Contact DisComforting Ignorance

Have thoughts, comments, criticisms, requests, or proselytization? Email disco.igno@gmail.com

No prayers. (Why not?)

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Stargate SG-1 & Atheism

In a recent post over at The Raytractors asking for Christian and atheist book recommendations, nonmagical thinking comments concerning Stargate SG-1:
My husband loves Stargate [SG-1], but I've never seen a single episode. I'm always reading while he's watching. I asked him what was so great about it and he said 'I know you. You'd hate it'.
And nonmagical thinking has the gall to call herself an atheist? She is hereby excommunicated, and here's why...

What's So Great About Stargate SG-1?
As a scifi fan, I started watching Stargate SG-1. After having completed the series, I started studying more of science and also religion, and I began to appreciate it more and more. It explores a lot of scientific areas and, if you know the science behind it, it illuminates it. What's even greater about it, though, is the overly religious theme to the entire show.

I will try not to give specific, identifiable plots below so as not to spoil it for anyone. I will give you just the basic premise and some examples.

Stargate SG-1 is about a military team in present-day Earth (comprised of two military people, an archaeologist, and an alien) who explores distant planets using a device called a stargate which establishes wormholes between it and another stargate.

Millenia ago, a parasitic race called the Goa'uld (pronounced many different ways, most simply "ghouled") came to Earth and began harvesting humans and transplanting them on distant worlds. They were a very advanced race as they were technological scavengers. They possess technology and understanding of the universe which is centuries, perhaps millenia, ahead of where we are at now. The Goa'uld themselves are snake-like parasites which take humans as hosts and are then able to control the human body as if it were there own. They have supernatural like characteristics in the body, though, like glowing eyes, a bizarre voice, and super strength.

Once on Earth, they posed as gods over the various cultures. Whether they took the existing gods and posed as them or their personas were documented after-the-fact is never made quite clear. Apparently, though, they took the existing religions and posed as certain deities. For example, some of the Goa'uld invaded the Egyptian culture and posed as some of their gods, such as Ra, Apophis, Hathor, Isis, etc.

Given that the Goa'uld had technology and understanding millenia and millenia more advanced than them, they truly did appear to be all powerful gods. They did not age (due to using an invented healing device called the sarcophagus), they armed their guards with energy weapons, they flew ships, they were able to transport themselves on beams of lights, etc.

Posing as gods, they are able to make slaves of humanity and make them worship them on various worlds. On some planets, the worlds themselves become lost, or perhaps the stargate becomes lost, and so the god never returns to their planet. Nonetheless, the religion imposed by the Goa'uld carries on there, with just as much pomp and superstition as religion in our society.

Over the course of the show, you learn more and more about the Goa'uld and them posing as gods. You do, though, meet other aliens who are even far more advanced.


The absolute, most advanced alien race on the show are the Ancients. The Ancients were an evolution of humans which preceded even our evolutionary line. They advanced beyond anything imaginable. They built the stargate system, they were able to accomplish time travel, they could create life, they could heal bodies with just their touch, etc. They were highly evolved.

At one point, the Ancients evolved the point where they no longer needed their bodies and were able to exist as pure energy (though, they interfered with their own evolution to get to this point). They were said to have "ascended" to a higher plane of existence.

On this higher plane of existence, their knowledge of the universe is staggering. They understand the universe as, in a way, they are the universe. They aren't omniscient or omnipotent, but we, as humans couldn't tell the difference. They can appear in any form they want, they aren't bound by the laws of physics (as we understand them), they can manipulate the weather, they can manipulate matter in general, they can cause other people to ascend after their deaths, they can enter humans' minds, etc.

By our definition, they wouldn't be gods; however, they are mostly benevolent, just choosing not to interfere in the lower planes of existence. The Ancients, before they became the Ascended, had an internal fracture and broke off from a dissenting faction. This faction ascended as well in a galaxy far away and became known as the Ori.

The Ori did choose to interfere in the lower planes of existence and demanded people to worship them. Why? Because if people believed they were gods, they could use parts of their worshipers mind to enhance their power. So, the more believers, the more powerful they become. The more Ori, though, the less power there is to go around.

The Ori wrote a holy book called Origin. In this, it is much like the Bible. It has accounts of history, descriptions of the Ori, allegories, prophecies, etc. They promise to their followers that, whoever shall believe in them, will live with the Ori forever. The Ori, though, desire power and, as such, they don't make good on their promises. The people die and stay dead -- they do not ascend. Of course, as humans with limited understanding and knowledge, they don't know this. The only reason that SG-1 knows this is by discussing it with the ascended ancients in our galaxy.

Stargate SG-1 & Atheism
It is a very critical thinking-oriented show. It makes you think not just about science, but also about religion. In the case of the Ori and the Ancients, how can we possibly know they are not gods? If they were to appear to us and demonstrate their power, we would not be able to tell if they are gods or simply highly evolved beings.

In the case of the Ori, this is disastrous. They have written a holy book for their people and confiscate their lives by having the people worship them and believe in them for the promise of life everlasting. Furthermore, the Ori wage a war on humanity in our galaxy. Once they know of the humans in our galaxy, they must have more power by gaining more believers. As such, the priests of the Ori go to different worlds in our galaxy preaching from Origin and gain more and more believers. As they gain more believers, they become ever more powerful.

In the case of the Goa'uld, this is an evolved race of aliens who have taken human civilizations over by posing as the gods of our religions. Could you imagine an evolved alien such as the Goa'uld or Ori coming to Earth and demonstrating their advanced technology, pretending to be Jesus? Instant slaves.


Not only is it a great show about religion, not only is it a great show about science, but it is a great show all around. Science, religion, action, fighting, drama... it's great. The storylines are great and all the episodes make you think. There's a reason the show was on for ten years and had two movies (third being discussed) and a spinoff that has lasted five years. It's amazing.


I rest my case. Back to watching the season finale of the second season of Stargate SG-1. It's one where you question the reality you wake up in :-)

11 comments:

nonmagical thinking said...

DI you have no idea how grateful I am to you for writing this. I have never been able to get a straight answer out of anyone about precisely what the show is about and why I should try watching it. This was perfect.

I am now going to repent of my Stargate SG-1 disbelief and give it a try.

Seriously, thanks.

fourkid said...

Actually, if you count the original movie beofre the series began - there are already 3 movies made.

Okay - do we like Jack ONeill (2 l's) best as portrayed by Kurt Russell or Richard Dean Anderson?

I like looking at Kurt, but I love the humor of RDA. So I'm no help - I vote undecided.

And favorite episode?
I am a "Wormhole Extreme" fan.
"Do I get paid for this?"

Blessings,
Patti

DisComforting Ignorance said...

@nonmagical thinking:
Excellent. My evil plan at gaining Stargate SG-1 converts is working >:)

Season one and two focus largely on exploration of foreign worlds plus establishing the enemies. After that it's more plot-driven and action. Seasons 6-8 heavily explore the Ancients, which are, I think, the most interesting commentary on the nature of gods and knowledge. Seasons 9-10 (plus The Ark of Truth) is the Ori arc which is a deeper commentary on religion.

The show definitely gets better as you get further into it. My preference for it begins at the third season, but it's all good.

You'll definitely have to let me know what you think about it. Even if you don't like scifi/action shows, this one may be of interest given the emphasis on history and the nature of knowledge.

DisComforting Ignorance said...

@fourkid:
You are now, officially, my favorite Christian commenter here :-)

I'll never forget the first time I saw Wormhole X-treme. I was just watching the DVDs of the seasons and I had no idea that was the 100th episode. I was so baffled; I couldn't figure out what was going on so I had to pause it and search online.

Well, I don't particularly share your criterion of liking looking at Kurt, so I would lean towards RDA ;) You appreciate how well RDA and Judge pull off their respective characters in Holiday (where they swap bodies via Machello's device).

I'm not a major O'Neill fan, though, unlike most Stargate fans. While I definitely like him, I didn't much miss his presence when he finally left the show. Michael Shanks, on the other hand, I was definitely upset about when he left in Season Six. Bar none my favorite. He's a phenomenal actor; I hope he will be starring in the new Stargate series.

And favorite episode? I definitely couldn't pick. I love the episodes where Daniel is ascended. One of my favorites of those is Threads where he is in the diner with all those who are ascended.

- JT

Samuel Skinner said...

A Stargate SG-1 follower! Are you familiar with these people,
http://www.stardestroyer.net/toc.html
followers of Star Wars, logic and the mockery of stupid people?

I'm exagerating slightly- but if you haven't seen them, take a look. The main site is devoted to Star Wars vs Star Trek (Wars wins- something about overwhelming firepower). The forums are insane- they have the most bizarre vs available.

And they linked to one of the most awesome things on the net.
http://www.johnl.org/articles/comics/stalinvshitler.php

Enjoy. Sort of bizarre that I started simply by arguing for atheism and now I'm promoting stardestroyer.net... reality is odd.

fourkid said...

{{{DisComforting Ignorance said...
@fourkid:
You are now, officially, my favorite Christian commenter here :-)}}}

[REPLY]
LOL - is that all it took? I would have brought the subject up ages ago if I had only known!!!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
{{{I'll never forget the first time I saw Wormhole X-treme. I was just watching the DVDs of the seasons and I had no idea that was the 100th episode. I was so baffled; I couldn't figure out what was going on so I had to pause it and search online. }}}

[REPLY]
Our DVD had commentary with it - I have watched both over and over. I also had the advantage of #2 son adding his comments from his on-line research. And Martin is just so adorable. So obviously I liked episode 200 too. I guess I enjoy it when they spoof their own series.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
{{{Well, I don't particularly share your criterion of liking looking at Kurt, so I would lean towards RDA ;) You appreciate how well RDA and Judge pull off their respective characters in Holiday (where they swap bodies via Machello's device).}}}

[REPLY]
Yes, that was excellent
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
{{{I'm not a major O'Neill fan, though, unlike most Stargate fans. While I definitely like him, I didn't much miss his presence when he finally left the show. Michael Shanks, on the other hand, I was definitely upset about when he left in Season Six. Bar none my favorite. He's a phenomenal actor; I hope he will be starring in the new Stargate series.}}}

[REPLY]
Yes, he and Dr. Janet, I thought were the best actors on the show. Daniel can play anything. And then when Valla came onboard I quit missing Jack - the two of them together (Daniel and Valla) crack me up.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
{{{And favorite episode? I definitely couldn't pick. I love the episodes where Daniel is ascended. One of my favorites of those is Threads where he is in the diner with all those who are ascended. - JT}}}

[REPLY]
That was good - but too much dialog droning on for me.

Blessings,
Patti

fourkid said...

I know that being an atheist blog site - the emphasis on SG-1 is it's athiestic and science themes - so why do I like the series?

[Sidebar - Actually more than like it. Since we don't have TV in our home, we chose the DVD's that we will watch. So we had to make a choice to buy all those movies plus all the 10 seasons. (Technically #2 son bought most of them - but we all watch, over and over - plus Atlantis - ]

First - it is just a good series.
Second - part of our enjoyment is exploring all those science and atheist themes. We discuss them at length as a family.

You mention the Ori - I actually didn't care for that section as much (except for Valla) - it was a bit too blatant and "in-your-face" for me. I liked the somewhat more subtle themes that we could pick apart in the earlier seasons.

Did you watch Firefly too? I like that a couple of the Firefly actresses made it over to SG-1 and Atlantis.

Blessings,
Patti

fourkid said...

@ Samuel Skinner ....
I am already swamped with blogs and websites! I will pay a visit though ...... While my kids are all big Star Wars fans - those are not favorites of mine (ah, the blasphemy!)

Blessings,
Patti

Anonymous said...

good summation! I would've loved to see a Goa'uld named Jehovah, Allah or Yahweh though- or maybe just 'close' to that. Shame its over.

Eikinkloster said...

I'd much appreciate a Allah or a Jesus Goa'uld, but I doubt it will ever be done (even now that Stargate returned with Stargate Universe). Too much polemics. I think the Ori are the closest they can get safely from the theme. They did hint at that once, though, when a Oni Goa'uld bears the identity of Satan. O'Neil asks something like "none of them has ever tried to impersonate The One, or have them?"

Perhaps a fanfic could do it...

I think the show's focus on camaraderie and light hearted humor is what makes it the most enjoyable, and more relevant then the far better produced Stargate (1994). Michael Shanks is a poor over muscled mimic of David Spader, and Kurt Russel has facial expressiveness with which McGyver has never dreamed of. Plus the opposition between the original Jackson and O'Neil is a lot more intense and significant. O'Neil is quite the SOB on the movie, while on the series he is this warm, likable quiet guy. The end result though is a series that is far more entertaining than the movie.

Tom Fori said...

Ahh yes. I loved the religion bashing of the Ori arc. Clearly the crew of SG-1 wanted to point out the malice religion and blind faith present to the world if people of conscience and reason do not step in and stop it.

ori-christians
ancients-atheists

it's that simple