November 22, 2005

Living in the Real WorldBeing Counter-Cultural Christians

In the high-action, Kung fu fighting, futuristic science fiction film, The Matrix, high-tech hacker Neo is rescued from a computer-generated world (the Matrix) through which "Machines" have suppressed reality and dominated mankind.[1]

Neo is brought into "the real world" by a leader named Morpheus. As part of Neo's training to save humanity from its slavery to the machines, he is introduced to the virtual reality of the "loading program." Upon entering this virtual reality, Neo begins to come to grips with this new understanding when he touches a chair and asks, "This isn't real?" To which Morpheus responds, "What is real? How do you define 'real?' If by 'real' you mean what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then reality is simply electrical impulses interpreted by your brain."

At this point in the film, entertainment becomes education by answering a key philosophical question, What is real? Morpheus's response is a classic definition of naturalism, the idea that nature is the only reality. To see this more clearly, consider a different possible answer to Neo's question. According to a Christian worldview, for example, nature (what you can touch, smell, taste, and see) is real, but so is the supernatural realm (that which cannot be touched, smelled, tasted, or seen), including God.[2]

But the film goes further. In fact, during interviews, the Wachowski brothers admit to messing with our minds regarding the nature of reality. Later in the story, another answer to the philosophical question is given when Neo enters the Oracle's apartment and notices a boy bending a metal spoon through the power of his mind. The boy tells Neo, "Don't try to bend the spoon. That's impossible. Only understand the truth." Neo asks, "The truth?" to which the boy responds flatly, "There is no spoon. Then you'll come to realize that it is not the spoon that bends, but it is only yourself." The boy's statement reflects a classic Buddhist conception of reality-what we think we see is an illusionary world. There is no objective world, only the reality of our mental, non-physical, state.

As it turns out, the writers and directors of The Matrix, Larry and Andy Wachowski, are candid about their purpose in bringing up this subject, "We think the most important sort of fiction attempts to answer some of the big questions. One of the things that we had talked about when we first had the idea of The Matrix was an idea that I believe philosophy and religion and mathematics all try to answer. Which is, a reconciling between a natural world and another world that is perceived by our intellect."[3] In the same interview, the Wachowski brothers admit Zen Buddhism plays a major role in their understanding of religion.

As pop culture commentator Roberto Rivera observes, "You can see Zen's fingerprints everywhere, including the way Morpheus talks to Neo. Instead of answering Neo's questions in a straightforward manner, he insists on [Buddhist-style] koans such as, 'I can only show you the door, you must walk through,' and 'when the time comes, you won't need to dodge the bullet.' Or my favorite, '[the Oracle] didn't lie, she told you exactly what you needed to hear.'"[4]

Responding to Pop Culture

When defending a biblical worldview in the marketplace of ideas-whether it takes the form of a letter to the editor of your local paper or a face-to-face dialogue with a neighbor-the Christian must keep two things in mind. According to 2 Timothy 2:24–26, we must present the truth in order set free those who have been captured by deceptive philosophies. And secondly, we are to be respectful and gentle in the process. Both our content and our character are important.

How can we use the prevailing culture to help others understand God's truth? Here's an example of what it can look like. In an interview with Bill Moyers, filmmaker George Lucas said, "The conclusion I've come to is that all the religions are true."[5] As it turns out, this conviction is shared in the wider population, even among many Christians. According to George Barna, 48 per cent of those surveyed who claim to be "born again" agree that "Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and others all pray to the same God, even though they use different names for that God."[6]

Although in our rush to be non-judgmental many Americans may choose to believe "all the religions are true," worldview analysis shows that the idea is actually a logical impossibility. The first law of logic, the law of non-contradiction, states specifically what we know intuitively: Two things cannot be the same and different at the same time and in the same way. In other words, something cannot be both true and false at the same time. When we apply the law of non-contradiction to the religions of the world, we find that Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and Muslims deny what Christians affirm: that Jesus is God incarnate, the third person of the Trinity. Either Jesus is, in fact, a member of the Trinity, or He is not. If He is not, then Christians are wrong about their belief. On the other hand, if Christians are right, then all the other religions are wrong. It cannot be both ways. While it is possible all the religions of the world are false, it is a certainty that they cannot all be true.

So the first step in setting free those who have been captured by this kind of New Age theology is to point out the illogic of the idea. Some may counter that logic and rational thought cannot be trusted, that one must instead trust his or her feelings. If such an objection is raised, then ask this simple question: Did you just make a rational statement concerning what can be trusted? Since the answer is "yes" to your question, you can point out their statement is self-refuting since they made a rational statement that claims rational statements cannot be trusted.

Logic cannot be denied. God has designed our minds to operate rationally, so even when someone rejects rationality, we can use it to our benefit to shed light on the reality of clear thinking.[7] And once again, this affirms the reality of the biblical view of God.

When it comes to the nature of God and reality, the Christian worldview offers confidence not found in Cosmic Humanism. Hebrews 11:1 explains that biblical faith is not based on intuition or subjective feelings, but upon "evidence" and "substance." In contrast to the idea that "all roads lead to God," the historical evidence maps out only one road leading to God, and it passes through the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This we can know with certainty (John 8:31–32; Colossians 2:2; 2 Peter 1:16–18; 1 John 5:20).

Counter-Cultural Christians

In Acts 17, Paul visits Athens where he engages the philosophers of his day. He understood the role he was playing in the battle of the gods as he declared their objects of worship to be mere metal and mortar, a simple man-made image compared with the Creator of heaven and earth and all living things.[8] And this God held the keys to judgment and the resurrection to eternal life.

And in our own day, nothing has changed. The followers of Jesus Christ are still facing the self-styled prophets, champions, and philosophers of foreign gods. Whether they worship the impersonal god within or themselves as mortal man, they stand arrayed to do battle with the God of the Bible.

Yet the answer to all of life's questions is ultimately found in whose God is real. The main problem people face today is a theological issue. It always has been. It will continue to be. If Christians are genuinely concerned about the world they are leaving for their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, then they must now be engaging the battle. We can no longer wait in our cities of refuge. Those who seek to destroy us are mounting the walls, and have broken down the gates. We must go on the offensive. We must figure out where the enemy of God's righteousness is strongest, and confront the false ideas that bring so much misery, sickness, and sorrow to each generation.

We come armed with the truth, we go in love, and we seek those who will turn their hearts and minds to the Savior. Jesus met the physical needs of those around Him, but he also confronted the false ideas that had shaped his culture. God's truth will ultimately prevail. Yet in the meantime, we are not to hold the fort, but are called to charge the gates.[9] Understanding how our neighbors think and incorporating the language they know best-as illustrated through popular culture-provides the Christian with the means to renew society based on Godly principles.

Resources for Further Study

  1. While I do not endorse everything in this R-rated movie, I include it because some cultural analysts consider this film to be the same cultural lightning rod for the current generation that Star Wars was in the 1970s. The story not only informs, but also reflects, the worldview of this generation. If that is the case, Christians would do well to analyze what it is about this film that young people find so fascinating and to use that insight for building bridges over which to lead them to the Gospel.
  2. I understand that Morpheus framed his answer as a question, and there is much that could be said about the meaning of his words and the overall worldview found in The Matrix. My purpose here is not to explore these larger issues but simply to point out that a worldview is being expressed and Morpheus does, indeed, give a definition, even if that definition is not fully explained until later in the film.
  3. Interview with Larry and Andy Wachowski, Nov. 6, 1999. Online article at
  4. Roberto Rivera, "So, What is The Matrix? Rethinking Reality."
  5. "Of Myth and Men: A Conversation between Bill Moyers and George Lucas on the meaning of the Force and the true theology of Star Wars," Time, April 26, 1999, p. 92.
  6. What Americans Believe, George Barna, 1991, p. 212.
  7. This statement does not deny the fallen nature of man, and I understand the theological debate as to whether man's intellect is fallen and to what extent. Yet, we are repeatedly told in the Scriptures to use our minds. In Isaiah 1:18 God tells the people to come and reason together, and in Romans 12:1–2 the Apostle Paul admonishes believers to "renew" their mind. Paul writes in Romans 1:20 that non-believers know the truth about God's presence and power by observing nature, yet there problem is not a rational one, but one of the will, as they suppress the truth that is evident to them. These passages, and others like them, make no sense if our minds are totally devoid of the ability to reach logical conclusions. It is evident that, as part of our God-image, God has built into our minds rational thought, which depends on the laws of logic for its very rationality.
  8. See Acts 17:22–34.
  9. In Matthew 28:19–20, Jesus commissioned his followers to "Go . . . "

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