Take the Red Pill! Rainn Wilson & The Matrix II

This is the second part of my recollection of actor Rainn Wilson’s talk at the recent Association for Baha’i Studies conference in Irvine, California. Part One is here.

Rainn Wilson related, with wonder and amusement, how excited many people became in  connecting the “man was embryonic in the world of the matrix” quote of ‘Abdu’l-Baha to the  mind-blowing Matrix trilogy. He said that there were groups of people who embrace “Matrixism” as religion, and regard ‘Abdu’l-Baha as its early prophetic voice, and as its link to the entire history of revealed religion. This was news to me, but I found them in a most curious and bemusing on-line presence. One of their four basic tenets is the use of hallucinogenics as a sacrament; another is “adherence to the principles of one or more of the world’s religions until such time as the One [Neo doesn’t count] returns”. This tiny group does elaborate a few more funky laws, my favourite of which is that “all forms of professional athletic competition have now been abrogated”. (The revenge of the picked-on against the surly jocks!) That’s funny stuff, I guess, unless it’s pathetic. However, it points out again, if we needed more evidence, how hungry human beings are for a sense of meaning in life.

Wilson showed another clip from Matrix the first. Neo faces off with the baddies who are trying to prevent him from penetrating and exposing the mass hallucination that intelligent machines have created. Their programming illusion is intended to convince the humans that life is as it always was – meanwhile, their actual bodies are imprisoned in pods and used as robot fuel. This is where many of the oh cool! effects of the movie are featured. Neo bends

“Bullets, be still and know that I am Neo!” Who hasn’t done this?

space and time. A hail of bullets slows at his silent command and clatters to the floor. He leans at impossible angles, and leaps with impossible speed. He artfully decomposes a bad dude by flying right into his holographic gut and exploding him from the inside. (Nice!) Neo has wondrous powers in the supercomputer-generated matrix because he understands that it is only a projection, an unreal construction. (Well, and because he is The Chosen One, which obviously helps.) By knowing the reality of life in that world, he becomes the master of it. 

From Neo’s insight, it is a straight line to the words of the mystics. Teilhard de Chardin wrote that we are “spiritual beings having a physical experience”, and not the other way around. The Buddha famously argued, “The mind is everything. What you think you become.” Rainn Wilson drew arrows from a contemporary movie, one that made hundreds of millions of dollars and made Keanu Reeves an icon and an astoundingly well-paid actor for a while, directly to this timeless statement of spiritual detachment made by Baha’u’llah:

Not this one, the one below. This is lovely, too.

“The world is but a show, vain and empty, a mere nothing, bearing the semblance of reality. Set not your affections upon it….Verily I say, the world is like the vapor in a desert, which the thirsty dreameth to be water and striveth after it with all his might, until when he cometh unto it, he findeth it to be mere illusion. It may, moreover, be likened unto the lifeless image of the beloved whom the lover hath sought and found, in the end, after long search and to his utmost regret, to be such as cannot ‘fatten nor appease his hunger’.”

Just as Neo sees through the façade of the Matrix, Wilson urged us to recognize that there is much more to life than getting and spending, eating and drinking, coming and going, all the conventional and mainly mindless pursuits of the material life. There is spirit, and it is the essence of human life. There are morality and courage and wit and principle, and he sees the worldwide Baha’i community as a modern renewal of the guidance we need in a confusing world. (After all, Neo still needed a Morpheus.)

Wilson likes this analogy: we’re backing a big U-Haul truck up a curving driveway on to a busy street, and our buddy in the rear-view mirror advises us to stop or go or adjust our direction. He can see low-hanging wires or racing children. He can see the shape and size of our vehicle and how and when it can safely enter the street. He sees what we cannot, and we need to be able to trust his directions. For a Soul(Pancake) Man like Rainn Wilson, the Baha’i teachings help us to make our blind and backward and clumsy way into the wide world.

Still, we need to choose, and moral, principled choices aren’t easy to make. (It couldn’t have been easy for Neo, though choosing the blue pill would have pretty much ruined the movie.) Wilson’s conclusion was a call to courage. “Take the red pill!” he urged. “Be a hero!” We may not be able to dive inside the guts of an evil dude and blow him to Agent Smithereens, but when we search for truth and do our best to act on it, we get to be moral heroes in Rainn Wilson’s book.*

*NOTE: this hyperlink is to a commercial website that sells an actual book by Mr. Wilson, a paper version of SoulPancake. I’m not here to stump for Amazon or to sell books for RW; he doesn’t need me. Maybe you can pick it up used or browse in somebody cool’s bathroom. However, but the link does have some useful info and feedback. He also has a new memoir coming out (a non-commercial link).

Comment (1)

  1. Barry Jenkins

    I’ve always been a fan of the connection between The Matrix and a number of Baha’i writings. My favourite is the “prison of self” quote of Abdu’l Baha’s that refers to the nine invisible enemies — anger, passion, ignorance, prejudice, greed, envy, covetousness, jealousy and suspicion — which we can only escape through the power of the breaths of the Holy Spirit. I am constantly inspired by this very buoyant idea.

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