Human Beings and Religion in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and A Canticle for Leibowitz





Human Beings and Religion in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and A Canticle for Leibowitz

Much of the perception concerning science fiction focuses on astute scientific nuance that is yet to receive evidence as existent. Nonetheless, in the books, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dickson and A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller, it is evident that science fiction is not as dull and unconvincing as the common belief perpetuated by the media and the pop culture. Accordingly, both novels constitute some of the most controversial novels in the genre of science fiction. Apart from integrating aliens, both novels also offer a critical look into human beings as well as religion as influencing themes. Nevertheless, understanding such themes requires the use of Alsford’s framework for theological anthropology. Indeed, in order to comprehend these science fiction novels, the respective framework will undergo use in order to assert the agency and relational aspect of humanity and its inclination towards religious overtones.

Philip K. Dickson’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

The novel starts with an elucidation of man’s colonization of the solar system. Regardless of this dominance, humanity is at risk on Earth due to enhanced global warming. In addition, life on dominated planets is considerably arduous and depressing. However, the utilization of Can-D, a psychotropic drug, allows the colonists to experience entertainment. Accordingly, the hallucinogenic influences the consciousnesses of its subjects to experience disembodiment and transform into Barbie-related Perky Pat dolls. This enables them to have a fantasy version of the lives they led on Earth. Moreover, P.P. Layouts, a large Earth-based firm is responsible for the interplanetary of this drug even though it is illegal. However, this monopoly is under threat due to the actions of Palmer Eldritch. Eldritch introduces Chew-Z, a powerful substance that allows users to suspend space and time. However, nobody understands Eldritch’s intentions based on the physical modifications he has undergone in space.

Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz

The novel undergoes categorization into three sections. The first section, Fiat Homo, describes a dilapidated existence in the future as an outcome of a large nuclear holocaust. At this phase, much of civilization is extinct and the surviving society has rid itself of scientists, doctors as well as men of learning since it views then as the reason for the devastation. Based on these events, the Church has evolved to become the storage of historical information with its monks learning books by rote and transcribing them to illuminated documents. In the church, Leibowitz moves books from place to place at the risk of his life, however, he faces arrest and executed, which influences the church to grant him martyrdom. Hence, this forms the Albertian Order of Leibowitz. The second section, Fiat Lux, describes the future in which the church has further evolved to a scientific and technological society. The third section, Fiat Voluntas Tua, illustrates the colonization of other planets by humans.

Human Beings and Religion in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and A Canticle for Leibowitz

In The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Dickson focuses on humanity as a significant aspect of the novel’s plot. Accordingly, there is considerable illustration of agency among humans in the book. For Alsford (23), the human identity can also undergo comprehension based on the view that humans are agents. The theologian asserts this based on unfathomable precepts. Nonetheless, one point that elucidates the agency aspect of humans is the statement by Alsford that, “What makes us human is not our past or our origins, it is our destiny…” (37). Based on this, the theologian surmises that human beings perform their lives in a continuum that leads them to their respective fates. In the respective novel, Dickson also illustrates the conformity to agency as part of being human. For instance, in the novel, the author introduces humans with psychic abilities called ‘precogs’ (Dickson 2-4).

Accordingly, the precogs are humans employed by P.P. Layouts due to their ability to guarantee which accessories are susceptible enough to become fashionable in the potential future and therefore, produce the most significant financial payoff (Dickson 8). Based on this, the author already provides an illustration of the ability that most human beings wish they did not behold, which comprises controlling their destiny. In addition, the author also illustrates the precogs as the agents of destiny. This is accordance to the fact that they are able to determine whether P.P. Layouts’ accessories are highly profitable. Nonetheless, the fact that human beings have the capability of changing their fate reflects the Alsford’s emphasis on human beings as agents. In the book, Barney Mayerson plans to sue Eldritch knowing all too well that Leo Bulero, the owner of P.P. Layouts, will face indictment for Eldritch’s murder but still pursues his objective. This illustrates the fact that human beings can control their destiny based on their decisions.

Religion is also another concept explored in Dickson’s novel in relation to human beings as relational objects. Based on Alsford, human beings are relational beings based on the relationships they possess with people as well as God. In the book, the relational aspect of humans in relation to religion is evident when Eldritch markets his drug, Chew-Z, on the premise that, “God promises eternal life. We can deliver it” (Dickson 152). This statement by Eldritch portrays the relationship that human beings within the interplanetary dimension possess with God. As an outcome, the colonists end up consuming Chew-Z, which apparently delivers its users to an everlasting Heavenly realm complete with a meeting with God. The fact that numerous people ingest this drug more than Can-D is due to the relationship that human beings seek with God in order to live in paradise.

Accordingly, humanity also undergoes exploration in Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz. The agency aspect is also evident in this novel. One instance that identifies this is present in the Fiat Homo. Indeed, the society has achieved a total state of devastation based on the actions they committed while still living in the ages of civilization. By struggling with each other, a nuclear holocaust erupted that led to the end of civilization (Miller 29). Indeed, the agency part is apparent where the entities solely responsible for shaping this respective destiny are the human beings themselves. In addition to this, the humans further admit that the learned ones among them were responsible for the society’s dilapidation.

Religion also undergoes portrayal in the novel. According to Miller, the church, which is the source of religious practices, offers a series of morals and values that define the relationships between human beings. Simply, human beings interact in different ways by acting in response to the church’s supported, rejected and hated religious values. In addition, the author views the integration of faith and science as imperative towards the survival of humanity. However, due to the social rejection of religious values, such an occurrence is impossible. This is with reference to the second section in which Leibowitz, a Jewish scientist, attempts to integrate this relationship but instead faces execution for this cause.

In conclusion, both authors in the respective novels view human beings as agents and relational based on Alsford’s framework. For Dickson, the interplay between Eldritch’s drug and the effects it induces on colonists within the interplanetary dimension portray the relationship that people have with their religious beliefs. Alternatively, the same views also undergo expression in Miller’s novel based on the actuality that Leibowitz dies from a religious cause aimed at preserving relationships between human beings in order to avert another holocaust. Nonetheless, irrespective of the science fiction they possess, the novels offer a critical and enthralling read for any person criticizing human identity and religion.
















Works Cited

Alsford, Mike. What If? Religious Themes in Science Fiction. London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 2000. Print.

Dickson, Philip K. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Boston: Mariner Books, 2011. Print.

Miller, Walter M. A Canticle for Leibowitz. New York: Bantam, 2007. Print.



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