Recently we watched the Babylon 5 episode “Believers“. It’s just like Jim Britell said, “From now on I will divide the books I have read into two categories – the ones I read before Ishmael and those read after.” This episode, and a lot of the human/alien interactions that take place in the series, feel very different than they did the first time I watched them, because I’m now viewing them from a perspective of “There is no one right way to live.”
Minor spoilers ahead, but nothing that will spoil the episode for you.
The episode focuses on the ethical dilemma faced by a doctor who cannot save the life of a boy without surgery, but the boy’s parents will not permit surgery due to their religious beliefs. They believe that the soul escapes if the skin is pierced. The episode handles the “conflict of ethical systems” and “respect for others’ culture” aspects of the dilemma very well, but it takes a very pragmatic approach. But nowhere in the episode does it actually raise the following issue: maybe the aliens are actually right. Maybe the soul does escape if the skin is pierced. Who’s to say?
The episode is really well-written, and it’s no surprise that the humans don’t take the aliens’ spiritual beliefs seriously. But it also feels like the episode doesn’t take their spiritual beliefs seriously. As good a series as B5 is, it’s still written from a control paradigm perspective, and the control paradigm mantra of “there is only one right way” sometimes seeps in insidiously.