They are countless, voiceless, hopeless as those fallen or fleeing on
Before the high Kings’ horses in the granite of Babylon.
And many a one grows witless in his quiet room in hell
Where a yellow face looks inward through the lattice of his cell
3. In which more theodicy happens. (Don’t backchat me, I know theodicy)
The theodical argument has gone on in this chapter from generalities to the particular case of Horselover Fat, basically, and more details of his theophany are made manifest. It is Sherri who does the theodical heavy lifting in this chapter, making a fairly decent argument about purpose emerging from purposelessness to which Kevin can only reply with the non-sequitur ‘eat shit’.
The ineffectiveness of the ‘New Atheists’ (same as the ‘Old Atheists’) is expressed vividly in this chapter:
‘In my opinion, Kevin’s cynical stance had done more to ratify Fat’s madness than any other single factor... In no way, shape or form did Kevin represent a viable alternative to mental illness. His cynical grin had about it the grin of death: he grinned like a triumphant skull. Kevin lived to defeat life. It originally amazed me that Fat would put up with Kevin, but later I could see why. Every time Kevin tore down Fat’s system of delusions – mocked them and lampooned them – Fat gained strength. If mockery were the only antidote to his malady, he was palpably better off as he stood. Whacked out as he was, Fat could see this. Actually, were the truth known, Kevin could see it too. But he evidently had a feedback loop in his head that caused him to step up the attacks rather than abandon them.’
It doesn’t do any good to confidently proclaim: ‘the universe has no meaning.’ People want the universe to have meaning. If you go around convincing people that the universe has no meaning and they should just, as Tim Minchin says, be passionately committed to short-term goals, you are just white-anting your civilisation. Someone is going to come along more charismatic and convincing than you are, some false prophet out of the deserts of Berkeley or Arabia, saying, ‘of course the universe has a meaning, here it is,’ and like the poor-childlike peasants Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor lose sleep over they will gratefully turn from your nihilism to the false prophet’s visions and haul your lotus-eating arse in front of the Holy Tribunal.
Sherri does not seem to be at all evil in this chapter. So is the characterisation of Sherri whacked, or does she become evil in later chapters, or does PKD just see her as becoming evil as his mind disintegrates? I don’t know. Sherri’s strategy for trying to get Fat grounded in reality- going on and on about the T34 tank – is one I would use. Introspection is bunk. We are tiny, unimportant things. We need to focus on something outside ourselves, something particular, something complicated and beautiful that we can lose ourselves in, to be happy. Red army armour is as good as anything. The outside world is realer than you are: you are just an impressionistic epiphenomenon at the interface between a part of the universe that generates sense impressions and another part of the universe that reacts on those sense impressions. (Yes, yes; I affirm at the same time that this epiphenomenal youness exists eternally in the mind of God and is created in His image, and that the two ways of looking at you are complementary, not contradictory.)
This: ‘If you grant the possibility of a divine entity, you cannot deny it the power of self-disclosure.’
The question then is, how do you distinguish a true theophany from a false theophany? I advise the use of the words of the Christ of the synoptic gospel, ‘by their fruits you shall know them.’ You should listen, Fat, to David, or to those guys who carry the oil-smeared one- it hit them last year. If you grant the possibility of theophanies, you have to look seriously at the recorded theophanies. You can’t dismiss one out of hand just because (let’s say) a billion people claim it is true and it has inspired heroic acts of selflessness for thousands of years; if 9/10 of the great art and architecture of your civilisation are bound up with this theophany, and if it is reinforced year by year by thousands of people all over the world claiming to experience the same theophany. Maybe your experience should be interpreted in the light of this reported theophany. What are the fruits of your experience? You should try to conform it the teaching of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. You don’t agree? Maybe that is because my argument isn’t very convincing. Or maybe, it is because you live in a time and place, Northern California in the 1970s, that is hyperindividualistic to an absurd degree, more than practically anywhere before or since, where you would rather go mad in your own new way than stay sane in someone else’s old way.