Seraph“Cypher, the Matrix isn’t real!”

“Oh, I disagree, Trinity; I think the Matrix can be more real than this world.”

Lately, I’ve been doing a fair amount of reading in memory and social theory, and I’ve been working my way through Berger and Luckmann’s The Social Construction of Reality. The thoughts here are inspired by Berger and Luckmann’s work from 40 years ago, but I’ve taken the liberty of combining them with some of my recent work on the book of Revelation and with the Wachowski Brothers’ trilogy of Matrix films.

Berger and Luckmann argued that practically from birth, what we understand to be “real” is a social construction that is imposed on us through a variety of instruments of the dominant culture of the world that we find ourselves in. When that dominant culture ultimately has the power to impose its cultural perspective (or worldview) on other ones, and proceeds to do so, the result is a programmatic presentation of “the real” that says “our” reality, whatever it is, is the ultimate one, and this by necessity must replace any alternative ones. In other words, once a culture establishes a hegemony over others that would not normally be inclined to share, appreciate, or employ the instruments that the culture uses to construct reality at home, it is in a position to say to everyone else that the way we are is the way everyone should be. This kind of imperialism doesn’t have to be through military force or violence against earth, air, and flesh (although it can be, and often is); more pervasive and dangerous is the seductive nature of the instruments of cultural imperialism. Violence and seduction are, and have always been, two of the most potent agents of social control and the imposition of “reality.”

To viewers of the Matrix, this should sound familiar, and one wonders whether the Wachowski Brothers had a copy of Social Construction of Reality around when they produced the films. The entire trilogy turns on the questions of What is Real, and What is the Matrix? In the trilogy, we learn that the Matrix is the reality constructed by the dominant Machine World that, through violence and seduction, is imposed on the world of human beings in order for the Machine World to maintain its hegemony and its control of human life. Morpheus, played by Laurence Fishburne, recognizes that there are at least these two realities, and he challenges Neo (Keanu Reeves) to recognize that he has to choose which reality he is going to accept, since both are Real. In Berger and Luckmann’s terms, the Machine World is able to force its worldview, its reality, onto the Human through the instrumentality of the Matrix. For those living in the Machine World, the majority of humans do not realize that their reality is artificial and constructed and have no need for or interest in knowing otherwise. The dominant culture of technocracy, as it were, has defined what is real and literally constructed the instruments to make sure that things stay the way they are. Theirs is the “ultimate reality,” as Tillich might express it.

In any event, the story of the Matrix is that the reality imposed by the dominant Machine World is not the only reality, and in fact needs to be challenged because the human race is not destined to be batteries and puppets that empower the force of empire and its artificial instruments of violence and seduction to keep control over those who resist.

And if this sounds like a familiar story, you’re right. This is exactly the story of the book of Revelation. Revelation is a call to see the Matrix for what it is and an invitation to look behind the screen to see the ugliness of the reality of its version of the Machine World, that is to say, the Empire, the violence of the Beast and the seductions of the Whore that are the instruments of imperial worldviews of reality. For the author of Revelation, the Roman Empire is the latest version of the Matrix, an artificially constructed reality that had plagued Israel in a number of x.0 versions since the days of Egyptian bondage. But as with the theatrical Matrix, Revelation recognizes the reality of the Empire/Machine world every bit as much as it recognizes the world of the Saints/Zion. Both realities exist and coexist and join together through complex processes of mimicry and symbiosis and are locked in a struggle that simultaneously defends and destroys the other. The Matrix and the Empire are paragons of the power and order of the Machine World and the dominant force of Imperialism in all its forms. The heroes of Zion and the persevering Saints of first century Asia, on the other hand, recognize the reality of the Matrix of Empire, but refuse to accommodate themselves to imperial control; for Morpheus, Neo, Trinity, John of Patmos, Christ, and the embattled saints of Asia, imperial reality is a Beast operating the machine mainframe, a reality that ultimately will lead to nothing but the utter destruction and annihilation of this world as well as the other. Revelation and The Matrix thus show that these competing worlds exist in symbiotic opposition to each other, but are not condemned to eternal conflict. As the Oracle tells Neo, “One way or another, Neo, the war is going to end.”

The story, of course, continues now. The Matrix of Empire is a constructed instrument of persuasion designed to convince others that the pax romana and pax americana is the ordained and one legitimate ultimate reality. But Revelation and the Matrix show us that, confronted with the reality of imperial pax, we who were called out of Egypt now need to be called out of Babylon, out of the power fields of the Machine world. And here in the Matrix, there are too many who know that something is seriously wrong with the seductive doings of empire, who know that we ourselves are complicit in the violence done to the earth and to each other in the name of maintaining things “as it was was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forever more.” We feel the splinter in the mind and its driving us mad. And if we are truly to come out of Babylon, as the Seer of Revelation cries out to us that we must, we have to take the plunge, and find the courage to take the Red Pill, and hack into the Matrix.

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