Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? essay
What role does religion/spirituality play in the novel? What point do you think Dick is trying to make about the spiritual lives of human beings?
Religion is one of the most important aspects of life, as viewed by the current society. Spiritual teachings and morals, if we have and/or follow them, control our every action and dominate our thoughts, viewpoints, and the decisions that we make throughout life. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is an incredibly profound novel that includes a bottomless pit of religious analogies and references. Yet, a main aspect of the story itself is the religion had by humans in a time of loneliness, destruction, and instability. The religion of the people, known as Mercerism, serves as hope and unification in a time of intense need and aids in the distinction and definition of human and non-human. Philip K. Dick also uses the novel to comment on the spiritual lives of human beings, saying that men need something to believe in, some type of help to get through life. He also proposes that men create things in their quest for knowledge, technology, and ultimate greatness, which destroy the very foundations on which the men themselves are based.
The world that Dick created in his novel is one that exists in the year 2021, rocked and mutilated by a nuclear war and plagued with nuclear fallout and radioactive dust (Dick 4). A barren wasteland uninhabitable except for a few key areas, the earth has been trashed and wasted by humans who now flee it and their guilt (16-17). Those who remain on the desolate mother-planet and those who inhabit the decrepit colonies on Mars have no beauty and no vitality because of the hideous, isolated conditions in which they dwell. This depressing existence, coupled with a severe loss of population, fuels the need for Mercerism. The religion allows humans to connect with each other in order to ease the haunting burdens of loneliness and despair. “You have to be with other people…[i]n order to live at all” (204). This connection is maintained by the use of the infamous empathy box, as character in the novel explains, “…it’s the way you touch other humans, it’s the way you stop being alone” (66). It encourages the joining of humans to share their experiences, happiness, and grief, the goal being the “fusion of their mentalities orient[ing] their attention on…the need to ascend…[s]tep by step…” (22,173). By having a common belief and contributing to the mutual effort of climbing the eternal hill, life regains meaning and hope is forged to lift up humanity. Breaking through the shackles that bind them and slowly ascending to a better place, the united human race can once again thrive. This religion provides a means by which the isolated populations can interact and promotes needed unification. Mercerism and its eternal spokesman, Wilbur Mercer, inspire hope by allowing the humans to rely on each other.
The religion also establishes or validates the crucial divide that exists between humans and androids. In the novel, the soul characteristic that makes humans the superior race is empathy. Being able to feel compassion and sympathy for another living thing is what Mercerism and the human society revolves around, and what androids supposedly cannot comprehend.
An android…could make no sense out of the fusion which took place routinely among
followers of Mercerism. [T]he empathetic faculty probably required unimpaired group instinct…Evidently the humanoid robot constituted a solitary predator…[and] possessed no ability to feel empathetic joy for another life form’s success or grief… (30-31).
The idea of empathy was just another aspect of the sect of Mercer- one that fit very well into the humans’ views of superiority. In areas such as intelligence, appearance, or occupation, androids could not be distinguished from humans and were sometimes more successful (30). As a result, empathy, the one trait in which humans reigned supreme, was held above all others, with Mercerism serving as its validation. How else could the humans explain and rationalize their dominion without this religion?
Although Dick uses religion as a major theme in the novel, he also uses it as an underlying interpretation of the spiritual lives of men. In an attempt to sabotage and bring confusion to the world of men, the androids of Earth and Mars, as well as the adored media icon Buster Friendly, anxiously expose Wilbur Mercer as an old, drunken actor and claim that “Mercerism is a swindle!” (209). But how does this echo the spiritual lives of men? Although the religion that has been the humans’ salvation is butchered by their faithful TV friend, the revelation puts no damper on their spirits- “Mercerism isn’t finished” (211). Men need something to believe in; it is that simple. No shocking revelation or outlandish claim could ever tear apart the deeply personal relationship that each character had with their beloved Mercer. Humans need hope and wisdom and will always look outside of themselves to find it, as did John Isidore and Rick Deckard. As long as men face challenges and need help, a belief in a higher power will persist. Dick uses the character of Mercer to directly correlate with Christianity’s Jesus Christ, the problem of challenged belief also existing in the current society. Yet, as stated in the novel, Mercer “is eternal,” as is Jesus, and lives in the hearts and minds of humans, never vanishing (76).
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? demonstrated that the challenging of religious beliefs comes directly from the creations of men. Androids, seemingly wonderful inventions, were created by men and, in return, the androids attempted to break the foundation of mans’ beliefs. Nowadays, the deconstruction of religion and the belief in a higher power comes from science, technology, and the pressing for outrageous freedoms. Because so much looseness has been introduced in society, anyone can openly challenge anything. By creating such movements, freedoms, and theories, control has been lost and devastation has erupted. Creations backfire and things change, in both the novel and the real world.
Philip K. Dick added religion and belief to his novel because of the importance it has in real life. His point is that Mercerism, as does any religion, naturally serves as a tool to inspire hope and unify its followers who are spread all over the universe. Sometimes the only way for people to really come together involves their deep-rooted faith and values. Also, like any written work, the novel reflects and critiques the problems and issues that are present during that era. Humans have complex yet faithful spiritual lives that are slowly being challenged and threatened by society’s creations. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a science fiction novel displaying a portrayed image of the future, but it is composed of elements of the present.