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Alienesse September 17 2012 02:45 PM

Religion & DS9
I've recently finished my second viewing of DS9 and it was as great as I remembered it. There are many aspects which set DS9 apart from its sister Trek series, and one of the more poignant differences is the strong presence of religion as a theme. I'm sure this has been discussed before, and if I'm resurrecting a topic everyone is bored with, I apologize, but, upon a quick forum search, I was not able to find a dedicated thread.

I was wondering what brought on the shift from a religiously neutral franchise in TOS and TNG, with some even anti-religious overtones in TNG, to DS9's generous treatment of spirituality and faith. Seeing as this is a science-fiction show, I found it unusual to have a captain that is regarded as a religious icon and a first officer that is not in the least shy about proclaiming her faith in a divine power. I loved what the show did with this theme. I salute having both sides - science and religion - represented and even brought together in Sisko's transformation from reluctance to acceptance of his role as Emissary of the Prophets, but I wonder why. Any thoughts?

SchwEnt September 17 2012 05:56 PM

Re: Religion & DS9
In part, I believe, because DS9 wanted to do all the things no other ST had done before.

By the time DS9 came around, the rich world of ST had already been well established. With this vast background, what was DS9 gonna do that's new and different? Not the same old, same old.

In almost every respect, DS9 did something different from any prior ST.
Serialized storylines rather episodic adventures.
Stationary outpost rather than venturing starship.
Married (widowed) father as leader rather than single childless captain.
Many civilians rather than few civilians.
Several non-Starfleeters rather than all Starfleeters.
Many aliens rather than one or two.
Integral religious aspects rather than a few isolated eps.

I don't think DS9 was intended to be a ST series examining religion, but as part and parcel of Bajor, it
was a ST that would regularly incorporate it.

And even if it wasn't about Emissaries and Prophets and Orbs, I still think DS9 would have explored religion in depth anyway. Just to push the ST envelope, just to do something different in ST, just to not re-hash and to instead innovate in new ways in ST. Cuz that's what DS9 did.

Relayer1 September 17 2012 06:45 PM

Re: Religion & DS9
It was an attempt to bring a little more depth to the Trekverse.

As an atheist in a largely religious world I found it interesting. The Federations inclusiveness was somewhat at odds with it's own institutional lack of faith.

I must say, I'd have taken a harsher approach to religion in it, but then again, I'm not exactly as accepting as the Federation...

grabthars hammer September 17 2012 07:12 PM

Re: Religion & DS9
Though I've heard some fans argue the inclusion of religion was contrary to GR's vision of what a Trek show should be, I think it allowed for even more GR-style allegorical storytelling; Kira uses her faith for strength, Kai Winn uses it for her greed for power, Dukat rather comically exposes himself as fraudulent cult leader and so forth.

SchwEnt September 17 2012 10:58 PM

Re: Religion & DS9
It's not anything for or against GR's humanistic "anti-religious" ST vision.

DS9 needn't be a show pro-religion or anti-religion. Just by acknowledging that religion exists doesn't contradict any GR vision. And the Roddenberry ST future with or without religion generally concerned humans and Earth of the future. DS9 was almost entirely about Bajoran and Klingon and Ferengi and Dominion faiths anyway, outside human religions.

JarodRussell September 17 2012 11:30 PM

Re: Religion & DS9
It's not a religion if you can measure your God scientifically, so there never was a religious undertone in DS9. ;)

Jimi_James September 17 2012 11:59 PM

Re: Religion & DS9
I've had that same thought Jarod, though I would argue that it's still religion. I think religion is the doctrine based around the deity, which the Bajorans had plenty of, rather than certifiable evidence of the deities existence. So even if the Prophets weren't Gods as we might define them, the possibility of a religion based around them still exists and was clearly present.

We see this quite often in sci-fi, in the often used trope of a more advanced species being seen and worshiped as Gods, by a lesser advanced species. Trek has even used this idea multiple times, not including the Bajorans. And to cross over for a moment, this was one of the major plot points of the entire Stargate franchise. So even if you could see and touch your God, there is still the likelihood that a religion would exists around them.

DS9 took a very unique approach I think, more so than what could have been accomplished in the real world. For the Bajorans, the Prophets weren't some high in the sky deities that might not have existed. They were tangible life forms that could be interacted with and were interacted with, granted by a select few, but never the less, they did physically exist in a justifiable manner.

This allowed the writers to forgo the discussion we face today of whether or not God truly exists. Because even if you believe in God and have faith he/she exits, you can't go see him and return from speaking with him, with scientific evidence of the encounter in hand, the way Kira, Sisko, and others often did. This created a unique experience I think that separated the issue of religion from what it might have otherwise have been, which played out in the way Starfleet saw the Prophets as wormhole aliens and Bajorans saw them as Gods.

Ln X September 18 2012 08:53 AM

Re: Religion & DS9

JarodRussell wrote: (Post 6976495)
It's not a religion if you can measure your God scientifically, so there never was a religious undertone in DS9. ;)

A believer would not care, of course technically it could not possibly be an almighty God, but Kira nailed it;

That's the thing about faith... if you don't have it, you can't understand it and if you do, no explanation is necessary.

teacake September 18 2012 09:24 AM

Re: Religion & DS9
What I found interesting was that Sisko eventually accepted his part in the faith, and the faith of the Bajorans while still considering that the prophets were likely "wormhole aliens". His choices when it was it was a conflict between starfleet and the Bajoran's faith in him were always well done.

CorporalCaptain September 18 2012 09:33 AM

Re: Religion & DS9
Yeah, I have to agree with JarodRussell here. By making the manifestations of the Prophets, such as the Orbs, things that everybody agreed were objectively real, the Bajoran religion failed to be analogous to any Abrahamic human religion. In that context, Kira's statement about faith was not only banal but also relatively shallow.

JarodRussell September 18 2012 12:38 PM

Re: Religion & DS9
Admittedly, I was being a bit tongue in cheek about it.

The thing I see in DS9 is not only a science vs. faith one, it's also rationality vs. irrationality. Bajorans are often portrayed as irrational beings, blinded by their faith, while the Starfleet officers keep their calm and keep an open mind. They question the Prophets, while the Bajorans blindly follow them, for example. Sadly, I see that in real life as well. It's a big part of religion and faith to just blindly throw yourself into something.

So in DS9 it doesn't really truly matter that they can scientifically measure the existence of the Prophets, it's simply that their mindset is different and they're mostly incapable of blind faith. Major Kira represents an enlightened believer who doesn't take everything for granted, while Kai Winn represents a hardcore fundamentalist who blindly follows everything without questioning it. Sisko is somewhere in between. We can clearly see that everytime he gives in to the Prophets, he entirely stops being rational.

Nerys Ghemor September 18 2012 08:46 PM

Re: Religion & DS9

CorporalCaptain wrote: (Post 6978550)
Yeah, I have to agree with JarodRussell here. By making the manifestations of the Prophets, such as the Orbs, things that everybody agreed were objectively real, the Bajoran religion failed to be analogous to any Abrahamic human religion. In that context, Kira's statement about faith was not only banal but also relatively shallow.

I actually disagree with you on that one. While there were demonstrably real artifacts, and there had been interactions with the Prophets, the question was really, "What significance do we accord to all of this? Do we treat it as a solely natural phenomenon, or do we have faith that it is something more?" That is indeed a leap of faith.

About DS9's take on religion, aside from a few episodes that didn't go well ("In the Hands of the Prophets," for one, for failing to show the complexity of the debate it was an allegory to, and not showing, aside from a throwaway line from Bareil, that there is a middle option requiring the rejection of neither science, nor faith), I would say it was quite even-handed. People of faith ran the gamut from tolerant to bigoted, open-minded to closed-minded, militant to peaceful, and everything ini between. That's how it is in real life. Not all or mostly one, or the other.

teacake September 18 2012 10:36 PM

Re: Religion & DS9
Yes I liked that part very much. Faith was faith, but it was also attached to a system of bureaucracy and control.

R. Star September 18 2012 10:44 PM

Re: Religion & DS9
It's an interesting question, but the believers are going to believe in the end, and those who don't will continue to question it. Tangible evidence or not.

Just imagine the uproar today if God was found out to really be a giant floating head in the center of the galaxy.

Nightdiamond September 18 2012 11:14 PM

Re: Religion & DS9
The writing sometimes suggested the Prophets were just aliens who rarely noticed anything going on with Bajorans.

Despite that, the Bajorans insisted on believing in them and quoting some religious ideas at every opportunity, which from a outsider's perspective, made them look childish and naive.

A good example of religion in Trek was the controversy between Kieko (and the Federation's) atheistic view and the Winn's view of what should be taught in a mixed school --science or religious views.

I had a feeling TNG would have steered clear of that and stay with "Who Watches The Watchers" as its controversial episode about religion.

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