Gary and I just finished watching the second season of Battlestar Galactica on DVD. Neither of us watched the original series, which from all indications was hilariously cheesy, but we adore the remake. From the miniseries through the first half of the second season, it didn't have a weak moment. There were a few wobbles in the second half of the second season, but the show's still smart, complicated, and thoughtful. It's that rarest of creatures, especially in visual media: character-driven SF. All of the actors are terrific. The writing's great. The show's visually stunning, and not just because it features the world's scariest robots. (I'm a big fan of scary robots, so BSG does it for me.) Gary ranks it second only to Buffy on his all-time great TV list; although I'm more attached to Buffy, I think BSG is more consistent.
One reason I find BSG so interesting is that it addresses faith issues. The treatment of religion feels a bit perfunctory and predictable -- monotheistic Cylons bad, polytheistic humans good -- but at least the show acknowledges that faith is important both to societies and to individuals. One of Buffy's great weaknesses was that, for all its crosses and dealings in the metaphysical, it never really explored belief. Any whiff of organized religion was an unerring indication of villainy; even after Buffy had been to heaven and back, she and the Scoobies never talked about what that experience meant. The Buffyverse contained an infinity of hells and demons, but only one heaven, apparently unpopulated. All the Good Guys were incarnate, and variously doomed. This cosmology reminds me more than a little of Lynda Edwards' heartbreaking article about the spiritual beliefs of homeless children in Miami. (And those kids seem to have been influenced by Buffy, since "the Chosen One" is part of their vocabulary.)
So the other night, Gary and I were watching the BSG episode where Chief Tyrol assaults Callie after she wakes him during a nightmare. Terrified at having hurt someone he loves, he asks for religious rather than psychiatric counseling. In comes a chaplain.
And what a chaplain! Okay, so this guy's methods are a tad unconventional -- he says flat out that prayer is useless and that the gods don't exist, and seems better suited to interrogation than pastoral care -- but he certainly gets the job done. In about thirty seconds, he cuts through Tyrol's post-traumatic fog, figures out the problem ("You're afraid you're a Cylon"), and tells the Chief how to fix it by letting other humans love him. And he's funny. "Of course you're not a Cylon, because I'm one, and I've never seen you at any of the meetings."
He leaves Tyrol gaping in shock. Gary and I were gaping in shock, too. "Dang," I said. "He's good." (Of course, if I ever talked to a patient like that, I'd lose my volunteer gig, but never mind.)
And then it turns out that he is a Cylon.
Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, I just found an organization called Corporate Chaplains of America. They operate on the premise that since many Americans don't attend church, but do spend a lot of time at work, workplace chaplains can be an important source of support and counsel in times of individual or family crisis.
Unfortunately, they only hire Christians. Although they emphasize that they're non-denominational and can minister to workers of any faith, or none, there's still an evangelistic undertone that makes me nervous. Nonetheless, it's a great idea. I can think of a number of times in my brief, unhappy New York corporate career when I really could have used a chaplain, and I wasn't even religious in those days.