The connection is hardly a secret. Many websites cover this (some of them are rather hostile towards the church, but others are friendly or neutral – the best one is here.)
But for those who came in late, I’ll cover the basics and then move into deeper territory afterwards.
Keep in mind, I’m discussing the original 1979 series for the first part of this post. Also keep in mind that I have no idea about Glen A. Larson’s current standing in the church. Some sources say he is an ex-Mormon, and others claim he is a current member. So I have no idea, although I suspect (based on the number of times I’ve seen Orson Scott Card called a former Mormon) that Larson is at least still on the roles of the church. But outside of intellectual curiosity and concern for his soul, his current standing in the church doesn’t mean much. What does matter is that at one point in his life, before he created BSG, Larson was LDS.
Okay – basic connections:
1. Kobol is an anagram of Kolob. In LDS theology, Kolob is the star nearest unto the throne of God. In Battlestar Galactica, Kobol is a planet rather than a star, but the connection between the two ideas is rather clear. Also, a ship named the Star Kobol appeared briefly as the site for armistice talks between the Colonials and the Cylons.
2. The colonies are run by a council (sometimes referred to as a Quorum) of the Twelve, with a President. While a political body, the members also have religious responsibilities and duties.
3. Marriage is often referred to as sealing. Adama marries Apollo and Serina with the words: A union between this man and this woman not only for now, but for all the eternities. Although the marriage ceremony is public rather than in a temple requiring a recommend to enter, the wording and theology comes from Mormonism.
4. In the episodes “War of the Gods” parts 1 & 2, the angels from the ships of light declare that agency is supreme: We cannot interfere with freedom of choice. His, yours, anyone’s. Count Iblis (the Satan figure who is at war with the angels in the Ships of Light) can only control those who had “freely given him dominion”.
5. In the “War of the Gods”, the highly advanced beings/angels on the Ship of Lights say “As you are now, we once were; as we are now, you may become.” Do I even need to spell this one out? Fine. I think it was Lorenzo Snow who said “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.”
6. In the episode “Experiment in Terra” John (an angel) says to Apollo “I have no physical body, as you know it.” Apollo points at John and asks him “What do you call that?” John replies: “A reflection of intelligence. My spirit, if you will.” That one is not as clear cut (since a spirit body is still a body) but the idea and wording of intelligence = spirit comes from Mormon sources.
Okay, that’s the (non-exhaustive) list. But what does it all add up to? Mere window dressing? Pearls before swine? Or something much more daring than most viewers and fans have realized?
Well, here’s what Orson Scott Card thought:
I found the Glen Larson approach both silly and offensive; I also found that most Mormon critics who have commented on my work and Larson’s make the same self-contradictory mistake: They find Larson’s approach – dropping in trivial LDS references – superficial, and then complain that because I don’t do the same, I am denying/concealing/ignoring my Mormonism.
(page 159 of A Storyteller in Zion).
So, according to Card, BSG is superficially LDS. That seems to be the view of most viewers. But, Card is dead wrong. I don’t blame him – after a promising series opener, BSG had a few odd episodes that involved such things as a shoot-out between Apollo and “Red-eye” (a damaged and reprogrammed Cylon) on a dime novel wild-west planet. Other such episodes seemed to render the initial promise of the series moot, and I really can’t blame Card (and others) from deciding the LDS references added up to mere window dressing.
But the series began to pick up some steam, especially with the two-part episode “War of the Gods.” This episode did more than just introduce a new threat in the form of Count Iblis, and new allies in the form of the beings from the Ships of Light. They set the basic metaphysical groundwork for the series. One major revelation retroactively changed the underlying concept behind the whole series: The Cylon Imperious leader had the same voice as Count Iblis. In essence, Satan created the Cylons.
Suddenly, for those paying attention, BSG was no longer about humanity fleeing for its lives from a superior force, hoping to find shelter on a mythical planet called Earth. It was about the battle for humanity’s soul. The Cylons weren’t just evil (if somewhat inept at shooting) robots – they were created for the specific purpose of becoming an army whose purpose would be to eliminate humanity. Iblis is at war with the being in the Ships of Light, and this war is reflected in the war between humanity and the Cylons. Humanity’s survival wasn’t just about genetic reproduction: It was about spiritual advancement: Humanity was meant to survive because its ultimate destiny is to become as advanced as the beings in the ships of light. The Cylons (and Count Iblis) meant to kill them all off (or at least corrupt them) before that could happen.
In fewer words: The basic metaphysical background of the original BSG was Mormon in character. The show was not superficially Mormon, as Card said. Instead, it was deeply, truly, inherently Mormon.
Unfortunately, the original BSG never got to explore this much further, with its cancellation and then pathetic resurrection as Battlestar 1980 (the less said about this, the better. Larson himself has written it off as “Starbuck’s nightmare”).
And how have the Mormon elements fared since then? Not well. In the few revivals that have occurred since then (not counting the new series on Sci-Fi), the creators have had a hard time dealing with these elements, either ignoring them or transmuting them into something else.
Maximum press did a comic book series that used time travel to rewrite most of the TV show’s history. The “angels” became something more akin to uber-advanced aliens. While this series showed a knack for exploiting the folklore of BSG fandom, its radical character redesigns and bizarre storylines (including a time travel story arc that rewrote every BSG story ever) didn’t endear it to fans. However, to my knowledge, these comic have the first appearance in any BSG media of humanoid Cylons. (CORRECTION: I have been informed that Human looking Cylons first appeared in Galactica 1980. I probably repressed the memory).
Maximum press itself became a victim of the comic book market collapse of the late 90s, so another comics company called Realm Press picked up the license. This series kept the religious elements in, even if they became more or less generic. Unfortunately, the publisher was unable to stick to a schedule and most of the storylines went unfinished, so it’s hard to tell exactly where this batch of comics would have gone.
Around the same time as all of this, Richard Hatch (the actor who played Apollo on the original series and plays Zarek on the new series) began co-authoring a new series of BSG novels. From all accounts, Hatch is a nice guy – but these books are a weird mix of BSG, Hatch’s own personal philosophies and borderline racist ideas. In them, Apollo becomes something of a lost Jedi. Because of his contacts with the Being of Light, he is able to tap into his mental reserves and perform all sorts of amazing mental feats. The Mormon elements of progression become something more like New Age ESP. Plus, it turns out only “pure blooded Kobollians” can tap this mental power (apparently somewhere between the fleeing of Kobol and the founding of the colonies, some humans somehow tainted the bloodlines, though this is never really explained). Also, a planet called Parnassus becomes the true font of humanity, with Kobol becoming only an ancient stopping point on the way to the twelve colonies that were introduced to us (and destroyed) in the first episode of BSG.
As for the new TV series? Well, I really don’t know. They keep some of the terminology (Kobol, Council of the Twelve), but the underlying metaphysics of the new BSG series are still unclear. In the original series, Larson basically laid all his cards on the table with “War of the Gods.”
In this new series, however, we have the idea that the colonies practiced a rather diverse, polytheistic, pluralistic and private religion. When asked if she “believed” Kara/Starbuck replied by stating “yes, not that it’s any of your business” or something along those lines. This seems reversed from the open if highly informal religiosity of the colonials in the original series. The Cylons on the new series are clearly religious, although monotheistic. The colonials seem to have no serious, strict moral code, whereas the Cylons seems to know exactly what they should be doing. But I get the feeling the creators of the new show are holding back most of their cards. Once we finally figure out the religious/metaphysical grounding of this new series, I doubt it will be more than faintly LDS, but it should be interesting nonetheless.
In either case, the original BSG was a fun bit of television. The new BSG is, however, the best show on TV right now.
Okay. Comment away.