"Faith of Our Fathers" is a science fiction short story by Philip K. Dick, first published in the anthology Dangerous Visions (1967).
The story is a horrifying vision of a God that is all-devouring and amoral, and is a sharp depiction of religious despair that prefigured Dick's own later crisis of faith and mental breakdown.
The story's protagonist, Tung Chien, is a party bureaucrat in Vietnam in a future where Chinese-style communism has triumphed over the entire world. The atheist Communist Party rules absolutely over a population that is kept docile by hallucinogenic drugs.
Given an illegal drug by a street seller, he sees the Party leader's appearance on television as a horrific hallucination. He later learns that the drug is stelazine, an anti-hallucinogen, and that what he sees is the true reality of the Party leader: or at least one of them, because different people see any one of twelve different possible visions of the leader. Some (including Chien) see a machine ("the Clanker"), others see a biological monstrosity ("the Gulper"), yet others see a whirlwind, and so forth.
An underground movement, fearing that the leader is not human, contrives to place Tung at a party where the leader will be present. Tung meets the leader, who is apparently an undistinguished elderly man, and takes the anti-hallucinogenic drug.
He learns that all the visions are true, and far more besides; the Party leader is not only alien, he is an almighty, godlike being — perhaps a demiurge, perhaps God himself — and one that is a predator on all living things.
Chien, armed with this knowledge, reflects that "A hallucination is merciful. I wish I had it; I want mine back." The story ends with Chien mortally wounded, his life ebbing away, trying to regain his hallucinatory state through intimacy.
In many ways, this story prefigures Dick's later interest in Gnosticism. Dick later said about this story:
"The title is that of an old hymn. I think, with this story, I managed to offend everybody, which seemed at the time to be a good idea, but which I've regretted since. Communism, drugs, sex, God — I put it all together, and it's been my impression since that when the roof fell in on me years later, this story was in some eerie way involved."
Sources and inspirations
- The basic setting of the story - a dictatorship of the future with a single leader who addresses the citizens on a two-way television screen - is similar to George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.
- The rebels are explicitly compared to "college students of the United States during the Vietnam War" within the story.
- The idea that God is a predator who preys on other living things was also used in Dick's novel The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.
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