Sunday, September 27, 2009
The Church of Latter Day Dicks
io9 posted an interesting article recently which wondered aloud (or illuminated upon a monitor), "What if Philip K Dick was worshiped as a prophet instead of L Ron Hubbard?" I think it was Thomas Disch who first wondered this in print.
Apparently this topic came up after Humphrey, a member over at whyweprotest.net, wrote this:
"Why then, is the only going science-fiction author cult of personality devoted to -- of all people -- L Ron Hubbard?! If Scientology were pretty much exactly the same but centered around Philip K Dick, my god -- I'd want in, for his secret scriptures! The lectures on cosmogony! The resonant gnostic insights that made PKD's work so mythic!"
I scanned the thread and it's kind of interesting that most commenters just go off on L Ron, rather than speculate on what a religion based on Dick's religious ideas would look like.
Perhaps no one can imagine what a religion based on Dick's religious speculations would look like because Dick's religious speculations fail to form a stable foundation for belief. I'm pressed for time, but want desperately to avoid this blog becoming a mere aggregator of PKD items from the intertoobz. So,if you will indulge me briefly, let me riff a little off of this in hopes of getting a discussion started in the comments. This speculation about what a Dickian religion might look like is, I think, what Obama might call a 'teachable moment.' Can we agree that Christianity (think here of a particularly formal variety like Catholicism) primarily offers spiritual certainty, providing a specific narrative (virgin birth, crucifixion, resurrection) as well as objects and architecture that invite the faithful to interact with divinity in some way (Eucharist, rosary beads, cathedrals)? These concepts and rituals are incredibly important, and they must remain unchanged by time, for this stasis imparts significance and meaning to them.
On the other hand, Dick's religious speculations offer no coherent narrative resolution; that is, they go on and on, as each cosmological model is supplanted by the next. Often in Dick's novels as well as the little I've read of the Exegesis, it's as if Dick is jamming, playing with the basic elements of religion improvisationally. Imagine Sunday Mass like a Sousa march, each part of the band/congregation plays a role and together in complex combination they make meaning, creating a stable matrix of interdependent elements that can provide certainty, and through this, and the faith that this bedrock engenders, find refuge from the storm.
In novels like Maze of Death, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, VALIS, The Divine Invasion, and even in his own frantic writings in the Exegesis, Dick 'plays' these religious concepts like a Coltrane solo, rapidly combining, shattering, and recombining, these elements, with disorienting finesse.
"Not only would it have actually valuable books, it would be a much kinder, gentler cult... though even a PKD cult might run into the same problems Scientology is having trying to keep their upper-level materials secret in the Internet age... in fact, it would be worse for a PKD cult, because unlike the poisonous barbiturate-drenched Hubbard scrawl, people would -want- these materials! Yaaa"
If PKD has taught me anything it's that religion (at least as I think of it) is to be found in our search, and not the answers we find. Perhaps a central tenet of 'Dickism' would be that you have to imagine the Universe working in a completely new and innovative way every day. Each day we would completely change our worldview and our understanding of our basic relationship with the cosmos. It'd be easy... for the first week.