The following is a guest blog by Ray Jewell.
Morpheus: “This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more.”
I remember when the first of the Matrix trilogy, The Matrix, came out in 1999. Crowds flocked to see the latest thing in movie magic technology. The Matrix took the cosmic struggle of good vs. evil to a much higher plane. And many Christians bought into this movie, hook, line, and
At the height of its popularity I was a seminary student and pastor of a small country church in central Illinois. I was working on a Masters of Arts in Theology. As a part of the program I wrote what the school described as an extended research paper. The title of that project was the Resurgence of Gnosticism in the American Church. Part of that project was a thorough analysis of The Matrix. I wrote down every word of dialogue from that movie. And I was able to pinpoint several themes common with Platonic thought and the early heresy of Gnosticism. These themes correspond to what many American Christians believe to this day.
When Dr. Paul Axton invited me to write this blog I willingly accepted the offer. My primary goal here is to reiterate the tenets of Gnosticism that continues to be pervasive in American Christianity. Nearly two decades after its first appearance, it is time to revisit the Matrix.
The climactic scene in the movie is the classic choice offered to Neo quoted above. If Neo takes the blue pill, he chooses to stay in the prison known as the Matrix (a reference to this physical Earth that is completely evil, one that is controlled by nefarious agents, known as archons in Gnostic literature) who try to prevent people from escaping the prison. The way people escape is by taking the red pill, or any other means to become enlightened to the truth. If Neo chooses to take the blue pill he chooses to stay ignorantly blissful. (And, consequently, the movie is over, end of story). If he chooses the red pill, he frees his mind to know the truth about the unreal nature of the Matrix and discover the real world that is brutally free and enlightened. (I sense a touch of irony early on in the movie when Mr. Anderson’s boss tells “Neo,” “The time has come to make a choice, Mr. Anderson. Either you choose to be at your desk on time from this day forth, or you chose to find yourself another job. Do I make myself clear?” )
In contrast, the Biblical concept of choice is not so much choosing to be free from this evil world as it is a choice between being obedient to God or not. The initial choice depicted in the Genesis account is obedience or disobedience. Yet humans are not a disease (as Agent Smith has it) but created in the image of God. So, as God’s image-bearers, humans have intrinsic value even when sin is brought into the picture.
And, unlike Agent Smith’s proclamation that the agents are the cure, Jesus Christ is the cure that takes away the curse of sin. Neo’s job, as the Messiah/Jesus figure in the movie is to help people escape the prison that they reside in, the Matrix (which includes the physical body). One of the
many inconsistencies in the Matrix is found in a statement made by Morpheus, “The body cannot live without the mind.” Yet the whole movie operates under the assumption that the mind can live without the body. These thoughts are still rampant in American Christianity reflected in songs like “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through . . .” and belief in a disembodied spirit when someone dies.
The problem with this thinking is seen in Revelation 21 & 22 which talks about the New Heaven/New Earth. Revelation 21:2-3, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” When the Bible refers to “meeting the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:17) it is referring to the ancient custom of a freed people riding out to welcome and join forces with the conquering hero, not being swept away from this world (which will be made brand new with no possibility for sin to enter and damage God’s perfect creation).
The apostle Paul is adamant about a resurrected body in 1 Corinthians 15. When God created humans He did not do so as a dichotomy (physical, spiritual) nor as a trichotomy (body, soul, and spirit). He created humans as a whole unit with all kinds of incredible attributes and properties that sets humans above animals. I’m not sure what the resurrected body will be (something similar to Jesus resurrected body I suppose), but clearly it will not be some disembodied spirit.
Several scenes from the movie depict the classic Gnostic belief in a dichotomy between the physical world which is evil and the spiritual world or other world which is good. And this physical, evil world is a prison, a prison that enslaves people. The only freedom from this slavery is through salvific esoteric knowledge that allows the “enlightened ones” to escape. This esoteric knowledge in the Matrix includes a belief in reincarnation (with Neo being the reincarnated one). It involves mind over matter. Morpheus makes this pronouncement a few times in the Matrix, “If you can free your mind, the body will follow.” So, in reality, the person that does the saving in the Matrix isn’t really Neo or Trinity, or Morpheus. They can only act as guides to get people out of the Matrix. A human being ultimately save himself by the choices he/she makes.
Biblically speaking, salvation from the mess we are in, not an evil creation but a sinful person, is through the person of Jesus Christ whose resurrection is a display of the mighty power of God, not as a result of a kiss from the Holy Spirit (Trinity). The concepts of “fate” and “hope” are seen
from a fatalistic viewpoint. The definition of “hope” in the Matrix falls in line with a natural understanding of hope. There is no hope for the future of the world except to escape from it. Again, this thinking agrees with much of American Christianity thought.
In reality, if our hope is a sure thing in Jesus we can live in the confidence of Daniel and his friends, of Peter and Paul, of Joseph in both the OT and the NT. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” (1 Peter 1:3, see also Acts 23:6, 24:15).
A final theme in the Matrix that mirrors Gnosticism is the violent approach to the method of escape from the prison. The Matrix is one of the most violent movies I have ever seen. It is in the use of violence against the agents that escape is realized. Yet violence flies in the face of the One who truly brings salvation to the world. Even though Jesus could have come to be the Savior of the world in that way, He did not. The world around Him, the Jews, his followers, expected a conquering Messiah. But he came in a non-violent way.
A couple of years ago I was introduced to Oscar A. Romero, former Archbishop of El Salvador, who penned these words before his assassination/martyrdom because of his faith. “We have never preached violence, except the violence of love, which left Christ nailed to a cross, the violence that we must each do to ourselves to overcome our selfishness and such cruel inequalities among us. The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred; it is the violence of love, of
brotherhood, the violence that wills us to beat weapons into sickles for work.” Why, even the resurrection of Jesus was a violent act. THE DEATH OF DEATH! This is why we are called to live a life worthy of God’s calling. Jesus endured all manner of violence against his life, against his mission. He has called us to that life, too, with a promise that he will be with us through it all, to the very end of the age.
Gnosticism is a confusing mishmash of several often conflicting ideas. An esoteric, highly individualistic knowledge, an oppressive, false dichotomy between the physical and the spiritual, a lack of a deity who has the power to save those who follow Him and so much more. God has promised that someday He will come down and dwell with His people. In the age to come. MARANTHA!