Disengaging the Matrix


Xi Summit made suggestion in a comment to my post below that I quit trying to analyze my marriage, my relationship with the church, my work life and generally adopt some of the Zen principles XH talked about in a comment to FTN in response to this post.  I’m actually running both ahead and behind him in some respects.  It’s not a bad suggestion, except this is the stuff that I usually blog about.  I suppose I could start a bunch of memes and pass those around and I might just do that at some point.


My noodling about my discontentment does serve a purpose, tho.  God is driving me towards questions and answers even amongst my attempts at finding diversion.


I went to our public library the other day to drop off some books and DVDs I had checked out for my boys.  I decided I would look for some movies for me to watch, which certainly beats even the prices at Blockbuster, which would have been my next stop.  Our library has a growing DVD collection both those are forever picked over by late afternoon.  However their VHS collection is quite expansive and mature.  So I got Up  The Down Staircase which is a lovely teacher movie from the late 60’s and another movie I had never seen before called The Matrix.  That one was also a good movie which has some interesting parallels to the institutional church system which wasn’t lost on David Frederickson in the first installment of his documentary, The Dropouts.  I got one more movie which looked interest called The King’s Guard which was a low budget swashbuckling dud that resembles The Princess Bride except with a lousy script and some stilted acting.  Your kids might like it, though.  Eric Roberts and Ron Perlman make decent villains, and Ashley Jones makes a lovely princess, but that’s about it.


While in the library the thought occurred to me that I should check out a book.  Radical thought, huh?  Imagine; checking out a book from the library!  But I had absolutely no idea what I was in the mood to read.  Definitely not a relationship book.  Maybe something nonfiction by C.S. Lewis.  There’s still a lot of his books I haven’t read.  So I looked in the electronic searcher and found the section where his books might be.  But I did not end up checking out a book by C.S. Lewis.


I was perusing the stacks and I just had that feeling that I should be looking for something more.  I should look for something more along the lines of where I am in my thinking as far as my relationship with the institutional church.  Which is a perfectly odd feeling because I knew that our library had slim enough pickings with Lewis.  How does one go about finding a book dealing with being a Christian and not going to church?  I knew of no titles or authors off the top of my head and this is not a large library. 


So I just browsed, and was getting a bit frustrated. 


Ever had a book just sort of leap out at you?  Perhaps the book jacket stands out, or the title just grabs you or you may have heard something about the author or perhaps you saw something about it on Oprah.  None of those things happened here.


I just reached down to the very bottom shelf and picked up the least descript book on the shelf.  Not too big.  Not too small.  No book jacket, just a plain dark cover with a copyright of 1967 by someone named Charles Davis entitled A Question of Conscience.  And within I found exactly what I was looking for.   Some answers by a real genuine theologian with some real genuine clout.  Still, this is still an unlikely source for answers for me.  Or maybe not.


Charles Davis was a lifelong Catholic who entered the priesthood at a very young age.  He rose up in notoriety and was considered by many to be the greatest and most influential Catholic theologian of his day in Great Britain.  He was teaching at a college there and was editor of a prominent Catholic publication at the time.  Then in December of 1966 he announced he was leaving the church and intended to get married, which he did within a couple of months.  He is not the first priest to leave and get married and most casual observers would not fault him for that.  Hardly worthy fodder for a book.  What caused the real firestorm was his stated reason for leaving.  In part:


For me, Christian commitment is inseparable from the concern for truth and concern for people.  I do not find either of these represented by the official Church.  There is concern for authority at the expense of truth, and I am constantly saddened by instances of  the damage done to persons by workings of an impersonal and unfree system.  Further, I do not think that the claim the Church makes as an institution rests upon any adequate Biblical  and historical basis.  The Church in its existing forms seem to me to be a pseudo-political structure from the past.  It is now breaking up, and some other form of Christian presence in the world is under formation.


There’s more to it, but perhaps you can see why I got a bit excited over it while sitting on the floor in the library.  I wonder when the last time this book was checked out?


Davis was perfectly articulating some things running through my head.  Here was a guy who was unplugging himself from the institutional religious matrix 40 years ago.  But not just any Christian institution but the Mother of them all.  It’s understandable why many Catholics got their blood up about this because he was striking at the very heart of something very personal and meaningful to many people around the world.  And so his book is an explanation of where he was coming from, at that time.  And remember, this is the sixties, when all institutions were being questioned. 


I have barely started this book, and it is not light reading.  It’s actually more challenging than C.S. Lewis.  Davis is writing as a former Catholic theologian and his main audience is presumably Catholic, although he was of no particular denomination at the time of his writing, less than a year out.  Plus there is a 40 year gap between then and now, back when I was only 3 or 4 years old.  But it’s still a good read for me, and one of the reasons I like to blog is to read real accounts written by real people of their lives.  So Davis gives a good backstory on an event that still might have implications for today.  I did google up the original article write up from 1966 from Time Magazine as well as a more recent interview and his thoughts on the selection of the new Pope. 


He makes the case that I think I should make (again) that it is not a dislike of any particular people or group of people.  It is the institution and the hierarchal structure that becomes such a stumbling block.  His assertion about authority coming at the expense of truth particularly resonates in light of some of the past discussions we have had around these parts. 




7 Responses to Disengaging the Matrix

  1. Xian Husband says:

    Before you take the philosophical ideas of The Matrix too seriously, you should know (if you don’t already) that it is basically a very straightforward retelling (in a modern, sci-fi, cyber-punk setting) of the basic stories of Gnostic Christianity. Many of the ideas that might be resonating with you — especially the waking up and realizing “the establishment” is holding you back, so you have to disconnnect from it to grow — are very Gnostic and very heretical.

    If you’re being led down a Gnostic path, here, it certainly isn’t our Lord who is leading you down it. Gnosticism has its attractions and things that appear to be true (that which is falsely called “gnosis” as Paul said in I Timothy), but this is because our enemy is a great liar. The deceiver, the prince of lies.

    Be careful. Be discerning. Be humble, because pride never leads to real truth.

  2. Tom Allen says:

    I’ve got a similar take on The Matrix, but interestingly, I believe that it’s important to question the establishment; that growth comes from comparing one’s standards to those of the community/society in which you live.

  3. diggerjones says:

    Your point is well taken, XH, and I realize that it is only a movie with no real spiritual grounding or certainly none within the realm of Christianity. This is why Davis’ writings go along so well with it. You would enjoy his extensive treatment of the search for truth and how it is so intimately connected to faith and love. But for me, it is an exercise in endurance in extending his ideas beyond the Roman Catholic Church. There many, many parallels especially in regards to denominational structures. Indeed the great liar is always at work. His best work is usually found within those institutions where authority is efficiently used to keep people from discovering and enjoying a personal relationship with Jesus Christ by turning everything into an impersonal edict, ritual or program. On the other extreme there is the steady erosion of having any standards at all which we’ve witnessed in our respective communities. I’m not claiming that this is the ultimate answer, but right now it is a matter of gaining perspective. The Biblical standard still applies in any case.

    I agree with you Tom, that any institution should allow for the free expression and exchange of ideas. It’s the only way that it will grow and if necessary, correct itself from its own errors. However I do have issues with constantly adjusting standards in accordance to the surrounding society or simply comparing them. People who beat their wives do this when they say, “Well, at least I didn’t kill anyone.” There’s always some lower level to which we can look down on and say, “Thank God I’m not like *them*!” I think growth comes from reaching higher than ourselves, and looking at a higher ideal. Or as a Christian, a Higher Person. God gives all of us a moral compass that points to Him if we care to follow it.


  4. Desmond Jones says:

    Ah, yes, the 60s. It’s almost cute to encounter those ideas again, from back when people actually took them seriously. . .

  5. xi summit says:

    OK, once again this comment’s gonna be a bit more direct than is typical for me.

    OK, so you already know what I’m gonna say right? Bring on the meme’s! As much ‘fun’ as it might seem to get good hits and dandy comments, great comments to painful posts will only take you so far.

    You do seem to be driven towards various diversions but if you step back and look at the whole of it there does not seem to be a coherent direction to what you’re being driven to. To be more direct, it seems as though you are being driven away from clarity and towards more confusion. That is what prompted me to suggest a reboot to allow you to start anew with perhaps a clearer view.

    Anyhow …

  6. FTN says:

    I can sympathize and understand your discontentment with the church institution. However, Digger, I hate to see you go at this all on your own. I don’t know how, but you need to find some other forward-thinking Christians to talk about this stuff with. That might help with the discernment that others have mentioned above.

    You know, iron sharpening iron and all…

  7. Emily says:

    Well, I’m not sure some time out of church will do you so much harm, Digger, as long as its spiritually productive in other ways.

    Quite honestly, sometimes I think being a church goer actually distracts us from key spiritual issues by allowing us to go through the motions. People sometimes think if they abide by the “rules” and go to church then they are actually having an active spiritual life. But some of those people are kidding themselves!

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