The Matrix, particularly the first film of the trilogy, is one of my all-time favorite movies. It admittedly has all the ingredients of a great “guy” movie: martial arts, fantasy, incredible special effects, and lots and lots of guns. But more than your typical action film, it has really great dimensions of unique cinematography, legit fight choreography and wirework (straight out of the Hong Kong tradition), and a depth of philosophy that a grad student can really appreciate. The Wachowski brothers, producers and directors of the film trilogy, were steeped in philosophy before writing the film. And let me just say that the notion of the Matrix is real – meaning that it wasn’t just a great storyline, being born into chambers where we are fed intravenously and connected to the matrix of a false reality, when in fact our life force is powering an empire of robots which continue to mine the world for new power sources.
Liberation is two-part: one is an actual unplugging from the Matrix, a physical freedom from the chamber that we were born into and departure from the source of the false reality that has been pacifying us with meaning and “experience”. The second liberation is not just a matter of unplugging from the system – it’s a mental re-orientation about “the real”, what is truly “real.”
Christians found the metaphor meaningful and relevant for obvious reasons. Jesus is the original Neo. Society is the Matrix. Agent Smith is the Devil. You get the picture.
But there are some problems that I don’t think we’ve really thought about in applying this metaphor in our Christian witness. One problem is that the church, as an institution, has often been complicit in the work of the Matrix. You can really see it with missional language that uncovers a rather stagnant congregation. We were never really subversive or prophetic to the culture at large; we are in some ways, more concerned with profits than prophets. I think there is a growing consciousness that is helpful in critiquing the church’s lack of initiative in the face of the Matrix now. Second, I don’t think we’ve understood the act of liberation as a physical and mental re-orientation. We assume that the verbal message of the gospel is enough for people to grasp, but the mental, cognitive understanding doesn’t necessarily free them from the physical connection to the Matrix. It is both a physical unplugging and a mental change of orientation to the Matrix. Then, whenever we plug ourselves back into the Matrix, we need to understand the difference the reality that we construct and bend, and what is still “the real.”
Virtual reconciliation is not reconciliation. Compassion and justice is also incomplete by themselves. But so too is it problematic when people claim to live free from the Matrix, but don’t know how to re-engage. It’s a much more complicated task then it appears. It’s much more complicated than a red or blue pill. This is what we all have a hard time describing as Christians. We know that Pentecostals are on to something, but they’re kind of crazy, aren’t they? We love the power of the truth in the new Reformed movements and the adherence to a pure Gospel, but they also seem limited in their ability to speak outside their context. And we know that the new contemplatives and mystics strike a chord with our hearts as well, but we just don’t know how to separate ourselves from our “real” lives, right?
My friends, the work of reconciliation is one of the ways we bring in “the real”. We know there’s something wrong, something missing and that’s where it begins. Your discontent proves that there’s something else out there.