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December 11th, 2006


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03:03 pm - The term "false gods" implies the existence of the real thing...doesn't it?
AKA, my mini-essay about Stargate SG-1's approach to religion, with special attention paid to the example of the season 9 episode "Origin."


Stargate SG-1 is a typical little popcorn-good scifi action show (with awesome actors who lift it above mediocrity). There is much that I enjoy between the technobabble and the gunfights and the alien mysteries and the banter between team members, and one of those things is the show's continual emphasis on overthrowing false gods.

I'm using their terminology here. The major evil, over the course of the first six seasons, are the Goa'uld, parasitic snakes that take over a human host and use their powerful (stolen) technology to assume the poses of gods and godesses, gaining power and wealth and hordes of subjects to abjectly worship them. The stories begin when a few Earth soldiers help a subjugated group of desert tribesmen kill the Goa'uld (and false god) Ra.

Many of the stories from then on are devoted to helping other peoples recognize the falsity of the Goa'uld's claims, and break free, and develop means of defense if the Goa'uld should try to return and wipe out the rebellious. This especially includes the Goa'uld-bred soldiers, the Jaffa.

And inbetween the fighting and the saving of worlds, there is some discussion of this, but because the show is practical (and because we've got mostly agnostic scientists and an *extremely* practical team leader) and action-based, almost all of it is confined to how to bring down the Goa'uld. How to display their actual weakness. ("Blowing them up" being the Jack O'Neill special.)

I don't mind that, because it's interesting enough, and I like watching it for the characters, even while I wonder about any SGC soldiers who actually have faith.

But by the end of season 8, the Goa'uld are mostly dead or dethroned. The Jaffa have risen up and become their own nation. The worlds ruled by the Goa'uld are in turmoil, loosed from oppression but not sure how to handle their freedom.

There's a void left there. And into, from another galaxy, step the Priors (evangelists/propagandists/what have you) of the Ori, who are ascended beings promising a path to enlightenment if people worship them...and promising destruction to those who reject them.

Daniel Jackson makes the first contact, and handles it cautiously, since he personally knows some Ascended beings from our galaxy. But as soon as their mantra of "convert or die" becomes apparent, you can almost see his brain sigh. "Been here, done that, here we go again...."

I'm aware that the presentation of the Ori's religion (hereafter known as "Origin") has bothered some Christians. It sounds too much like traditional Christian-speaking, too much like outright church-bashing (which SG-1 has never actually engaged in before). I'm not so sure. For one thing, with the exception of the Crusades and some smaller inquisitions, Christianity has not been spread by jihad. Holy wars aren't prescribed in the Bible; they're what happens when some branch of Christianity gets out of control, out of touch.

I was very pleased with Daniel's mode of inquiry in this episode. Very intellectual, very incisive, making sure he understands them well before passing judgment on whether the Ori will be friend or foe. And I was glad that the show decided to tackle the religious void left by the Goa'uld, because that's a huge issue.

I am much less pleased with the way this episode, at least, danced around the issue of the Ori not being gods. Daniel observes, more than once, that the Ori's power is real--but that doesn't make them deities, just beings who know more than we do about the univsere. (I'm slightly surprised that no one quoted Clark's Law.) There are some opinions tossed about that acknowledge the possibility of there being something higher than the Ori--an actual supreme Being--and most of this comes from General Landry. But that's not really considered as anything to factor into their equation. It's just a possibility that for the first time EVER, someone on this show seems willing to consider. I wish they'd managed to make it a bigger deal, though.

The closest we come to getting a personal take on this is actually from Daniel, when Jack unexpectedly shows up in his office later. Daniel opens up in a way he hasn't to anyone else and tells Jack that he's scared. Before, he says, he always felt that there was Someone watching out for them. This time, he's not sure they'll be able to win, or even make it through. (I almost didn't include this, because it's very ambiguous--is Daniel referring to the Ancients, our Ascended? or to an actual Supreme Being?)

Anyway--I don't have a real conclusion here, except that for a show that spends so much time on dethroning false gods, they really haven't made much of an effort to talk about what "false gods" implies: that there's a Real God out there, something that can be imitated, something that the human (or sentient) heart seems to need.

If I had time, oh, I would write some fic about this. I already have an early-seasons fic where the SGC chaplain is talking with Teal'c (hey, by "Demons," Teal'c has read the entire Bible, remember?); and after "Origin," I'm really tempted to write season 9 fic with the same original character. Or something. From the pov of someone with faith, anyway.

Current Mood: curiouscurious

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Comments:


[User Picture]
From:kerravonsen
Date:December 12th, 2006 12:33 am (UTC)
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I haven't seen the episode in question (heck, I haven't seen much past season 6, and not all of that one either) but whenever any SF show seems to get near the "God" question, I just roll my eyes because they all seem to be written by atheists and agnostics, they always sidestep the question because they don't want to "offend" anyone... (sigh)
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From:scionofgrace
Date:December 12th, 2006 01:21 am (UTC)
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Personally, the whole Origin-as-Christianity thing has been challenging to me, in a "what-are-we-doing?" sort of way; esp. noting that the one thing the Ori don't seem to understand is that love captures where force fails miserably.

I, too, was annoyed by the almost-afterthought mention of God by Landry. I would have preferred something along the lines of how the Ori started out human too, so that they aren't creators, and they have limitations that a true God wouldn't have.

(As for the team's faith, I assume Jack's a lapsed Catholic, Sam comes from an Episcopalian background, Daniel's a secular humanist, and Cam was raised some form of Baptist.)
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From:izhilzha
Date:December 12th, 2006 01:32 am (UTC)
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the one thing the Ori don't seem to understand is that love captures where force fails miserably.

Indeed. I was noting that as I watched. :-)

I would have preferred something along the lines of how the Ori started out human too, so that they aren't creators, and they have limitations that a true God wouldn't have.

Exactly! And they *almost* got there, I could hear it rattling around inside someone's head, in that briefing room scene. But nobody said it. Hmph.

(As for the team's faith, I assume Jack's a lapsed Catholic, Sam comes from an Episcopalian background, Daniel's a secular humanist, and Cam was raised some form of Baptist.)

Sounds okay to me...though the only canon confirmation we have is for Cam, right? And I'm still wondering whether he was raised Baptist (it did kinda sound like fire-and-brimstone fundamentalism), because of the "St. Hilda" comment....
[User Picture]
From:kerravonsen
Date:December 12th, 2006 01:23 am (UTC)
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I already have an early-seasons fic where the SGC chaplain is talking with Teal'c (hey, by "Demons," Teal'c has read the entire Bible, remember?);

Have I read this one? Where is it?
[User Picture]
From:izhilzha
Date:December 12th, 2006 01:26 am (UTC)
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Oh, it's not done yet. Oops. I forgot to say that. :-) It's stuck right now, because I'm trying to figure out what on earth Teal'c might ask about first, or what the poor chaplain could say to him (I think I'm channeling my character's fear, actually, heh).

Any thoughts? :-D
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From:mistraltoes
Date:December 12th, 2006 02:59 am (UTC)
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He'd probably want to know why we assume this particular God is real and not a false one.
[User Picture]
From:izhilzha
Date:December 12th, 2006 05:05 am (UTC)
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I honestly think I'm empathizing so much with my chaplain that I've writer's blocked myself. Because yeah, I totally think that's what Teal'c would ask....or variations thereon. And I'm having trouble giving the poor chaplain answers. :-)
[User Picture]
From:kerravonsen
Date:December 12th, 2006 09:41 am (UTC)
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There are two things that false gods cannot do: create, and redeem. Apologists tend to use the "anyone can see from the order of the universe that it was created", but atheists have a lot of practice in stopping their ears to that one.
The surest sign of God's presence is not flashy signs and wonders (the kind of things that false gods do also) but in changed lives -- changed for the better, that is. The sign of God is love. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; the love of the Lord is the beginning of redemption.
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From:izhilzha
Date:December 12th, 2006 05:51 pm (UTC)
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create, and redeem

Indeed. I remember thinking as I watched "Origin" that the most obvious lie the Ori were using was that they were the creators of their worshippers.

The surest sign of God's presence is not flashy signs and wonders (the kind of things that false gods do also) but in changed lives -- changed for the better, that is. The sign of God is love.

Ah, yes. And this is what Teal'c himself mentions, at least obliquely, in "Demons." I see I'll need to rewatch that episode to get my head into this space properly.

Thank you very much--this has helped me narrow it down. :-)
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From:feliciakw
Date:December 12th, 2006 03:07 pm (UTC)
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It's been a long time since I watched "Demons," but I do remember loving Teal'c's line about how he *knew* the God of the Bible was not Gou'ald because there was too much love there, too much kindness.

Of course there are other false gods. I really think that, though Teal'c would be understandably skeptical, his questions would be genuine. I think, to a certain extent, he's seen too much not to be open to the suggestion that there is a Supreme Being; it's a matter of finding this Being among the imposters in the universe.

Not that this helps your writer's block.
[User Picture]
From:izhilzha
Date:December 12th, 2006 05:57 pm (UTC)
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really think that, though Teal'c would be understandably skeptical, his questions would be genuine. I think, to a certain extent, he's seen too much not to be open to the suggestion that there is a Supreme Being

I agree. I remember being delighted, in "Demons," to hear that he'd been looking into human views of God and trying to figure this whole thing out. And I don't think he's going out of his way to try and catch my chaplain in a paradox or a lie; he's just asking questions, and being Teal'c, they'll be blunt and to the point. :-)
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From:whitemartyr
Date:December 12th, 2006 03:26 pm (UTC)
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I think you should turn this into an actual essay... or write a letter to the SG1 team (meaning production not... well, you know). This was a very well written little piece here. I enjoyed it and am curious about these Ori people...

Also, if anyone on the show would believe in God it would be Daniel I think...
[User Picture]
From:feliciakw
Date:December 12th, 2006 05:38 pm (UTC)
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Also, if anyone on the show would believe in God it would be Daniel I think...

This is interesting, because I'd think Daniel would be the one most likely not to. He's made a study of all sorts of religions and cultures, and I'd imagine him to be one of those individuals who sees God in all religions. He knows that being "ascended" does not make one infallible. Add to that his experience with Sha're, and I'm inclined to think he tends toward the skeptical when it comes to belief in God. (Belief in Good is a different matter. That he does firmly believe in.) That's not to say he's not open to the possibility, being the openminded individual that he is.

And the show has never addressed what happens to people who aren't "enlightened" enough or "good" enough to be ascended. I've got specific characters in mind, but I don't know where you are in the series, so I won't spoil.

I'd think Jack would be the most likely to believe in God, simply because he's been very careful to differentiate between God and gods, as if he has a belief in God and doesn't want there to be any confusion between the two. Now, what he does with that belief . . . that's a different matter. For example, Teal'c seemed somewhat surprised that Jack hadn't read the Bible, which contains the teachings upon which Jack's society is supposed to be based. (Like I said, it's been a long time since I watched "Demons," so I'm sort of paraphrasing from memory here.)

Interesting discussion. I'll go back to my little corner now. :-)
[User Picture]
From:izhilzha
Date:December 12th, 2006 06:01 pm (UTC)
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I agree somewhat with feliciakw about Daniel, I think...and I would have thought differently, but when I wrote my first fic, Daniel took the post of skeptic against Sam's interest, and I suddenly realized how much that sort of thing happens even in the show. (That fic--can't recall if you've read it--is Impossible Questions.)

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