Lileks has a lengthy Matrix 3 review up (in which he blasts Harry Knowles, of AICN fame), and he describes something many people noted about the series: it tries very hard to build a secular spirituality, but falls amazingly flat without any concept of God.
I took away something else from the Matrix trilogy: it is a product of deeply confused people. They want it all. They want individualism and community; they want secularism and transcendence; they want the purity of committed love and the licentious fun of an S&M club; they want peace and the thrill of violence; they want God, but they want to design him on their own screens with their own programs by their own terms for their own needs, and having defined the divine on their own terms, they bristle when anyone suggests they have simply built a room with a mirror and flattering lighting. All three Matrix movies, seen in total, ache for a God. But they can’t quite go all the way. They’re like three movies about circular flat meat patties that can never quite bring themselves to say the word “hamburger.”One of the best ways to view the Matrix trilogy is to deconstruct it (argh) and examine what it really says about our culture. As Lileks describes, every note it strikes is philisophically discordant, and every morale pontification is conflicted and contradictory.
I haven't seen number 3, but the orgy scene in number 2 stands out particularly. Zion is the philisophical culmination of secular culture, with free, crazy sex, but Neo and Trinity don't partake -- instead they go off on their own and ick up the screen for 5 minutes. It's as if the writers really wanted an orgy, but then decided that a bilateral love scene would be more fulfilling... for some reason. Why?
As Lileks asks, why did the humans bother fighting the robots, rather than submit to the Matrix? What could they hope to accomplish, other than to eventually, after hundreds of years, raise their civilization back up to the level they could instantly experience in the machines' simulated world? There's an innate understanding that humans shouldn't be the slaves of robots, but within the mythos of the movie, why not? If there's some fundamental human dignity at stake, what's the source? Why struggle, fight, and die, just so your kids can be more miserable? What's wrong with living in a pleasant illusion?
The movies don't answer that question other than with some hand-waving, because they simply can't -- and modern secularism don't have an answer either. Survival of the fittest and evolution are praised academically, but no one wants to carry them to their logical extremes. Why bother helping the Iraqis, rather than just nuking them and taking their oil? They're obviously less fit than we are, and eliminating them would be good for the species. Doubly true for Afghanistan, since they don't even have oil. Nukes are cleap, compared to soldiers.
Why worry about healthcare for the poor? If they can't compete, let 'em die. Instead of an expensive medical system, we could form a Corpse Patrol to keep the dead bodies off the street. Abortion? Who cares! If a fetus can't fend for itself, too bad. Same for the handicapped, the insane, and so forth. Why try rehabilitating criminals? Just shoot them. Sure, some might be innocent, but on average we'll improve the population by weeding out as many deviants as possible.
All of these ideas are ludicrous, of course, but try to explain why from a secular standpoint. Social contract? Do you think society would fall apart if we let all the poor die? Nonsense, that was the policy of civilization for thousands of years. Besides, as long as it would be economically valuable to have a supply of poor people, capitalism would work to preserve them without the need for government intervention. (If you comment, please make sure your secular argument isn't simply a variation on the "social contract" idea.)
The point is that without God -- without some supernatural imposition of value from the outside -- a human is instrinsically worth nothing beyond his usefulness. And useless humans are therefore worth nothing. Most people (except extreme environmentalists) reject these conclusions, but with little rational basis. As Lileks said, we want the benefits of God, but we want to create him ourselves, to suit our purposes. We want to "discover" what "'God' means to me" and such. But a human-created God cannot reciprocally give value to his creator, and any philosophy built on such a construct will ring entirely hollow.