Living my Faith through Babylon 5 Sep19

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Living my Faith through Babylon 5

"Babylon 5" | Art by Iardacil. Used with permission.

Babylon 5 tells an epic, five-year story about a war of galactic proportions against a terrifying, ancient evil. Surprisingly (especially for a TV series written by a non-believer), the show also encourages me to examine my own faith and how I act on it.

The station at the center of the series is a cross between an interplanetary United Nations and a busy seaport. While providing docking facilities and commercial opportunities, it also hosts diplomatic delegations from dozens of worlds. The station is run by the human representatives of Earth Force, who are charged with managing the day-to-day mundanities of life in space as well as providing leadership to the council and protection to all on board.

Various faiths of humanity are represented throughout the series, with appearances by Muslim, Hindu, and Christian leaders. One of the most memorable episodes deals with sin and redemption, featuring a group of Trappist monks. But even more fascinating to me is the show’s in-depth exploration of alien religions.

The Centauri and Shallow Faith

The Centauri are an old race of humans whose religion is based on a pantheon of fifty or so individual gods. Although the people appeal to their gods periodically, their religion seems to make relatively few demands on them. Their empire is in decline and has been for a long time, but propelled by pride, they seek any means of getting ahead–even at the cost of enslaving or destroying other races. Their ambassador, Londo Mollari, embodies their pragmatic approach to life. He is a believer in name only, giving lip service to his gods, but never letting his faith change or challenge his actions.

What I wanted was far more important than what God wanted.

At the beginning of the series, Londo is a low-level bureaucrat who has been assigned to a minor post, where he has little power or influence. He takes full advantage of every opportunity to enrich himself and advance his own personal interests. Very early in his story, he makes a bargain which grants him great power, but puts him in the thrall of a great evil. The gods of his pantheon seem more like the Greek or Roman gods who have limited influence on some part of a person’s life. Even so, Londo never consults his gods or even considers what they might think of his actions.

I can think of times when I’ve lived my life with similar disdain for what my God might think of my actions. I know what my faith teaches, but have sometimes set it aside because it got in the way of my ambitions or desires. What I wanted was far more important than what God wanted.

Londo’s story arc is one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking in the series. Although his relationship with his religion never really changes, his personal beliefs do and he ultimately redeems himself after paying a terrible price.

The Minbari and Seeking Truth

Contrasting with the Centauri, the Minbari society is divided into three major castes: worker, warrior, and religious. Delenn, the Minbari ambassador on Babylon 5, is a member of the religious caste, and part of the Minbari ruling body known as the Grey Council.

The Minbari don’t believe in a single god or even a pantheon of gods. Instead, they believe the universe itself is sentient and it invests that sentience in living beings as a way to know itself. They have the utmost respect for anyone they consider to have a soul. Their perspective of the universe colours and shapes everything they do.

It’s easy to stay silent when my faith is inconvenient or embarrassing.

For example, in the episode “Grail,” a human named Aldous Gajic arrives at the station seeking the Holy Grail. In the faith of Minbar, anyone who is a “true seeker” (someone who is following a quest of the heart, no matter how foolish) is to be honoured and aided in any way possible. Delenn and her diplomatic attaché, Lennier, recognize Aldous as a true seeker and, in Minbari fashion, greet him respectfully when he arrives on station. To the humans (and other species on Babylon 5) it seems like a foolish quest. What chance does Aldous have of finding the Cup of Christ lightyears from Earth?

Delenn and Lennier treat Aldous with dignity, despite the doubts of their non-Minbari colleagues. They offer him every assistance and even graciously endure laughter at their expense. They know and understand their faith, applying it even when it is difficult and embarrassing.

The Minbari example is a mark I’ve missed in my life. When my faith is inconvenient or embarrassing—for example, when people at work are gossiping and it bothers me—it’s too easy for me to stay silent instead of asserting my faith and standing up for the people who aren’t present. Maybe I’d do better if I kept Delenn and Lennier in mind.

The Narn and Perseverance

G’Kar, the Narn ambassador, has the most interesting religious journey in Babylon 5. His race is relatively young, about as old as humanity. They were subjugated by the Centuari, a history that incites conflict between G’Kar and Londo. Despite their suffering, the Narn are a deeply religious people. Their culture is divided into eight circles, with the royal family occupying the center circle and the religious leaders coming in second. The series suggests that there are many faiths on the Narn homeworld. G’Kar is a follower of the Book of G’Quan, which contains prophecy and religious instruction. We see G’Kar conducting religious ceremonies with the book several times through the series and one of the prophecies is an early clue to the nature of the threat facing the galaxy.

I don’t always respect people whose beliefs differ from mine.

In the first season, G’Kar goes to extraordinary lengths and great expense to acquire a plant, called G’Quan Eth, which is vital to an observance in his faith. He spends extravagantly and is willing to endure humiliation from Londo in his attempts to get the plant in time for the ceremony. Interestingly enough, G’Kar’s faith is treated respectfully by the writers of the show; there is no sense that the writers are laughing at G’Kar, but portray his urgent need to practice his faith as something to be respected.

Sometimes I need this reminder just as much as Londo does. I don’t always respect people who don’t agree with me, or whose beliefs differ from mine. Just as much as I want my faith to be respected, I want to respect others. What seems inconsequential to me may be meaningful or hurtful to someone else.

I never thought I would be examining my faith through the lens of alien cultures, and yet here I am. The Centauri remind me that faith without following Christ’s example is no faith at all; the Minbari demonstrate the importance of standing up for my beliefs and for others; and the Narn represent a respect for religion and my ability to be an ambassador for my beliefs. With the recent addition of the series to Amazon Prime, I’m watching through all five seasons for a second time. I wonder what lessons the aliens have for me this time.

Kevin Cummings

Kevin Cummings

Contributing Writer at Area of Effect
Kevin grew up reading the ABCs—Asimov, Bradbury and Clarke. Since then he's expanded his fandoms to include films, television, web series and any other geek property he can find.

He has been married to an extraordinarily patient woman for more than three decades and they have two adult sons. Kevin also has entirely too many DVD boxes with the words "Complete Series" on the cover. He enjoys exploring themes of faith through his fandoms.
Kevin Cummings

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