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Old 06-01-2003, 09:18 PM   #1
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What do you think about the religious themes in the MATRIX?

I have watched the original too many times to count and have often pondered about the themes in the movie. The latest one also continues with these themes, raising the dead, people worshipining the "one". I came across this article tonight and thought that maybe it would inspire some thoughts in here.

Matt



The Gospel according to Neo

Theologians and pop-culture experts see 'The Matrix' as a phenomenon shaping public opinion about religion

By Josh Burek | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

In a film era long gone, the Bible was a major player. Charlton Heston and Jimmy Stewart starred in movies that directly drew on themes of Bible history and Christian redemption.
Hollywood treats religion a bit differently these days. Mel Gibson's "The Passion," aside, most A-list stars aren't lining up to play the carpenter from Nazareth. But some of Hollywood's most enduring science-fiction films have borrowed greatly from his story.


Casting Keanu Reeves as a Christlike figure in "The Matrix" trilogy may seem blasphemous, but it's not new. "Star Wars" didn't push the idea of a Jedi Jesus, but many fans felt that it freely mixed myth and religion. And some critics said "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" relied heavily on the account of Christ's passion - a suggestion that director Steven Spielberg, who is Jewish, rejected. More recent films, from "Signs" to "Contact" have used a sci-fi setting to discuss serious questions of faith.

But where previous films made vague references to the Christian story, "The Matrix," some theologians argue, appeals directly to the heart of Christian identity. Its script, however, draws on Platonic philosophy, Greek mythology, Buddhism, and postmodernism, religious experts say.

Its high-octane blend of comic-book action and lofty metaphysics fueled box-office sales in 1999 to more than $450 million worldwide. But it also created theological tension about the movie's symbolism. And with "The Matrix Reloaded" due out next week, the debate is likely to intensify over different interpretations of the trilogy.

"There's two ways to look at this from a Christian perspective," says Glenn Yeffeth, editor of the book "Taking the Red Pill: Science, Philosophy, and Religion in The Matrix." "One is that it's retelling the story of Christ," he says. "The other way to look at it is a very violent film filled with garden-variety blasphemy that exploits people's resonance with the Christian narrative to fool people into a story that is fundamentally atheistic."

Both sides see a movie phenomenon that, for better or worse, is shaping public thought about religion.

"The Matrix" is compelling people to examine the plurality of religions versus the unity of truth, says cultural critic Read Mercer Schuchardt. Like the movie's characters, who strive to understand what is real, Matrix fans are hoping the trilogy's second installment will help them unravel the film's tangled symbolism, say film experts.

Earnest effort to deconstruct the movie began with a question. On Superbowl Sunday 1999, "Matrix" filmmakers tantalized TV viewers with a commercial trailer that asked, "What is the Matrix?" After the film made its auspicious Easter debut, "Matrix" viewers began answering the clever marketing query in personal terms. Sci-fi fans, philosophers, Buddhists, and even evangelical Christians have found resonant themes in the story.

"There are hundreds of Matrix [websites] out there, and they're not about how cute Keanu Reeves looks," says Mr. Yeffeth. "The Christian parallels, the philosophical underpinnings - this is a movie that ... captures people's intellectual imagination."

Some observers, however, are skeptical about the film's ability to convey the profound. A number of critics panned the first "Matrix" for being too pretentious. And some viewers balked at the marriage of kung fu fight scenes with a "Philosophy for Dummies" script.

The film's creators, brothers Larry and Andy Wachowski, have been remarkably tight-lipped about their vision for the trilogy. But these comic-book aficionados have pulled back the curtain enough to reveal which levers they are pulling.

"We're interested in mythology, theology, and, to a certain extent, higher-level mathematics," Larry told Time in 1999. In a Warner Bros. Web chat that year, they were asked to what extent their allusions to myths and philosophy were intentional. "All of it," they said.

Like all myths, "The Matrix" is first and foremost a story. By day, Thomas Anderson (Reeves) is a cubicle-bound software programmer. By night, he's a computer hacker known as Neo with troubling questions about reality. A rebel group led by Morpheus recruits Neo and offers him a chance to discover the truth about the Matrix.

Neo is unplugged from the Matrix and realizes that humans are slaves to an empire of man-made, intelligent machines. The Matrix is a virtual-reality program hard-wired into the human brain to deceive mankind about this truth. Neo reluctantly accepts his mission to free the human race.

No one is seriously treating the script as a Neo-New Testament. But "The Matrix" story has stirred debate within the Christian community.

Author and dedicated Christian Kristenea LaVelle hoped her scriptural exegesis of the film, "The Reality Within the Matrix," would inspire Christians to apply the movie's gospel message to their own lives. Reaction to her book, however, has been mixed. A Canadian pastor contacted her to ask if he could use "The Matrix" as a keynote for evangelical outreach to teenagers. But she also encountered negative feedback at a book signing - in a Christian bookstore.

The film's bullet-laden violence and strong language, along with Eastern religious influences, she acknowledges, are unsettling to some Christians. But she has high hopes for the sequels. "If you can see a way through those things and really pick out the good stuff ... any Christian could apply those things to life and grow from it."

Mrs. LaVelle says that "The Matrix" expresses the basic idea of Christian salvation. "The whole idea of being 'awakened' or 'un-plugged' is a reference to salvation." She recognizes, however, that her view is not universally accepted.

David Frankfurter, for one, disagrees. "I'd resist the notion of [Neo] as having anything to do with Jesus," says the professor of history and religious studies at the University of New Hampshire. "He's the classic hero figure from early Jewish literature."

Mr. Frankfurter and other religious experts say "The Matrix" does not represent orthodox Christianity nearly as much as Gnostic Christianity.

Gnosticism never developed a well-defined theology, but it depicts Jesus as a hero figure who saves mankind through "gnosis," or esoteric knowledge. In the Gnostic philosophy, the physical world is not part of God's creation, but a manifestation of a lower god - a nightmarish reality that imprisons mankind, say religious experts. Gnostics believed they could achieve salvation, not by overcoming evil and sin with God's grace, but by learning the "higher knowledge" about reality.

Gnostic threads are present in many religious traditions, including Sufism and Buddhism. As woven by "The Matrix," these threads tie together current concerns with an ancient knot.

"All of this stuff has been bouncing around in the human brain for centuries. When it comes into this hip new iteration in the cyberworld, it all sounds familiar," says Robert Thompson, professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University in New York.

Whereas the bestselling "Left Behind" book series about judgment day plays on orthodox Christian fears of an arrival of the Antichrist, some observers say "The Matrix" uses Gnostic concepts to convey an equally frightful - but perhaps more tangible - prospect: technology's domination over mankind.

The success of both, however, may be due to the seductive power of conspiracy theories.

"The 'Left Behind' series is working very neatly with deep cultural fears about organized conspiracy," Frankfurter says. "[In 'The Matrix'], you have the ultimate conspiracy. We are all battery cells that are imaging our lives. And it also just plugs in to the ultimate conspiracy fear: the fear of technology."

Matrix Glossary

Birth: When he is "unplugged" from the Matrix, Neo resembles a newborn. Once his "umbilical cords" are removed, we see that he is hairless, confused, and covered in a type of amniotic fluid. He falls down a long tube and into a pool of water. After this presumed baptism, he is carried up, with his limp body making a cross silhouette. Neo had to be "born again" before he could begin his mission.

Buddhism: The chief problem faced by humanity, according to Buddhist thought, is not sin or evil: it's ignorance of the true reality. The lack of an explicit divine being and references to "focus," "path," and "free your mind" also smack of Buddhist influence. Matrix rebels download truth and reprogram their minds to achieve salvation.

Cypher: The name of this traitor who excels at Matrix code means, according to Webster's Dictionary: Zero...a person or thing of no importance or identity...a system of secret writing based on a key. His character has many parallels to Judas. At one point he exclaims, "Whoa, Neo. You scared the bejeezus out of me."

Evil: Agent Smith tells Morpheus that the original Matrix world was "designed to be a perfect human world." No one accepted the program, he explains, because "human beings define their reality through misery and suffering." By drawing on parts of Genesis and comparing humans to a virus, Smith establishes evil as a natural, intrinsic state of human nature.

God: God does make a cameo in The Matrix only as an expletive from Trinity. Yet the word "miracle" is used in clear cases to signify the need - and reality - of divine intervention. But there's no implied sense of a covenant between God and man.

Jesus Christ: The name Jesus is often used in association with Neo, most explicitly when Choi, a drug user, thanks Neo for providing him with illicit software. "Hallelujah. You're my savior, man. My own personal Jesus Christ."

Matrix: Literally, a computer program used to imprison mankind. According to Webster's, "matrix" means: 1) orig., the womb; uterus 2) that within which, or within and from which, something originates, takes form, or develops. At its heart, The Matrix is a story about birth and creation.

Morpheus: Neo's mentor. Some observers identity him with John the Baptist, since both men were appointed to prepare the way for a messiah. In Greek mythology, Morpheus, the son of Hypnos, was the god of dreams.

Music: The final song, played by Rage Against The Machine, is "Wake Up."

Neo: The messiah. This is Thomas Anderson's virtual name. Literally meaning "new," Neo is also referred to as the "One," which is an anagram for Neo.

Nebuchadnezzar: Morpheus's ship. This figure referenced in the Book of Daniel was the powerful king of ancient Babylon who suffered from troubling dreams. The name literally means "Nebo, protect the crown."

Numerology: Neo's apartment number is 101, suggesting that he's "the one." Neo is shot in apartment number 303, and after 72 seconds (72 hours = 3 days), he rises again.

Phone calls: In keeping with prophetic tradition, Neo is "called" to his task, not by a burning bush, but a FedEx employee. Their brief exchange - "Thomas Anderson?" | "Yeah, that's me." - mirrors Bible language constructions used to signify special identity.

Postmodernism: Neo hides his illicit software within a chapter titled "On Nihilism" within a volume called "Simulacra and Simulation," by Jean Baudrillard. This seminal work of postmodernism advances the idea of a copy without an original. The Wachowski brothers assigned Keanu Reeves to read this book before filming began.

Thomas Anderson: The Apostle Thomas was also called Didymus, which in Greek means "twin" or "double." Anderson means "son of man," one of the titles Jesus uses for himself. The twin names suggest his dual nature. As "Mr. Anderson," he is vulnerable to the powers of the evil agents. As "Neo," he has dominion over them.

Trinity: Her kiss restores Neo from death. The doctrine of the three modes of God is central to Christian orthodoxy, yet the word "trinity" never actually appears in the Bible. Neo deepens the mystery of who Trinity is when he says to her, "I just thought, um...you were a guy."

Logos: The altered studio logo at the opening of the film may be highly significant. The Matrix-coded WB letters could simply be the Wachowski brothers thumbing their nose at the Warner Bros. But by altering the logo - from the Greek term "logos," for word - the film's opening does two things. First, it corrupts the Gospel of John, which begins with "In the beginning was the Word...". Second, it asserts that metaphysical meaning can be gleaned by mining deep into words, or code.

Zion: The last human city. In the Old Testament, Zion refers to the royal capital of David. Matrix agents desire the codes to Zion above all else.
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Old 06-01-2003, 09:48 PM   #2
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It's mostly a postmodern film, being both hypermodernist (the "Metropolis"-like design of Zion) and "classically" sentimental. The religious aspect of the film represents "classic" sentimentality, and there are many other examples of that with the Oracle (an allusion to ancient Greek mythology) and the Merovingian (a pre-French royal dynasty of A.D. 400-600). The Christianity of the Matrix, in my opinion, is as much as anything in this film: an illusion. With the Oracle and the Merovingian being merely programs within the Matrix and the Prophesy being merely a deception device by the Architect, it all goes down to the crux of postmodernism: "there is no Truth." "There is no spoon."

Philosophically, it's a very interesting set of films. I'm looking forward to the third, but I can do without the rave sex scenes.

Melon
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Old 06-01-2003, 09:50 PM   #3
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Originally posted by melon

Philosophically, it's a very interesting set of films. I'm looking forward to the third, but I can do without the rave sex scenes.

Melon
I thought it was a little too long in that department myself.

Do you find the Christian theme to be more "Gnostic" in line with the Gospel of Thomas?

Matt
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Old 06-01-2003, 10:10 PM   #4
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It could be gnostic, although I think it to be more humanist. Modernism and humanism seem to be opposites in the world of philosophy, and, while originally developed as a secular alternative to the ritualistic tendencies of religion, humanism has become the bulwark of religion (in theory, at least). The religious tendencies, to me, arise from the fact that the whole plot of the trilogy revolves around destroying the Matrix, which is, essentially, the personification of modernism (anti-humanism / Nietzsche). I do not know if it is overtly gnostic or if it is gnostic merely because it borrowed from philosophies that have gnostic themes to them.

Anyhow, I hope this makes sense. It makes sense in my head right now...lol.

Melon
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Old 06-01-2003, 10:21 PM   #5
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The religious tendencies, to me, arise from the fact that the whole plot of the trilogy revolves around destroying the Matrix, which is, essentially, the personification of modernism (anti-humanism / Nietzsche).
I do not know about this. TO me it is in line with Christ coming to proclaim the Kingdom of God. The world that is more important. What should one do to enter into the Kingdom? Give up the wordly things. The Matrix is the world we live in while the real world is the Kingdom of God.

Am I making sense?

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Old 06-01-2003, 10:37 PM   #6
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I see the religious imagery, but I don't see it as a particularly religious film. To summarize what I think, I think it is a philosophical clash between humanism and (post)modernism and is a fairly common theme in films that has stretched as far back as Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" (1926). In fact, if I had to say it, the Matrix trilogy is really a present-day retelling of that classic film, with the conflict changing between the Workers and the Thinkers (elite) to Humanity and the Matrix. The role of technology in both is still the same: a device to oppress the subordinate class (Workers / Humanity). Where the switch from modernism to postmodernism is most evident is in the changing nature of the "Thinkers," from white-collar businessmen in "Metropolis" to a non-specific technological entity in "Matrix."

Needless to say, this film is purposely done ambiguously, and "ambiguity" is also a quality of postmodernism in general. I would venture to say that there is no "correct" interpretation of this film. Of course, the directors could easily change that, but no good artists usually reveal their meaning.

Anyhow, this is a particularly fascinating topic for me, so thanks for bringing it up.

Melon
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Old 06-01-2003, 10:41 PM   #7
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Anyhow, this is a particularly fascinating topic for me, so thanks for bringing it up.

Melon

No thank you, I attempted to speak with my bride about this tonight, and I scared her off the couch and to bed.

I think there are many themes throughout the movie, and it is definitely not religious by itself. There are many ways to look at it.

Matt
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Old 06-02-2003, 12:24 AM   #8
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More on Religious Overtones from a Web Blog on Matrix Essays:

Names: Merovingian
The word Merovingian is taken from the name of a blood line of kings who ruled what is present-day France in the 5th to 8th century. In The Matrix: Reloaded the Merovingian says that French is his favorite language (especially for cursing) and the character speaks with what sounds like a French accent.

According to the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail (which is something of a conspiracy-theory classic), the Merovingians are the descendants of Jesus -- who did not die on the cross, but lived to have children. The book claims that Merovingians are still alive today, with secret societies working to restore them to political power. The book connects them with other conspiracy theories involving Rennes-Le-Chateau, which are much too complicated to present here. Clearly, this is highly speculative stuff and I pass it on as a point of interest, not as fact.

One other interesting coincidence of names connects well with the Matrix movies. According to conspiracy theorists, the mysterious secret society that is supposedly working behind the scenes on behalf of the Merovingians is known as the Priory of Zion.
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Old 06-02-2003, 12:35 AM   #9
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Priory Of Zion

The more I read the more I can't stop trying to make connections. However this stuff is freaky, the Merovingian's are still alive and well according to some things I have read.http://watch.pair.com/priory.html
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Old 06-02-2003, 06:42 AM   #10
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LOL...the Merovingian has a French accent, because the actor, Lambert Wilson, is a well-known French actor.

And conspiracy theories have grown tired, IMO. If Jesus could die, then why would His descendants be any more special? I always love how these degenerate into anti-Catholic / anti-Semitic theories as well. As for the "Merovingian bloodline," any royal will probably have "some" blood, as the royal families of Europe had a habit of interbreeding very tightly. Pick a royal and you've got a conspiracy theory!

Interesting folklore, though, that I'm sure influenced the movie.

Melon
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Old 06-02-2003, 06:45 AM   #11
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There is a whole thing tht I did not post on the Castle from the movie and the Holy Grail. I may post it later. Would like to hear others input.

Peace!

Matt
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Old 06-02-2003, 11:53 AM   #12
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Interesting! I dont have much to add, I've always enjoyed this movie for the philosophy ideas and I wish I wrote it, or at least had the idea first lol.
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Old 06-02-2003, 08:09 PM   #13
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The Matrix - A Cyberpunk Parable?

IV. THE MATRIX AS MESSIAH MOVIE
(Neo allegorized as Messiah figure)

C. Allegory of Neo as a Christ Figure

Part 3: The death, resurrection, victory, and ascension of Christ

This is quite a stretch, but after Trinity brings Neo dinner and goes outside with Cypher, there is a pattern of a cross on Neo's door, which can foreshadow what is about to happen to Neo.

Like Jesus becoming a human being and entering the world, Neo 'incarnates' into the Matrix world to save Morpheus and humanity.

Like Jesus giving himself on the cross as a substitute for our sins, Neo 'substitutes' his own life for that of Morpheus. Morpheus escapes judgment by a 'leap of faith' and 'receiving' Neo's hand, just as it takes faith to receive Christ. "To as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God..." (John 1:12). Neo escorts Morpheus to safety (escape in the phone booth), while Neo remains behind to die instead of Morpheus.

Neo remains alone in the Matrix subway; not even Morpheus (who is like a 'Father') or 'Trinity' are there to help. Facing the Agents alone, Neo dies, defeats the Agents, and then comes back to the Nebuchadnezzar. In the same way, Christ had to face his death alone - the disciples scattered in fear, and Jesus even cried out to the Father, "Why have You forsaken Me?" as God placed the sin of the world upon His sacrificed Son.

Agent Smith strikes Neo, who falls and spits blood, just as Jesus was struck on the mouth during the beatings before the cross. Trinity says, "Jesus - they're killing him," as either a prayer or use of the Lord's name in vain - but it has double meaning for the allegory. In other words, "They're killing Jesus."

Neo dies as Agent Smith shoots him. If we consider that the man created the Artificial Intelligence, then man effectively killed Neo, just as our sins demanded Christ's death. (For technical purposes: even though Satan unwittingly played a role in God's redemption plan by possessing Judas and also stirring up the crowds to crucify Jesus, it was truly God who chose to 'crush' his own Son for our sins on the cross; see Isaiah 53:10)

Neo resurrects from the dead, just as Christ did. (Some of you clever mathematicians out there might stopwatch how long Neo was dead and figure some way to equate it to 3 days. Perhaps 72 seconds = 72 hours = 3 days?)

The Oracle had said that Neo was maybe waiting on his "next life" as a form of hinted prophecy. The Word of God also predicted the resurrection of the Messiah, which Christ fulfilled.

'Trinity' arguably is the one that brought Neo back from death by her love. In parallel, God the Father, who is love (John 4:8a) raised Christ from the dead (Galatians 1:1).

In a different aspect, a woman (Trinity) was the first one present at Neo's resurrection, just as it was a woman who first saw Christ raised (Mary Magdalene in John 20:14 and 18).

Earlier in the film, Morpheus describes the Agents as the ones "guarding all the doors, holding all the keys." After Neo revived in the Matrix, he could see and understand the Matrix code all around him. He 'had the key' to the Matrix that kept humanity in a deathlike state. Neo also entered Agent Smith and defeated him, just as Jesus defeated Satan. The risen Christ now holds the keys of death and Hades (Revelation 1:18) because of his crucifixion, "that through death He [Christ] might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is the devil." (Hebrews 2:14). And as for Agents "guarding all the doors", Jesus said, "I am the door, if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved." (John 10:9).

When Neo destroys Agent Smith, he stands as a brilliant, shining figure of light. In the same way, Jesus said, "I am the Light of the world," (John 9:5). And, "The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overpower it" (John 1:4), just as shining Neo overpowered evil Agent Smith.

Neo displays total power over both the Matrix environment and the Agents. Jesus now wields unlimited power. "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Me," said the risen Christ in Matthew 28:18.

Neo speaks into a phone at the end of the movie, apparently telling the enemy machines that "I'm going to show them a world without you, a world without rules..." Christ will give his believers an eternal paradise, free from sin and the rules of the fallen world. Christ sets the believer free from the law of sin and death, and writes God's ways upon his heart. In heaven the believer will not need rules against sin, as he will have been perfected forever by God.

Neo's speech into the phone has aspects of Jesus Christ's last earthly speech that tradition calls the "Great Commission." Neo says he is going to free the people of the Matrix, representing every nation of the world (note that the green code of the Matrix has characters from many languages). Just before His ascent into heaven, Jesus commissioned his followers to go make disciples of all nations.

Neo victoriously ascends into the sky at the end of the film. After Jesus Christ's ministry on earth was complete, He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9).

The name "Neo" is an anagram, meaning the letters can be rearranged to make different words. There are three different anagrams possible - a 'trinity' of meanings! 'NEO', 'ONE', and 'EON'.

"NEO" means 'new', just as Christ says "Behold, I am making all things new" (Revelation 21:5) and makes a lost person a "new creation" when he trusts Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

"ONE" can refer to Jesus as the promised One, the Messiah - just as Neo was "the One".

"EON" can be defined as "an indefinitely long period of time," i.e., eternity. Christ is eternal!http://awesomehouse.com/matrix/christ2.html
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Old 06-02-2003, 08:46 PM   #14
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I have nothing to add to this discussion except;

I thought people celebrating and dancing at what resembled a religious gathering was interesting.

It made me wonder why most religions always consider sensuality sinful. Why is being alive and happy in your body sinful? Is this not the way God created us? I think guilt is a powerful control tool, that is used to manipulate people.
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Old 06-02-2003, 09:54 PM   #15
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I have nothing to add to this discussion except;

I thought people celebrating and dancing at what resembled a religious gathering was interesting.

It made me wonder why most religions always consider sensuality sinful. Why is being alive and happy in your body sinful? Is this not the way God created us? I think guilt is a powerful control tool, that is used to manipulate people.
It is interesting because there are many gnostic themes present throughout the movie. The most gnostic character is Agent Smith.

However, your point above, is definitely anti-gnostic. Gnostics, according to what I read, in the early Christian Church believed that their tue spirits were trapped within the humanly body. The human wants and desires were preventing the true inner self from becoming free. They believed that Christ came to teach them the way to escape from their humanity. The early gnostics rejected the premise that Christ came as a man to pay for our sins. They believed that he was completely divine and not an ounce of him was human.

Interestingly enough, now it appears that NEO in the movie, may not have ever been human. Adding to the speculation that quite possibly there is yet another link to the Gnostics and this movie.

PS. I also found a site that claims that there were some sects of Gnostics that were very sexual in nature. I find this to be difficult to believe since, it is very opposite of what they believed about giving in to human desires ect.

If someone can add more to this, it would be great.

Matt
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