Tuesday 18 June 2024

Should we seek for God among the "trash" of Western culture?

In his Exegesis; Philip K Dick often returns to the theme that God - and The Good - could be found among the "trash" of civilization - and only among the trash:

The right place to look for the Almighty is, e.g., in the trash in the alley. And for Satan in vast cathedrals etc. 

This fitted with PKD's sustained interest in historical Gnosticism; by which this world is made by The Devil, who is an evil demiurge; such that God (and Good) can only penetrate this world (and eventually redeem it - make it good) by stealth and in-disguise. 

Such Gnosticism (which he knew of partly via his friend the Bishop of California Jim Pike, who was involved in translating the Nag Hammadi library) appealed to PKD because he was very aware of the evils of this world, especially its suffering. 

PKD could not make intuitive sense of the traditional-orthodox-canonical Christian view that such a world as we inhabit was created and sustained by a wholly-good and omnipotent God. On the other hand; PKD was not satisfied by the explanations of Gnosticism either - and therefore the Exegesis displays many oscillations and explorations, and never settles on a final or wholly-satisfying explanation. 

Leaving aside what I regard as the mistaken metaphysical assumptions of ancient Gnosticism (and indeed traditional canonical Christianity) - there is certainly a strong case to be made that real Christianity is now to be found only among the detritus and at the edges of modern Western Culture; and not in the cathedrals, temples, churches, seminaries and theological colleges, or their like. Nor indeed in mainstream mass media; nor high status education and academia.  

As Western Culture has become totalitarian and corrupted - then every-thing that is mainstream, official, popular, powerful, wealthy and high status; has been brought within the evil-motivated totalitarian System, and under the ultimate control of literal demons. 

Here-and-now; any-thing that is not on-board-with, and supportive-of, the totality of systemic evil is forced to the margins; and demonized as "trash". 

Christians themselves are already - and increasingly - regarded-as, and treated-as, trash by the world of mainstream officialdom and mass media; and the more truly-Christian a person may be, the more he will be despised. 

So that the end-result is superficially very much as assumed by ancient Gnostics and their sympathizers such as PKD; despite that PKD was essentially a man-of-the-left, and there is a significant element of 60s counter-culture "nostalgie de la boue" -style posturing about the notion of seeking "God" in the trash!

Nonetheless, and despite all reservations and contextualization; it is probably true in essence. 

Although most of the trash of our civilization is indeed rubbish, and some of it is very evil; as of 2024, in The West, we won't find God anywhere else. 


Bruce Charlton said...

@William "except perhaps insofar as the far non-participating margins are regarded as trash by the mainstream!"

That's my point. Our blogs are surely regarded as "trash" by the mainstream, for example.

Daniel F said...

Interestingly enough, ancient Taoism expressed a similar sentiment. The Zhuangzi, which dates from around 3rd - 4th century B.C., has the following dialogue concerning the Dao / The Way:

"Master Dongguo asked Zhuangzi, “This thing called the
Way (the Dao) — where does it exist?”

Zhuangzi, said, “There’s no place it doesn’t exist.”

“Come,” said Master Dongguo, “you must be more

“It is in the ant.”

“As low a thing as that?”

“It is in the panic grass.”

“But that’s lower still!”

“It is in the tiles and shards.”

“How can it be so low?”

“It is in the piss and shit!”

Master Dongguo made no reply."

This view is also consonant with, or logically complementary to, other ideas in Zhuangzi / Taoism that tend to see only corruption, falsehood and stagnation in the high institutions of culture, government and society.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Daniel - Maybe that was where PKD got the idea - he certainly knew about Taoism.

Of course; what is being sought in Taoism, is something different from Christianity.

Avro G said...

Maybe PKD got it from 1 Corinthians 1:26-28:

"For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are…"

Bruce Charlton said...

@AG - Quite possibly. It isn't a particularly unusual statement or opinion for people to say - e.g. in sermons or homilies. It is a standard sentiment in discussing the nativity at Christmas, for example.

Yet, in practice, nearly everybody (including self-identified Christians) is terribly impressed by Establishment credentials (degrees and medals/ titles, fame and wealth); while being very wary of (or hostile to) anybody (or any organization) that is mocked or demonized by the mass media (or in the manipulated echo chambers of social media).