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.
Even the most gullible science-fiction fan wouldn't have bet on the overwhelming response. In any event, 0.7 of the population embraced Star Wars — which would make Jedi the United Kingdom's fourth-largest religion, ahead of Judaism or Buddhism.
However, the Bureau of National Statistics claimed that Jedi-ism still didn't meet the criteria to be considered a religion. Those who declared that on their census form were marked as having no religion. The president of the country's Star Wars fan club declared it persecution.
The Final Frontier: As Capt. Kirk finds in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, "You can't appreciate Shakespeare until you've read him in the original Klingon."
Now, thanks to groups like the Klingon Shakespeare Restoration Project, you can read the good book in a way that would shock even Dr. McCoy.
Hop on over to the Internet's Universal Translator Assistant Project, and you can translate Psalms and key biblical passages into Klingon, Romulan and Vulcan.
If you need a little lesson: "JoH'a' 'oH wIj DevwI' jIH DIchDaq Hutlh pagh." That's Klingon for, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."
Now, how about a nice evening of Klingon karaoke.
Evangelical Elvis: Not only can you worship Elvis, there are several different denominations.
The First Presleyterian Church of Elvis the Divine advances the theology of Elvisivity. The 24-Hour Church of Elvis in Oregon isn't a church and it isn't even open around the clock. But does claim to be the world's first coin-operated art gallery — and boasts a prayer wheel with alternating images of Jesus and Elvis.
In Las Vegas, several wedding chapels offer Elvis clones to preside over nuptials.
But perhaps the most inspirational is preacher Gary Stone, 54, of Indiana, who is better known to church groups as Evangelical Elvis. He spreads the Gospel and sings in a white rhinestone jumpsuit, cape and boots.
"Elvis would be older than some of the nursing home people I've performed for," Stone says. "People forget, he was a charitable man who loved gospel music."
Marriage on Tap: There's one good thing if you wake up with a hangover and find that you've been married by the Church of Beer. You don't have to wonder what you were drinking.
Beer Church founder and "pilsner pope" Kendall Jones says his Internet institution boasts more than 2,600 priests. To perform a Beer Church wedding, you must also be legally ordained by Universal Life Church.
Contrary to popular belief, Beer Church priests are not allowed to be drunk on duty. But, Jones warns, you must have "a devout love of beer."
Hurray for Holy Wood: You can't have a debate over who's the worst filmmaker ever without mentioning Ed Wood, the director of such cult classics as Plan 9 From Outer Space and Glen or Glenda.
The Wood opus so impressed Steve Galindo, a 24-year-old college student from Arizona, that he formed the Internet's Church of the Heavenly Wood, which claims more than 5,000 members.
In case you're unfamiliar with Wood or the 1994 Tim Burton biopic starring Johnny Depp, in Plan 9, grave-robbing aliens raise an army of zombies to take over the Earth. The ultra-low-budget film featured cardboard tombstones, and when lead actor Bela Lugosi died four days into production, Wood replaced him with his wife's chiropractor.
In Glen or Glenda, Wood explores transvestitism, a personal obsession.
Some might doubt the Rev. Steve's credentials, but he's baptized more than 5,000 "Woodites" and has gone to elaborate lengths to show how Wood's alternative lifestyle and long list of failures should inspire us all to overcome our own shortcomings.
Woodism is not for everyone, but it's helping to ensure Ed Wood's immortality, and that alone is a miracle.
Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at ABCNEWS.com. The Wolf Files is published Tuesdays. If you want to receive weekly notice when a new column is published, join the e-mail list.