What is The Matrix? Moreover, what's Plan 9 From Outer Space? And can Elvis lead us to salvation if he quotes from the Bible in Klingon?
The opening of The Matrix Reloaded on Thursday is a reminder of just how serious some of us can be about what others regard as mindless entertainment.
The nexus between pop culture and religion is nothing new. In Britain's last census, 390,000 people gave their religion as "Jedi."
Still others take freedom of religion as a fight for your right to party, embracing Elvis-impersonating ministers or getting married by ministers of the Church of Beer.
But The Matrix series might provide serious insight into the Bible, at least according to the Rev. Chris Seay, who thinks the sci-fi adventure can be viewed as a retelling of the story of Christ, with Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne representing Jesus and John the Baptist.
In the film, of course, Reeves and Fishburne portray Neo and Morpheus, who join forces to liberate humanity from its own creation — a society of evil robots.
"The Matrix is a point of intersection where all of our stories collide: Buddhism meets Christianity and Homer's Odyssey meets the childhood epic Alice in Wonderland," write Seay and co-author Greg Garrett in The Gospel Reloaded (Pinon Press).
‘You Are the One’
Any hero in an action-adventure film is bound to feel it's his or her destiny to save the day — the question is, how much should we read into it?
"You are the One," Morpheus tells Neo in the first film, 1999's The Matrix. "You see, you may have spent the last few years looking for me, but I have spent my entire life looking for you."
No matter what your faith, you can't doubt the movie's box-office clout — bringing in more than $450 million.
"The first film is about Neo learning and accepting his calling," says Seay. "The second film asks, 'What does it mean to walk the path? What does it mean to respond to belief?' "
A third installment, The Matrix Revolutions, is slated to open Nov. 5 and the reverend predicts an "apocalyptic battle that will end with good winning over evil."
Seay — a pastor of Ecclesia, a progressive Christian church in Houston — has taken some hits from colleagues for integrating pop culture into faith. In an earlier book, The Gospel According to Tony Soprano, he gleaned Christian lessons from the Bada Bing crew, comparing Tony Soprano to King Solomon — a man of great wealth who inwardly feels weak and empty.
Seay refers to Soprano family turncoat Big Pussy as "the Judas Iscariot of the New Jersey mob" for betraying Tony and becoming an FBI informant.
But if you lack faith in The Matrix or The Sopranos, here are some other diversions that have inspired worshipful devotion.
Entertaining Spiritual Thoughts
Force Strong in Britain: Was it the dark side of The Force that led some 390,000 Britons to declare Jedi as their religion in the 2001 United Kingdom census? Actually, it was the Internet.
An Internet campaign urged folks to help get the spiritual practice that guides Luke Skywalker listed by the British government as an official religion.
A widely circulated e-mail mistakenly claimed that officials would be obligated to recognize Jedi if 10,000 British citizens identified it as their religion.