It's a banner year for mainstream coverage of Philip K. Dick. The latest article, Adam Gopnik's "Blows Against the Empire: The Return of Philip K. Dick" in the current issue of the New Yorker, ranks among the best. Gopnik understands Dick much better than the authors of similar pieces in, for instance, Newsweek. I do have some minor quibbles regarding the details Dick's religious experiences and their interpretation, but in the end the article gets the big picture of what the "2-3-74" experiences meant:
As the people around him testified, hallucinations and fantasies, wild paranoid delusions, and plot-spotting filled his mind. He really did go crazy, and it wasn’t the cute-crazy of the movies, with well-cast hallucinations and Jennifer Connelly to comfort you. It was true staring madness, hell on earth. But, as Lawrence Sutin insists, at another level Dick always had a saving, ironic awareness that his crazy visions might just be crazy visions, and this gave him, at times, a comic distance from them which deepened his writing. [...]
There are many books with unreliable narrators under the control of sane authors; this is the only one I know where a sane, reliable narrator (on the book’s own terms) is under the control of a clearly crazy author. What makes it heartbreaking is the author’s consciousness, expressed sporadically through the fictional narrator Dick, that he (that is, the real Dick, embodied in the pathetic Fat) has undoubtedly gone nuts—but that, just as undoubtedly, he is in possession of the truth about the cosmos. His account of his vision is braided with the details of cancer treatments and the mordantly rendered specifics of time spent in a ward for the insane—a man who knows he’s broken but believes that the breaking has poured forth a flowing truth.
"The core of my writing is not art but truth," Dick wrote a year before he died. "Thus what I tell is the truth, yet I can do nothing to alleviate it, either by deed or explanation." It doesn’t dilute the force of his vision to see it as a metaphor, consistent with, but crazier than, the central metaphor of his earlier work: the social arrangement of power is always that of a brute oligarchic minority forcing its will on a numbed population, with amusements the daily meal and brutality the implicit threat; for all that has changed technologically, that fatal pattern has never really altered. The future will be like the present, he had once known, and now he saw that the past was like the future, too.
What is moving in Dick’s madness is his insistence that the surest sign of the madness of the world outside him is the violence that we accept as normal. In "Clans of the Alphane Moon," he had already glimpsed the possibility that normal governing might be the work of paranoids. This Nixon-era vision becomes, in the VALIS books, a metaphysical truth. "The Empire is the institution, the codification, of derangement; it is insane and imposes its insanity on us by violence, since its nature is a violent one," Fat writes. That this is followed by an explanation of how those deaf-mute three-eyed invaders arrived in ancient Sudan from a planet in the star system Sirius does not diminish its force; if anything, it increases it, by reminding us of the price the visionary paid for it.
A less-insightful piece would have presented madness and truth as mutually exclusive, but Gopnik sees things as Dick did: truth is in madness, and ultimately may be inseparable from it. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:20, what is folly to worldly eyes is wisdom to God's: "Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" The madness of Dick's religious experiences is ultimately identical with opposition to the Empire, with the foolish wisdom of the cross.
For more on Dick's religious experiences, see Pink Beams of Light From the God in the Gutter: The Science-Fictional Religion of Philip K. Dick and chapter 7 of The Gospel According to Science Fiction.