Sunday, September 16, 2012

Readings: Contra Fate

I have recently finished reading the concluding novel of Philip K. Dick’s fascinating Valis Triology. The final book is titled, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. The novel is based on the strange history of Episcopal Bishop, James Pike, whose son Jim was a friend of Dick’s. The words quoted below are the musings of the novel’s narrator, the character Angel Archer. Angel is the widow of Jeff Archer, the son of the title character who is based on Bishop Pike. Jeff Archer commits suicide, as did Dick’s friend, Jim Pike.

The novel is much concerned with the concept and workings of fate. It is also concerned with the role of religion in attempting to counteract the power and effects of fate.

This is probably what we mean by the term “fate”; were it not inevitable, we would not employ that term; we would, instead, speak of bad luck. We would talk about accidents. With fate there is no accident; there is intent. And there is relentless intent, closing in from all directions at once, as if the person’s very universe is shrinking. Finally, it holds nothing but him and his sinister destiny. He is programmed against his will to succumb, and, in his efforts to thrash himself free, he succumbs even faster, from fatigue and despair. Fate wins, then, no matter what.


The ancient world had seen the coming into existence of the Greco-Roman Mystery Religions, which were dedicated to overcoming fate by patching the worshipper into a god beyond the planetary spheres, a god capable of short-circuiting the “astral influences,” as it had been called in those days. We ourselves, now, speak of the DNA death-strip and the psychological-script learned from, modeled on, other, previous people, friends and parents. It is the same thing; it is determinism killing you no matter what you do. Some power outside of you must enter and alter the situation; you cannot do it for yourself, for the programming causes you to perform the act that will destroy you; the act is performed with the idea that it will save you, whereas, in point of fact, it delivers you over to the very doom you wish to evade.

We can see the validity of Dick’s thinking on the origins of Christianity in the attempt to counteract inherent destructive tendencies that are beyond our control in the formative writings of St. Paul, such as:

Romans 7:15 “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.”


Galatians 5:17 “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.”

Our death-trip is built into us. And only by a power outside of us, that is, by grace--so says Christianity--is there any possibility of our overcoming the hand dealt to us by fate in order to become truly free.