Bajoran Religion

Discussion in 'Star Trek: Deep Space Nine' started by David.Blue, Jan 20, 2016.

  1. David.Blue

    David.Blue Commander Red Shirt

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    Just watched a youtube video from Trekspertise including an interesting turn of phrase. To paraphrase "The Bajorans are the only major positive icon of religiosity in Star Trek, a reflection of America's own love affair with the divine."

    Okay. Well and good. But here's the thing--DS9 was my favorite Trek. I watched every single episode quite avidly when each aired. Yet after all that, what can I tell you about the Bajoran faith? Very nearly nothing at all. Yeah, they worship the Wormhole aliens whom they call Prophets who have sent forth orbs called the Tears of the Prophets, and in turn study the written prophecies of various individuals. In some way they perceive our essence to exist in the ear, in something they call the paugh. Exactly or even slightly what that means has never been adequately explained. They have a demonic race in their myths, known as the Paugh Wraiths and some view them as the "True Prophets." Evidently the faith is organized with a supreme leader called the Kai, elected by other clerics of (presumably) high rank and who wear different kinds of robes. Different factions maybe? I dunno. They do have monasteries.

    And that is pretty much it.

    For the record, I only count as canon things actually broadcast, to have gone through the creative process to bring a story to screen. On the basis of that, we actually know quite a lot about Klingons and a rather startling amount about the Cardassians. Vulcans and Andorians likewise have relatively well-rounded cultures. Ditto the Ferengi. Romulans are more secretive by design.

    But consider for a moment some fairly obvious questions about Bajoran religion to which I don't think we have any real hint whatsoever...

    Do men and women have a separate creation? They certainly do in Christianity for example, and in Greek myth even more. Not so in Norse myth, interestingly enough, nor in Mayan legend.
    Is there an afterlife, and what form does it take? The notions of "heaven" and "hell" are hardly universal on Earth, and even when accepted take radically different forms. For example some faiths see reincarnation back into this world as "hell" or maybe purgatory (i.e. temporary hell). Some religions don't focus on life after death at all, while others center all ritual and prayers on communicating with the ancestors.
    To Bajorans, what is the goal of life? To win acceptance by the Prophets? Or good will to your family? Enlightenment by trying to become like the Prophets? Protection against the Paugh Wraiths? Where is the focus of life? To a Muslim, one obeys the will of God and so earn a place in Paradise. To a Hindu one's soul advances sufficiently to transcend time and space altogether. Some Christian groups believe they are here to smite God's enemies whereas others see God as the kind of perfect Love one of which one seeks to be worthy.
    Is there an End to the World? Christians generally agree with Muslims that one day this world will end and be judged. Hindus see an endless number of universes, one following the next as each is born, lives then dies. The Norse believed the Old Order would one day fall in a gigantic war, but that survivors would face a world with no more monsters nor war gods--only the gods of light and love and justice. Some religions don't really focus on the idea of an "end" at all.

    Do you see my frustration? Here we have an entire alien civilization that is in Star Trek terms supposed to be the very avatar of religious faith in the same way Ferengi are greed, Klingons are war, the Borg are reliance on technology, Vulcans are cold reason, etc. Yet what is in fact their faith? The writers and producers can only have decided to avoid the question altogether.
     
  2. dub

    dub Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    There are some answers on Memory Alpha:

     
  3. Bad Thoughts

    Bad Thoughts Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    I think that most of these questions can be answered by saying that the Bajoran religion is not Christianity. There are enough ways the producers tried to make it different from human religions that Americans are generally familiar with.

    What is the goal? I think it is to gain insight about one's fate by encouraging the Prophets to release information about the future. The Bajorans seem very terrestrial, their concerns are about the here and now. We see them seeking information about their well-being and how to ward off personal problems. I think that Sisko's prophecies in Rapture are typical, giving advice or information that will make a person's life better.
     
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  4. Timo

    Timo Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Certainly it would seem that the Bajoran faith is not about scripture or rules. There are no known demands that the religion or its figures would make on the lifestyle of the faithful - which may be atypical of Earth's current religions, but certainly not unheard of.

    Also, since the Prophets are a central figure in this faith, it sounds only natural that it would pay no heed to concepts such as Beginning, End, Birth or Death - as those are utterly meaningless to the Prophets. The mortal Bajorans might feel an inborn need to mull over those concepts, but if they choose to listen to the Prophets instead, then it makes no sense for them to ponder Afterlife or Creation or the Last Trump. Indeed, the whole philosophical attraction of this particular religion could come from the utter liberation it offers in this respect.

    Timo Saloniemi
     
  5. T'Girl

    T'Girl Vice Admiral Admiral

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    While we only obtain a small amount of knowledge about the Vulcan religion (or religions), it certainly isn't cast in a bad or negative light.

    Tuvok's family had prayers said for his safe return, and he did return safe.
     
  6. JirinPanthosa

    JirinPanthosa Vice Admiral Admiral

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    The Bajorans seemed to me more of a three dimensional culture than some of the other major races. The range of interpretations of Bajoran religion is just as wide as the range of real world religions. Some are strictly faithful, some use religion to their own political benefit, some interpret the words in the text through a modernized lens. The specifics of Bajoran theology would be cool to know, but it's not really relevant to the story they were trying to tell beyond the details we were given. Giving specifics about their ideas of afterlife or ideas of the purpose of existence would only cause people to identify it with specific real world religions and would otherwise just be trivia for the enjoyment of the hardcore fans.

    The culture of a religion has more of an impact on people's behavior than the specifics of the theology anyway.
     
  7. David.Blue

    David.Blue Commander Red Shirt

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    The problem is--religion is supposed to be the Bajoran "thing" the same way greed is the Ferengi "thing" and logic is the Vulcan "thing." And honestly, I have absolutely no idea what Bajoran culture is all about. I know they used to have a caste system, about two generations ago--but I only know that because I was told. It shows up nowhere else ever, impacts no part of Bajoran life I can see. I have literally no hints at what Bajoran beliefs are in terms of how that shapes their lives. Do they regard marriage as particularly important? I don't know. Klingons do. Cardassians do. Both far more than most Humans as far as I can tell. They literally worship beings they call Prophets--but I have no hint as to how they look at time. Or death. Or art. There are factions in their faith, but I honestly haven't a clue what their differences are. Yet I know quite a bit about the faith of the Colonies in Battlestar Galactica. I know quite a bit about Narn, Minbari and Centauri faiths on Babylon 5. Because religion does indeed impact characters' lives in those series, and what they actually believe governs their actions. It isn't true the Bajoran culture is well-developed. Nor is it true their religion would not impact how all these Bajorans we keep meeting decide matters. It would. Especially for a culture that doesn't just believe but know they are watched over by virtual gods.
     
  8. dub

    dub Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    You can thank religiophobic viewers and/or religiophobic higher-ups at Paramount for the lack of stories about Bajoran religion as the series progressed.
     
  9. Tosk

    Tosk Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Except maybe the D'jarra system. We don't know for sure the origin of the practice, but we do know that Akorem called for a return to it due to his belief that Bajor had diverted away from the course set by the Prophets.
     
  10. David.Blue

    David.Blue Commander Red Shirt

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    Had this been stated or made clear or even hinted at in any way I wouldn't be complaining. It would have been fascinating.
     
  11. JirinPanthosa

    JirinPanthosa Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Bajorans are the major race other than humans in Star Trek that are least defined by a 'Thing'. The development of the Bajorans revolved a lot more around the healing process from the Occupation than it did around the religion. Could they have had some purely expository sequence where they develop the specifics of their beliefs even if it didn't contribute to the current story? Sure, but it would have only served to take away story options and make them seem as monolithic a race as the Vulcans or Klingons.

    Should they have found fun little ways to flesh out details of Bajoran culture like Vir's reaction to the 'four bases' convention in Babylon 5 to make them seem more memorable? Absolutely. Would they have gained anything by making up a bunch of nonsense words easily mapped to human concepts for Bajorans to say to remind us they're aliens? Absolutely not. When scifi defines entire alien races by their religious rituals all it does is cordon them in and force us to define them as one category of humans.

    Winn using religion as a political tool was a more interesting insight into their culture than if we had learned that a Bajoran must perform the ritual of Sakarablah every five years to bond to their yerstamate.
     
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  12. Timo

    Timo Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    I guess we might be a bit biased in our opinion that religion is an important element in Bajoran life. For a number of reasons:

    1) Our lead Bajoran is a character with an interest in religious matters. She is also intensely disliked by her peers and superiors, and for that reason "banished" to the space station. It might just as well be assumed that her religious interests make her so loathed and unusual!

    2) Our lead human character gets co-opted by Bajoran religious fanatics in the pilot episode. They got to him first; had a secular politician or a military leader done that, we might simply have gotten a different show.

    3) That the fanatics were in a position to grab Sisko just tells of the importance of the monasteries in preserving (their version of) the Bajoran lifestyle through the Occupation. This does not necessarily mean the monasteries would have been of importance before the Occupation - and it certainly doesn't tell us the whole truth about the pre-Occupation Bajoran lifestyle. In all likelihood, quite to the contrary!

    4) Monasteries in human history (and their analogues in our various religions) may be open or closed facilities. The Bajoran ones appear rather closed. This would serve to keep religion out of the life of the average Bajoran! But that may be an artifact of us observing monasteries affected by the Occupation...

    5) Kira's love interest is a monk. That he also happens to be an important politician need not mean that the people yearn for a return to the past. Instead, following a religious figure may be a novel attempt at making a break from the failures of the past. We just don't know which past - the recent, forcibly secular era of Occupation, or the preceding customarily secular era of "normal" Bajoran life? In any case, a monk would simply be a "clean" figure, a man without a past, and therefore preferable to the usual brand of Washingtonites. And Winn Adama is just a cheap copy, choosing religion after having seen that it sells.

    The events we witness aboard DS9 and in the halls of Bajoran power are biased by the fact that we, that is, our heroes, witness them through and due to their religious connections - the lovers, political foils and challengers for religious prominence. Far more secular events might shape the politics and history of Bajor if Sisko and Kira were not already embroidered in religious intrigue and, also for unrelated reasons, of such central importance to Bajoran politics and history.

    Timo Saloniemi
     
  13. David.Blue

    David.Blue Commander Red Shirt

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    Okay, but you'd think somewhere along the line we'd find out what that religion entails. In TRW one doesn't need to study much to know or at least have a sense what a given religion is about. One evidence of this is jokes about religion, about Catholic guilt for example. In TNG the fact that Klingons are so macho, identify themselves so much as tough, disciplined, dangerous etc. it was hilarious to see Worf praise prune juice. Likewise in DS9 we know enough about Ferengi and Cardassians that the whole thing about root beer and the Federation resonated easily. We understood it.

    But the different elements of Bajor and its peoples' history/culture never gelled, which is fairly astounding when you consider just how much time we spent interacting with them. When introduced we were explicitly told Bajorans had space travel when humanity had barely discovered fire. Yet honestly I never got a sense of a people with that kind of history behind them (although I did with the Vulcans and Cardassians). Later we learned they had a rigid caste system before the Conquest, but had no hint of this before or after. This would be like visiting the American South today and seeing not one hint of the Confederacy (I grew up in the Deep South--believe me that would be bizarre).

    The more I think on it, the more I suspect people--producers and possibly a chunk of the audience as well--found the idea of actually exploring religious belief uncomfortable, so we ended up with a very "Lite" version. Instead of an ancient culture like the Arab, Hindu or Chinese (truly old cultures here on Earth) we got a vaguely young culture that lacked many edges or depths--at least visible ones. Bajor frankly came across as a young colony of some far older culture--which I suppose made it more like the United States.

    But as a writer and as someone who's worked in theatre so much of my life, it seems to me the problem here is specificity. We don't need to know enough to fill a wikipedia section about Bajor, but we needed enough for a solid article under the "culture" section. Or at least a hint of same. Consider--evidently Bajoran religion had a variety of factions, evidenced by the different robes worn by high ranking clerics (whether these were monks or not, I've no notion). But what did these factions believe? I dont know. Winn for a time seemed to be the voice of a vague fundamentalism, but after about one episode that faded into nothingness. What did she stand for? I've no idea, other than her own ambition--and I have trouble believing she had much of a following based on just that. What if she'd been in favor of re-establishing the caste system, for example? Or was trying to discourage secular aspects of society in general? Maybe a hint about how literally certain prophecies should be viewed? Likewise what Vedek Barail actually believed about his own religion remains a mystery. What did he stand for? As far as I can tell his views are slightly less strict that Vedek Winn's but that is all. To really dive into this whole area would have meant making some edgy decisions, probably making parallels with the religion in the world we know. For example, if in fact Belief in the Prophets was really different from Christianity in a BIG way, i.e. not making demands in terms of behavior or social conduct, then it becomes natural for Bajorans to comment on Earth religions (just as Quark commented on Earth history and economics). A running joke might well become the tiny nuances of belief which separate religious factions on Bajor, and an elaborate almost Japanese-style courtesy when debating such questions.

    Another direction would be to make Bajoran Faith rather more akin to religions we know, with factions perhaps more or less echoing movements we know. The original Kai we met actually seemed very Eastern, almost Buddhist (with some obvious parallels frankly to Tibet). At least initially we got a taste of a remarkably superstitious Fundamentalism akin to Creationism, but that got dropped in no time. But when the Bajorans were first introduced in "Ensign Ro" (then called the Bajora) they seemed far more akin socially at least to a version of the Palestinians.

    Following a parallel in that direction might have worked very well--with Bajorans perhaps coming across as a blend of Palestinians, Irish, Tibetans, Romany, Jews, Native Americans, etc. In other words, conquered peoples whose faith helped maintain their cultural identity. But that would have meant taking some risks--which the new incarnations of Star Trek sometimes proved very loathed to do.

    Okay, I'll shut up for now. Really. I mean it. :whistle:
     
  14. Terok Nor

    Terok Nor Commodore Commodore

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    The Bajoran religious episodes always bored me. The political ones were better. I could see the writers trying to make the Emissary/religious stuff an important part of the show but I just couldn't get into it. The Prophets were boring as sin. It only got interesting when the Pah-Wraiths came along but then it descended into a campy supernatural battle between good and evil. There were so many things wrong with the religious stuff I'd be here all day listing them. It just did not work on any level.
     
  15. fireproof78

    fireproof78 Admiral Admiral

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    I thought it was an interesting addition, but I generally agree with the OP that some details seemed completely missed.

    Though, I personally don't blame them. Too much religious details can either come off as insultingly simple or insultingly ripped off (I'm looking at you Stargate SG:1).

    The part where is was interesting was Sisko's relationship to it, and how it impacted Kira's life. There was almost a Worf like idealism in her attitude that slowly soften up over the course of the show. It could of had more, certainly, but I think any more could have been quite annoying to both religious and nonreligious viewers.
     
  16. Tosk

    Tosk Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Personally, I think that religion was explored as much as it needed to be on DS9. The story demands came first. That is, we found out details when an episode needed us to know them. Too many extraneous details can stop a story in its tracks, so I'm glad they kep it to a minimum. Heck, a lot of people found the Bajoran episodes boring already (not me, for the most part), can you imagine how much moreso it would be if they spent time delving deep into the tenets of Bajoran faith?
     
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  17. Sakonna

    Sakonna Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    I feel like we actually know quite a bit about the specific religious practices and beliefs of the Bajorans. The big one being the orb experiences (who needs an elaborate theology of an afterlife when you can actually go visit an orb and have a concrete vision with clues to your future?) We know all about their major holiday, the Gratitude Festival. The reading of the pagh. All those ceremonies Sisko was forever being asked to perform. I'd agree with the sentiment that we were given the right amount of detail to flesh it out in relation to the screentime it received -- had they been able to do additional Bajoran-focused episodes (which I personally would have loved), I'm sure we would have learned more. I think this assessment from Bad Thoughts is very well-phrased and nails it:

    I really do love the exploration of faith in this series (back in the 90's, I hated it, but on a recent rewatch I'm finding myself way more into the religious themes). Kira, Winn, Bareil, Worf, Weyoun, late series Sisko, season 7 Dukat, and most of the Jem'Hadar we meet all have true faith, and it leads them all in such different directions.
     
  18. topcat

    topcat Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    In retrospection bajor religion is most best summed up as an even more intrusive version of the prime directive.
    "don't put mines in the wormhole, youll anger the prophets"
    Vulcans have a conflicted religious system. its easy to lump it up as "logic is everything but every now and then lets let loose".
     
  19. Tosk

    Tosk Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Except that the two have nothing to do with one another.
     
  20. 2takesfrakes

    2takesfrakes Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Benjamin Sisko's role as The Emissary was tough to handle, especially in the end, when all it amounted to was his having to punch somebody ... which even a Bajoran monk could've accomplished. Except that Sisko's 1-2-punch did knock Q on his arse, so, Sisko's magnified in two ways, now. I didn't care for it, at all, Sisko's involvement in anything Bajoran - it weakened their belief system and seemed to be there to just pump Sisko up ... making him more important than he actually was. The Bajorans did seem to have some very similar aspects, at least in the beginning, to the Jews, particularly those in German-occupied regions during WWII. Others have noted that aspect for the past 20 years, or so, already. I liked that connection, very much. I liked the religious overtones DS9 had ... I just didn't care for the awkward, overly simplistic and very convenient Sisko worship, associated with it, right from Day 1 ....