Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What I learned my First Semester

Now that I’ve had a chance to process everything, I feel that I can truly reflect on this first semester. Like everything else in my life, I relate things to other things. In many cases, I relate things back to stories. Here I will relate my first semester with the movie The Matrix.

The film describes a future in which reality perceived by humans is actually the Matrix, a simulated reality created by sentient machines in order to pacify and subdue the human population while their bodies' heat and electrical activity are used as an energy source. Upon learning this, computer programmer "Neo" is drawn into a rebellion against the machines.

To get out of the Matrix and into the “real world,” Neo has to choose weather to take the red pill or the blue pill. Morpheus says, “You take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”

The film as a whole and especially the choosing scene is deeply compelling. Why is the choice between what you believe you know and an unknown 'real' truth so fascinating? How could a choice possibly be made? On the one hand everyone you love and everything that you have built you life upon. On the other the promise only of truth. This first semester is this same invitation. We can take the blue pill and believe whatever we want to about faith, religion, and the Bible. Or we can take the red pill and wake up. Waking up presents a whole new realm of questions. We see the complexities of faith, religion, and the Bible. The red pill helps us wake up and realize that we’re in a matrix ourselves. We realize that we are in complex relationships and networks of beliefs. We are not an island, but plugged into culture and personal history. This realization is startling.

It is like the part in the movie where Morpheus says to Neo, “It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth. The truth is that you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage, born inside a prison that you cannot smell, taste, or touch. A prison for your mind. Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.”

We can become trapped in our assumptions about the world and react violently when they are challenged. We often make the assumption that our way is the best and only way. Seminary is causing us to look at these assumptions and realize that we filter things. We tend to hear what we want to and not necessarily what’s presented. Why take the red pill? Why then enter seminary?

The answer in short, is inquisitiveness. Many people throughout human existence have questioned and enquired. Most of them have not been scientists or doctors or philosophers, but simply ordinary people asking 'what if?' or 'why?' Asking these questions ultimately leads us to a choice. Do you continue to ask and investigate, or do you stop and never ask again? This in essence, is the question posed to Neo in the film.

So what are the advantages of taking the blue pill? As one of the characters in the film says, "ignorance is bliss" Essentially, if the truth is unknown, or you believe that you know the truth, what is there to question or worry about? By accepting what we are told and experience life can be easier. There is the social pressure to 'fit in', which is immensely strong in most cultures. Questioning the status quo carries the danger of ostracism, possibly persecution. This aspect has a strong link with politics. People doing well under the current system are not inclined to look favorably on those who question the system. Morpheus says to Neo "You have to understand that many 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." The system also has a place for you, an expected path to follow. This removes much of the doubt and discomfort experienced by a questioning person.

So if the arguments for the blue pill are so numerous, why take the red pill? Why pursue truth even though it may be unpalatable and the journey to it hard? In the film, Neo risks death to escape the virtual reality and discovers a brutal reality from which he cannot return. As he discovers the trouble with asking questions is that the answers are not necessarily what you want to hear. To justify taking the red pill we might ask what is the purpose of an ignorant existence? Further still, what is there in merely existing? Simply existing brings humans down to the level of objects; they might have utility or even purpose, but where is the meaning? Existence without meaning is surely not living your life, but just experiencing it. As Trinity says to Neo, "The Matrix cannot tell you who you are."

Seminary is teaching me to think in new ways. Sometimes I’m frustrated by the fact that others seem unwilling to do the same. I realize then that many people do not take joy in questions. They would rather be placated by answers, even if it were a false security. These blue pill takers may wish to seek the truth in a different way, or in a less mind jarring set of circumstances. They can choose the blue pill and not deny their consciousness, but to stop seeking the truth entirely would be to deny their consciousness.

As conscious minds we will always seek the truth. However, the choice over the red or blue pills is not solely a choice between whether to question or not, it is a personal choice on the method of discovering the truth. The question for me then is how to speak to the blue pill people from my position? How can I get people to understand that they are all plugged into a belief system, a culture, and a history? How best can I deal with my own and resist being realigned into another matrix?
These questions will drive my years here at seminary, and possibly the rest of my life.

I feel that Jesus is the Morpheus character calling us to transcend our limitations. Jesus wants to free our minds. His method is through loving God, neighbor and self. I really respond well with this message and hope to be a Neo in the cause.


Anonymous said...

will you ever find the truth?

Luke said...

I've switched the comments now only to registered users.. mainly because i like knowing who i'm talking to.

Luke said...

i've found it! we must love God, neighbor and self in this relative world.

it's the application of the truth that is the hard part. that's what i'm struggle'n with.

Ron said...

I'll take the red pill with ya! These blogs keep making me more curious about stuff and create great drive to work conversation pieces.