Saturday, February 6, 2010

Battlestar Galactica, Monotheism, Terrorism and Trinity

I'm not the big sci-fi guy in my family. Josh and Nancy are far more devoted to that genre, but I go along for the ride from time to time. In the last few years that has meant time with Battlestar Galactica (not the old one with Lorne Greene, but the new one with James Edward Olmos). It's well done, and interesting for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is its theology.

The basic story line revolves around a long conflict between the human race and their rebellious creation, the Cylons. The Cylons have evolved from "robotic" soldiers (what humans call "toasters") to human-like characters who cannot be detected within the normal human population. OK, I know, but its amazing how easy it is to suspend belief here because the story is well-told.

But here's the thing. The humans are polytheists, the Cylons monotheists. The humans thank the gods for their world, the Cylons view the world in relation to one source. This is a pretty interesting flip on things, one worthy of its own post by someone with more knowledge of both the show and systematic theology.

But here's the other thing. There's a new spin-off from the BG phenomenon that tells the back story, Caprica. The creation of the Cylons, it appears, comes out of a terrorist attack (in a round about way) committed by a religious cult that is interested in serving "the one true God." Monotheism and terrorism are related. The link is explicit. The belief in one God as the source for everything is inherently violent. With one God, there are only two sides, good and evil, with us or against us. The implication is that this is inherently violent.

I've stewed over this for a number of years now. Christianity is not only monotheistic, but historical. That is, the primary issue for Christianity is the outcome of history, and that is certainly a contested reality. I'm not saying that Christianity is inherently or inescapably violent, but I am saying that a monotheistic, historical faith has certain temptations along these lines.

Moltmann makes similar observations to those made by the BG crowd (don't want to oversimplify BG here, the question of God is dynamic, not wooden or static). Moltmann is critical of any theology that is monistic, by which he means any notion of God as a single source. He suggests that such a view of God results in an over/against view of the relationship between God and world. Much of Christian theology is susceptible, for Moltmann, to the label "monist." This is particularly true of Christian traditions, including most of Western Christianity, that define God in relation to a single substance (ousia) that is prior to an understanding of God as three persons. Pannenberg piles on at this point as well, criticizing any notions that reduce God to a single-acting-subject.

The antidote for both to Christian monism is a more biblical understanding of God as Triune. For Moltmann, if you start with philosophy, you emphasize one God and then try to explain the three persons. If you start with the biblical testimony, you start with the relations of the three persons and move from there to God's unity. As Moltmann works the biblical witness, particularly as it relates to the "history of the Son" and the drama of the Kingdom of God, we find a dynamic God with different centers of action and reciprocal relations. This God is not closed, like the god of classical theism; immutable, simple, persisting, free. The God of Scripture is open, passionate, understood as making room for the other in love.

For me, this is precisely the importance of the Trinity, especially as seen in the work of theologians like Moltmann and Pannenberg. It keeps God in history without the amplifier of monism. It guards the Christian imagination from an easy us vs. them. It makes possible visions of God's future that are rooted in non-violence which corresponds best to the story of Jesus found in the gospels.


nlove said...

thank you Mark - loved it

Richard Beck said...

Mark, what work of Moltmann is his best articulation of this view?

Mark Love said...


I've kind of taken this from different places. He's very critical of Barth as a monist/monotheist in Trinity and Kingdom, and this is of course his best treatment of Trinity. But he also does stuff on how reality is structured in closed and open systems in all of his eschatology stuff, so The Coming of God, Crucified God, Theology of Hope. He made the link specifically to terrorism and violence in a presentation I heard in Chicago this past Fall.


Lyndon Way said...

I think The Shack by William Young got a lot of people thinking about this, even while causing some theological discomfort. Our traditional notions of salvation through correct theology have blinded many to a more nuanced view of grace, limiting God to human concepts - when even triune representation is our feeble attempt to understand various manifestations of the unknowable. In light of this, can we even begin to understand a story like that of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael? Is God revealed in different ways to various cultures? Humanity tends to think of differences, which helps us to identify individuals, but how do we find the humility to imagine a grace that reaches the living and the dead? These are not simply rhetorical questions...

Mark Love said...

Thanks for weighing in Lyndon. They are important questions. The question I'm pressing here is how our understandings of God shape notions of power and belonging, or vice versa. We tend to think of Trinity as some dark unknowable that has little bearing on our practical lives. I'm suggesting that even the notion of God as three persons shapes our perception of reality in powerfully practical ways--much more the specifics of the drama of the Kingdom related to Trinity.

Adam Pastor said...

Greetings Mark Love

On the subject of the Trinity,
I recommend this video:
The Human Jesus

Take a couple of hours to watch it; and prayerfully it will aid you in your quest for truth.

Yours In Messiah
Adam Pastor

Unknown said...

So you're watching BSG eh? Just to add to your comments about the theological depths of the the story, there is a song that the Cylons hear in their heads. It activates their awareness of being Cylons. The tune that is used in the show is Dylan's "All Around the Watchtower." BSG used the Jimi Hendrix version. Thought you might find that interesting.