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Monday, August 15, 2011

Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly, and The Meaning of the Universe

I've been going through some of Philip K. Dick's fiction catalog lately (I won't call it science fiction, because it defies categorization), and I read A Scanner Darkly completely for the first time (I guess my tastes have matured enough that I could finally get through it). I also watched the movie adaptation, which I found to be unique and interesting (I have an edited version that omits the completely unnecessary nudity).

If the term "God-haunted" fits anyone, it fits Dick. Even before he ended his career, and life, with a trilogy of "theological mysteries" (Valis, The Divine Invasion, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer), he invented the religion of Mercerism in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (the basis for the movie Blade Runner) and named this award-winning novel after the verse in the Bible that says, "We now see through a glass darkly" (I Cor. 13:12, KJV). A Scanner Darkly has too much rambling and seemingly random content for me to call it a favorite (my favorite Dickian titles are Androids, Ubik and the early Vulcan's Hammer). But there are some classic passages in it, like the one below, which captures well the truth about how the universe started out and what has happened to it since. It's toward the end of the novel, when Donna is bemoaning the fact that her employers in the narcotics division have manipulated her fellow undercover agent Bob Arctor not only to investigate and inform on himself (!) but also to become addicted to Substance D and fry his mind so he could be their mole in the New Path recovery program, which they suspect of producing the very drug that they are treating (!). (And, of course, because it's Philip K. Dick, neither Donna or Bob know that the other is a narc, even though they are "dating.")

"How can justice fall victim, ever, to what is right? How can this happen? She thought, Because there is a curse on this world, and all this proves it; this is the proof right here. Somewhere, at the deepest level possible, the mechanism, the construction of all things, fell apart, and up from what remained swam the need to do all the various sort of unclear wrongs the wisest choices has made us act out. It must have started thousands of years ago. By now it's infiltrated into the nature of everything. And, she thought, into every one of us. We can't turn around or open our mouth and speak, decide at all, without doing it. I don't even care how it got started, when or why. She thought, I just hope it'll end some time...I just hope one day the shower of brightly colored sparks will return, and this time we'll all see it. The narrow doorway where there's peace on the far side. A statue, the sea, and what looks like moonlight. And nothing stirring, nothing to break the calm.

"A long, long time ago, she thought. Before the curse, and everything, and everyone became this way. The Golden Age, she thought, when wisdom and justice were the same. Before it all shattered into cutting fragments. Into broken bits that don't fit, that can't be put back together, hard as we try."

As I've always said, people without a Christian worldview can see what's wrong, very astutely at times. Unfortunately Dick, like many such astute observers, did not seem to find the answer. Here are some passages from an even better Author, which contain both the problem and the solution:

"Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned....Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death....For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body....And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" (excerpts from the book of Romans)

Now we do see through "a scanner darkly," but one day we will see "face to face" with the One who bore the curse for us (Gal. 3:13)! My prayer is that all who share Dick's observations about this fallen world will not only see what he saw about its disease, but will also learn about the only true cure.


  1. It is interesting to see that you read a work from someone much, much, much, much, much more intelligent from your entire collective gene pool.... But, the fact that you act patronizing toward him for not believing in Jesus (one of the gods of your polytheistic trinity) is just ..... ..... ..... ..... well, you're an idiot. Great job running a blog that showcases your deep thoughts to try and convince yourself otherwise!

  2. You're right, Anonymous...I'm definitely an idiot compared to Philip K. Dick, in many ways! I don't believe it's because I'm smart or better than anyone else that I can see the truth that Christ is the answer to the problems Dick and other geniuses depict. It's only by the grace of God to an undeserving and foolish sinner. And the point of the blog was to offer a tribute to Dick's genius, even though I don't agree with his theology. I guess no good deed goes unpunished! :)