High Castle Blade Runner

DivineMadnessGrowing up evangelical, one of the popular topics of conversation was crypto-christians. (My spellcheck insists that this is a lowercase expression.) Crypto-christians are people, generally famous people, who might be secretly “Christian.” You see, despite stereotypes most evangelicals really do want people to go to heaven. In fact, they tend to be obsessed with it. And besides, it can’t hurt to have a celeb backing your claims. One name that never came up in my circles was Philip K. Dick. I grew up reading science fiction. My reading patterns (which haven’t changed much) involved reading what I could find among used books at Goodwill. We were poor, and besides, there were no bookstores in our town. Like many people, I’m sure, I learned of Dick by watching Blade Runner. I occasionally heard others discussing the movie, but I hadn’t seen it myself and thus continued blithely unaware until I began teaching. I then read how Blade Runner is a possible Christian analogy, and curious, I read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Since then Dick, who never made it big in his lifetime, has become a staple of the sci-fi diet. In The Divine Madness of Philip K. Dick Kyle Arnold explores the now famous 2-3-74 episode. Dick, in addition to being over-medicated, had mystical experiences. The “big one” took place beginning on the date implied in its title. This vision, while not orthodox by any standard, is clearly religious. Critics tend to think that Dick may have either faked it or that he underwent some kind of schizophrenic episode. Arnold, a clinical psychologist, has the chops to demonstrate that these latter explanations are off base. Dick had a legitimate visionary experience—something even neuroscientists can’t access because the experience is subjective and personal. It had a large impact on his life, but it did not make him mentally ill.

Arnold is not, as far as I can tell, a crypto-christian hunter. He is a psychologist attempting to understand a most complex and tormented writer of superior science fiction. What becomes clear, however, is that Dick was well-informed about Christianity. He imagined himself a secretive first-century Christian in an oppressive Roman Empire. This aspect of his life tends not to emerge in pop culture discussions—how Christian can you be and still be cool? Certainly Dick was not a conventional believer, but religious imagery and even actions became some of the most important moments of his life, according to his own recollections. Philip K. Dick was clearly a haunted man. And one of the specters haunting him was an often undiagnosed religion.

6 responses to “High Castle Blade Runner

  1. PKD was more of a Gnostic than anything. He was obsessed with Gnostic ideas such as the demiurge. But one can be a Gnostic while also being Christian. Either way, PKD was more heretical than your average atheist.

    He entertained lots of ideas, many of them quite unusual, some Christian-influenced and others not Christian at all. He read widely and was endlessly curious. For example, he had much interest in Asian philosophy and the I Ching.

    He had no particular loyalty to any ideological belief system. His personal experience, thoughts, and imagination came before all else. If you were to read his Exegesis, you’d see how he speculated near endlessly. His thoughts went in a thousand directions.

    He even speculated about his own psychiatric health. Part of his Gnostic worldview involved madness and reality. Read one of his books like A Scanner Darkly (or watch the movie version).

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    • Thanks for the information–quite a bit of this is covered in Arnold’s book as well. He spends quite a bit of time on Exegesis (I get the sense that he’s a real fan). I still read some PKD from time to time myself; I’m currently reading one of his novels, and this book makes that quite an interesting experience in itself.

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  2. You might enjoy “Pink Beams of Light from the God in the Gutter: The Science-Fictional Religion of Philip K. Dick” by Gabriel McKee.

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  3. Peter Fitting

    Yes Benjamin, I agree, he was trying to understand the world,
    and my making him into a Marxist was no more or less valid than the crypto-Christian or the drug or the mental health version. Thinking that he had it figured out is a mistake.

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