In the opening scenes of The Matrix, Neo has a book that contains his “programs” entitled Simulacra and Simulation. The irony is not lost; the Matrix is the simulation that becomes simulacra. Written by the post-modernist Baudrillard, the weighty book takes a unique angle on how our modern society is heading to a dangerous place in human thought.
We can think of simulation as that which is an actual representation of reality. Flight simulators, fire drills, even photographs are first meant to be simulations of the objects or processes they represent. Simulacra are simulations that take the place of the thing they initially represented, removing the original from being necessary or perceived.
A simulacrum is not simply a development from simulation. It is a seismic shift in cultural perception: “the most beautiful allegory of simulation… has now come full circle for us, and possesses nothing but the discrete charm of second-order simulacra”. Simulacra become the object it removes. The original no longer exists or never existed perceptually.
Baudrillard posited we create meaning only by symbols referencing other symbols in a pattern that makes sense to us. None of it may represent reality if there is such a thing. He is an expert in turning logic in loops, citing referential contradictions, and doubling logic back on itself.
Baudrillard’s thesis is that post-modernity and modern culture are profoundly different and new. There is no longer a reality being represented because symbols of the real have replaced the real. Thus, “never again will the real have the chance to produce itself.” In its place is a hyper-real: “a hyper-real henceforth sheltered from… any distinction between the real and the imaginary.”
Baudrillard reflects that everything that has happened to us is also how we manage the lives of our domesticated animals and livestock. He notes that the ancients who sacrificed animals to gods must have valued them more than modern society. Sacrificing an objectified animal does not seem emotional enough to appease a god in current times. Baudrillard suggests that sacrifice is at least a significant loss, not merely a loss in the material sense. We have relegated animals to detached roles of food or pets or objects of experimentation and casual curiosity.
The End of History
A recent theory by Baudrillard is the one regarding the “end of history.” Baudrillard holds that our modern notion of history is based on accumulating progress, breaking apart in modernity. The West’s victory in the cold war meant not the victory of one ideology but the dissolving of the notion that there can be one final winning ideology and historical condition. Time itself is changing with the disappearance of linear thought.
In the post-modern age, we find the use and utility of images and video paramount in communicating ideas that those creating the images wish to perpetuate. We are ultimately replacing reality with the represented memes or messages of the content. This is a recent development in human culture as technology increasingly influences people’s lives and epistemology.
Concerning simulation, Baudrillard defines three kinds: counterfeit dominant in the classical era of the Renaissance, production in the industrial age, and, finally, simulation of the present period governed by the code. With the counterfeited object, the difference between the actual or ‘natural’ object is made apparent; in industrial production, they make the difference between the object and the labor process clear; in the era of simulation, not the production, the reproduction of objects becomes crucial. And, as we have seen, it contained the principle of reproduction in the code. Labor power, or the worker, is also reproduced concerning reproduction. Reproduction, therefore, includes what would have been both sides of the equation in the era of industrialism. Now, the origin of things is not an original thing or being, but a formula, coded signals, and numbers.
Socially speaking, Baudrillard notes that the code era penetrates the whole of the social fabric. One symptom of this is that opposites collapse and ‘everything becomes undecidable’: the beautiful and the ugly in fashion, the left and the right in politics, the true and the false in the media, the useful and the useless at the level of objects, nature and culture–all these become interchangeable in the era of reproduction and simulation.
So what is the rational Christian response? Reality is now simulated to such a degree, and our youth experience less reality first-hand. Our youth first face reality in the simulation and simulacra in the many times’ false representation on their phones and tablets. Reality television can never be real, since observing a phenomenon alters the outcomes. Confusion and conflation of concepts results further muddling the mind.
The Biblical Response to Simulacra
The Bible has the answer. In Exodus 20:4-5, we receive the commandment not to make for ourselves a carved image. “The major thrust of this commandment is that believers are not to worship anything earthly as a representation of God. The emphasis was on worshiping the idol, the image of a temporal thing, or the earthly thing itself in place of God. Idolatry is nearly always a significant problem and downfall of God’s people—both then and now.” In teaching students of the Bible, we need to confirm that their thinking is aligned with the most faithful attributes of God. Previously viewed images, paintings, photographs are not the objects they represent. Often our perceptual presuppositions cause an incorrect understanding of the represented. This false understanding can lead to emotional responses and challenges of volition in the seeker’s life. Encourage those that seek to set aside all they have preconceived about God’s nature and attributes. Teach them explicitly that memes are not facts. They are an agenda and, too often, a plan of the enemy.
See also: The Attributes of God
 Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, The Body, in theory (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994).