Our generation simultaneously craves authenticity and retracts from reality. We are a generation that increasingly despises religion with its external primness and posturing, sin management and elaborately crafted masks. At the same time we are a generation raised on and addicted to social media; posting beautiful photographs snapped during brief periods of ceasefire.
Teen novels of choice today are increasingly dystopian (society is characterized by human misery) Novels like Hunger Games, The Maze Runner and Divergent all present society and human nature as corrupted and about to face apocalyptic disintegration.
The sense that everything is about to collapse, and that the adults are, at best, not much help and, at worst, the source of the problem – is arguably the underlying narrative of many works of Young Adult fiction over the past decade or so, including many zombie and vampire tales. You can even find traces of it in Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl and certainly in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.
In our classroom this term, we have watched and analyzed two older movies: The Truman Show (1998) and The Matrix (1999). In the Truman Show everything is inauthentic. Truman Burbank (played by Jim Carey) has been raised from birth on an engineered island with hired actors, including the nice wife and neighbours. Truman’s world slowly unravels when he finds clues that reveal the seams. He knows something is wrong; He must decide whether to discover his reality or stay content on his perfect island. At the end of the film Truman makes it to the edge of the world and is seen slamming his fists against the set to find a way out. He is interrupted by the voice of his creator coming from the clouds. There he explains everything. Truman asks “Was nothing real?” to which Christof replies “You were real.” At the final moment Christof excitedly blurts out “Well say something dammit, you’re on TV.” Truman gives his trademark catchphrase and walks through the open door and out of the world he has been an unwitting prisoner of for all his life. The music is jubilant, triumphant and we see the fallen face of Christof. Our last shot of him is one of a rejected father slumped in his chair, grieving the loss of his son.
In the Matrix, Thomas Andreson (Neo) , a computer hacker comes to realize that the whole world is in bondage to an Artificial Intelligence that powers itself from the energy provided by human foetuses. This is the Matrix, a fantasy world. The real world exists in exile where aboard a ship called the Nebuchadnezzar, a small collection true human beings, including a traitor, plot the redemption of the world. Their faith is in the prophecy of an Oracle who predicted the coming of a Messiah type character who would spearhead the battle to free humanity.
Every story we have examined points towards the great story of the gospel. Each story has a situation of doom in which the prospects seem hopeless. The corrupted world cries out for redemption. The resolution provided by the gospel of Jesus Christ seems too good to be authentic.
Yet before, the good news is announced, the bible says that humanity has swallowed a huge lie.
‘The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.’ (2 Corinthians 4:4). The god of this age is Satan. As in the Matrix, human beings are blinded to the reality that without a rescuer we are ‘ dead in our disobedience and our many sins’. . .obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. . .All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger’ (Ephesians 2:1-4 NLT)
Satan, has duped the human race into ridiculing this stark reality as CS Lewis notes:
- “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”
– C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters.
Both ‘materialists’ and ‘magicians’ reject reality. Famously Morpheus offered Neo a red pill or a blue pill. “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.”
The rabbit hole goes deep. The Apostle Paul’s verdict on humanity is that ‘ there is no-one righteous, not even one.’ ‘They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshipped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise!’ (Romans 3:10, 1:25)
The red pill is a hard pill to swallow. As in the Matrix, it means a new birth is necessary. Jesus made this point to a superbly upright religious man and a member of the Sanhedrin: Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’ (John 3:3) Taking the red pill is a choice to reject both the illusion of materialism and the inauthenticity of religion. As Jesus said: ‘ . . . if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.’ (John 8:36)