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Archive for the ‘Gnosticism’ Category

This post is from two years ago. It’s been sitting in my drafts folder, and I decided it was time to release it from purgatory.

I recently finished the re-imagined series Battlestar Galactica, an epic space opera that drew praise from a wide variety of viewers. I have also been on a Philip K. Dick binge of late, reading many short stories and several novels, including Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Ubik, and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.

As a way of jotting down some of the thoughts I have running through my head, I want to try a short comparison of the criticisms that each face.

PKD’s greatest strength is his ability to weave intricate and complex plots in an effort to explore abstract philosophical ideas. One of the prime examples of this, highlighted in both Ubik and Stigmata, is the line between reality and illusion.

In the former, written in the same year as Electric Sheep, Dick tells a story in which the characters are never sure who is dead and who is alive. In Stigmata, a similar problem occurs, this time on the basis of drugs that create hallucinations that eventually make their way into sober reality. The characters are never sure if they are under the effect of the drug, seeing manifestations of Palmer Eldritch at the most inopportune moments.

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An interesting post on 3 Quarks Daily, entitled “Only Philosophers Go To Hell.” It is written by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse, authors of Reasonable Atheism (Prometheus, 2011).

It is basically a riff on the Problem of Evil, focusing on how the idea of hell is logically problematic in the Christian universe:

The Problem of Hell is familiar enough to many traditional theists.  Roughly, it is this: How could a loving and just god create a place of endless misery? …Hell, on its face, seems like it is actually part of God’s plan, and moreover, the misery there far exceeds misery here.  At least the misery here is finite; it ends when one dies.  But in Hell, death is just the beginning. Those in Hell suffer for eternity.  Hell, so described, seems less the product of a just and loving entity than a vicious and spiteful one.  That’s a problem.

From this, the authors establish that the only legitimate defense of an eternity of pain and suffering (and no, I am not talking about taking the kids to Disney World) comes from a retributivist or libertarian position.  (more…)

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I have been musing the past two days on Simon Cricthley’s three-part article on PKD, which has thus far been a summary of Dick’s religious experience (here) and his particular take on Gnosticism (and here). Today, rather than just telling us about PKD, Critchley finally said something. The problem is, its just not that interesting – or at least not as interesting as reading PKD.

This final installment revolves around the idea, common to both Gnosticism and modern sci-fi, that the world as we know it is an illusion. In fact, this idea is rather common in many religious traditions, though in varying degrees of paranoia. Gnosticism represents one of the more extreme forms, but Eastern philosophy also trumpets a similar tune.

These connections also abound in sci-fi films, as Critchley points out. Probably the most famous (at least in my generation) is The Matrix, but he also includes in his list James Cameron’s Avatar and a few Lars von Trier films, Antichrist and Melonchalia (neither of which I have seen). We should also put Inception here, as well. (more…)

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