Voices

Matrix versus messiah

The history of man is replete with tempting illusions

Issue: "Troops hunt for weapons," June 14, 2003

WHO NEEDS THE MATRIX? WHO NEEDS A POST-Apocalyptic software-writer god programming illusions that blind us from truth? Who needs a secret society foisting neural-interactive stupor on people put in gelatinous pods to harvest their energy like so many batteries? Reality-challenged existences have always been with us: apathy in the face of certain death, with people living as if dollars, killer abs, or the approval of strangers were the highest good. The Bible speaks of simpletons snagged by seductresses and "going down to the chambers of death" (Proverbs 7), and men given up to sexual relations "contrary to nature" (Romans 1). I like the old explanation.

I know a conspiracy theorist. She will eat up The Matrix, Reloaded or not. She already believes that gray faceless men in transnational corporations control the world, making people like Cypher sell their souls for the illusory taste of illusory steaks (Esau did that before corporations). Do you see corporations as the all-knowing, far-seeing, all-controlling Architect? You mean like IBM? (A very big company indeed, and it almost went out of business for miscalculating the PC revolution.) You mean like Chrysler? (So foresightful that it had to be bailed out by the feds a few years ago). You mean like Enron, for heaven's sake?

C.S. Lewis wrote about a man sitting in the British Museum for a brief moment and realizing that maybe we're in a matrix-but then an agent of the Matrix came along, not a moment too soon, and derailed him with small suggestions, tugging at his carnal appetites. "By the time I had added, 'Much better come back after lunch and go into it with a fresh mind,' he was halfway to the door. Once he was in the street the battle was won. I showed him a newsboy shouting the midday paper, and a No. 73 bus going past, and before he reached the bottom of the steps I had got into him an unalterable conviction that, whatever odd ideas might come into a man's head when he was shut up alone with his books, a healthy dose of 'real life' (by which he meant the bus and the newsboy) was enough to show him that all 'that sort of thing' just couldn't be true" (The Screwtape Letters).

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The history of man is nothing if not the history of the Matrix versus the Messiah of the oracle. We meet the Illusion-Maker in the Garden, where produce polished to a shine seduces Eve; in the Sinai desert where a gilded bovine lie is preferred to truth; in the monarchy where willful self-deception "put darkness for light and light for darkness" (Isaiah 5:20), and a people desperate for soothing cry out, "It's no use! I love foreign gods, and I must go after them" (Jeremiah 2:25, NIV); in the New Testament era where men still "refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false" (2 Thessalonians 2:10-11).

In air so thick with obfuscation, Neo understands that the issue is trust versus sight, much as Aslan suggests in Lewis's The Silver Chair (I've taken the liberty of substituting "the Matrix" for "Narnia"): "Remember, remember, remember the Signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the Signs. And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into the Matrix, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the Signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. This is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the Signs and believe the Signs. Nothing else matters."

"Are you 'the One'?" the remnant in Zion ask Neo. "Are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?" the Baptist asks Jesus (Matthew 11:3). "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight," replies the chosen One, who has come "to destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8) so that "none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" (Hebrews 3:13).

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