Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick: Literary Analysis Essay of Mercerism, Science, and Organized Religion

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick: Science and its Implications for Organized Religion

All the blurring of boundaries present in Philip K. Dick’s sci-fi novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? serves as an attractive candidate for literary criticism, much of which fixates itself upon the distinction, or lack thereof, between humans and technology. And, as Jill Galvan asserts, the novel does touch upon the “posthuman” collective between technology and humans (1). However, another sort of posthuman state surfaces towards the end of the novel, one in which humans must reconcile their belief in organized religion with the scientific evidence that undermines it. Indeed, the scientific conclusions of Buster Friendly force Isidore to question his understanding of Mercerism as an organized religion, causing him to seek meaning in the religion’s values instead. It seems plausible that, if not technology as suggested by Christopher Sims, science “can be used as a means to reclaim the essence of humanity,” (1). Nonetheless, the androids’ purely scientific approach to Mercerism causes them to dismiss the religion’s values. Dick appears to intimate that while a wholly scientific analysis of religion may entail the rejection of its intrinsic worth, a degree of scientific thought can, by questioning organized religion, bridge the gap between an individual and his religious experience.

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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick: Analysis of Mercerism Symbolism

Through Buster Friendly’s repudiation of Mercerism, Dick suggests that organized religion can be undermined through science. Galvan implies that the androids’ invalidation of organized Mercerism “bodes well”, suggesting that individuals can “chip away at the government’s technological dominion,” (2). While my argument is slightly different, the premise is similar; that is, science enables individuals to dismantle the organized order. Buster and his team clearly represent science; they constitute a “research staff” that conducted a “laboratory scrutiny” of Mercerism by methodically “examining” the religion’s various components: the backdrop, rocks, blood, and the humanoid Mercer himself are all proven to be artificial (Dick 206-208). The discovery of kipple in Al Jarry’s room further contradicts the veracity of an organized Mercerism. As Sims suggests, kipple opposes humans’ attempt to “organize the chaotic universe,” (2). The kipple, or entropy, stands in direct contrast to the idea of organized religion, for the latter can be interpreted as a means of imposing order upon one’s surroundings.  Buster’s scientific approach cannot disprove the ideologies associated with Mercerism; as a result of their scientific thought process, the androids reject the values associated with Mercerism. The androids, by invalidating Mercerism as an organized religion, preclude any consideration of the Mercerism’s value-based merits.

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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick: Analysis of Androids and Mercerism as a Religion

Buster’s laboratory study only examined the physical practice of Mercerism and did not analyze the ideologies behind it:  After disproving Mercerism, Buster only tangentially refers to its “peculiar purpose” and instead emphasizes that the religion is a “swindle” (Dick 209).  The other androids similarly dismiss the religion after their scientific analysis — Irmgard maintains that its only purpose is to distinguish humans from androids, while Roy rejects it altogether, stating, “It’s all over now… For Mercerism,” (Dick 209, 211). From this perspective, it is not technology upon which the individual is “dependent”, as Galvan suggests, but rather science; the androids rely upon their scientific rationale to comprehend their world (2). Unlike the effect it has upon androids, the scientific rejection of Mercerism strengthens Isidore’s connection to religion. Just as Galvan notes that Deckard is forced to question the “more doctrinal definition of empathy,” Isidore too is driven to seek meaning outside of the conventional understanding of Mercerism (3). Mercer communicates to Isidore that the validity of the Mercerist doctrine is irrelevant. Although he labels himself as a “fraud”, he qualifies his admission, adding that his artificiality pertains only to the androids’ distant “standpoint” (Dick 214). In contrast, Isidore, who is “too close” to Mercerism to accept its invalidation, associates some sort of meaning with the religion (Dick 214). By confronting the religion’s artificial nature, then, Isidore is able establish a closer link between himself and the intrinsic values of Mercerism; as Sims notes, Isidore manages to derive a “social significance” from Mercerism (4). Such a significance lies with Mercer’s statement that his religion helps its practitioners overcome their tomb worlds, or difficult phases in their lives. At this point, Isidore, with the help of Mercerism, has reconciled his comprehension of religion with Buster’s scientific evidence and has therefore climbed out of his own tomb world, one that had extended beyond the empathy box.

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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick: Analysis of Humans and Androids on Science and Faith 

Thus, the scientific invalidation of Mercerism as an organized construct pushes Isidore to experience religion in a more personal manner. Dick utilizes Buster’s scientific invalidation of Mercerism to subtly suggest that science and its continual questioning of organized religion may actually strengthen an individual’s ties to religion; nonetheless, as evidenced by the androids, a sole reliance on scientific thought may lead to the rejection of religious values. Mercerism and its ideologies persist for Isidore, in spite of, or perhaps because of, the very scientific evidence that undermines it. And, if Isidore is any indication, other humans in Dick’s society will continue to practice the religion, but with a caveat: Due to the scientific invalidation of Mercerism as a factual credo, it appears that the religion’s practitioners will have to focus on its ideologies instead, just as Isidore has done. As Galvan suggests, the religious humans within Dick’s world may experience a “reconception of reality”, one jointly influenced by science and faith. 

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The ambiguous boundaries between androids and humans in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Art Credit: voodooheartscircus.deviantart.com

Works Cited

Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? New York: Random House Group, 1968. Print.

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[Read Part 1: Analysis of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, including themes, Deckard, and Isidore Character Analysis–>]

[Read Part 2: Analysis of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, including themes, symbolism of Luba and the androids, and their relationship to Deckard –> ]

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