Red or Blue Pill? A Challenge for Church Lifers
by Danny Bell
by Danny Bell, October 9, 2014
This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes. – Morpheus.
In 1999 the cult film The Matrix1 was featured in cinemas across the world, portraying what could be an alternate reality of life as we know it. The plot deals with humanity’s being taken over by artificial intelligence that destroyed the real world and created a false simulation existing in the minds of those who were enslaved to the Matrix.2 Those who are controlled believe everything they see, do, touch and feel is real. One human city exists, however, deep underground. It is called Zion, and those who are freed from the Matrix reside in it.
Neo, the main character in the movie, is offered the choice between a red pill or blue pill. The blue pill would allow him to remain in the fabricated reality of the Matrix, living the illusion, while the red pill would lead to his escape into the real world and the truth about everything. The movie seeks to show that the pills represent choices we make between embracing painful truth or remaining in blissful ignorance.
Using the Matrix as a metaphor, I see uncanny parallels with western church culture and its relevance to Lifers3 – those who have grown up within the safety and comfort of its walls with unquestioning loyalty. The Matrix and other alternate reality films such as Pleasantville4 always follow a similar line, where people are living in a bubble but when change is brought to bear, it’s not without trauma. Lifers can have a resemblance to those who would choose the blue pill. They are born into matrix-like structures and usually express grave fears about upsetting the delicate balance already in place. Typically, they rise up and protest against new ideas that threaten their security, and these passive “nice” people can suddenly change and turn rabid on their opponents, as cracks appear in their normally benign personalities.
In the Matrix, the answer lies in taking the red pill – an antidote to become free from the system and fear of the real world. Blue pill poppers (lifers) don’t understand such freedom because they have a limited capacity to think outside their environment or empathize with anyone not of their persuasion. The red pill is painful to swallow and cuts across ambitions, career, status…..dealing coldly and frankly with anyone who takes it. It makes sense to lifers to oppose whatever threatens the environment where they are catered for in tastes, social needs and religious styles. The red pill frightens them and represents a big risk, but it is the “pearl of great price” that requires giving up everything to obtain an authentic life.
Red pill poppers, on the other hand, are a different breed and are often seen as rebellious within church communities. Many have had time outside the church in that wicked, wicked place called “the world,” and because of their experience don’t conform easily.5 They can smell freedom and know what it feels like to be totally unfettered from rules, even God’s rules. There is a distinct difference in how red pill poppers and lifers do their Christianity.
In the Matrix, though, it is not the rebellious who are of concern, but the placenta-loving hordes that have enslaved themselves to what keeps them warm and cozy in a lullaby on continuous playback. In their world of order and conformity, they are passive partakers of whatever the system feeds them, and like mindless soldier ants, they attack whatever agitates the colony to repel it.
In the history of the church, many red pill poppers have been change agents, suffering within matrix-like systems, battling danger, scorn and even death. They would argue that living in, at times, a painful reality is better than playing along in a false world of peace that delivers only temporary comfort and gratification. Their lives are not ruled by a how to win friends and influence people6 approach, but a “thus saith the Lord,” which usually means going against popular church culture.
There are many examples in scripture that describe a matrix culture. Jesus often argued with the church elite in his day over tradition vs real worship. One time, blue pill leaders questioned Jesus why the disciples were doing things differently and not washing their hands like the other conformists. Jesus’ reply was swift and cutting:
Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions – Mark 7:6-8(NIV).
Jesus nailed it in that last sentence. They were plugged into their own concocted world and failed to see the big picture. The blue pill poppers, the lifers, had become too familiar and dependent on the system of rules and teachings for their own selfish emotional fulfilment. They had worshipped the church, its buildings and its benefits instead of the One who gave them those things. They worshipped the gift and not the Giver.
Over and over Jesus tried to free religious people from this form of idolatry that enslaved and blinded people to reality and duty. In his parables he labored to bring out that – if they were not careful – the stranger, the centurion, the Samaritan, prodigal son, foreigner or even the slave….the red pill poppers (dare I say it), would go into the kingdom ahead of them. In most of the parables and the encounters Jesus had with those outside “the system,” he found greater faith, appreciation and more wisdom than among those on whom he had bestowed all of his blessings.
If you are a blue pill popper, and church life has become your god, where you regularly avoid the discomfort of plain duty, choosing to hide behind a facade of religion, then reality will bite harder in the end than if you took the red pill and were done with it. If we throw off our fears and risk all in an effort to be real and authentic with ourselves and God, we will experience a great roar of freedom in our hearts, and then, unplugged from the Matrix, join the rebellion in Zion.
1https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mx-9QRDwzLw – but note, this is not available in the United States
2The Matrix was an incubating machine that the artificial intelligence created where all humans were plugged into unconscious, living perfect lives in their minds.
3 Lifers are generally those who have never left the church system. They have never rebelled or had time in the world but from cradle to grave have always been immersed and dedicated to the system that has raised them.
5There are some who come from being non-Christians that do morph into lifers in an incredibly spectacular way for reasons unexplained. These usually have so immersed themselves in church culture that it is hard to tell them from genuine lifers after conversion.