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Religion in Babylon 5

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  • grumbler
    replied
    sjerose, you might want to look at Mithraism as a source for some of JMS's ideas, including the "return from death' of Sheridan.

    I have never agreed with the linkage of Sheridan's mythos to that of jesus. First, it is too obvious, and JMS "does not do obvious." Second, it seems a clanker, as Sheridan was not at all Jesus-like. He was, however, very Mithras-like in that he emphasised honor, courage, and self-sacrifice. Mithras was a warrier's god, but not a bloody one. Mithras-worship was about making the warrier strong internally, not about calling on outside help. Like Jesus, Mithras was a savior-god, another link to Sheridan. Mithras was also strongly associated with the stars, unlike jesus but much like Sheridan, who wanted to die among the stars.

    Mithraism also apparently featured the lords of order and chaos, though this is less clear in Mithraism than in its parent religion, Zoroastrianism.

    You might find some other interesting tidbits about what the early Christians adopted from the cult of Mithras (also known as Sol Invictis) like Sunday being the holy day and the winter solstice being his birthday, but these do not relate to B5.

    Unfortunately, Mithrasism was a "mystic' religion and so not a great deal is known about it. However, your concern would be for what was known to JMS, not what is unknowable.

    Look also at Isis, another reborn god. Not much seems on first blush to apply, but i am not greatly knowledgable in this field (other than what I glean from Stargate SG-1 <g>).

    As for the Vorlon AS angels rather than exploiting the angel myth, I agree with CE that JMS meant the latter, not the former.

    I think that JMS saw religion as a process, not a product, much along the lines of what Mohandas Gandhi taught. Some people believe that the truth cannot be known, it can only be sought, and I think JMS's view of religion is very much along these lines.

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  • Guest's Avatar
    Guest replied
    Originally posted by JDSValen
    sjerose, is your look at religion in B5 limited to just the series?
    I'm not quite for sure just yet. Brace yourselves: I have never seen Crusade. The initial reason was simply that I didn't have cable at the time, but now I'm just either lazy or don't really have the interest to see it. Right now I'm focusing on the B5 series and the accompaning books and movies. Though a spinoff still centered in the B5 universe, Crusade is still a different show altogether. Right now I've got enough piles of information to sort through with Babylon 5 itself, but we'll see...

    Thanks so much for the suggestion though; I'll definately look into it.

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  • Radhil
    replied
    I find the apparent respect for religion in B5 astonishing for two reasons: 1) We live in an age where religion is commonly ridiculed; 2) The science fiction format has never been especially friendly to believers of any faith. Knowing that JMS proclaims himself an Atheist, the treatment of religion in B5 is all the more surprisingly kind.
    1) The most visible religious aspects are often the ones doing the most ridiculous things, as are the most visible secular aspects. It's a sad situation - world gone mad, and I'm only half joking.

    2) Joe may claim he's an atheist, but there was a recent post up there where he detailed that he has a LOT of experience studying all sorts of religions. All the majors and quite a few of the minors, taking something from each. It's a way of learning I discovered and value, to recognize that there is something wise to learn from just about everything. I admire the man much more for mastering it well before I could put words to it. Probably teaching it unconciously at some level in everything he does, as I watched Sheridan's leap or Sebastian's interrogation or.... And they say TV rots your brain...

    As you said, and as even Sheridan said... eclectic.

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  • JDSValen
    replied
    sjerose, is your look at religion in B5 limited to just the series?

    Because if it is not it might be a good idea to look at both River of Souls and Crusade.

    With River of Souls look at the commentary on the DVD, they go into a lot of religious talk there, especially for Martin Sheen's character.

    As for Crusade, there are so many things I don't know where to begin: Gideon's name, allusions to The Book of Job, and similarities between Job and Gideon himself, just to name a few. The JMS commentary for Racing the Night had some very good stuff in it, despite the controversy.

    Hope it helps!

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  • AmyG
    replied
    Originally posted by Michael Malloy
    Earlier in this thread I saw something I do not understand. Perhaps someone can bring me up to date. What does "g" mean?
    Michael, if the "g" is in pointed brackets, like this:

    <g>

    it's shorthand for "<grin>". It's an alternate form of:

    :-)

    Basically, it's a way to tell people that what you just said was lighthearted, or a joke.

    Amy

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  • AmyG
    replied
    Hi, Harrdy,

    It surely suggest that ALL civilisations have been tempered with, with the exception of the Centauri, who don't see "an angel", or so they say at least. I am not all that sure that Londo doesn't see anything, but that is only my opinion 9-)
    Actually, it is only Londo who says that he doesn't see anything - we can't be certain that other Centauri did not (or would not have).

    Amy

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  • Michael Malloy
    replied
    I think there is something for everybody in JMS's treatment of religion in B5. If anything, it's eclectic.

    I find the apparent respect for religion in B5 astonishing for two reasons: 1) We live in an age where religion is commonly ridiculed; 2) The science fiction format has never been especially friendly to believers of any faith. Knowing that JMS proclaims himself an Atheist, the treatment of religion in B5 is all the more surprisingly kind.

    On the other hand a music professor I know, a Russian of Jewish heritage who was an Athiest due to being raised in the Soviet Union, pointed me in the direction of my conversion to the Russian Orthodox (Christian) faith. This occured during her classes on Russian music at Ohio State in which she demonstrated her sincere respect for anyone who had a faith of any sort.

    Earlier in this thread I saw something I do not understand. Perhaps someone can bring me up to date. What does "g" mean?

    Leave a comment:


  • Guest's Avatar
    Guest replied
    Originally posted by Harrdy
    I don't know how I can describe it in a foreign language... two people (can) see themselves as a unity, three people are different.
    "Two's company, three's a crowd." English isn't your first language? I honestly never would have guessed; you have better grammar than most people I know, myself included.

    Originally posted by WorkerCaste
    ò At a time when TV mostly portrayed religion through fanaticism, B5 mostly avoided religous fanaticsm and portrayed characters of faith in a positive light.
    I agree with you here. How many times in Star Trek did Kirk "save" the "primitive" people of the random planet of that episode from their "superstitions" and showed them the blessed light of reason and science and the warm hug of Federation Big Brother? In "Believers" there is clear conflict between trivializing these people's beliefs and respecting them, even at the cost of their son's life. I never saw that in any of the ST series (but then again I wasn't hooked onto those shows, so please correct me if I'm way off the mark there).
    Last edited by sjerose; 04-29-2005, 07:23 AM.

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  • Towelmaster
    replied
    I find the fact that jms himself is a non-believer significant, in a way that it allowed him to stand back and take a bit more of a non-fundamentalist look around him. I can find no bias for or against a specific religion in B5, something you usually do see in tv-series. Even if it is very subtle.

    In my view he did not so much treat religions with respect, he treated religious people with respect, he showed them to be human. like everybody else.

    And the Foundationists were right up my alley, but that is an altogether other matter.

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  • Harrdy
    replied
    Harrdy û ThereÆs a pretty good body of evidence that burgeoning religions take on aspects of the religions they are replacing, and it is often supposed that the 3Æs in Christianity came from the pagan religions.
    I didn't say that "three" is a christian concept. I only said that they *also* have it. I even said that "magic numbers" (magic is considered from the devil by christians *g*) occur everywhere on the planet, they are likely from our unique perspective being human. There are some instincts and then there are some learned concepts. I can't say if "magic numbers" are "instinctive" but I would bet on it. I mean, one is not much of "magic", two is as in two people as in two points of view. Three seems to be the border between we and us. I don't know how I can describe it in a foreign language... two people (can) see themselves as a unity, three people are different. It is "the other", which comes out here, I think...

    But bottom line it might be that the concept of "three" is a pagan concept converted, they did a lot of others (like e.g. Easter being one of the better known examples) conversions. There where even some Christians who thought they might find new wisdom about God in the beliefs of the Pagan.

    I tend to split religion into the "political" part (with the pope and all that) and the "spiritual" part. The second one is a purely personal experience and you can find it in a church, but also you could find it standing on a mountain top. Or being together with your friends. Or similar experiences. There is the feeling "it makes sense", it fills you with a certainty that you are no thing of blind luck.

    PeAcE

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  • WorkerCaste
    replied
    Here are some quicks thoughts in no particular order.

    ò At a time when TV mostly portrayed religion through fanaticism, B5 mostly avoided religous fanaticsm and portrayed characters of faith in a positive light.

    ò Vorlons and religion û I donÆt think Vorlons created religions for the younger races, they just used those beliefs when convenient. IIRC, JMS once commented that the Vorlons didnÆt appear as the major religious figures.

    ò Vorlons/angels û which came first? Did the intervention of Vorlons create the stories of angels, or did Vorlons make use of the existing beliefs with regard to beings of light? We saw them use existing forms in other ways when they took on the shape of GÆKarÆs and SheridanÆs fathers.

    ò SheridenÆs death û Lorien could only ôbreath on the embers.ö Sheridan was likely dead by the humanÆs definition of death at that time, but then again what we do with CPR, drugs, and cardiac stimulation has extended the definition of death from what it was, say, 500 years ago.

    ò Sheridan/Jesus and Minbari/Celts û Might be an obvious observation, but donÆt work too hard at making it all fit once you see similarities. JMS seems to like to work with composites, drawing some characteristics from one source, and others from completely different cultures, myths or stories. That said, the Sheridan/Jesus dynamic was always right out there in front of us (and the other B5 characters, too), but I had never thought of the Minbari/Celt relationship. Interesting thought.

    ò Harrdy û ThereÆs a pretty good body of evidence that burgeoning religions take on aspects of the religions they are replacing, and it is often supposed that the 3Æs in Christianity came from the pagan religions.

    ò JMS expressed the thought that Science and Religion are both means of explaining the universe around us. I always liked that. I thought it worked particularly well with the ônewö religions like Foundationalsim that grew up in the wake of contact with aliens. All of a sudden the universe becomes a very different place than we knew of, and Science and Religion both have to hustle to incorporate the new realities.

    Oh well, that's all for now.

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  • Harrdy
    replied
    What "fundies" do not realize is that angels and other spiritual beings are aliens. If someone from the 1700's saw a Vorlon in angel form or a Shadow vessel, they'd describe it as being something spiritual. Angels and demons, etc. are simply other forms of life.
    I'd say that it is that way in the B5 universe. But please do not mix up our universe and that one. True, B5 is based on our view of the world, but it would be a far stretch to say that goes the other way, too. But I am with you when you *suggest* that *maybe* the angels *could* be aliens. I don't like the "it is that way", there is not much evidence of the existance of angels altogether and in ways of the belief it is much better to accept other point of views... (THAT is what is between "fundies" and "spiritual people" IMHO)

    I don't know if Sheridan's near-death experience could directly be correlated to Jesus' resurrection, as he didn't exactly die, but JMS made the point that Sheridan was not infallible, so the comparison wouldn't hold too much water.
    I once read an interresting analysis about the whole "Jesus-Thing". The writer suggested that Jesus himself thought he would "come back from the dead" and his followers where SHOCKED when he didn't. So they retreated and fantasized that he did, and so it was written and is now the spine of the Christian belief. Again, you can say that when enough people *belief* that something happended than it *happened*, even if reality suggest otherwise. The subjective reality of one is independend of the absolute reality of the environment, most of the time you don't see, hear, smell or feel something happening, but you read about it and you beliefe you know about it. A lot of the problems in our world stem from people not knowing how subjective their realita really is...

    Anyway, what I wanted to say about Jesus/Sheridan: It is said that Jesus came back from the dead for a limited time. Sheridan "came back" from the dead for a limited time (one could argue if he really was dead, but people *believed* he was dead, and that is all that matters in religion). Both Jesus and Sheridan died for others. Jesus took away the sin of the world (for believers) with his dead, Sheridan did hurt "the enemy" badly, so both had a victory against their enemy.

    You could also draw some parallels between the Shadows and the Devil. Both have a special view how the universe should be like. Both fell from grace (the shadows from the first one(es?)). Both want people to behave like themself. And of course you can draw the conclusion that the Vorlons where not that much different at the end. Showing that maybe the biggest sin is pride, pride in that way that you believe *YOUR* view of the world is the only acceptable one...

    By the way, Sheridan and Sinclair where thought as one person at the beginning of B5. You can surely find a text describing that. So The parallels between Jesus and Sheridan/Sinclair are even stronger, him being the one who died an came back *and* the founder of a way of living (for the Minbari).

    That whole Vorlon-angel thing is very intriguing. It seems to suggest that perhaps the Vorlons have been involved on Earth from the beginnings of civilization.
    It surely suggest that ALL civilisations have been tempered with, with the exception of the Centauri, who don't see "an angel", or so they say at least. I am not all that sure that Londo doesn't see anything, but that is only my opinion 9-)
    Anyway, in the B5 universe Minbari had the strongest ties to the Vorlons. Humanity was visited by the Vorlons more than one time, they found "Jack" (the Ripper) and put him to their use (another interresting episode, I like the way leaders *should* be), and they have "programmed" us to see an angel when we see a vorlon. There is something deeply disturbing (maybe the reason I stopped watching the series) in this thought. While it is very moving to stand before an angel I surely don't like the idea that my people have been tempered with. They CHANGED us, who gave them the right to do so? There is another piece of pride, the Vorlons thought that they have the right to do so in their pride.

    But also the shadows did their amount of meddling. They visited at least the Narn and killed nearly all their Telepaths. They pulled strings to throw the galaxy into war, to strengthen the survivors.

    There is another interresting comparison between the Evolution (which works two-ways. Strengthening by Competition but also by Socialicing (don't know a better, english word for it). Single Cell organisms work together, Multi Cell organisms form social groups, humans form Cities and Nations... Evolution is twofold. But I am not so sure if you could use that information in your work...

    They would be who we develop our religions from, but what happens then when we realize their fallability and then they leave the galaxy, like in Season 4?
    I think (these are only my opinions) that B5 showed us that spirituality is inside of us. We can find Angles but they don't show us our spirituality (only childs and such are impressed by them). G'Kar is a prime example for this. He talkes about finding god is like using a flashlight. We see what we are able and think that what we see is god. But truth (might be) that we are just not able to understand god, so the more we are sure that we know how god "is" the more we see that he is "like us". I think the parting of "the Angels" (Vorlons) would leave a lot of "strong beliefers" (=childs) in fear, but the ones who don't look outward for god would not feel any different. For them the Vorlons where only a way to find another aspect of god...

    Harrdy, can you think of other places where you thought religion was too obviously planted for your taste?
    No, otherwise I always liked the way religion was showed. For example I feared the worst when I understood that G'Kar would become a prophet (kind of). But it was done very good, believable.

    On the subject of the Celts, and Sheridan's death and resurrection at Z'ha'dum, there is also a Celtic shamanic concept that relates. Shamans would entomb themselves for three days, as a ritual form of rebirth. Actually, lots of shamanic cultures have a ritual three-day burial. You might argue that Jesus was a shaman within those parameters.
    I read "Masks of God" (don't know if that is the right translation of "Masken Gottes") by Joseph Campbell. He outlines that shamans have some distinct ways of finding their spirituality. Hunger is one way. And in our religion up to the present there is always fasting (sp?). One could argue that your body produces endorphine to counter the pain and exhaustion... so pain, loneliness, loss and illness all could work towards a "spirituality". I don't like to confine spirituality to that biological workings, but there is evidence for it.

    Anyway, yeah, much of the Celts' spirituality resonates around the number three...
    Three is a "magical" number, also found in Christian belief (and nearly everywhere in the world). There is the three-union of God, Christ and the Holy Ghost. One could draw a similarity to the three-union of "The One", but it is only sketchy. Because the three "Ones" are quite different to the Christian Unity.

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  • kochia
    replied
    The biggest problem with ancient stories is that they are handed down, word of mouth. And we all know that the human race loves to embellish everything it hears.

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  • AmyG
    replied
    On the subject of the Celts, and Sheridan's death and resurrection at Z'ha'dum, there is also a Celtic shamanic concept that relates. Shamans would entomb themselves for three days, as a ritual form of rebirth. Actually, lots of shamanic cultures have a ritual three-day burial. You might argue that Jesus was a shaman within those parameters.

    Anyway, yeah, much of the Celts' spirituality resonates around the number three, so there's that whole connection with the Minbari. And, there are PILES of books about Celtic spirituality out there nowadays. Some less well-researched than others. A good author to start with - well researched, and with an academic provenance - is John Matthews (who often writes with his wife, Caitlin Matthews).

    Also, Celtic spiritual myth is lousy with the iconic character of the warrior-priest, and G'Kar is _classically_ that archetype.

    Amy

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  • Guest's Avatar
    Guest replied
    Wow! There are some very diverse and well-put observations and opinions about B5's religion out there.

    That whole Vorlon-angel thing is very intriguing. It seems to suggest that perhaps the Vorlons have been involved on Earth from the beginnings of civilization. They would be who we develop our religions from, but what happens then when we realize their fallability and then they leave the galaxy, like in Season 4?

    Harrdy, can you think of other places where you thought religion was too obviously planted for your taste?

    I never thought of the Minbari in relation to the Celts. An interesting idea, SpooRancher...

    Thanks for all the input. Keep it comin'!

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