I don't think it would be possible to overstate the influence Philip K. Dick had on my religious outlook. We've made a lot of references to this, and his own odd religious experiences on the site, but here's a comic strip (By R. Crumb!) which tells the story in PKD's own words: http://www.philipkdickfans.com/weirdo/weirdo1.htm Please note that the "Tess" featured in the comic is our own Tessa Dick, longtime friend of our site, and an occasional contributor.
I saw Blade Runner in '83, like everyone else, so I'd heard the name and stumbled across one or two of his short stories, but I didn't really *discover* him until I was a freshman in college. He was fascinating, he was funny, he was amazingly talented, he was ludicrously prolific. He embodied all that was best about the end of the Golden Age of SF, and the early days of the SF New Wave, and avoided the more irritating and slipshod excesses of both eras. He was also, quite frankly, the only Science Fiction author who was dealing with religion in a serious fashion. Not only that, I quickly realized, but he wasn't merely dealing with it, he was trying to figure it out, trying to pierce the veil and see what lay behind.
You have to understand that Golden Age SF, and pulp SF in general really, pretty much ignored Religion and Theology as a whole. This was probably a conjunction of respect (Don't wanna' sully the good name of the Bible) and disdaain (Don't wanna' have all that mumbo jumbo around me, I'm a rationalist). It wasn't a taboo, there are exceptions, but it was mostly off limits, and even when it turned up it was more likely as a metaphor than anything else, as in Heinlein's one story where the protagonists' repeated message "Creation took eight days" simply means there's a bigger, badder sentient creature on earth than us. In the latter part of this era, SF became more expressly athiest. In the New Wave, all the rules were out the window and anything goes, ranging from merely atheist to insultingly offensive to any traditional faith. Call it the 'teenaged rebellion phase' of the genre, I guess. The net effect, though, was that people seldom spoke of matters of faith in SF, and if they did it was generally negative.
Phil, however, was the guy to change all that. Phil was the guy who wrote a short story where a Wargames-styled defence computer tries to blow up New York City because it's concluded the Antichrist lives there. And when they shut the computer down, it turns out the machine was right. Phil was the guy who wrote a novel about a/the Messiah being born/reborn on earth in the 21st century, and gave us a giddy picture of a world in which God's original plan (before we broke it) briefly succeeds, and we see a perfect, wonderful, amazing world (Before it breaks again.) Phil is the guy who introduced me to Gnosticism, and Zoroastrianism, and other interesting religions and heresies as well.
I've often said that Phil is my favorite Christian writer, but I need to qualify that as only being technicaly true - when Phil writes about religion, his background, perspective, biases, and starting point were basically Christain, however his conclusions were not what you'd call orthodox by any stretch. He was experimenting, sounding things out, working out his own salvation with fear and trembling. And sometimes he was just telling a good story with no greater purpose. Frequently his conclusions were heretical, often they were unsettling, on at least one occasion I'd have to call them blasphemous, as I understand the word. He's a challenging read for a religious conservative, but he's really rewarding too. I reccomend reading him because he's really good at what he did, and no one else was doing it, but I suppose if anyone wants, I could provide a list of stories that might frighten or upset you ahead of time, just ask. My purpose in reccomending him isn't to make anyone loose their faith, simply to make people aware that sometimes the stormy, rocky seas are the most rewarding ones to sail, but be cautious if you dare it.
But the bottom line here, is that Phil was genuinely interested - no, more than interested, he was *excited* - by religion and theology. If any new fact or theory came forward, he was all too happy to dive in to it and re-evaluate everything he knew in light of this new learning. He asked the big questions - questions so big that most of us never even realize they're there - and he never ducked the answers, even when they were disturbing. And though I never knew, nor met him, I have to assume that sometimes he disturbed himself.
He was a man, by all appearances, in love with the quest for God, who delighted in every twist and wiggle in the road to enlightenment, and who told damn good stories on the way, and made you think. Not just about God - I don't want to give the impression that he was writing "Left Behind" novels or New Age Parables, becaue he wasn't a "Recruiter for God" - but about all the interesting, overlooked aspects of modern life. He didn't write gadget stories, or machinery stories, his stories were always about people. Even his machines were people. In his universes, machines could feel just as alienated, dehumanized, confused, and frustrated as humans do, all searching for meaning, all searching for reality.
And then, in the early 1970s, his life-long interest was rewarded by a vision that he spent the rest of his life trying to figure out, as you read about in the link.
All of which changed *me.* Prior to reading PKD, I was closed off and fanatical. PKD opened my eyes to different ways of looking at things, broadened my perspective a bit, frightened me now and again, but reassured me at the same time. He helped me learn the difference between the things that are essential for faith and the things that are just set decorations of no great import. He exposed me to a whole bunch of different things that I would never have had the courage to explore on my own, and as a result made me paradoxically more secure in my faith than I've ever been, more confident, less fearful, able to think rather than just react.
And while this has nothing to do with religion itself, I have to think the man taught me how to write, too. My style is my own, of course, but I don't think I would have been able to develop it were it not for his shining examples, and plenty of 'em.