Ready Player One is coming out in a couple weeks. I probably won’t see it in the theaters; I hardly see anything in the theaters anymore; it is too expensive, people talk on their cell phones during the movie, and now you have to pick your seats before entering the theater (what is that all about?). I probably won’t even see it when it comes to Redbox. I’m a child of the 80s and am still a big lover of the era, but it takes more than 80s nostalgia to get me to watch and/or love a movie, and it just doesn’t seem to me like Ready Player One has that more.
I did read the book, though. I read it a couple years ago when my sense of nostalgia was a little stronger (and I somehow had more free time than I seem to have nowadays). I don’t remember the book addressing faith at all, but as I discovered in a recent Gospel Coalition article, it does. At one point, the narrator/main character says this to himself and his readers:
You’re something called a “human being.” That’s a really smart kind of animal. Like every other animal on this planet, we’re descended from a single-celled organism that lived millions of years ago. This happened by a process called evolution, and you’ll learn more about it later. But trust me, that’s really how we all got here. There’s proof of it everywhere, buried in the rocks. That story you heard? About how we were all created by a super-powerful dude named God who lives up in the sky? Total [BS]. The whole God thing is actually an ancient fairy tale that people have been telling one another for thousands of years. We made it all up. Like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.
And then a little later he tacks this on:
She [some other character, apparently; again, I don’t remember this passage from my reading] was always praying for me too. Trying her hardest to save my soul. I never had the heart to tell her that I thought organized religion was a total crock. It was a pleasant fantasy that gave her hope and kept her going—which was exactly what the Hunt was for me.
And there is a lot that could be said of Wade’s assessment of both faith and reality (and faith matching reality) here. The assertion that evolution is proven by the fossil record is debatable; instead of finding life forms going from simple to more complex in the rocks, we find the Cambrian Explosion. The “fairy tale” assertion is also debatable; the existence of an actual, historical Jesus is debated by very few people.
But what I really want to focus on is his assertion that “organized religion” (an ill-advised phrase that borders on if not crosses into the ridiculous) is a fantasy that gives people hope. More to the point, I want to focus on his implication that people taking hope from a fantasy is somehow wrong or lowly. I want to focus on the condescension he is pouring on people taking hope from a fantasy, and I want to focus on that within the worldview he has expressed. I want to give him his worldview for the sake of argument, in other words, argue as if the materialistic worldview he expresses here is the correct worldview, the worldview which matches reality. Because if we do that, we quickly see that the condescension he pours on “the religious” is unfounded, that everything he says here about “religion” is self-defeating and self-refuting.
Here’s what I mean: in Wade’s worldview, life is brutal. Oh, there are a few people who have things alright for a little while, but everyone (rich and poor, strong and weak, loved and hated) eventually reaches the same bleak end: they cease to exist. Many of them will cease to exist in a gruesome fashion, but all of them will cease to exist in one way or another. The universe is, to paraphrase Richard Dawkins, “blind, pitiless, and indifferent”. And there is no one countering that blind, pitiless indifference, no one fighting the universe on behalf of any individual. Every person is eventually going to fall prey to the universe. That is life in Wade’s worldview.
Not only so, but there is nothing wrong in Wade’s worldview. There might be things that are incorrect; people might think something is when it is not. But there is nothing wrong in the moral sense of the world. There is nothing people can do wrong. There is nothing they can do right, either. Wrong and right do not exist in Wade’s world. There is no way that a materialistic worldview can produce an absolute right or wrong, and there is no way that worldview can produce a reason for people to submit to that absolute right or wrong even if it could.
So my question to Wade is, “What’s so bad about having hope? What’s so bad about people who are trapped in a brutal universe finding some way to find hope in that universe? What’s so bad about people who are trapped in a brutal universe that has no right or wrong getting hope from a fantasy?” I can’t see any way in which Wade can argue that it is wrong (if you can, please let me know). I can’t see any reason why Wade should try to prevent people from getting that hope (which, to his credit, I don’t think he does) nor why he should pour condescension on people who get that hope in their chosen way (which, to his discredit, he does in this very passage).
This is particularly true considering two additional facts: 1) most everybody in Wade’s world in finding hope in similar fantasies, the 80s properties they are copying in their virtual reality world and 2) Wade, who says he finds hope in The Hunt, actually has a God-like figure directing his acts to a happy end: the author, Ernest Cline. Not only is Wade’s condescension inconsistent with his reality, but it is hypocritical as well.
So that’s what I would ask Wade and that’s why I would ask it. And if you are anything like Wade, if you share his worldview and his condescension of “organized religion”, I’d ask you the same thing.