The God in the Machine: The Matrix and a Sci-Fi Jesus

Morpheus: “You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life…that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?”

Neo: “The Matrix”

Just as Morpheus somehow describes everything Neo has felt so far, the Wachowski brothers’ first installment of the Matrix trilogy offered a somewhat uncanny allegory for my own Christian experience. I thought it was just remarkably well extrapolated, though others have been more overt in their analyses, and the Wachowskis themselves — when not being coy about its various religious and philosophical ideas — have responded that “all of it” and “most of it was intentional”. The most obvious and widely recognised link is of course Neo, whose name means “New” and is an anagram of his title as the “One”; a messianic figure prophesied by the Oracle to come and save mankind. His dull day-job name “Mr Anderson” means “Son of Man”. And with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, he is told in his first scene by user Choi; “Hallelujah. You’re my saviour, man. My own personal Jesus Christ”.

But the more personal aspects shown in the film begin with the splinter in the mind, the inexplicable suspicion, as Morpheus describes, that something is wrong with the world. At first Neo almost bails on what Trinity calls “the question that drives us”. He gets in the car, but when it gets a bit weird to have a bugged bellybutton, he wants out. I remember faltering for a moment too — the concept of God seemed a bit too foreign, too strange and these people were being all weird and spiritual. I was curious — but also apprehensive of what would happen if I found out. Then Trinity stops him as he opens the door and stares out in the rain (Sydneysiders: this scene was filmed on the corner of Campbell and Elizabeth Street, under the Adam Street bridge);

Trinity: “…you have been down there Neo, you know that road, you know exactly where it ends. And I know that’s not where you want to be.”

Maybe I wasn’t sure where this new road led, but I did know the road I had been on was a dead end. And like Neo I stayed in the car.

Morpheus: “Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.”

Unplugging naked from an amniotic pod is a very sci-fi rebirth, and as Morpheus says, until it is experienced firsthand it is unimaginable; “Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”” (John 3:3 ESV). When plugged in, it was the only life ever known; “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 2:14 NIV). But the day of the red pill, everything changed. I remember thinking to myself that I couldn’t believe that I could have reached adulthood — even grown up in church — and still discover another level that felt like real living. If this was living, if I suddenly felt alive, what had I been doing all those years before? I’d felt like something was a bit odd about the world but I could never have imagined an entire other level; “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10 NIV). The colours and even people, looked different, and I felt so free, so new, joyful beyond explanation.

Morpheus shows Neo the meaning of the human pods by holding up a Duracell battery, a battery for machines; “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods” (Galatians 4:8 NIV). It is an image so understandably horrible and confronting that Neo throws up and passes out.

Morpheus: “It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”

Neo: “What truth?”

Morpheus: “That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind.”

In a 1995 interview Steve Jobs explains: “When you grow up, you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world, try not to bash into the walls too much, try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life”. The media will tell you how you’re supposed to be, the catalogues will tell you what you’re supposed to own, corporate culture will tell you how you’re supposed to work, Tumblr will give you philosophy, Instagram will show you how pretty a brunch should look, Pinterest will show and quote human ideals, Facebook will document what happiness looks like, fashion will tell you what men and women wear. Just go with it, dress like it, talk like it, work like it, eat like it, live like it, for the rest of your life. I wondered if this was it — surely there was more. There has to be.

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”.

But the red pill means giving up everything, making a choice; “Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62 ESV). You have to decide which world you’ll live in.

Cypher: You know, I know this steak doesn’t exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realise? Ignorance is bliss.

Just as history pitied Judas Iscariot, we could slam Cypher for betraying Morpheus, Neo and his crew and asking to be plugged back into the Matrix. And ultimately the nondescript coding name “Cypher” reveals the minimal impact he makes by seeking to return to the cookie-cutter life. But his case for blissful ignorance is also understandable, because unplugging is a difficult life involving a war instead of steak. And Cypher must choose between the Matrix and Zion; “Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4b ESV).

Morpheus: “That system is our enemy. But when you’re inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.”

And as Morpheus explains, the enemy in the training program is not actually the woman in the red dress or the homeless man, but Agent Smith (in Sydney’s Martin Place and Pitt Street); “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world” (Ephesians 6:12a NIV). Like protective sentinels and agents, the religious Pharisees hated Jesus for what he taught and wanted this sacrilege to be quashed. Offended by the Sabbath-breaking healing, the “blasphemously” good news, the love and care for “sinners”, they fought to protect their neat moral bubble, and eventually in hatred, crucified Him; “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds” (Colossians 1:21a). Morpheus teaches Neo that once you unplug, the Matrix is no longer a friend or a home; “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18–19 NIV). In the world, but not of it.

Morpheus: “Welcome to the real world”

Essentially Neo receives the revelation that the real world and real life is bigger than what’s programmed in the Matrix. Instead Morpheus and his crew are heading for Zion, the last human city, which is truly worthy of aspiration, unlike the manufactured ladder within the Matrix; “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion” (Psalm 84:5 ESV). “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18 NIV).

Neo: “I used to eat there. Really good noodles. I have these memories from my life. None of them happened. What does that mean?”

Trinity: “That the Matrix cannot tell you who you are.”

The Matrix has a way of programming identities — manufactured possessions, job titles, status, stations — but they are not who someone really is. And when our hero finally declares; “My name is Neo”, he rejects his Anderson identity, the neat little life as “a program writer for a respectable software company”, with a social security number and a land lady, and becomes his true self; “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3–4 ESV). “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1 NIV). Instead of plugging back in, Neo takes the path of freedom.

Neo: “I’m going to hang up this phone, and then I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see. I’m going to show them a world without you. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible.”

And true to his word, it was Christ who taught me; “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26 NIV) and that “All things are possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:23b ESV). He takes a while to come to terms with being the One (“If you are the Son of God…” — Matthew 4), and his divinity (“You have to let it all go, Neo. Fear, doubt, and disbelief. Free your mind.”). But eventually even bullet-dodging, even water-walking, even flying from a phone on the corner of Hunter and Pitt Street in Sydney, is possible. Jesus embodied the breaking of rules and controls, borders and boundaries. In a Matrix full of status he humbled himself to wash people’s feet. In a Matrix full of social rules he dared to speak to people of lower class, the outcast and despised. In a Matrix full of material security he had nowhere to lay his head. In a Matrix full of sickness and death he dared to heal people. In a Matrix full of religious rules he stood up and courageously opposed the hypocrisy of the religious.

Trinity: “The answer is out there, Neo. It’s looking for you, and it will find you if you want it to”.

He didn’t barge into my life; “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20). I didn’t accidentally get unplugged. I wondered, and I decided to take the red pill. And maybe life is harder on a ship, fighting a war, being misunderstood all the time. But it’s also an amazing life beyond imagination. It’s free. And it’s real. It’s almost too cheap to say the red pill changed my life. Really, it was far more than that.

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