Tuesday, February 13, 2007

An Ode to Babylon 5, or What the Atheist Taught Me About Christian Culture

A long article by Tim Enloe worth reading, especially if you're a believer who relished the excellent series called BABYLON 5:

Straczynski the atheist understands the provocative power of story. Atheist that he is, in writing Babylon 5 he also understood the enormous power of myth as it came out in the Lord of the Rings. Indeed, for all its flaws, Babylon 5 might justly be called “an atheist’s answer to Tolkien”. All the same themes are there: the dangers of power for both the mature and immature, the drive to grow up into what one can be by virtue of one’s nature, the inexpressibly moving human attempt to engage with realities that transcend all understanding, the epic, ages long conflict between right and wrong, the passing of one Age into another with deep, saddening loss of beauty but great hope for the future, noble heroes and baseborn traitors, fierce wars and faithful loves, courage and fear, wisdom and utter foolishness.

The difference, of course, is that Babylon 5 has no ultimate foundation for its presentations of these themes. It can at best merely borrow them from the very Christianity it subtly despises by making it just one more relativistic and ultimately futile attempt to grasp the ultimately unknown (and possibly nonexistent) numinous. As a cultural product of atheism, Babylon 5 “works” on one level because it is consistent with its worldview. This much, at least, is light years ahead of any contemporary Christian attempt to express the Christian worldview. But as noted above, worldviews are not self-contained–if they do not actually engage the reality they claim to explain, they cannot be said to succeed on the broadest possible level. Tolkien successfully resolves the epic war between good and evil because good and evil are objectively definable entities–they are held accountable to a standard beyond the Circles of the World, Iluvatar (=God). Babylon 5, on the other hand, cannot successfully resolve its own epic conflict between “good” and “evil” because good and evil do not objectively exist for atheism. At the climax of the Lord of the Rings, Sauron gets what he deserves for his millennia of murder and mayhem; at the climax of Babylon 5, the murderers and mayhem-makers get off scot-free, and to the rousing cheers of “Good riddance!” by the Younger Races.

As a bare story, Babylon 5 works because it is consistent with its worldview. As a realistic explanation of reality, however, it only works because it is tacitly relying on the small bit of remaining cultural capital from the now-defunct “Christendom” it pretends it has transcended. As a bare story, Tolkien’s saga also works because it is consistent with its worldview. But as a realistic explanation of reality, Tolkien’s saga works precisely because it is a legitimate, unashamed product of that Christendom, which itself gives the only really meaningful and finally defensible explanation of the human condition (original sin, gracious salvation initiated by God, redemption and transformation of the whole of the creation that was marred by sin).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My dear, you must look further into the various views held by non-believers. I think you will indeed find such concepts as "good" and "evil" existing with non-belief, or a moral view unfettered from a God-head. You might want to investigate the Ethical Culture Movement, for instance.

I enjoyed Babylon 5 for many reasons, and among them was its kind and fair treatment of religion. It showed humans with faith, many, many faiths, and other humans with none. I do hope you'll be open to differing faiths and paths, as those on Babylon 5 are. All the best.