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Better Scum & Villainy
Thu, Jan 9, 2014, 1:52am (UTC -6)
Re: DS9 S7: Covenant

In many ways, I do think this episode was the writers' way of letting us know that Dukat hadn't really shed any of his complexity in "Waltz" though he'd let his mask of affability slip a bit. As Kira herself notes at one point, he's basically reliving his rose-tinted idealized version of the Occupation through the cult. There, as here, one comes to understand both how he fully earned the majority of the Bajoran population's loathing for him, and yet managed to win over the sympathies of so very many of his Bajoran mistresses. Here, his capacity for being very persuasive and seductive extends not only to his latest adulterous mistress Mika, but to the other cult members as well.

One plot point which is easily overlooked is that Dukat didn't actually start the cult, but joined it and rose to be its leader because he'd been in contact with an actual Pah Wraith and as such believed in the cult's deities even more fervently than they did. Considering the seemingly insane things some cults in the real world have believed, is it really so difficult to understand how persuasive Dukat could be to this fictional cult when his own experiences so powerfully reaffirmed their own beliefs? Their perception that his conversion was genuine was not false, though it proved to be misleading; Dukat really was a changed man, albeit not changed for the better.

For that matter, one of the other important points this episode is making is that religion is neither inherently good nor bad in itself: it's what you do with it that makes the difference. The reason I say Dukat is a changed man is that he and all the other Cardassians are indicated to have been atheistic up to now, though more passively than actively. (They never so much hated the Bajoran religion as just viewed it with smug and indulgent amusement as one of those silly superstitions their own culture had outgrown centuries ago; which also reaffirmed their racist notions that they were naturally superior to the Bajorans and therefore entitled to rule them.) Now, as he told Damar earlier, he has come to see that the Bajorans' deities are very real and that the Cardassians made a big mistake in underestimating the power of their religion.

Moreover, the gods and demons of Bajor are repeatedly demonstrated to be quite real. While Kira affirms that faith comes before miracles, the fact is that the Bajorans' Prophets have done some very real and very public miracles for their followers by this point, and the Pah Wraiths could quite conceivably be expected to do the same for their followers. As such, Dukat's claims that the Pah Wraiths have now performed some miracles are by no means so easy to dismiss as would be similar claims from some newly-minted New Age cult. These Pah Wraith cultists are analogous to Satanists, not the Hale-Bopp Heaven's Gate cult.

What shows Dukat to be no better a man for now being religious is that he has in fact sided with Bajor's demons. Kosst Imojin, who possessed Dukat for a time and is heavily implied to be the Pah Wraiths' leader, is basically the Bajoran equivalent of Satan, and the real reason Dukat has sided with Kosst Imojin & Company is that he and they are both Bajor's enemies and both share the desire to punish Bajor for rejecting them. Sincerity, like religion, is here shown to be neither good nor bad in itself, but only in relation to what purpose it serves. The Prophets and Pah Wraiths are basically flip-sides of the same religion, and Dukat sincerely serves the evil side.

Is it really so difficult to believe that if a militant atheist who hated Christians could be put in a time machine and shuttled back to ancient Israel to witness Jesus Christ's miracles and crucifixion and resurrection for himself, he might choose to side with Satan? Seeing the beliefs of the people you hate reaffirmed might only serve to increase that hatred and make you seek an alliance with their enemies. Really, it makes a disturbing amount of sense that any Cardassians who stopped dismissing Bajor's religion as superstitious nonsense out of hand might decide to side with their demons.

As to how any Bajorans could side with the Pah Wraiths even after seeing the Prophets pull the incredible miracle of making a whole Jem Hadar armada disappear, it's worth remembering that the Occupation lasted for a couple generations at the very least, during which it might seem to some of the Bajorans that the Prophets were sitting on their keisters and stealing credit for all the Bajoran resistance's hard work. As with the Cardassians, seeing the Prophets affirm their existence by doing a miracle might not serve so much to turn unbelievers into believers as atheists into anti-theists.

As the Pah Wraith cultists might well point out, "These Prophets did nothing for decades while two generations of our children grew up and suffered and died under Cardassian oppression, and now they finally emerge from their comfy wormhole just to do *the Federation* a big favor!? Where in the flaming Fire Caves were these Prophets back when we needed them, huh?" It's the same problem Christianity faces nowadays.

Of course, one shouldn't carry any analogies from the series too far. While Gene Roddenberry's death and the subsequent loosening of his restrictions on portraying religion in the Star Trek universe have greatly improved it in my opinion, writers might paint themselves into a corner if they examine them too closely. Bajoran religion, which is suspiciously similar to Judeo-Christianity, shares some reality and credibility with the affirmed-to-be-real Klingon Heaven and Hell, the existence of the Vulcan Katra and Ocampan Comra, and possibly a few other species' religions' claims as well. That would be like living in a world where Judaism and Christianity and Islam and a couple other religions all happened to be simultaneously true, even though they contradict each other.
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