Philip K. Dick, “The Divine Invasion” (1981)

Philip K. Dick’s The Divine Invasion is the second in the loosely joined “VALIS trilogy.”  There three novels reflect Dick’s late life obsession with religious themes., often identified with a gnostic turn in Dick’s writing.  Perhaps this is a consequence of his earlier concerns about the fragmentary nature of reality and time.  If the physical reality is uncertain and dubious, why not turn to the religious or spiritual realm for security.  I do not want to speak of this as a loss, since we do not lose Dick’s earlier works that had much more mature responses to the crisis of late capitalism.  Nevertheless, what Dick is doing in The Divine Invasion and the VALIS trilogy is an essentially different answer to late capitalism to the ones that satisfied him for most of his career.  To make it clear, for most of his career, Dick believed that human solidarity, self-sacrifice, and empathy formed the foundation to the resistance to the liquid world.  By the time of The Divine Invasion Dick is looking for a savior from outside humanity.  In this case, salvation comes from the literal second coming of Christ.  For me this is an unsatisfying turn.  It is also too common.  Millions of people facing liquid modernity have turned away from the Enlightenment, from science, from belief in human progress, from striving for justice, and from community and turned toward religious fundamentalism, new religious movements, New Ageism.  Not often this shift is combined with cynicism, fear, mistrust, and anxiety.  It is not an uncommon response to late capitalism, but one utterly doomed to fail because it does not challenge those in power.  Remember, that in most of Dick’s novels, the fungible reality was not a state of being, but the conscious product of powerful, malevolent forces.  You fight those powers in this world, not in some spiritual realm.


The plot of The Divine Invasion covers the conception, birth and childhood of Emmanuel, the physical avatar of Yah, the God Yahweh, in exile on another planet, along with much of humanity, who are forced to flee to the colonies or join the military and face certain death.  After a virgin conception, Emmanuel’s mother and step father return to Earth.  They are nearly destroyed by the forces of the government and the mainstream Christian-Islamic-Church.  Emmanuel’s father wakes up ten years after a car wreck to find that his “son” has grown up.  The demon Belial attempts to prevent Emmanuel’s maturity but is defeated by Emmanuel’s friend Zina Pallas (actually a spiritual force in her own right).  Each entity that chooses good in a similar choice between Emmanuel and Belial will be integral in constructing a new world.  “Not as a human figure such as yourself,” he tells his father, “I am not as you see me; I am now shed my human side, that derived from my mother, Rybys.  Zina and I will united in a syzygy which is macrocosmic; we will not have a soma, which is to say, a physical body distinct from the world.  The world will be our body, and our mind will be the world’s mind.  It will also be your mind, Herbert.  And the mind of every other creature that has chosen its yetzer ha-tov, its good spirit.”  The fact that there is some participatory potential is a remnant of Dick’s older belief in the role of choosing goodness, but now it is a choice between Belial and a savior.

The church and state, the joined ruling powers in the world of The Divine Invasion, are as odious as any in the PKD universe.  The Christian-Islamic-Church is utterly corrupt.  As one chapter opens: “Cardinal Fulton Statler Harms, Chief Prelate of the vast organizational network that comprised the Christian-Islamic-Church, could not for the life of him figure our why there wasn’t a sufficient amount of money in his Special Discretionary Fund to cover his mistress’ expenses.” The government attempts to force an abortion to stop the birth of Emmanuel.  These powers seem to be in the pocket of Belial.  As you will recall, in Paradise Lost, Belial worked through the systems of power and advised Lucifer to fight his war against Heaven via the rules of Realpolitik.  This is merely a religious interpretation of claims Dick had already made throughout his work, that the state, capital, and other forms of institutional power are irredeemably corrupted.

At the same time, Dick here is willing to pass much of the good done in the world to the religious forces of good.  Elias, an apparent avatar of Elijah, says: “I was with Graf Egemont in teh Dutch wars of independence, the Thirty Years War. . .  I knew Beethoven. . . We engineered the American Revolution.”  The lesson is clear, there is a divine spark in all great libertarian efforts.  In another place, Zina reminds Belial.  “The strong should protect the weak.  The Torah says so.  It is a basic idea of the Torah; it is the basic to God’s law.  As God protects man, so man should protect the disadvantaged, even down to animals and the nobler tress.”

To sum up, The Divine Invasion takes the question at the heart of all Dick’s work: Where can we locate human solidarity, freedom, happiness, and truth when surrounded by an empire of lies and the institutions that support it?  I am not sure if Dick had abandoned his old faith in humanity by looking for an outside savior.  On this issue, I clearly find his earlier efforts more satisfying.

8 responses to “Philip K. Dick, “The Divine Invasion” (1981)

  1. Pingback: Philip K. Dick, “Introduction” | Neither Kings nor Americans

  2. Pingback: Cryptoquote Spoiler – 05/07/13 | Unclerave's Wordy Weblog

  3. In “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”,I would have thought that mankind is definitely “looking for a savior outside humanity”.The difference between that one and TDI,is that in DADOES,the pseudo religious experience lies in political deception,whereas in the other book,the theme of God as a reality, exists by natural metaphysical forces.

    “Galactic Pot-Healer” has Joe Fernwright as an obsolete pot-healer,or mender of pots,an old family buisness,because very few people wanted pots any more ,so he has no choice but to line-up behind the growing dole queue.Only divine interference from the Glimmung,saves him from total depression,giving him a chance to use his skills.

    When the task is finished,Joe’s skills are once again,redundant.When offered mind fusion with Glimmung,which may or may not be therapeutic,Joe refuses,and decides to to be creative by actually making pots with the technology already made available to him,but his first effort is an artistic failure,and doesn’t lift him it seems from his new despair of returning to his useless skills and girl he lost to Glimmung’s mind fusion.

    So then,if Joe can’t find salvation in creative work,would he have been better sharing his depression in empathy through mental fusion with a divine savior?How can “human solidarity,self-sacrifice and empathy” be of use here? It seems entropy and the metaphysical forces that control it,have won.

    What though of “The Divine Invasion” ? It’s apparent here,that unlike his earlier stuff,a,albeit virulent,world religious institution,is extant,although it holds vast political power,and so has shades of his earlier stuff.With such a repressive,governing body at large,that doesn’t care,it would seem logical in a society of what you refer to as late capitalism,to look for salvation prehaps elsewhere,outside of formal religion.

    The source here I suppose is obvious,and the trouble being that orthodox religion when faced with the reality of the divine rather than plain faith,will reject the truth and try to blind the masses with doctrine.God of an evil aspect are truly what they pray to and idolize.Those who wish to fight them,can do so by direct confrontation with the church then,but with the help of the earthly God in the novel,Emmanuel.

    Is this what you mean by fighting “powerful,malevolent forces” that shape our reality in this world ?

    • I never found the conclusion to GPH as bleak as you suggest. We do not have the experiences of those who united with Glimmung, but I do not see Joe’s future as very bleak. I put this work in the context of the Autofac stuff (and now with ramifications for the universal basic income debate). If work really is meaningless (which it is for most of us), we need to seek meaning elsewhere. This forces a divergence from the 19th and 20th century wisdom of the work ethic. I am not married to Dick’s solution, but I appreciate it. Crafting, finding meaning in creation and authenticity (and on the other end, consuming things with real value and creativity) strikes me as a healthy response to the crisis of the end of work.

      What I find less compelling is some unity with a divine being. Maybe this is because I am an atheist. I understand some may find it more promising, but I do not see where it gets us in struggling against the world we live in. To get back to GPH, is there an end to the story for those who unified with Glimmung? I do not see it. Joe has a future in our world, which is where our battle must be fought.

      I have never heard a good reason to believe that the strategy to fighting global capitalism is religious mysticism. This is why the deep ecologists are so odious. Maybe it helps with the banality a bit, but it certainly does not provide a critique of the actual “powerful, malevolent forces” (capital, empire, the state).

      I have recently re-read “The Divine Invasion” and my current reading is a bit more sympathetic. Still, I like to compare it to Our Friends from Frolix 8, where a alien savior is connected to a social movement. In The Divine Invasion, Dick decided to give up on the social movement entirely. It has become redundant.

  4. Fortunately,GPH is a satirical farce,that has a carefree prose and tone that makes it one of Dick’s funniest novels,if not the funniest.It makes any grim subject matter bearable and easy to read,no matter how bleak the subject matter and outcome.

    The point is though,that Joe,at the end of GPH,has yet to perfect skills to produce artistically crafted pots,which his old craft of “healing” them,has not prepared him for.If and when he does,he might find the faith and hope to rise from the gloom that started again with the “completion” of Glimmung’s task and the loss of his girl to the divine entity’s mindset.As in the frivolous tone of the book however,the ending is delivered as so comedic,that Joe’s despair comes through as a light wave,even though this is besides the point here.

    I think I should say however,that Dick was not a satirist and none of his stuff were actual satires,if satirical,in the way Orwell’s books were,for want of a better example,anymore than he was a surrealist because his novels and short pieces were surrealistic,not even the truly weird and awesome “A Maze of Death”.

    Anyway,I see what you truly mean by “powerful,malevolent forces”,but even “capital,empire,state” can hide divine but awful forces,such as the daemon in “Faith of Our Fathers”.There seems no way the “hero” of the drama,Chien,can defeat the “dictator” once he knows the solemn truth,and since he bears the marks of his encounter,he is probably doomed.

    Prehaps then Dick felt,at least within the pages of his novels,that manual resistance was useless against terrible,supernatural forces,and abandoned it in “The Divine Invasion” for a more existential solution.Anyway,isn’t this about Emmanuel,who is God,and must remember who he is?There seems no way out by an earthly solution.

    • “Faith of Our Fathers” is troubling for the reason you mention, but it still gives us the dream of resistance. Thankfully, as horrible as capital is, it is not the unspeakable Lovecraftian horror of the dictator in “Faith of Our Fathers.”

      You may want to see what I said about that story in

      I will agree that resistance against supernatural forces is useless. Thankfully we do not live in a world with supernatural enemies. Our enemies have names, faces, and addresses (and we have gasoline).

      My approach has always been to make Dick useful to our struggles. That may not be Dick’s intention, but I am the reader and Dick is dead.

  5. It’s strange and funny,that’s what the “hero” of FOOF thought,that the dictator was tactile.He had no idea that he would face no less than God himself,albeit of an evil aspect!The resistance who peddle the drugs,don’t help then in his struggle,by revealing the enemy’s metaphysical nature and appearance.In Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”,the proles are Winston Smith’s hope for overthrowing the repressive government,even though it might take a millennium.

    So often,as you know,everyday reality is often revealed to the inhabitants within the pages of Dick’s literary cosmos,to have something foreign hidden behind it,that their earthly senses could never have realized or thought credible.From this of course,comes revelation and transformation,that heightens their awareness of their social and political beliefs.

    In “Time Out of Joint”,Ragle Gumm lives a peaceful,sundry existence that at first seems to be a novel of American small town life,but weird happenings in which ordinary reality vanishes without notice,before external events which convince him that something very strange is happening,cause him to be paranoid and doubt his sanity,but his paranoia is founded in reason.Although the novel questions human existence,Ragel’s enemy is real and solid enough,despite living in a fabricated environment and an insubstantial reality.His political awareness I think is altered by his experience,and in the end,embraces “old town” for it’s simpler social values.

    “The Man in the High Castle” has a very real and terrible enemy of course,despite the fragility of the reality that hides the truth.Mr Tagomi is brought to understanding of human dilemma by a glimpse of “actual reality”,while Juliana Fink comes to knowledge of the truth by the “I Ching”,but absolute truth doesn’t end the evil world government or offer resistance.The book,”The Grasshopper Lies Heavy”,the “fictional” novel that reveals the truth of their existence,does seem to offer hope for the masses that the Nazi dictatorship will some day be overthrown,but none of the characters could have imagined the strange truth behind the dreary facade of what they thought of as everyday reality.Dick always does it in a matter of fact way though of course.

    In “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” and “A Maze of Death”,people here have a very real knowledge of the supernatural,but even so,there is still a greater truth once again behind the order of events.Here,faith and empathy of course,are the key to uphold what would be unimaginable to those who can’t accept a solid,unchanging reality.

    I’m sure Dick was sympathetic to our struggles,which he recognized as his own too,and is to be found in his literary fiction.Remember though,Dick may be dead,but Horselover Fat is probably listening!

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