19 Oct #143 – Breaking Free from the Matrix
ESSENCE: As businesspeople or investors of faith, we face a choice much like Neo’s in the film The Matrix—two starkly different options with profound implications. The blue pill is business as usual — business in “the way of the world” or, more precisely, according to “the kingdom of this world.” The red pill we call business a better way — business according to Biblical beliefs, values, and priorities. Every business leader, and every business investor, must ultimately choose between these kingdoms. Like the Matrix, business as usual has been pulled over our eyes to blind us from the truth of business in alignment with God’s Kingdom. Like Neo, we are made slaves to business as usual. The choice of red or blue for any business is really a choice between making people or profit the ultimate priority. Choosing the red pill is uncomfortable. The bondage of business as usual runs deep and the veil of the world’s way is thick. Unfortunately, when blue doesn’t feel right and red feels too radical, we try purple. Unfortunately, purple is just a “veil upon the veil” — a deception to cover the deception. People, not profit, must be your ultimate priority. It’s essential to breaking your business or investing free from the “Matrix” of the world into the “reality” of God’s Kingdom.
If you have been following our posts from the beginning (it is hard to believe that post #001 was posted on January 29, 2020, just a few weeks before we learned about something called COVID!), you will know that we began with a clip from the 1999 film The Matrix (which you can find below) and have frequently talked about the choice between red and blue.
With 2021 having brought a long-awaited fourth film in the Matrix series, we thought it was time to refresh the imagery for what we believe is an inevitable and critical choice for every faithful leader wanting to lead faithfully.
The Matrix is one of our favorite movies, and our very favorite scene is when Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) offers Neo (Keanu Reeves) a choice — a blue pill or a red pill. Permit us to set the scene:
The world has been taken over by machines. All human minds have been connected to a machine and are ‘living’ in a dystopian virtual world — the Matrix — created by the machines. Because the Matrix feels real in every respect, nobody knows they are living in a simulation rather than the “real world.”
Some humans have escaped the Matrix and are living in the apocalyptic remnants of the real world and trying to free others by disconnecting them from the Matrix.
Neo is still in the Matrix (but feeling like something isn’t quite right). Morpheus lives in the real world as one of the leaders of the human resistance movement. Now Morpheus has entered the Matrix to get Neo out.
It is in this setting that Morpheus offers “the choice” — blue pill or red pill, telling Neo:
The Matrix is everywhere . . . It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
You are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage. Born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind.
You take the blue pill . . . you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.
You take the red pill . . . and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.
Remember, all I’m offering is the truth, nothing more.
You may well be thinking ‘OK, but what does all this have to do with me?’
If you are a businessperson or investor who professes a Biblical faith, the likely answer is, “A great deal more than you think.”
As businesspeople or investors of faith, we face a choice much like Neo’s—two starkly different options with profound implications. With the construct of The Matrix as a backdrop, let’s consider our own “blue pill” and “red pill” choice.
The blue pill is business as usual — business in “the way of the world” or, more precisely, according to “the kingdom of this world.” The red pill we call business a better way — business according to Biblical beliefs, values, and priorities. It’s the way God means business/investing to function in His Kingdom. Every business leader, and every business investor, must ultimately choose between these kingdoms.
Blue: Business as Usual
Like the Matrix, business as usual is “everywhere.” It is:
• Business as taught in business schools and management training programs.
• Business as rewarded by management, Boards, and stockholders.
• Business as demanded by investors, fund managers, and stock analysts.
• Business as described by Milton Friedman in 1970 when he famously wrote “There is one and only one social responsibility of business — to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits.”
There are several key attributes of business as usual that set it at odds with God’s Kingdom (such as assumptions of scarcity and self-interest and “can we” ethics rather than ‘should we’ ethics), but the most important is its essential WHY — the ultimate purpose that drives the behavior of its participants. With business as usual the WHY of the business is profit.
Like a person, an organization can have only one ultimate ambition or identity — one true “heart” (recall Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters”). If profit is the “end” to which a business is managed, then, by definition, people can never be more than a “means” — tools of production to be managed toward that end.
Like the Matrix, business as usual has been pulled over our eyes to blind us from the truth of business in alignment with God’s Kingdom. Business as usual views faith and business as having nothing to do with each other. Business as usual tells us faith is personal and does not belong at the office/factory/store. You can be a Christian on Sundays, but you need to be a secular businessperson Monday-Friday focused on profit.
Like Neo, we are made slaves to business as usual. We are born and indoctrinated into a “prison for [our] minds” that says work is about making money, business is about profit, ministry is sacred (and spiritually superior) and business is secular (and spiritually inferior).
Sadly, many people who profess Biblical faith never escape this prison because they have never been taught otherwise — the church has largely failed to lift the veil and in many cases has helped create the veil through bad theology (or poor communication of good theology). In the words of Max Depree:
Unless somebody articulates something different, you are going to adopt a secular standard without even thinking about it.
Unless somebody articulates something different, you are going to adopt a secular standard without even thinking about it. (Max Depree)
Red: Business a Better Way
Are you ready to escape the “prison” and be “transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2), i.e., to take the red pill and see “how deep the rabbit hole goes?” Are you ready to lift the veil of business as usual to see business in alignment with God’s Kingdom?
Although we have already devoted 142 posts to lifting the veil to expose all the differences between business as usual and business a better way, the most important veil to lift is the one that deceives us as to an organization’s WHY — the heart of the organization. The choice of red or blue for any business is really a choice between making people or profit the ultimate priority.
The Bible is crystal clear about how God prioritizes people vs. profit. Jesus sums up all the commandments as love God and love your neighbor. 1 Timothy 6:10 tells us that the love of money is the root of evil. Business a better way requires changing the heart of the organization by putting profit in its proper place as a means rather than an ultimate purpose.
While the veil of business as usual says work is simply about making money, the Bible offers a different WHY for our work, i.e., for the purpose of our skills and gifts:
• Isaiah 43:7 declares that glorifying God is WHY we were created.
• 1 Corinthians 10:31 reinforces that glorifying God is the WHY behind everything we do—including work.
• 1 Peter 4:10-11 says we are called to use our gifts to “serve one another” in a way that glorifies God.
That means ownership or leadership of an organization is a gift to be stewarded to glorify God by serving others. So are work skills and investment assets — these also are gifts to be used to serve others and glorify God.
To understand business a better way, we must look at God’s purpose for work. Humans glorify their creator God through work by:
• Being (and helping others to be) all that God created them to be–fully human through living out Imago Dei as reflections of a creative, productive and relational God;
• Obediently pursuing the ‘Creation Mandate’ in Genesis 1:28 (be fruitful and subdue the earth)–pursuing the flourishing (shalom) of God’s creation; and
• Using their gifts to love their neighbor generously through the creation and provision of goods and services that people need.
It is critical to recognize that the Creation Mandate includes “subduing” through the creation of culture and social structures such as businesses.
As God’s creative image-bearers fulfilling the Creation Mandate, we create businesses so that we can use our skills and gifts collectively to fulfill God’s purpose for work in ways we could never do individually. From a Biblical perspective, business has intrinsic Kingdom value because it is an extension of God’s creation and derives its purpose from God’s purpose for us.
With the veil of business as usual lifted and God’s purpose for business revealed, we see that business is actually essential to God’s great objective–flourishing (shalom) of all creation. Done rightly, business allows us to create the solutions to the material challenges of human life, and the economic prosperity that makes those solutions affordable and accessible in a way that cares for all creation. It also offers jobs–vehicles for people to fulfill their humanity and purpose by living out Imago Dei, the Creation Mandate and the commandments to love God and love each other through service .
To be clear, profit is a very necessary part of Kingdom business. As stewards of an organization that belongs to God (He owns everything), its leaders have a responsibility to keep the organization viable so that it can pursue its Kingdom purpose(s) long-term and at scale. In the words of Ken Eldred:
Profit is like oxygen. You absolutely need it to win the race. But that’s not the objective. The primary objective of business is serving others to the glory of God
Purple Is Blue
Choosing the red pill is uncomfortable. The bondage of business as usual runs deep and the veil of the world’s way is thick. It is constantly reinforced by markets, analysts, business experts, investors, management books, and management systems. It feels unnatural to think about putting people ahead of profit.
This is the insidiousness of the veil of business as usual. We are raised, trained, and indoctrinated to see red as too radical. But like Neo, as people of faith we sense that something is wrong with blue, with business as usual. Unfortunately, when blue doesn’t feel right and red feels too radical, we try purple. Purple takes on many shades:
• Giving blue a long-term profit perspective with stakeholder capitalism.
• Giving blue a gloss of generosity by using our profits for good causes, like evangelism and missions.
• Giving blue a social conscience by not polluting as much or not investing in ‘sin’ industries.
• Giving blue a ‘faith’ patina by having corporate chaplains, Bible studies, and prayer groups.
There are many more, but you get the idea. Purple feels good, because it is better than blue. It also feels good because we receive affirmation for purple, even from the church and the faith-work community. Unfortunately, purple is just a “veil upon the veil” — a deception to cover the deception.
If profit is still the ultimate purpose to which a business is managed, we have chosen blue. If the heart of the organization has not changed to serving people, we have chosen blue.
What about a business that says, “We have several purposes, and profit is just one?” At the end of the day, there can only be one primary WHY for the organization that will win out (“No one can serve two masters”) — other “purposes” get reduced to being “means” or “strategies.”
Purple is still blue — the way of the world. Remember 1 John 2:15: “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” Purple may be better than blue, but it is not the best to which people of Biblical faith are called and commanded. In his book Ekklesia, Ed Silvoso writes:
The enemy of the ‘best’ . . . is the ‘good,’ because by being so satisfying, it deprives us of the hunger for the ‘much more’ that in this case God has in store.
Thankfully, we waited to write this post until we were able to watch the new Matrix sequel. Without giving away any spoilers, Neo is once again offered a choice between red or blue. But this time he is told “The choice is an illusion, you already know what you need to do.” If you are a businessperson or business investor of Biblical faith, you already know what you need to do — and purple is not an option. People, not profit, must be your ultimate priority. It’s essential to breaking your business or investing free from the “Matrix” of the world into the “reality” of God’s Kingdom.
PERSONAL NOTE (from PM): I wish to express my thanks to Tim Weinhold for his helpful suggestions on this post. Tim was a founding editor of the Journal for Faith & Investing published by the Eventide for Faith & Investing.