Is Baltar's Religious Cult Full Of Crap? (Studies in Character Erosion)

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Can we talk about Baltar for a moment?

Seriously, am I the only one who feels like the writers have sort of lost their bead on him, and the character has completely crapped out as a result? Pretty much ever since his trial - actually during the trial - the writers seemed to loose a solid concept on what to do with the man, so they quickly turned him in to an ineffectual Hugh Heffner-like cult leader, where he spouts new-agey twaddle like this by way of sermonizing:

>>I’m not a priest. I’ve never even been a particularly good man. I have, in fact, been a profoundly selfish man. But that doesn’t matter, you see. Something in the universe loves me. Something in the universe loves the entity that is me. I will choose to call this something “God,” a singular spark that dwells in the soul of every living being. If you look inside yourself, you will find this spark, too. You will. But you have to look. Deep. Love your faults. Embrace them. If God embraces them, then how can they be faults? Love yourself. You have to love yourself. If we don’t love ourselves, how can we love others? And when we know what we are, then we can find the truth out about others. See what they are, the truth about them. And you know what the truth is. The truth about them, about you, about me, do you? The truth is, we are all perfect, just as we are. God only loves that which is perfect, and he loves you. And he loves you because you are perfect. You are perfect just as you are.<<

"You are perfect just as you are?" What kind of self-help nonsense is that? "Embrace your flaws?" That seems rather self destructive, doesn't it? Some people have some particularly heinous flaws. I don't see where telling someone to 'go out there and be the best rapist you can be' is good for either the individual, or the commonweal.

For good or for ill, the central tennet of every religion is that you are *not* good enough, that there is always room for improvement, that we must strive to get better, both in our secular lives and in our drive to master ourselves. You say "a singular spark" of God "dwells in the soul of every living being" - fine! I have no problem with that, and neither does any venerable religion I've ever heard of: but if this is true, then doesn't it behoove the individual to become a vessel *worthy* of God's divine spark? I mean, do you want to house God in a condemned, rat-infested building, or maybe shoot for something a little better, a little less insulting? And in the process of trying to be worthy, of trying to be a better place for God to live, we improve ourselves. It's a win/win situation, at least on paper. Your actual mileage may vary.

My point is not to sermonize, however, but simply to show that Baltar's philosophy - and to be fair, it changes from episode to episode - is 'go ahead and be a crackhead or a child molester or a murderer or a theif, that's ok because God loves you so who cares if you kill or hurt the other people that God also loves?' It is hard, really hard, to find a more half-assed philosophy this side of Trek's moraly-indefensible "Prime Directive," and yet all his little bunnies and assorted cheese-headed hangers-on treat this like it's the Sermon on the Mount, or Moses handing down the law.

Conversely, let us look at the character of G'kar from Bablyon 5. For those not aquainted with the show, he started out as a very bad guy who also liked the ladies (Alone and in groups, and from different species, too). He had a profound religious awakening during the course of the show, and eventually became a religious leader, however unlike Baltar, it didn't feel false, tacked on, halfassed, or stupid. Here's an example of one of G'kar's sermons:

>>>If I take a lamp and shine it toward the wall, a bright spot will appear on the wall. The lamp is our search for truth, for understanding. Too often we assume that the light on the wall is God. But the light is not the goal of the search; it is the result of the search. The more intense the search, the brighter the light on the wall. The brighter the light on the wall, the greater the sense of revelation upon seeing it! Similarly, someone who does not search, who does not bring a lantern with him, sees nothing. What we perceive as God, is the byproduct of our search for God. It may simply be an appreciation of the light, pure and unblemished, not understanding that it comes from us. Sometimes we stand in front of the light and assume that we are the center of the universe. God looks astonishingly like we do! Or we turn to look at our shadow, and assume that all is darkness. If we allow ourselves to get in the way, we defeat the purpose; which is to use the light of our search to illuminate the wall in all its beauty - and in all its flaws. And in so doing better understand the world around us. <<<

Which is better? Which rings true? Which contains wisdom that doesn't immediately fall apart the moment you touch it? Is it the "Sure, sin all you want and God will overlook it 'cuz you're already perfect, so who cares if you killed and ate those people" thing, or is it the "try not to see only the things you want to see when looking for God" kind?

Now, both are rather new-agey. I get it. In both cases, the producers are walking a fine line between traditionally atheist Science Fiction and turning their shows in to the Earnest Aimsley Bible Hour. They don't want to overtly express any religious viewpoint that is too conventionally obvious. Not a problem, I get that. I'm cool with it. The difference is that in the case of Galactica, I've never for a minute believed Baltar's emerging belief in God was anything other than fake (Despite the fact that the actor and writers believe it's real), whereas G'kar's gradual emergence as a religious leader in a fake religion was inspiring and even moving on an emotional level.

Why?

Well, I think it has to do with personal philosophy. The folks who make Galactica deserve some credit for making religion such a focal point of the series, but at the same time it's pretty obvious that none of them are particularly religious themselves, or are perhaps of the irritating "I'm spiritual but not religious" school. The effect is that whenever they talk about it, you get a bit of distance, falseness that separates the thing from it's emotional impact, if only slightly. It's like an unmarried marriage counselor or a childless children's psychologist, or a swim teacher who's never been in anything wetter than a shower: it lacks veracity, qualitatively it's wrong. They know what people say about stuff, they may even be quite learned in it, but they don't know - Gnosis - in a real sense. You get irreligious people saying what they think religious people talk like, but in an idealized, leftist way.

Conversely, the man who created G'kar and wrote his sermons was an atheist. He was, however, an athiest who thought out his position, and didn't have an axe to grind. He *doesn't* believe, however he realizes that lots of other people *do.* He recognized that religion has a massive personal influence on society and individuals, and he strove to weave that in to the show in a real fashion.

The Difference between the two approaches is immediate and obvious: one rings false, the other rings true. One is just a bunch of claptrap, and the other is part of the thing that underlies everyone’s belief in God to begin with: our quest for meaning, hope, and truth. One is talking down, the other is aimed at the underlying universals we all feel, regardless of the God we worship.

And while a bit of this has been inherent in Baltar’s character arc from the beginning - a man of science who’s done a lot of horrible things to feel guilty about, and deals with it by gradually becoming a man of faith - the fact of the matter is that Baltar’s transformation doesn’t quite wash. I could accept it as just what it appears to be, though hampered by bad writing and occasionally questionable acting, but then the writers seem to try to undercut their own decisions by throwing in Baltar’s anger at God a few eps back when Earth turned out to be a boondoggle, and his stated dislike of his own followers during the mutiny, followed by his weird mania to get them back, his inappropriate proselytizing at the funeral the other night, and his weird love of the ‘real’ Caprica 6. I no longer understand what’s going on Baltar’s head, and I suspect the writers don’t either.

Thoughts?

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