Episode 1.20: In the Hands of the Prophets

This final episode of the season returns to the primary theme introduced in the pilot: faith. The primary conflict is between the hyper-religious, fundamentalist order which Winn heads and the secular Federation, who runs the school. I also see a third group of individuals, primarily in Kira but also in Bareil, who are working out their faith and allowing the faith to bend and be shaped through their life experience. I want to highlight that the conflict here is between fundamentalist faith and inclusive secularism, not generically all of faith and all of secularism.

Winn heads a very fundamentalist order within the Bajoran faith attempting to gain power and secure a stronger position for Winn to become Kai. The implication is that this order starts small here in the first season, but grows to a much stronger position in Bajoran society, particularly once Winn becomes Kai. I find Winn to be deliciously evil, and one of the best villains of the series (alongside Dukat and Weyoun). The brilliance of her villainy comes with her ability to double speak; she twists moral principles in such a way that always allows for them to support her own rise to power. Louise Fletcher delivers the lines brilliantly adding just enough slimy contempt into her voice that you can hear her ill-begotten motives despite the actual words she says. She seeks the power of being Kai, and it is this thirst that ultimately renders her faith meaningless, destroys her pagh, and kills her. I find this particularly poignant. Throughout history in the Christian faith, it is the drive for power that commits the atrocities, not the faith itself. By no means here is it the Bajoran faith that inspired blowing up the school and attempting murder, but rather Winn’s need for power and the desire to control others by imposing a faith system upon them. Thankfully in his conversation with Jake, Sisko rightly identifies that the issue with Winn is not her faith, but her close-mindedness.

Violence aside, the disagreement between Winn’s order and the school remains relevant, even two decades after the episode aired. [For this paragraph, I’m considering Winn’s arguments alone and putting aside her ulterior motives; I encourage you to do the same and separate them.] From Keiko’s position, the science topics discussed in class are neutral and take no sides in any sort of faith discussion. For Winn, the classroom topics portray the Prophets as lesser beings, merely products of the natural world and not the supernatural guides the Bajorans revere them as. I think the prevailing consensus in our culture would be that Keiko is in the right; science is pure and neutral to the discussions of faith. However, Kira makes a very quick, but extremely relevant point: “Some might say pure science taught without a spiritual context is a philosophy, Mrs. O’Brien.” I cannot emphasize how important this comment is to the theme of the episode. Our personal philosophy is the lens through which we interpret our experiences, science being an interpretative experience. Sisko’s and Jake’s conversation further draws this out. Jake characterizes the Bajoran faith as dumb, but Sisko quickly counters by saying that just because Jake doesn’t believe it doesn’t make it wrong. He blends the “alien” view and the “faith” view of the Prophets into something that accommodates both, and he has to rely on something he (or anyone else) doesn’t fully understand: the fact that the Prophets exist outside of linear time. As we saw in Emissary (Ep. 1.1/1.2), Sisko’s linear nature is fundamental to who he has grown to be and is at odds to how the Prophets operate. This outside-of-time nature of the Prophets seen through one lens makes them appear as utter aliens to our human nature; through another lens, they are able to see the future in ways that help the Bajoran people, as a prophet would. By leaving out the richness of the Bajoran faith, Keiko is truly providing an opposing philosophy.

A particular note I love about this episode is with Kira and how her faith is shaped and changed. Fundamentalism, in my opinion, is a brittle kind of faith. Fundamentalism is unyielding; Winn’s faith cannot accommodate knowledge that the Prophets can be seen and interacted with by non-Bajorans. It must either win or break. However, Kira’s faith can accommodate these new findings; she can bend and yield in her faith (which I find utterly beautiful, given this opposes her normal attitude). We can’t know everything, so I find it foolish to not allow ourselves to always be learning, even in the realm of faith. Faith is a fluid thing and should be malleable to our experiences (amongst other things). Kira saw the destructive power of Winn’s use of the Bajoran faith, and at the end of the episode, she chose to follow a different path. To me, this does not negate the idea of absolute truth. Rather, it challenges the idea that our understanding of truth is absolute.

Random thoughts: 1) Winn’s assistant, Solbor, is seen in this episode as an extra. He remains throughout until his death. 2) The episode was written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe and directed by David Livingston, two veterans of DS9. 3) Wolfe is Catholic and loves history. Given the Bajoran similarities to the Catholic faith of the 13th-15th centuries, I’m curious if this influenced him. 4) The 7th Rule of Acquisition is quoted. 5) In my personal faith walk, I have regularly engaged the so-called “conflict” between science and faith. Without elucidating a full opinion on a very complex subject, I believe the conflict is with Naturalism/Scientism and faith, and thus a conflict of philosophies, not a conflict between a methodology and a philosophy. 6) It is not my intention to offend by primarily making comparisons between the Bajoran faith and the Christian faith (which I will do throughout this blog). I’m simply writing my experience, and don’t intend to make any implications by omitting a particular faith or belief in my analysis. I’ll leave it to followers of other faiths to make comparisons to what they see in DS9. I have no doubt that the depth of DS9’s exploration of faith can be applied to other modern faiths as well.

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~ by Joshua Black on July 13, 2015.

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