Suppose you could plant an idea in someone else’s mind — and make them think it was their own.
That’s the premise of Inception, one of the most interesting summer blockbusters of recent years. The sci-fi movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Dom Cobb, a mental thief-for-hire who specializes in “extraction” of ideas from people’s brains via their dreams. When a high-powered corporate chief offers him an irresistible payoff to do the reverse — to sneak an idea into a competitor’s mind — Cobb organizes an elite team of dream commandos and springs into action. Lots of cool special effects ensue.
But the film isn’t just another collection of digital gimmicks. It raises serious questions about the nature of reality. Are there different levels of reality, or different realities altogether, in our minds? Are they so “real” that we can become trapped in them? If consciousness and reality are malleable, what about truth? These questions have been asked for ages by mystics, theologians and philosophers — not to mention computer gamers.
Postmodernism questions the existence of all absolutes. So Inception plays to popular culture’s ambivalent relationship with truth. My beef with the movie, however, is its suggestion that planting an idea in someone’s mind is more difficult than removing one. In the real world, the opposite is true.
Getting an idea, especially a false one, out of some folks’ minds is almost impossible. Ignorance often plays a role. But plenty of well-informed people don’t let facts interfere with their views, as several recent studies confirm. One such study, by University of California researcher Jonas Kaplan, analyzed the centers of the brain that stimulate emotion. He found that people tend to form political opinions first, then invest all their mental and emotional energy “making themselves feel good about their decision” — regardless of the conflicting data presented to them.
Two Stony Brook (N.Y.) University scholars discovered that highly educated people are even less open than others to new facts that challenge their existing perceptions. Their factual knowledge in some areas “makes it nearly impossible to correct [other areas] on which they’re totally wrong,” according to an article on the findings in The Boston Globe.
You can see this phenomenon demonstrated daily (and loudly) by TV talking heads, political bloggers and the like. You probably see it around your kitchen table or the office water cooler.
Planting an idea in someone’s mind, on the other hand, is relatively easy — for good or ill. Good parents and teachers use methods as old as Socrates to encourage young people to “discover” the right answers for themselves. Advertisers convince people every day that they can’t live without things they don’t even need. Propagandists and gossips entice people into believing lies by constant repetition.
The unsurpassed master of mental manipulation has been at it for a very long time. He convinced Adam and Eve that they didn’t need to heed God’s tiresome commands, that they could become “… like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5, NASB). Humankind’s long history of self-deception and self-destruction began with an insidious idea planted in our minds: If we can be like God, we can be God. Then we don’t need to obey or worship Him. As a practical matter, He no longer exists.
The devil plants plenty of bad ideas, but this might be the worst: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1a, NASB). A lot of really smart people believe that one. If there is no God, the saying goes, all things are permissible — murder, genocide, you name it. Recent history gives many blood-soaked examples of godlessness as state policy.
Sin, the process of rebellion against God and worship of self, is an act of the will. But it begins in the mind. Only one idea is more powerful: the Gospel.
That an all-powerful God would enter our reality, live among us, die at our hands and rise again — all to express His love and mercy to those who rejected Him — is the most revolutionary idea in history. If it is believed, if it is accepted and acted upon, it changes everything. God uses it to renew our darkened minds so we can worship Him in spirit and truth. Then we can transmit this great idea to others, which is the mission of the church in the world.
Plant the Gospel idea in a few minds — and see what happens.