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'The Matrix,' transhumanism and Christ's incarnation

Getty Images/Mark Stevenson
Getty Images/Mark Stevenson

Perhaps one of the most unexplored ways of understanding the incarnation is to think about dis-incarnation. While technology may give us new, more immersive ways to enter into simulated worlds, such dis-incarnation has always been possible. To illustrate dis-incarnation, I’ll turn to an oldie but goodie: “The Matrix.” 

In “The Matrix” (1999), most of the human population has been taken captive by “the machines.” These machines are an advanced form of artificial intelligence using humans as an energy source by plugging them into a simulated reality. This simulated reality is called “the matrix.” This matrix provides a range of mediated experiences that create a simulation that isn’t discernible as a simulation. The movie’s plot follows a group of humans who were either born free in “Zion” or freed from the computer-simulated reality to experience non-simulated reality. That reality isn’t pretty. The matrix is, in many ways, preferable to the non-simulated world.

At one point in the movie, Cypher, a member of the rebel group seeking to defeat the machines, decides that the simulation of the matrix is worth more than his friends’ lives. He makes a deal with the machines, promising to betray the rebels in exchange for having his memory of the non-simulated world erased and being re-inserted into the matrix. Believing “ignorance is bliss,” Cypher decides to dis-incarnate.

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Clearly, his body’s location contributes to his dis-incarnation. He is returning to the pink goo to be a human batter for the machines. But his dis-incarnation involves more than his physical absence. It involves his self-interest…his grasping for personal comfort regardless of what that comfort costs others. His self-interest and disregard for his friends lie at the core of his dis-incarnation. The relocation of his body is necessary but not sufficient to account for what it truly means to dis-incarnate.

The modern development of artificial intelligence, the metaverse, and virtual reality raise important questions about the nature of incarnation. “Being there” even if only in virtual form, seems necessary for one to be incarnate. Does our physical presence matter anymore? Absolutely it does. Still, there is a way of being physically “present” without being “incarnate.” This distinction is more than just wordplay.

As Christians contemplate Jesus’s birth, the incarnation of Christ in which God took on human flesh, we do not simply consider the physical manifestation of God in the flesh. Christ’s physical presence is indispensable, but it is not the whole story. We must also consider the perspective that prompted the incarnation. It is not just that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14), but that Christ did not view equality with God as something to be used to His own advantage (Phil 2:6). The incarnation reflects a way of life characterized by self-giving and self-sacrifice that we are to emulate (Phil 2:5).

While self-giving and self-sacrifice may be viewed as abstract principles for living that anyone, Christian or not, may put into practice, both point beyond themselves and the good they do for our neighbors. They gesture toward the nature of the Triune God. If they remain abstract principles, we will have missed the point of the incarnation which is to imitate Christ’s incarnation.

Imitating Christ’s incarnation is not a matter of being present or changing the way we embody the world to suit our own preferences or interests. In part, this is why political philosophies like liberalism or ideologies like transhumanism miss the mark. They seek to empower a particular sort of embodied presence in the world determined by human individuals. Liberalism makes the liberty of individuals the basis for society. Transhumanism believes individuals should have the “morphological freedom” to use available technologies to enhance and/or overcome the limitations of their biology. Both systems provide the means for humans to embody the world in relatively self-determined ways. Without a model aligned with the reality of God, our efforts to change the way we embody the world are unguided.

Quests to embody the world in new ways are often motivated by a desire to benefit the human condition. Liberalism assumes that individual human freedom provides a path to a better future. Transhumanism believes that overcoming humanity’s biological limitations will improve human life. Both address important biblical themes without appealing to or sitting under the authority of the Scriptures. Human freedom from sin is crucial to allow individual humans to “walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). Our human limitations need to be overcome, but they are only ultimately overcome through Christ, not through our human efforts. If we want to embody the world in a different way, we must look to a model that results in a different outcome than any other human system or strategy. We overcome our human condition by imitating Christ, who has shown us what it means to be truly human through the incarnation and has been exalted by God (Phil 2:9).

Christ’s incarnation points us toward a different way of embodying the world. That way involves self-sacrifice and self-giving. We set aside our own interests and preferences. We do not look first or only to benefit ourselves. Instead, like Christ, we recognize that our own prosperity is not something to be grasped. Instead, we are to use what God has given us to serve others.

Christ’s incarnation provides us with the orienting model necessary to be more than physically present. It reminds us that being incarnate in the world involves a fusion of our physical presence with our ongoing commitment to emulate Christ. As we imitate Christ, the gifts God gives our willingness to serve ourselves will diminish while our desire to God and others increases. Such is the essence of Christ’s incarnation. Incarnation won’t be achieved by chasing liberty (liberalism) or seeking to overcome our own biology (transhumanism), but by embracing Christ by faith and committing to follow Him by humbling ourselves as we point to and magnify the Triune God.

Dr. James Spencer currently serves as President of the D. L. Moody Center, an independent non-profit organization inspired by the life and ministry of Dwight Moody and dedicated to proclaiming the Gospel and challenging God’s children to follow Jesus. He also hosts a weekly radio program and podcast titled “Useful to God” on KLTT in Colorado.  His book titled “Christian Resistance: Learning to Defy the World and Follow Jesus” is available on He previously published “Useful to God: Eight Lessons from the Life of D. L. Moody,” “Thinking Christian: Essays on Testimony, Accountability, and the Christian Mind,” as well as co-authoring “Trajectories: A Gospel-Centered Introduction to Old Testament Theology.”

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