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, 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.

Humphrey, continues:

"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.


Mr. Hand said...

PKD does have a presence as a religious influence in certain regions of the occult counterculture. He's called "the Scifi Jesus" in a Church of the Subgenius book (Revelation X) and talked up by Robert Anton Wilson and Terence McKenna. He gets picked up by far-out ceremonial magicians and ufo-ists (brother blue for instance). I've met lots of mystics and alchemists on the net with a deep and abiding interest in PKD's religious experience and gnostic visions. They serve as valuable material in a modern day gnostic research project, which isn't necessarily religious in the standard sense but can be an agnostic investigation of various religious altered states of consciousness, etc.

You're correct to point out that various Phildickian "principles" can be isolated including the auto-questioning thing but it's important to keep in mind that a lot of post-Dickian mystics are pretty confident about their weird ontology!

giospurs said...

This is a scary thought.
Sometimes I am a little put out by some of Dick's stranger spiritual experiences and "beliefs", but if people were reading prayers out of the Exegesis, it might really put me off Dick. Apart from the fact that PKD would be completely against a religion based on his work.

It's an interesting suggestion that the religion would be about thinking of different ways to view the Universe every day, but I'm not sure you could call it religion, if it is constantly changing. It sounds just like being philosophically active, which I like to think I am, but I've never thought of it as being spiritual...

Darryl Mason said...

The most illuminating passages from PKD can be copied onto parchment, sealed inside clay pots, buried inside caves about to be consumed by a desert and left to mature for about 2000 years.

If discovered twenty centuries from now his writings will be seen less as 'science fiction' and more as a human history (dashed with quaint tech) of the turbulent 20th century, when we killed 100 million of our own in wars, trashed the planet, cloned and improved our species and began the slow process of populating the solar system.

But a PKD religion? 2000 years from now the very idea of religion will seem absurd.

Unless the robots develop their own.

Or unless, of course, we do find the mummified corpse of God floating in fading orbit around some cold, dead moon.

Der Zorn Gottes said...

God, I really wish LOA's third volume was heavy on EXEGESIS instead of MAZE OF DEATH. Unless Letham has managed to talk them into an as-of-yet unannounced fourth volume of just EXEGESIS material...this will NOT happen, I'm sure. But still, I would love to have something more complete than IN PURSUIT OF VALIS widely available out there. Who knows, with all of the personal journals/letters material LOA has published for other authors they support, maybe they will be willing to do the same for their best-selling author, Dick.

Der Zorn Gottes said...

...per my previous comment:
Then again, who knows what the rights situation is surrounding the EXEGESIS material.

ct-scan said...

I think it has been achieved...we are the cult. It's not like there's going to be a sort of "church", as giospurs pointed out, and I'd agree, that Dick would probably be against a sort of structured religion. It's these structured institutions (call it religion or government...they're really the same thing) that usually have an antagonistic element in PDK novels.

It's also no wonder that psychonauts like McKenna have found them [us] it's about the voyage in, searching for one's own understanding of spirituality, and in turn, reality. It's this searching, and acceptance of the various possibilities, that would attract someone like that to PDK. I know it did for me.

Anonymous said...

What could be healthier than a religion that has a different set of beliefs every day?

Mr. Hand said...

reminds me of 2 mystical PKD anagrams

Philip Kindred Dick
Delphic Pink did Irk
Dipped Child in Kirk

It's hard to deny that there's some "reality" to PKD's mystical experiences. Sutin finds an epileptic one, Rickmann an MPD explanation away, but some folks take it quite seriously. Has anybody read the academic theology analysis "Pink Beams of Light from the God in the Gutter"? The author has some things to say about the questioning-play aspect, but I think Mr. Total Dick-Head Blogger is onto something with this notion of JAMMING with the religious ideas. I want to see more readings of his novels and stories that take into account this motif of playing with religious notions in a practical sorta way.

Aharonium said...

But wait, didn't Dick already create this religion and call it Mercerism? Details can be found in PKD's short story "The Little Black Box" and his novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep."

The goal of Mercerism according to these "The Little Black Box" is to subversively awaken empathy among humans imprisoned by an alienating totalitarian world government. The dissemination of the simple plans for the design of empathy boxes is part of a subversive divine intervention to overthrow the Demiurge imprisoning human reality.

The Demiurge doesn't win by rounding up the aliens disseminating the plans for the empathy boxes or by making illegal the practice of communion via the boxes. Rather, in "Do Androids Dream," the empathy box becomes a surrogate for an experience of face to face intimacy. Empathy for other creatures (expressed in the caring for pets) is subverted by pet ownership becoming merely a sign of class distinction.

Still, I think that PKD's insistence of practices that the intervention of Divine grace is encouraged by the maturation of human empathy. The goal is to remove the delusion that keeps us trapped in the Black Iron Prison.

Variations On A Theme said...

Glad I stopped by again. What a great topic! I agree with ct-scan that the "searching, and acceptance of the various possibilities" would be most appealing to me. I appreciate that Dick questioned his own sanity at times. I'm wary of anyone who is totally sure of himself/herself - especially in regards to religion or sanity.

I would also appreciate a religious leader who believes that to be human is to be empathic; and that the search for 'What is Real' is a grand and noble quest.

Darryl Mason said...

I actually quite like the idea of a religious belief system that changes day to day. The 'bible' would be a constantly updated e-book. Every time you open it, you may be reading something you've read before, with slight changes, or the passage may be completely different, altered to reflect a new reality uncovered that effects the religious reality constantly being spun.

Lord Running Clam said...

Yeah, I thought of establishing a 'Church of PKD' back in the 80s but as I was already heavily involved in The First Church of Pretentious Overemotionalism and Pre-fabricated Consciousness (my good friend the Rev. Dr. X presiding) I decided against it. And glad I did too!