This brings our Babylon 5 series to completion, looking at the question the Vorlon's ask, “Who are you?”. This is a good kicking off point to examine the question of different worldviews.
- Babylon 5
- The Vorlons
- Come's the Inquisitor
- <a href="http://soundbible.com/1288-Chamber-Decompressing.html"Airlock sound effect by Mike Koenig
Worth picking up
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The Vorlons and their emissaries ask one question over and over again, “Who are you?” and none of the simple answers satisfy that question, so we will explore that idea on this episode of the Sci Phi Show
In one of my all time favorite Babylon 5 episodes, “Comes the Inquisitor”, a Vorlon agent comes to Babylon 5 to test Delenn and see if she is up to the task that is before her as the Shadow war approaches. We see the Inquisitor torturing Delenn while asking over and over again “Who are you?”, inflicting pain on her every time she gives an answer that he thinks is insufficient. I found it to be the episode that made the most lasting and deepest impression on me and all the action takes place between 2 characters in a deserted part of the station. No space battles, nothing, just a few characters in a storage locker on the station. Still, best Babylon 5 episode of them all for me.
The Vorlon inquisitor, Sebastian has come to make sure that Delenn is the “Right Person, in the Right Place, at the Right Time” and Sebastian mentions that he has been called into service before. His back story is interesting but in case you haven't seen the episode I wont give the ending away. He mentions that others have been tested before, tested to destruction and been found wanting. That Delenn can quit the test at any time, admit defeat and walk away, only she can keep herself there, but that this would mean admitting that she is not the chosen one. Sebastian has been sent to test Delenn and he is intent on crushing her, hammering the upstart nail back down so that her delusions of grandeur don't get people killed.
Sebastian's means of testing is to keep asking Delenn the question, “Who are you?”, over and over and as she tries to answer it, giving her name, her family heritage, her title, anything she can think of, he rejects all of these as labels others apply and not a proper answer to the question, and each wrong answer results in an increasing amount of pain and suffering extracted from Delenn as punishment for her failure. At one point she is left broken and in despair, unable to answer this seemingly insane mans lunatic question.
Sebastian'd questioning seeks to see what sort of person Delenn really is, who she is at her core. After Delen passes the test Sebastian says, “How d you know the chosen one, “No grater love hath a man that he lay down his life for his brothers, not for million, not glory, not for fame, for one person, in the dark, where no one will ever know or see”. The no greater love part is a quote from Jesus in the Gospel of John and Sebastian makes extensive use of biblical imagery in his testing and speech.
You also find a similar idea at the end of Christopher Nolan's second Batman move, The Dark Knight. Batman, to save Gotham city, becomes a reviled figure and blamed for the death of District Attorney Harvey Dent. Batman sacrifices his reputation and honor so that the city can remember Harvey Dent as the man the city needs him to be to survive and not the insane Two-Face that the death of his love and horrible injuries turned him into. The father of western Philosophy, Socrates had a similar idea. [Find where]. That a man could be happy, in the sense of blessed, even if falsely imprisoned and tortured for crimes he did not commit because he was sure he was a good and righteous man even if everybody else thought otherwise. That knowing he was good would be enough. Given Socrates was killed by the Athenians for a trumped of charge of “corrupting the youth”, it seems he may have got the chance to put theory into practice and we see this in Plato' account of his execution.
So how should we answer Sebastian's question? It seems there are three broad possible ways to answer this question, lets call them, “Theism”, “Pantheism” and “Naturalism”. Lets see how they stack up as answers to the question, whether they will provided what is needed to pass the test.
Lets start with Pantheism. Pantheism is the belief that God is in everything, that we are all a literal part of God in some sense. That there is no distinction between God and the universe. This is normally thought of as part of the Eastern religious tradition with Hinduism and Taoism being principle exponents of this idea but it also finds home in the west in the Philosophy of (enlightenment) thinkers like Baruch Spinoza and the Physicist Albert Einstein is often thought to have embraced a variety of Pantheism. Exactly the way this idea works out can take a number of different forms, you could go with the idea that we are all literally part of gods body, as is everything, or that the material world is illusory, perhaps that we exist as part of the mind of God. Still at base, we are God in some strict sense of the word. We are divine. One interesting way of exploring this idea can be found in Babylon 5. When we meet one of the oldest being in the universe, Lorien, he observes that conscious life is the universe trying to understand itself. This always struck me as a deeply pantheistic idea and an interesting one. “Who are you?”, you are a piece of God, a part of the divine mind that makes up the universe.
The second broad position we will call Naturalism. This is at base the idea that we are just matter in motion, that the material universe is all there is. That there is no god, or we are not part of god, there is ultimately no divine or higher anything. Interestingly Delenn in a different episode of Babylon 5 hints at a sort of spiritual version of this idea when she says that the secret of the universe is that we are “Star Stuff”, that all the universe is connected. This begins to flirt with pantheism but it is a way of thinking about your place in the universe under such an approach. There is a scene in the final season of Babylon 5 where some characters are watching space battle outside the station between single man fighters. watching as the ships explode in reds and greens depending on whose ship is destroyed. One of the characters remarks that all the pilots were, are and could ever be is gone in those pretty balls of light. This would seem to be at the heart of the naturalist position. You only get this life and when it is gone it is gone forever as much after as it was before. Probably the defining feature, at least as usually understood under such a position is that the universe lacks any teleology. There is no end to life, no purpose other than what we might seek to impose upon it. I'm not sure how you can answer the question “Who are you?” in such a picture. If there is purpose it will have to be limited to something like the Nietzschian Will to Power that we will look at in a future episode.
Finally we come to Theism. Theism comes in a number of different varieties but the basic idea is of a God, A “Great Maker” in the various alien religions of the Babylon 5 universe, that is behind the creation of the universe but unlike Pantheism is separate from it. God created the universe, God is not the universe. The line of Abrahamic religions are the most prominent theistic religions on earth but there are others. The idea of God being other than the universe is one of the central ideas along with a God that is concerned about their creation and usually some of the beings in it. This makes it distinct from a related idea, Deism, that sees God as creating the universe but then letting things take their own course. The theist believes in a god who is involved in the actions of the universe. This may or may not include revelation. The Abrahamic traditions speak of revelation handed down to prophets but Socrates was a theist as well and i said to have followed the Unknown God. The God he knew from reason but presumably not from revelation. There is an interesting account in the book of Acts from the Christian New Testament where the Apostle Paul is at the Greek Areopagaus, where Greek thinkers met to debate and worship and he says that he comes bearing revelation from Socrates unknown God. He comes to make known what they previous worshiped in ignorance, a link and an idea I have always found fascinating. So how can the theist answer the question, “Who are you?”. I suppose this would depend on how the theist deals with the idea. Although it would seem that they could at least answer that they are made with a purpose in mind, possibly that they are children of the deity in some sense or other and that they are loved by their creator. It would depend on the exact details of the tradition.
The Christian answer to the question. “Who are you?”, from my own background is of the theistic variety. I am a child of God, beloved of the creator, fallen but redeemed by the blood of Christ. I wonder what Sebastian would have made of that answer? I'm not sure it would fit in with the pantheistic overtones of much of the Babylon 5 universe. How would you answer the Vorlon's great question? “Who are you?”. It is probably one of the most profound questions that can be asked, it is a question of your core identity. Who you are under everything else. It is really the central question of any worldview, “Who are you?”. It asks where you stand in relation to the universe, where you stand in relation to your fellow beings, what is life for. How do you answer that question? Do you have an answer to the question? Sebastian says in mocking Delenn “What a sad thing you are, unable to answer even such a simple question without falling back on references and genealogies , and what other people call you,? Have you nothing of your own? Nothing to stand on that is not provided, defined, delineated, stamped, sanction, numbered and approved by others? How can you be expected to fight for someone else when you haven't the fairest idea who you are”. Do you have a better answer that isn't one of those things?
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