Monday, June 3, 2013

Essay 3: Deep Space Nine’s Uber-Theme: Faith

Part I: Spiritual Faith
The first third of Season Seven concludes with four very different episodes about the same idea: faith. These are: Treachery, Faith, and the Great River; Once More Unto the Breach; The Siege of AR-558; Covenant.

These depict religious faith (Treachery… and Covenant), and political or mythic faith (Once More... and Siege…).

In Treachery, Nog teaches Obrien about the Ferengi belief that the Universe is a fluid, material continuum that will bring goods and profit to those who want it, creating equilibrium. Despite Obrien’s skepticism, this actually works just as Nog says it will, bringing them needed engineering parts. It works because the belief inspires and spurs Nog to act as if it works. From an outsider (nonbeliever) perspective, this is how faith works. Faith creates a cognitive framework that directs decisions and actions toward a desired outcome. That doesn’t mean you always get what you pray for. A believer can also understand this is how faith works cognitively, while also believing in the mystery and power of faith.

In the same episode, Weyoun Six explains to Odo his unswerving faith in the Founders, the Vortas’ gods. Odo rejects this because the Vorta have been genetically engineered to be faithful to the Founders. To Weyoun this makes no difference. And why should it? The Vorta were basically squirrels, transformed into a powerful sentient race by the Founders. From the Vortas’ perspective, if that is not the work of a god, what is? They may have some wires in their big brains that make them loyal, but that has to seem secondary to the fact that they have big brains at all. The Vorta could argue that this wiring is no different than the hypothetical “God gene” which predisposes Humans to belief in a deity.

In the end, as Weyoun Six is dying, he asks Odo to bless him, and Odo reluctantly does. By having him do so, the writers are endorsing the legitimacy of Weyoun’s faith. The episode actually challenges Odo’s skepticism more than it challenges the Vorta’s religion.

There is a parallel story of faith in Covenant. A Bajoran vedek tries to convince Kira that the Pah-wraiths are the true gods, not the Prophets. She challenges him with arguments that he has been seduced by evil entities (I wonder if she would call them devils or demons, since she considers the Prophets not aliens but gods), and the scheming Dukat. The vedek does not accept this, even after mounting evidence that Dukat is a fraud. In the end, like Weyoun Six, he kills himself. Kira is not sure if he did so because of his faith in the Pah-wraiths, or because he felt betrayed by his faith in them. What she does say for certain is that Dukat truly believes he is the emissary to the Pah-wraiths, and he is doing their bidding. She says his faith makes him more dangerous than before. But neither Kira, nor the episode, takes the black-and-white view that faith enables ignorance and violence. The episode suggests that faith is a powerful force in the soul, which can be put to enormous good, or perverted by evil people for their own ends.

Whether it is Nog’s faith, or Weyoun’s, or the vedek’s, or Kira’s, these two episodes respect the power of their belief. They take it seriously. None of these episodes blatantly criticize faith in general (the way some TOS and TNG episodes do). To do so is not possible on DS9 because too many of our heroes are faithful and present an unapologetic view of believers. The writers seem to have decided that by designing the show this way, which reflects the role of religion in our modern world, they are able to explore how faith interacts with people’s lives, government, war, terrorism and politics.

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