Grossing over $200 million at the box office so far, Inception, starring Leonardo Dicaprio, is easily the most popular movie in the country right now. I saw it a couple weeks ago with my younger brother. Having read the reviews, I knew it would be an original thought-provoking film that could lead to some rewarding philosophical conversations. The main theme of the film is how we can know what is real. The lead character, Dom Cobb, invades peoples’ dreams for a living. Corporations hire him to enter into the dreams of the leaders of rival companies to steal valuable secrets from their sub-conscious. His career takes a twist when a business leader recruits him not to steal ideas from a person’s mind, but to implant an idea. Specifically, his task is to enter the dreams of an heir to a global energy company to sow the idea that he should break up his father’s company after he dies. You will have to see the film to learn how Dom goes about his work, but know that about half of the film takes place in the dream state, though sometimes the audience, like the main character, is unsure of the difference.
My brother and I discussed afterward our ability to know reality and how our experiences may differ from the reality outside of our experience. I had just finished listening to a sermon on how the kingdom of God, a central motif in Jesus’ teaching, is present, and I interpreted the film through this concept. None of us live in literal political kingdoms, but the meaning of “kingdom” is broader than monarchical government. A “kingdom” is the reality that one lives in and under. It includes not only the form of government we live under, but the social and cultural norms, values, and practices that shape our lives. So, our experience of reality is shaped by the kingdom we belong to. These human kingdoms, though, construct versions of reality that differ from ultimate reality, or the reality that transcends our subjective experiences, individually and culturally.
When Jesus came proclaiming that “the kingdom of God is near” (see Mark 1:15, Luke 10:9), he was announcing that a new reality – reality as ordered and ruled by the will of God – had come and that this reality was embodied in his very person. This “kingdom” enters into realities characterized by pain, condemnation, wrongdoing, futility, sorrow, rebellion and death and brings a reality characterized by healing, righteousness, forgiveness, reconciliation, purposefulness, joy, and the hope of resurrection. As the kingdom of God invades our self-centered reality, the fog of delusion that we live under begins to lift and we learn to see and experience things according to what they really are, not as what we imagine or wish them to be. To the extent that this kingdom has infiltrated our consciousness we are able to know the truth about what is real and live in light of that truth: “In Your light we shall see light” (Psalm 36:9).
The gospel of John describes the arrival of Jesus into the world in exalted language: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only,who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The Greek word translated “Word” is Logos, which in Greek philosophy referred to eternal and unchanging the reality, the ultimate reason for being. Because ultimate reality has invaded our world in and through Jesus Christ, we can know what is real and escape the delusions of our tiny, transitory kingdoms. A mind infected by this idea can live in light of the truth.