Philip K Dick on Religion

Warning: possible spoilers ahead.

I just finished The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and Dick surprized me each time I turned the page.

When I first posted on this novel I had a totally different idea of where the story was headed, but Dick threw me for a loop: more than once. The plot twists are so frequent, it's impossible to unravel the story until the very last page.

This is science fiction at it's best. Earth with a bleak and very hot future, planetary colonies on mars and the moon, psychedelic drugs and aliens; and, finally, what science fiction novel would be complete without a commentary on religion? As the novel nears the closing chapter Dick poses several questions in relation to the existance of God, as well as questioning, in a philosophical and theological manner, the belief that God created humans in His own image.

Dick deals with this brilliantly. Through the course of the novel, it is slowly revealed that Palmer Eldritch is, in fact, an alien being seeking to control the human race by introducing the drug Chew-Z to colonists and inhabitors of Terra (Earth) alike. Chew-Z transports the characters to a fantasy world while the body falls into a drug induced coma. It is here that Palmer Eldritch, or the alien being, eventually influences all people's hallucinations while taking Chew-Z. Not only that, but as his presense becomes stronger, he begins to make appearances in everyday life, blurring the lines between actual reality and the percieved reality of Chew-Z.

This is the part that blew me away. Because of Eldritch's overt and unstoppable presence at the end of the book, Barney Mayerson - the protagonist - begins to believe that the alien being behind Palmer Eldritch is, in fact, God. And so, at the end of the novel, Dick answers his own question as to the truth of our creation. If we are made in the image of God, and God is Palmer Eldritch, then it follows that humans would look like Palmer Eldritch in appearance. Dick does just this. In the closing pages, the characters must get used to the shock of seeing themselves in the image of Eldritch, with his mechanical eyes and arm and huge metal teeth.

Including a religious commentary these days is risky, especially if not done well. Dick incorporaties these questions expertly, integrating the religious theme flawlessly with the rest of the science fiction elements.

Such an interesting read!

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