‘Cause I know there’s got to be another level
Somewhere closer to the other side
And I’m feeling like it’s now or never
Can I break the spell of the typical, the typical
"Typical" by Mutemath
Neo - by day a drudging megacorp drone - by night a hacker. His existence alternates between a dingy, solitary apartment and an immaculate beige cubicle where the most scintillating reading material appears to be the phone directory. The “typical”, needless to say, makes for an unsatisfying experience. Something tells him that this is not the way things are meant to be. Perhaps it is the half-escape he finds, like many of his fellow practitioners of the antisocial sciences, at the glowing terminal of his machine. As a hacker, Neo “fights the system”, yet he doesn’t know what exactly the system is, and does not realize the extent it governs his reality. Neo’s yearning echoes the optimistic ache that shines through MuteMath’s droning power chords. Neither know what they yearn for. After what is, perhaps, the most satisfying portrayal of a religious conversion in an action film, Neo quite literally gets born again. He finds himself in a place that must be, as Bono sings, believed to be seen. He learns that the system he has found himself helpless against is, in fact, the basis of his experienced “reality”. The “typical” is a mass simulation to tickle the brain stems of human bodies bred only for the purpose of producing electricity for machine overlords.
The Matrix tells a true story of hegemonic power, commodification of life, and corruption of reality. It also tells a true story of hope for restoration. It tells the story of the Gospel, and, as David Dark observes, better than mainline “broadcast” Christianity does. Dark claims that Christianity too often stands with the hegemony when it should be cutting against the grain of the system. Sated with the promise of eternal life in a far off spiritual paradise, it becomes easier for the Christian to turn an apathetic ear to the problems of the world. The narrative of the Matrix provides an antidote to this tendency of gnostic dualism by reminding us that, as Dark puts it, “redemption requires reentry.” The system has so totally enslaved its subjects that it cannot be conquered from the outside, or in one fell swoop of shock and awe. As Morpheus explains:
“The Matrix is a system, Neo. 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.”
So too it is with our world. Born into a socio-cultural matrix of original sin, we cannot unplug ourselves from this parasitic reality. We cannot even begin to understand what that might mean without the example of Christ. We need the work of the Holy Spirit to free us. To quote Barth:
“The Holy Spirit makes a new heaven and a new earth … It has no respect for old traditions simply because they are powerful, for old solemnities simply because they are solemn, for old powers simply because they are powerful. The Holy Spirit has respect only for truth, for itself. The Holy Spirit establishes the righteousness of heaven in the midst of the unrighteousness of earth and will not stop nor stay until all that is dead has been brought to life and a new world has come into being.”
Barth asked the question, “what is there within the Bible?” He found it lacking when read as a book of history, of morality, or even of religion. But looking through the book, he saw the promise of a new world, a new reality. As the Bible is not a Christian book, similarly The Matrix is not a Christian film, yet in it and through it we may glimpse the Gospel - an apocalyptic promise of triumph over evil. Catching this glimpse is the work of discernment.
As we discern culture we are constantly offered red and blue pills and we have a choice. We can relax in comfortable illusions, or we can face dangerous realities. We can ingrain societal systems of sin, or we can cut across that very grain. The Gospel has this to say: Sin has you, and it’s time to wake up.
- John Muyskens