Morpheus, a man with circular mirrored glasses, approaches Neo Anderson, a young man who feels something is wrong with the world.
“You are a slave, Neo,” the man continues. “You, like everyone else, were born into bondage — kept inside a prison that you cannot smell, taste or touch. A prison for your mind.”
Morpheus holds two pills in his hands — one blue, one red.
“This is your last chance; after this, there is no going back,” he says. “You take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake in your bed and you believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.” Neo takes the red pill.
Sounds familiar? It is a memorable scene of the hit movie The Matrix.
Morpheus’ offer visualizes what our culture often offers. The blue pill stands for materialistic relativism — believing there is no truth nor right and wrong, or, as Morpheus put it, “You believe whatever you want to believe.”
Consequently, “You wake in bed” — you enjoy yourself in comfort, money, hedonistic pleasures, social success. We often see the blue pill available over the counter in books, colleges, courts, institutions, the media.
The red pill stands for Gnosticism — believing reality is ultimately divine and can be manipulated by whoever has “secret knowledge.” This is “Wonderland,” and it, too, can now be bought over the counter like the blue pill.
Thank God there is a third option Morpheus didn't take into account — something neither blue nor red but transparent: Call it water. Water stands for our Christian faith. Christ, the water of life (see John 7:37-39), came to bring us the “living water” of “eternal life” (see John 4:7-13) through the water of baptism.
The blue and red pills counter the effects of water in different ways. Materialistic relativism tries to destroy all objective truths and values. Gnosticism, instead, proposes alternative truths and values. Moreover, it interprets Christianity as esoteric knowledge, not to destroy it but to distort it.
Neo, Vader and Voldemort
First, where is Gnosticism in today's culture? You might bump into it in successful films and novels, such as Harry Potter, Star Wars and The Matrix, or face it in “religious” and “philosophical” movements, such as the New Age, the Raelian cult and Freemasonry.
Note the difference between the three media products and the three movements: The movies and the books do not instill a credo you must believe in if you want to watch, read and enjoy them. In fact, they are commendable in many ways — they provide us with elevated entertainment, valuable lessons and admirable heroes.
The movements, instead, are credos one must embrace in order to be an authentic New Ager, Raelian or Mason. As Catholics, we might be inspired by the noble ideals of these movements but not by their philosophy. Their philosophy is “Wonderland.” And “Wonderland” is not “Christianland.”
What is the Gnostic “Wonderland”?
The story of The Matrix shows it.
Morpheus reveals to Neo that human beings are trapped in a false “reality.” Why? Some time ago men created the Matrix, an artificially intelligent entity. Needing man's energy to survive, the Matrix became a computer-generated dreamworld — the world we think we live in — to enslave men in a huge lab and suck their energy with the help of “agents.”
However, a man succeeded in freeing the first human beings and teaching them the truth before he died.
The Oracle (a prophet) predicted this man will return to liberate all people and bring them to Zion, the last human city. Thus, a few freed men and women free others, looking for this man. Morpheus believes Neo to be the One and tries to free his mind so Neo can operate as the savior he is.
Here is the story's translation into the Gnostic worldview:
Two supreme powers or gods fight one another for supremacy. One is the pleroma (“fullness” in Greek) — the good unknowable godhead, from whom many spiritual entities called aeons emanated. The other is an evil, deformed god, called the demiurge (“craftsman”) that fashioned the flawed universe, along with archons, or demons.
Reality is dualistic. Everything is spiritual, particularly — but not solely — man's spirit. This is man's own true self, and it is good, for it is a portion of the pleroma's divine essence. Everything material, like man's body, is foul and evil, because it was produced by the demiurge and his demons to keep man's spirit a slave in the material prison of creation. Thus, every human being, knowingly or unknowingly, serves this false god and lives ignorant of his divine condition. His fate is reincarnation.
How does one free oneself from matter and join the divine pleroma? Through secret, esoteric knowledge called gnosis — the visionary or mystical awareness of one's own divinity. One becomes a Gnostic by following spiritual guides or masters, historical figures of the “Christ,” such as Jesus of Nazareth, Buddha, Moses, Mohammed and Rael.
Review the story of The Matrix and our introductory scene and you will understand the philosophy.
Zion and mankind stand for the pleroma. The Matrix and its “agents” are the demiurge and his archons, who created the illusory world to enslave man and hinder him from realizing their spiritual powers. Morpheus and his crew are the Gnostic. Morpheus is also Neo's guide. Neo will become the ultimate “Christ,” the One who will offer redeeming gnosis to the rest of the mortals.
Consider the Star Wars series. “The force” is the good godhead opposed by “the dark side of the force,” which the emperor (the demiurge) and his siths (the archons) employ to enslave all peoples. Only the Jedis (the Gnostic) are capable of transcending the physical laws of nature and join “the force” to use it for the salvation of all. Each Jedi acquires gnosis with the help of a master. Yoda, for instance, trained Ben Kenobi, and Ben Kenobi trained Anakin and Luke Skywalker. In the last scene of The Return of the Jedi, you see Yoda, Ben Kenobi and Anakin “saved” — “energized” with “the force.”
Harry Potter follows a similar pattern. It portrays the clash between the “white” magic (the pleroma) practiced by the witches and wizards (the Gnostic) and the dark arts exploited by the Dark Lord Voldemort (the demiurge) and his followers in the Slytherin House (the demons). Every professor at Hogwarts is, of course, a master, with Albus Dumbledore as the school headmaster. The nonGnostic are called the Muggles, ignorant human beings who, like the Dursley family, are subject to the laws of the material world.
We expect Harry Potter to finally become the “Christ,” the savior. Note the boy never becomes a wizard and never acquires magic powers. He only becomes aware, through training, that he is a wizard and has these powers from birth. That's gnosis.
Most people who enjoy these three popular sagas might be inspired by their positive values but do not take their Gnostic wonderland seriously. But to leave fiction and enter the New Age movement, the Raelian religion or Freemasonry requires a “conversion” of the initiated. To join, you must swallow the red pill.
The pleroma is the Mason's inaccessible great architect and his divinities, the New Agers’ impersonal “energy” or the Raelians’ community of wise extraterrestrial scientists called Elohim who created all life on earth 25,000 years ago. The three groups identify the demiurge with all “dogmatic” churches and religions but especially with the Catholic Church — with her archons (the Church leaders and particularly the Pope) she traps men in the false “reality” of Christian revelation, hindering them from the self-consciousness of their own divinity.
The Gnostic are the Masons, the New Agers, the Raelians. Many historical figures have incarnated the “Christ,” known as Maitreya in Masonic and New Age circles and as Rael (“the messenger”) among Raelians.
Water or the Red Pill?
On the surface Gnostic wonderlands might look Christian — they promote religiosity, spiritual values, concern for others, respect for nature, the sense of mission, rejection of materialistic relativism. How can we discern if a movie, a novel, a movement or an organization is rooted in a Gnostic or in a Christian worldview?
We need to examine its underlying concept of God, man and the world. First, God: Is God the only supreme good power or there is another evil force of the same rank? Is God somebody with whom we have a personal relationship of love or something like a force to be used? Is Jesus of Nazareth the only savior or are there many “Christs”?
Second, check the notion of man: Is he a loved creature or a portion of divinity to be freed? Is man a unity of body and soul or just a spirit imprisoned in a body? Does man's salvation come from a gratuitous gift of God (grace) or from “secret knowledge” acquired by training (gnosis)?
Third, think of the world: Is creation good and real or evil and illusory — a sort of prison?
The answers unveil the pervading philosophy. A fictional story, of course, does not need to present the Christian truths. The question is whether or not there is room for a Christian worldview in the story.
Mark this substantial difference: A red pill is a man-made drug that may fail to cure; water, instead, is a God-made basic element for life. Gnosticism is a man-made self-centered philosophy — a “monologue” in which man divinizes himself and fails in the attempt. The Christian revelation is a God-made gift — “dialogue” of love that God establishes with man for eternal life.
The Christian revelation is Christ. To definitively discern what is Christian from what is not use what I call “St. John's criterion": “By this you know the spirit of God: Every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it was coming, and now it is in the world” (2 John 4:2-3).
At the beginning of the third millennium three worldviews compete to conquer the minds and hearts of peoples and cultures, the world's soul: materialistic relativism, Gnosticism and Christianity. The blue pill is easy to recognize. But the red pill is often dissolved in apparent water.
The New Evangelization demands a clear-cut separation between Gnosticism and Christianity if we want to bring every thirsty person to the Water of Life.
Legionary Father Alfonso Aguilar teaches philosophy in Thornwood, New York, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.