Apparently, I’m having an ongoing conversation with Carl McColman. He wrote a new post responding to my mention of Philip K. Dick’s “God in the gutter”.
[…] Steele is a fan of author Philip K. Dick, and has presented me with this concept of “God in the gutter” which derive’s from Dick’s work. It reminds me of a book I read many years ago called In Search of God in the Sexual Underworld: A Mystical Journey. It’s been years since I read it and so my memory may be less than stellar here, but I recall the book as an honest look at the lives of pimps and prostitutes, strippers and drag queens, and others who typically are not shown much hospitality by “polite” religion. The “mystical” bit in the subtitle doesn’t refer to contemplation so much as to the reality of God’s presence even when God is hidden — and, heaven knows, there are plenty of layers of hiddenness in the sexual underworld. And of course, grace happens, even in the lives of those who have been rejected by the mainstream, and that was the point of this book. But I suppose when we’re talking about grace, we have to be careful here. We can say “Yes, God is present in the lives of sex workers” and it has a rather paternalistic and maybe even smugly superior ring to it: the unstated other half of that sentiment being: “… and as soon as they clean up their act, they’ll be welcome at our church.” Which is just about what the older brother of the prodigal son would say. […]
And my response that I posted in the comments section of that post:
I’m reminded of various stories of God in disguise. The moral of the story being we should treat every person even those we deem lowly because they may be more than their appearance. Often in the story, the person who does good for the humble is rewarded, but reward isn’t the reason to good.
I prefer phrasing as PKD does with his “God in the gutter”. There is nothing to be gained by realizing God is in the gutter besides the realization itself. Seeing God is it’s own reward, but God often seems only glimpsed in our periphery. The moment we try to grasp the divine it’s gone. All the forms of religion can just end up as more idols to be falsely worshipped.
I see God at the edge of where moral judgements aren’t so clear. For this reason, I sometimes think the Trickster is more helpful in understanding the divine. Many stories of Jesus and other saviors show elements of the Trickster and I think that is a key to understanding the nature of the divine. Scatalogical humor along with reversals are very common in Trickster stories.
However, in mainstream Christianity, the Trickster elements have been purged from Jesus and projected onto the Devil or else simply exclusded. The Trickster stories tell us about suffering and ignorance, and so they touch very closely upon our everyday experience.
Jesus doesn’t simply pull us up from our misery. Jesus took physical form to meet us on our level. In fact, some stories claim that Jesus went even further down and entered Hell. Many saviors descend to the underworld. If God would descend to Hell, he surely would be present amongst those exluded from “polite” society.
Isn’t that one of the most central teachings of Jesus’ message?
I have many more thoughts I could add, but that will have to do for the moment. This topic is something that both fascinates me and touches upon my personal experience. Many authors I read focus on these kinds of ideas: Philip K. Dick, Carl Jung, William S. Burroughs, Quentin S. Crisp, Jacques Vallee, John Keel, George P. Hansen, Patrick Harpur, Thomas S. Hibbs, Eric G. Wilson. Et Cetera. I plan on writing more posts exploring all of this in more detail.
Let me end with a quote I came across recently:
There is a certain stage of hopelessness in which one’s utter insignificance becomes almost a form of redemption. The infinite darkness and silence of the universe come into alignment with your own soul, like something unlocking. The misery has not disappeared, but now the endless night is radiant.
~ Quentin S. Crisp, “Troubled Joe” from All God’s Angels, Beware!