Science fiction is one of may favorite genres. It’s not the science the attracts me, but the use of the genre as a tool to consider “what ifs” in our own time and in our own world. Battlestar Galactica, in my opinion, is one of the best. Much has been made of the religion and myths in Battlestar Galactica, but to focus on those themes is to miss the point entirely. The show is about the false and literally fatal distinctions we make between people based on religion, race and ethnicity, among many others.
One scene in the very last episode had a profound effect on me. I suppose that Ronald Moore, the principal developer, did not even dream that I would see in this scene a deep spiritual truth. But that is exactly what happened.
President Laura Roslin and Commander Bill Adama are sitting above the plains in Africa, having just landed on Earth. They have come to the end of a long and arduous journey after their home planet had been destroyed in a global war. Their flight to safety was filled with failures and successes, love and hate, peace and war, abundance and deprivation. At no time during their travails were they at all certain that they would ever find Earth or any other haven of safety, but in the end, serendipitously, they found what they were looking for.
As they sit under a canopy, watching hundreds of gazelles out on the plain, enjoying a sight that did not exist on their home planet, Roslin and Adama are reveling in the peace and awesome beauty that they have found in their new home. Roslin, however, is dying from cancer, and the audience is correct to conclude that she has but hours to live. This fact dominates the scene.
The character development in the show is superb. Having “lived” with Roslin and Adama as they struggled to survive against all odds for many months in uncharted space, I identified wholly with the emotions of both of these leaders as they sat together on Earth, their final destination. Roslin knows she is going to die soon. I imagine that she has a sense of immense accomplishment, but also knows that she will not live to enjoy all that she has worked and fought for. I was overcome with sadness for her. She and Adama were the people who provided the strong leadership that made finding Earth possible, yet she, herself, would not be able to savor the fruit of her labor for more than a few hours.
And, then, it hit me.
Roslin is all of us. We all work to build a life that we find fulfilling and meaningful. We get an education, find a job, get married, have children, build a home, create memories, do something useful and meaningful. Our life’s work does not end. We keep working and struggling and building and shaping and rebuilding, sometimes against all odds. In the end, we die and everything we have worked so hard for is left for others to enjoy or profit from.
As I watched Roslin in this final scene, I watched myself at the end of my life, looking back at all that I have accomplished, but at the same time knowing that someone else would enjoy what I have built. As I watched Roslin struggling to breathe, I felt the deep sense of sadness that she was experiencing as she contemplated the fact that she would not be able to enjoy her new home with Bill Adama, the one whom she had grown to love deeply.
Then, as if in a flash, I came to understand a different perspective. Roslin was focusing on the wrong thing. What if Roslin had been focusing on something other than Earth as her “end”? Suppose that, all along, she believed that achieving unity with God, that enjoying God forever, was her chief end. Then, would not her impending death be seen, not as a final defeat, but, indeed, a final victory, the accomplishment of all that she had lived for? Would not the relentless struggles of her life be seen as a journey to God? And, as she sat on the plains of Africa, would not her death, only moments away, be welcomed as the next step in her journey?
The Westminster Catechism states that, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” St. Ignatius put it this way: “Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord and by this means to save his soul. And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.”
The difference between believing that the meaning of my life is tied up in the things that I accomplish, versus believing that the meaning of my life is to be found in God Himself, cannot be overstated. As I flipped between these two perspectives while watching this final scene in Battlestar Galactica, I felt myself also flipping between great sadness and great exhilaration.
No amount of psychological or philosophical wizardry can sidestep the fact that we live and work and struggle, and then die, and that life, in the end, is without meaning. This conclusion is unavoidable, unless one pursues God as one’s chief end. Then, “all the way to heaven is heaven” and death is a continuation of life. Or, as Jesus put it: “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”