The Counterfeit Salvation of the Ori

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Not all that glitters is gold.

In the Stargate franchise the basic premise is that all of the old, mostly pagan, gods were in fact aliens. In the film that started the franchise (Stargate) the ancient Egyptian god Ra is an alien, called a Goa’uld, who enslaves people and rules over a vast intergalactic empire. In the television series Stargate SG-1 many other pagan gods (e.g Anubis, Ba’al, Osiris, Thor, Heimdall, Loki, etc.) are also revealed to be aliens. Not all of them are evil. Thor for instance belongs to a race of aliens called the Asgard and routinely aids SG-1 during their adventures.

As the series progressed though eventually SG-1 encountered a new race of aliens called the Ori. The Ori are part of a race of “ascended” beings who evolved to the point of being able to exist on a higher plane of existence as pure energy. Hence why they are called “ascended.” There are essentially two factions of ascended beings: the Ancients, and the Ori. The Ancients usually adhere to a policy of non-interference in the lower planes (i.e. where humans live). The Ori on the other hand do not adhere to this policy and interfere in the lower planes. Both of these races are extremely powerful and possess an amount of knowledge that is too much for human minds to hold. Unlike the Goa’uld, who were really just technologically advanced and could be countered with certain tactics and weapons, these ascended beings are so biologically advanced that the standard tactics and weapons that SG-1 employed against the Goa’uld are not effective.

The Ori proclaim a teaching called Origin. Their goal is to get people to worship them, because by doing so they increase their power. Their goal is to increase their power enough so that they can destroy the Ancients. In exchange for worshipping them the Ori claim that the people will receive salvation (i.e. Ascension). The way the Ori operate is that they send someone called a Prior to a world whom they have given some of their power. The Prior presents the teaching of the Ori and the Book of Origin and does some miraculous thing(s) to demonstrate the power of the Ori. He gives the people some time to consider what was presented and comes back later for their answer. If they refuse the teachings of Origin the Prior destroys their world. If they accept the teachings of Origin the Prior leaves the world alone and basically just comes back and checks in periodically to make sure that they everyone is still worshipping the Ori.

The problem is that this is a lie. The people who worship the Ori will not Ascend. In the Stargate universe Ascension requires work. It is something that you must do personally or collectively as a civilization through either spiritual or evolutionary means. What the Ori are doing is basically stopping that process by forcing people to do mindless rituals and repetitions. So the people never end up doing the mental or spiritual work required for Ascension and ironically never achieve the salvation that they thought they were progressing towards. The Ori get what they want and never really have to give the people that follow them anything.

The salvation that the Ori offer their followers is, I think, similar to how many people view the salvation that Jesus offers those who follow him: false. The image of the followers of the Ori doing the same mindless rituals over and over again in hopes of achieving salvation is very similar I think to the image that many people have of Christians; we do the same mindless rituals over and over again in the hopes of achieving a salvation that does not exist.

The problem with this is that it also is a lie. Yes, there are some people who treat Christianity as basically just a set of mindless rituals that they do, but that is not what Christianity properly is. Properly speaking, to put it in Stargate terms, salvation in Christianity is doing the mental and spiritual work that is necessary for Ascension to happen.

As I’ve stated earlier the ultimate end of salvation in Christianity is eternal life, that is, not only living physically for eternity, but also in the spiritual sense of being connected to God, who is the source of life. This salvation is offered to us by God in order to save us from death, both in the physical sense and also in the spiritual sense of being disconnected from God, who is, again, the source of life. The various “rituals” we may do such as, daily prayers, weekly church attendance, etc. are there to keep us on the Way of Life. They are done because our natural tendency as humans is to stray away from God and on to the way of Death. They are there to keep us on the right path, not to turn us into mindless zombies.

I am not sure that the Ori are intended to be a critique of Christianity (the only specifically Christian term used in relation to them is the word “Prior,” which is a monastic rank in Christianity), but if they are then they are a critique of the Prosperity Gospel preachers and others similar to them. Those preachers who teach at a basic level that you can manipulate God so that God will give you what you want. Usually this is expressed in something like, “If you sow a seed into my ministry (i.e. donate money to it) then God will bless you with what you desire.” Or “If you do ‘this’ for God, then God will do ‘that’ for you.” The basic underlying belief in both of these statements is that God can be manipulated into giving you what you want. These preachers are acting like the Ori: they are using people to make themselves more powerful (and wealthier) and giving them nothing in return. The religion of the Ori is useless to the people who follow them, and the religion that these Prosperity Gospel preachers proclaim (I will not dignify it by calling it Christianity, because it is most certainly not Christianity) is also useless to the people who follow them.

Christianity is not an easy path. In parts of the world it may indeed result in someone killing you for your beliefs. In other parts, like America, you may not pay physically with your life but you will pay in other ways, probably most notably in the area of relationships. Resisting the pull of the larger culture away from Christianity (or at least to a version that is deemed more “acceptable”) is not easy. Maintaining your faith through the awful times, like betrayals, sudden deaths, miscarriages, injustices, etc is not easy. Trying to keep the perspective that whatever trials and hardships you may encounter in life are just “momentary light afflictions” (2 Cor 4.17) that are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed to us (Rom 8.18) is hard.

When the time of Judas’ betrayal was near and Jesus was praying in Gethsemane he said to Peter: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26.41, Mark 14.38). This statement is not just talking about Peter being physically tired, but also spiritually “tired” (Peter will be denying Jesus in a few verses). In fact, it might be that the verse is primarily talking about Peter’s spiritual state. In either case the contrast is clear: the Holy Spirit which dwells in us is always ready and able to help us overcome whatever obstacle, trial, temptation, or whatever is in our way. If we rely on our own strength and capabilities we will be defeated, but nothing can defeat the spirit of God that dwells in us.

Tom Ferguson ThM 2018, Dallas Theological Seminary