The Buddhist Illusion Overcome by a Real Deliverer

"The deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob."

I don't go to a movie very often. But a couple weeks ago when The Matrix was showing here in Hastings, my sons were keen to see it. So I took them. I had previously read a review of the movie and had also heard a bit about it from some other folks so I was not completely ignorant of what to expect. I expected a movie with plenty of special effects, some martial arts sequences, a couple shoot-em-up scenes, and some computer-type hard science fiction in the story line.

The special effects were there, as were the martial arts sequences. And the automatic guns sprayed plenty of bullets some of which were stopped in mid-air by the main character as he realised that it was all unreal. But there was not really what I would describe as computer-type hard science fiction.

Instead of hard science fiction there was a weird, fantasy story line. The earth had become an unlivable place. Computers with sophisticated artificial intelligence had taken over and were using humans as power sources, keeping them mentally happy by providing an artificial reality which kept them from knowing the truth. The truth was humans were slaves to the machines, born and bred by machines, connected to the machines through tubes and plugs lining their bodies. All this while they imagined they were living in a real world just like our present world. This artificial reality was so real to the plugged-in humans that they could not believe the truth even when they were told it.

I didn't like the movie as entertainment. It was too weird. I don't recommend the movie as entertainment. For relaxation and wholesome entertainment we don't need more violence, guns, martial arts, tough women and war-like men.

But the movie does raise some matters worth pondering. It certainly did for my sons. What is reality? How do we know that we are not living in an undetected virtual reality? These are not new questions. They are at least as old as Buddhism. This life, this world is an illusion, says Buddhism. Joy and suffering are unreal. All human experience is illusion.

The Buddhist believes this by faith. He can't prove it. There is no evidence for such a belief. It is accepted on blind faith. Furthermore in both Buddhism and in The Matrix the illusion is comfortable. Even when the illusion is not comfortable, when it involves suffering one can just remember that it is all an illusion anyway. The illusion is comfortable because it is known, after all it is our experience. But the real is unknown. It is terrifying.

In The Matrix there is no incentive to seek deliverance from the illusion. Any suggestion of the truth is too terrifying to face. Better to remain with the illusion we know, suffering, death and all, than to face the truth we don't know.

But of course it wouldn't be much of a movie if it was left at that: life is an illusion followed by the credits. No the movie needs a saviour, one who sacrifices himself but who overcomes through his self-sacrifice and thus brings deliverance for enslaved humans.

The Buddhist world-view does not make a good story. Despite this being a non-Christian movie, the Christian world-view provides the central theme for The Matrix. Despite its Buddhist underpinnings, The Matrix depends upon the Christian story. Ever since Pentecost when the Christian story became international, pagan stories have faded in the light of the glorious deliverance of Christ.

Deep down man knows this life is not an illusion because man is the image of God who created and upholds all reality. Deep down man knows he is alienated from his creator and yearns for a deliverer. Despite trying to convince himself that life is mere illusion, he knows it is not. He knows that his decisions and actions have eternal significance. He knows that his sin (not a machine, not an illusion) enslaves him. So the message of the Deliverer is truly Good News.

The Matrix is just a movie, it is virtual reality if you will! It is just a made up story. But it points to and depends upon a Saviour which its Buddhist underpinnings cannot provide. And that is a real story.

Mr Bruce Hoyt is the Minister of the Reformed Church of Hastings.

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Faith in Focus /NZ Reformed Church / / revised July 1999 / Copyright 1999