Monday, October 23, 2006

Recent Chaplain Sightings

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.

/Begin digression./

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.)

/End digression./

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.


  1. I guess I can understand your worry about the evangelical tone of the company. For me, that is the biggest challenge I have with people who provide spiritual support. Far too often, I have seen excellent spiritual support, that has tremendous value to a person, rapidly become worthless when the support becomes a sales pitch, and then outright pressure, to convert to whatever belief that person may have. I realize most do it out of honest compassion and concern for the patient's "everlasting soul", but when support becomes pressure, I feel it becomes more of a hinderance than a help...

  2. Well, pressure rarely works. It's also highly inappropriate in a medical setting where people are dealing with other crises. Where I volunteer, we're taught NEVER to prosyletize. The first princple of spiritual care is that you meet people where they are, not where you think they "should" be. I spend a lot of time reassuring people who think they need to apologize to me for a) not going to church, b) using bad language, or c) being upset about being in the hospital (because "if I were a good Christian, I'd accept God's will").

    My answers to these apologies are: a) God's everywhere, not just in church buildings, a) I use bad language sometimes too, and c) there'd be something wrong with you if you weren't upset about being in the emergency room.

  3. Hi, Susan! Wouldn't you know I'd get stuck on just one thing. (g) Since you were talking about SciFi shows I remembered my favorite way back when I could watch the Scifi channel. Babylon5 was the show I was certain to watch. I liked its interaction between many alien cultures, but my favorite part was the romance between Captain Sheridan and Ambassador Delenn. I think there was a fair amount of religious differences demonstrated between the various cultures as well as mistreatment of some of them portrayed. Not having been terribly analytic I didn't notice if how all of this hung together. I just loved the show. Having almost gotten a degree in theatre arts I loved the special effects of it as well as the excitment and romance. Besides...Sheridan is a hunk! (g)


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  5. Greetings, Susan - I'm only now going through BSG, I, too, was struck by the chaplaincy scene (I'm a rabbi, now writing an EdD dissertation on the development of the moral imagination)- so much so that I just wanted to find someone else talking about it, and how the intervention worked as chaplaincy. Because I've only gotten to that episode, I don't know what happens later on: does it turn out the Cylon is just messing with his head, or is he/it actually serving in good faith? But his message at the end, "the gods lift up those who lift *each other* up" was wonderful.

    Thanks for having written this...

  6. Hi, Joshua, and you're welcome! At this juncture, I no longer remember the answer to your question, but I think it's a bit of both.


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