What’s At Stake

Michael Metzger

In The Matrix, Morpheus asks Neo: What is real? When we go further up and further in, we see what’s “real” is the central issue in our post-Christian world.

The Matrix is a film about how the Enlightenment blinds us. It blinds because the Enlightenment biases the brain’s left hemisphere, and the left is blind to its shortcomings. The result is that most of us, including Christians, are blind to what’s at stake in our post-Christian world.

C. S. Lewis wasn’t. In his essay, “Religion: Reality or Substitute,” Lewis noted how, for ages, people judged what is “real” based on instinct (or gut feeling) as well as authority, reason, and experience. The order mattered.

For centuries, the Christian faith was considered a reliable authority on reality. As such, it called people to faith, entrusting our lives to reliable guides, authorities on reality. Our reasoning powers followed, but everyone recognized reason has limits. We can’t reason our way to reality. We needed guides who help interpret our experiences.

The Enlightenment gutted our need for a guide. Descartes felt we are 100 percent conscious of our thoughts. I don’t need a guide. I know what’s real. My reasoning powers are unbiased. So I don’t need a crap detector. I can correctly interpret what’s real. Not religion. Christianity became a substitute for reality. By substitute, Lewis meant inferior, or not real.

Dallas Willard recognized this. When the faith is no longer viewed as a resource for knowing what’s real, it’s reduced to merely offering a set of beliefs. But our beliefs are viewed by the wider world as having no meaningful connection to reality.[1] We’re left talking to ourselves.

I felt this as a pastor. I could give the opening prayer in the Senate. But then I was politely asked to leave as legislators got down to business. Religion wasn’t in the Reality business.

Now we see the Enlightenment being undermined by neuroscience. It turns out we’re not conscious of most of our thoughts. We’re predictably irrational. We incorrectly interpret many of our experiences. The Enlightenment is now out of the Reality business. And so is our faith.

This explains the rise of religious Nones. They’re “spiritual” but check “none of the above” when it comes to religion. Why? Religion is not in the Reality business. Nones are the fastest-growing percentage of the US population. I have a hunch some are looking for what’s real.

There are Christians who recognize all this. I often serve as their guide. They’re protégés. Pat is one. He works for an international sportswear company. Pat knows his work is based on scripture. But he also knows he can’t ask the company to follow the Bible. That’d be nuts.

Matt and Garrett are two more protégés. They tell me they can “catch the bullets.” Remember The Matrix? At the end, Neo sees the bullets aren’t real. They’re zeroes and ones. Harmless. Matt and Garrett see how the words we use to describe reality often have lost their meaningful connection to reality. They see this in schools. In business. Even in churches.

We see it in churches because most are unknowingly shaped by the Enlightenment. Church leaders feel no need for seasoned guides, those who have gone further up and further in. They instead feel their powers of reason are unbiased. “I can figure out what scripture says.” This is called individualism, and it’s rampant.

It’s also ruinous. The Enlightenment is left-brained, the half that’s narrowly focused. Left-brained churches narrow the gospel to managing our sin problem. This is an important but small slice of the pie. As we move toward the center of this pie, the gospel gets narrower. Smaller.

Just the opposite should happen. Look at Lucy in Narnia. The further she went up and in, the bigger the faith became. If you go further up and further in, you’ll discover the faith gets bigger. It can come to define the entirety of reality.

But that’s next week.

Be sure to check out the latest Clapham podcast: https://claphaminstitute.podbean.com/


[1] Dallas Willard, Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge (HarperCollins, 2009)


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  1. Great post! I have been following along in your series and I must admit I was confused and somewhat skeptical about the concept of Upward and Inward. Now I can see how our society is left without a guide when we can’t trust faith and can’t trust our enlightened minds either.

    Lord, increase our faith so we can see reality.

  2. Tom:

    I understand your confusion. Took me years to begin to understand why Lewis felt it is imperative that we go further up and further in.

    As to our enlightened minds, they are enlightened when we entrust our lives to seasoned guides. Consider King Arthur. Merlin was the wise sage. Dagonet the court jester (or crap detector).

    We live in an age when individuals feel that, on their own, or with a small circle of peers, they can “figure things out” using only their so-called enlightened mind. Guides are not necessary, so the faith is pushed outside everyday life. The result is an “unenlightened mind.”

    I lament how this “I can figure it out” even infects the church, as individuals assume they can observe a passage and “figure out” what it means. We’ve forgotten how older faith traditions consider observation an “act of aggression,” as it assumes I see with crystal clear eyes.

    Not true.

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