there the possibility of something greater? These are the existential questions. Is this all that I am? Is there something more? Why am I here?

If all the characters on the show are asking themselves those questions, I felt that on some level I wanted to give a hint that maybe they’re not all fools. That maybe there’s some greater truth that they’re all struggling toward, that none of them can see perfectly. So I started to feather in ideas that could not be explained by rational means. While never really coming out and saying that God is behind the curtain, I wanted to have elements of it.

One of the things that I had noticed working on Star Trek, and in science fiction in general, was that mainstream science fiction tended to shy away from this as a subject. Gene Roddenberry felt very strongly that in the future of Star Trek, religions were all gone; that in 300 to 400 years mankind had evolved beyond it; that religions were all superstitions and were things of the past. It was a very secular humanist idea, which I don’t have a problem with philosophically, but I didn’t believe as a storyteller that in just a few centuries we would discard this fundamental thing that had informed our societies for so long.

So, I just felt that in this world in Galactica, which had nomenclature like Apollo and Athena and all these names of the Greek gods, it beggared the imagination to say that they didn’t really believe in it. And if they did believe it in, I wanted to give it some validity and show that there is something out there.

Variety reports that Battlestar Galactica executive producer David Eick is wroking on Them, an SF alien-invasion series for Fox Apparently if Fox News has been unsuccessful in leadilng the Republican invasion of Earth, their entertainment division will turn to a fictional invasion.The Spider-Man 3 trailer is available here. If you prefer DC to Marvel, the sequel to Superman Returns is expected for 2009.

By now most Lost fans are aware that they have to wait until next year for the season to pick up again and find out how the cliff hanger is resolved. Will Jack really ignore the Hippocratic Oath and allow Ben to die? Will his gamble work and allow all three of those captured by the others to escape? Fans of Jericho are about to be faced with a similar cliff hanger. The first half of Jericho‘s season will end November 29 with a cliffhanger, to be continued February 14. One good thing about this plan, for someone such as myself who hasn’t watched yet, is that this gives me time to watch the season to date on line and then follow when it returns. Having ways to catch missed shows is an excellent idea. The networks are learning that they must make some changes in how they present shows if they are to reduce their declining viewership.

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