Augustine, Manichees, and Neo-Platonism (Part 3)

These ideas were a revelation to Augustine; for his whole life, the philosophers and other thinkers had led him to believe that the salvation he yearned for was a solitary pursuit. However, with the combination of various worldviews, he had, in his mind, found the real truth of the Bible in Jesus Christ. Augustine believed that

…I had already begun to covet a reputation for wisdom, and though fully punished I shed no tear of compunction; rather I was complacently puffed up with knowledge Confessions 7.20.26.

He attributes his quest more as a grasping for pride and recognition, but Augustine was searching for the truth. His journey to that truth was more a combination of elements than one might think. From his mother, Monica, he retained the basic beliefs of the Christian faith. Though not accepting her particular approach to that faith, he was still familiar with the ideas of the Bible to which he would eventually return.

From Manichaeism, Augustine retains an element of trust in religion. Bizarrely enough, Augustine has no problem accepting Christianity without investigating the facts behind it; rather, his concern is primarily with their philosophy and methodology. Augustine would remain unconcerned with the actual history of the Bible. However, he did retain the belief that all people have a little glimmer of the divine in them. When the world of darkness invaded the world of light, the dualistic world was created, but in this reality Mani encouraged mankind to discover the divine spark in each human that resulted from that invasion.

From the Neo-Platonists, he retains most of their beliefs, especially that of free will, save for the concept of salvation and their ordering of the realms. He believed one could personally know the creator through the mediator Jesus Christ, and that the nature of reality is outlined strictly in the Bible. Augustine’s wealth of religious and philosophical experience was instrumental to his eventual conversion. His process was a synthesis of various traditions that, in an indirect way, formed a competent and acceptable form of Christianity in his mind.

It is not that these formal elements exist outside of Christian theology, but their presence is subtle; in a way, Augustine chose to take the long, difficult way instead of the short, easy conversion. Striking out on his own may have been for the best, considering his personal experience allowing him to not only write many books about such belief systems, but to be an effective witness in regards to theological and philosophical issues.

Throughout history, there have been myriad examples of this kind of synthesis, from the Abrahamic religions that built upon one another (from Judaism to Christianity to Islam) to the religious traditions of the East (from Hinduism arrived Buddhism). Even modern entertainment cannot escape this synthesis; the Matrix trilogy is a perfect example.

Neo, as much as he is the savior of this alternate future, is very much like Augustine in his search for the truth. He initially rejected the Matrix, the prison of the mind created by the machines, much in the same way that Augustine rejected his mother’s simple acceptance of a Christian world view without proof or backing. Augustine was taken aback by the beliefs of the Manichees and accepted them in the same way that Neo was able to become “unplugged” from the Matrix by Morpheus and his cohorts.

morpheus-chair

You know, this dude.

According to Morpheus, Neo was “the One”, the prophesied savior of the humans who would end the conflict between the humans and machines forever. As Manichaeism advocated a sort of rigid dogmatism, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary position, Morpheus advocated his particular view of what “the One” was upon Neo, expecting him to live up to a certain expectation in his mind. As Morpheus viewed the machines as the world of darkness and humans as the world of light, Mani shared a similar view of reality.

However, as Neo searches for the truth of his purpose, much as Augustine did, he finds that things are not as they seem. Neo discovers that the Oracle, the person that Morpheus trusted for much of his ideology, is actually a program from the machine world, the supposed enemy of humanity. The multitude of programs that Neo discusses with in the Matrix represent variants of various religious and philosophical beliefs, each bringing a new factor to Neo’s continued understanding of the world he is destined to save – or not, depending on his decisions.

The simple dualism that Morpheus embraced was abolished in Neo’s mind; the One who Morpheus believed would be the savior simply by reaching a predetermined goal (reaching the Source of the Matrix) was simply a fideism he could not accept. Neo would eventually come to realize his destiny to bring salvation to the Matrix and end the war between the humans and the machines. It would not be from Morpheus (the Manichees) nor from the programs of the machine world (many of which perverted and misled his perceptions of the world). It would only be with the embrace of his polar opposite, Agent Smith, that Neo would bring an end to the war – a completely different conclusion than what he was told. Neo would discover the truth for himself after breaking out of a dualistic view by combining his vast experiences within the world and synthesizing them into a worldview that fit reality.

Augustine’s journey from Monica to Ambrose would be a long and arduous one, but ultimately an experience any person searching for knowledge will have to undertake. Blind acceptance of facts is never the answer if one truly desires the truth; in general, a synthesis of various worldviews forms the reality of humans daily, whether or not they realize it. Many Americans, for example, embrace a form of “passive atheism”, even while calling themselves a “Christian” when asked as such by polls. Searching for the truth is never a simple black and white decision; truth can sometimes be hidden underneath many shades of gray, but the human task is to take not what seems right to them, but what truly fits reality.

Augustine realized this through his journey – the individual cannot craft the reality he or she resides in, but must simply accept its existence and act upon that knowledge. Even with the myriad influences surrounding him, he did not necessarily take the word of a religious authority or friend; the decision he made was his own discovery. An inquisitive spirit will inevitably lead one to a path much like Augustine – his limitless appetite for knowledge, continual skepticism, and intellectualism would lead him to a truly fulfilling way of life.

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Augustine. The Confessions. Trans. Maria Boulding. New York: New City Press, 1997.

Knowles, Andrew and Pachominos Penkett. Augustine and His World. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

The Matrix. Dir. Andrew and Laurence Wachowski. Perf. Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Ann Moss, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving. 1999. DVD. Warner Bros. Entertainment, 2004.

The Matrix Reloaded. Dir. Andrew and Laurence Wachowski. Perf. Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Ann Moss, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving. 2003. DVD. Warner Bros. Entertainment, 2004.

The Matrix Revolutions. Dir. Andrew and Laurence Wachowski. Perf. Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Ann Moss, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving. 2003. DVD. Warner Bros. Entertainment, 2004.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.