I had a fleeting desire to see the newish movie Watchmen, until I heard that it was yet another in the genre of “let’s peel off the facade of the world and get down to the truthiest truth underneath, which is, of course, stench and corruption.”
This must be an awfully old theme. Older even than The Matrix, I imagine. In that movie, the hero is invited to take a blue pill if he wants to persist in the pleasant and elaborate illusion that is human life — or a red pill if he wants to wipe it away forever. If he chooses the latter, he will be doomed to live henceforth in a brutal and dangerous reality — but it’s the right thing to do, because it’s the Truth, you see.
In any age that prides itself (justly or not) on intellectual rigor and sophistication, this must be one of the chief temptations: to imagine that freshness and innocence are always the illusion, and corruption is always the reality, the core. (This theme is brilliantly dissected in John C. Wright’s journal here.)
But it’s a temptation. Not one perspective on life, not a valid point of view, not an interesting theme to explore. A temptation, also known as a lie.
It took me many years to realize that I believed this myth, emotionally if not intellectually, and had done so since I was little. I am sure that many young people do. Happily, in my late 20s, I gradually got an easy reprieve: God saw fit to shower me with so many hints and breaths of eternal happiness that only a willful, intentional twisting away from the light would confuse me for long.
But (O Lord, thou pluckest me) I came out. The darkness was answered with a spell of otherworldly happiness. The world was shining all the time. Angels leaped and rejoiced from every surface, basking and frolicking like otters in the glory of God-in-the-world. You will have to take my word for it, if this has never happened to you. I’d never seen anything like it, before or since. It lasted about three weeks.
So after my hour was over, I was headed home, hauling the car around the roundabout, idly watching out for clueless pedestrians. Tired snowbanks, blackened with exhaust, leaned into the road, and no birds sang. “Echhh,” I thought. “Well, that was very nice for an hour . . . but now back to the real world.”
Then I thought, “Just a damn minute.” (At this point I think I actually put one finger up into the air like a stern lecturer.)
Now, driving home and feeling better that particular afternoon is one thing. But repudiating this stupid idea every day in every way — rejecting utterly, without reservation, the temptation of the Matrix sensibility — is a matter of life and death.
Why? Because we are still waiting for the truth to take up arms and vanquish the enemy once and for all. Yes, we know and believe that it will happen at the Second Coming — that then there will be no temptation, no mistake. Whichever pill we take, Christ the Warrior will be standing in front of us: good, beautiful, victorious, and unmistakably true.
But right now?
The one thing we can do about it is to remember that this weakness, this darkness, this tired, dried up, worn out world — this is the illusion. This is the temporary state; this is the crust. Underneath it all is not darkness, heat, and stench.