Is the movie "The Matrix" about the Christianity Meme?
"The Matrix" is a 1999 science fiction action thriller that raises some deep questions about how we perceive reality and the nature of truth, given that all our senses are ultimately just electrical impulses to our brains. Here we explore some parallels raised between the artificial reality of "the matrix" and the constructed culture of the Christianity Meme.

The movie chronicles Neo's (Keanu Reeves) transition from his life as an experienced computer hacker to a much deeper understanding of the world in which he lives. Neo is contacted by an elusive network of hackers led by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne). Upon meeting Morpheus, he is given the choice between returning to his current life and starting a new one in which he will understand "the truth." The truth is not pleasant, however. Neo discovers that instead of 1999, the real time is more like 2199. Human made artificial intelligence (AI) had united to form a singular conscious and long ago taken over the world in a brutal war against the human race that left the earth nearly destroyed. With the sun's energy blocked, the AI lives off the life energy of humans, who are merely grown as livestock for this purpose. Humans live their lives in sensory deprivation chambers with their perceived reality completely fabricated by the artificial intelligence. This artificial reality is known as the "matrix." The life Neo lived as a computer hacker was a complete fiction, as are the lives of all humans connected to the matrix.

Morpheus and his band are really a rebel faction in the real world that are fighting the artificial intelligence by various means, including computer hacking into the matrix. They enter the matrix by reattaching themselves to the computer simulation through the implants the AI had created for them as newborns. When they enter the Matrix, the rebels must contend with powerful "agents" that look like sinister government agents. While the "reality" in the matrix is a constructed one, the agents are able to do harm to the plugged-in hackers because their minds believe they are being harmed. Agents can thus kill humans while they are in the matrix because they believe (at some level) that they will die. "The body cannot exist without the mind," says Morpheus. Those with the best ability to stand up against the agents are the ones who most firmly understand that the reality of the Matrix is artificial. Neo fulfills his destiny of conquering the agents only through his complete disbelief in their constructed world. At the end of the movie, he and the remainder of the rebel band continue their fight and start taking the first steps of alerting the entire human race of their sad predicament.

While the authors of "The Matrix" probably indented the work to be a play on the true nature of reality, a close analogy can be made between the artificial intelligence (AI) depicted in the movie and the Christianity Meme (CM):

  • Both are non human life forms with a need to live and propagate. The Christianity Meme can be thought of as a memetic life form, that satisfies Dawkins' requirements of a replicator: longevity, fecundity, and copying fidelity.
  • Both derive their life energy from humans. The Christianity Meme propagates primarily through the manipulation of human behavior.
  • Both AI and CM benefit by co-opting a human's mind in childhood.
  • Both try to alter human's perception of truth so that their own agenda can be promoted. The Christianity Meme does this through inserting itself as the true interface to some universal creator meme. In the movie, the sinister agents are concerned with weeding out the rebel forces.
  • Both are concerned with maintaining control over humans.
  • Both the AI and CM work hard to suppress those humans who seek to expose the truth. Consider, for example, how the Christianity Meme has worked to suppress the theory of evolution, a conflicting meme.
  • Both artificial realities have their adherents that would rather live in the constructed world than the real one. In "The Matrix", Cypher (Joe Pantoliano) sells out his cohorts for a return to the matrix, removal of his memories of the real world, and a false life of wealth and power. The Christianity Meme has its masses of true believers who actively ignore facts under many circumstances.
  • Finally, both the AI and CM have constructed artificial realities that are so ubiquitous that they go essentially unnoticed by the people living within them. The Christianity Meme has done this through co-opting our main cultural institutions.
We speculate that the authors of "The Matrix" were making a subtle analogy between the artificial reality and religion (Christianity in particular). The most telling clue is the name of the rebel ship: Nebuchandnezzar. In the Bible (the book of Kings), Nebuchandnezzar was a Babylonian king who ended the reign of King David's bloodline of great kings when David's descendant Zedekiah attempted an uprising against his overlord, Nebuchandnezzar. Not only was the uprising quashed, but Zedekiah's last sight was that of the slaying of his children. His eyes were put out and he lived the remainder of his live as a slave. (Incidentally, this action broke a covenant between God and David that his bloodline would rule forever.) Isn't that similar to how we imagine the end of the reign of the Artificial Intelligence in "The Matrix"--its rule ended, its products destroyed, and it returned to the servitude of humans?

Without a doubt, the humans in "The Matrix" detest the idea of another life form exerting control over them. They stake their lives in the fight against the AI that would control them. True Christians would be wise to wake up to the control of the Christianity Meme, throw down their mind shackles, and embrace the disbelief that will set them free.

Postscript (April 2003)

"The Matrix" has become something of a cult classic and many fans are now waiting with eager anticipation for the sequels.  Many web sites have sprung up which explore the philosophical and cultural implications of the ideas in the movie.  The movie clearly resonated with many people and it's clear to this essayist that the creators of the movie were well aware of the rich tapestry of memes they wove out of old and durable fibers.  The movie clearly draws themes from Zen Buddhism and Western religions, especially Christianity.  It is interesting to explore the web sites about the movie and notice the large number that only see the Christian influence in the movie.  Very few Matrix fan sites seem to be aware of the fact that the meme complex of Christianity was itself heavily influenced by the older Buddhism.  Maybe "The Matrix" will be the genesis of a new religion that will overtake Christianity in the next millennium.