I want you to hit me as hard as you can. That’s what Brad Pitt asked of Ed Norton on the silver screen back in 1999. Norton complied, and a cult phenomenon was born.
Before David Fincher directed Social Network, a dark film about existentially desperate young men struggling to create meaning by way of modern communications, he directed Fight Club, a dark film about existentially desperate young men struggling to create meaning by way of consensual fistfights and controlled anarchy.
The movie was a box-office flop, and yet an article written in the New York Times ten years later testified to the movie’s enduring appeal. And on the most visceral level, it has all the elements designed to speak to the average male: good directing; gritty, intelligent dialogue; revenge fantasy; nunchucks.
But the appeal goes deeper. The lead characters, played to perfection by Pitt and Norton, are reacting against a contemporary society that lacks a soul. They design their fight clubs and stage their anti-social pranks with the goal of shedding their connections to that society. For a male audience, the film is an exhilarating reminder that there is something vital missing in their lives. It reminds them that they have suffered emasculation at the hands of a soft and lazy culture. Many men can identify when Pitt’s Tyler Durden delivers a rugged homily to the club’s neophytes:
We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won’t. We’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off. . . . We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives.
That is a sobering diagnosis, one that resonates with American males whose hearts yearn for a greater destiny they hardly know or dare to describe.
Where Fight Club goes astray is in its conclusions: Unleash your primitive urges. Embrace anarchy. Your masculine nature will become purified as a result.
A counterfeit Christianity is established around these principles. Durden, as the Anointed One of the movement, bears a wound on his hand, an indication of suffering endured for a purpose — except that the suffering is self-imposed and a badge of chaos, not love. Each fight club he founds is a kind of Benedictine monastery of the Dark Side, where those who aspire to join must first wait on the front porch in the cold, subjected to harsh verbal abuse day after day. The similarity to St. Benedict’s Rule is stark:
Do not grant newcomers to the monastic life an easy entry, but, as the Apostle says, Test the spirits to see if they are from God. Therefore, if someone comes and keeps knocking at the door, and if at the end of four or five days he has shown himself patient in bearing harsh treatment and difficulty of entry, and has persisted in his request, then he should be allowed to enter. (Chapter 58)
God exists in Fight Club, but He is to be rejected, because He “doesn’t like you.” As a father figure, He is tied to all of the failed, weak, irrelevant fathers implied in the movie — the ones who provide no direction in life and no fixed moral standards; the ones who capriciously leave their families to remarry and start other families, what Durden describes as “setting up franchises.” If this is a father, and God is a father, then any relationship with God should be avoided. It’s not illogical.
Then there’s man’s fighting instinct — an impulse that has been maligned for decades by a society that has come to believe that humans can be perfected through social engineering. But suppressing that instinct hasn’t made it disappear, only manifest itself in a million other savage ways. We whacked a mole, and the mole came back up as Satan himself.
Sheer suppression was never the answer to man’s violent impulse. Letting God purify it and direct it toward its proper end is the only answer. It isn’t a chaotic fight club men need: It’s the Catholic Church.
When a man wades into the present morass of society with the intention of acting like a Christian, he is entering into bloody warfare on a cosmic scale. You want to fight? Fight for Christ. Fight to be pure, disciplined, moral. Fight for the sanctity of life, for the dignity of the human person. Be obedient to God — even if it kills you. You think being a faithful Catholic means a lot of nervous indecision and handwringing? St. Paul would likely smack you for suggesting it, since he writes: “I do not run aimlessly. I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it” (1 Cor 9:26-27).
Do as St. Paul did, and you will become a real man: one who is strong, selfless, noble, and — not by accident — one who is able to be a real father, not just a quivering flake setting up franchises. You will discover what genuine fatherhood is, and what it means to call God “Abba” — in Aramaic, “dad.” Not “ancient paternal figure.” Not “old bearded patriarch.” Dad.
That’s what God is. He wants us to fight, and fight to the death — but for love, not for chaos; for the Love that makes living and dying and struggling and achieving all meaningful; the Love that tells you to give yourself up, no matter how much it hurts, and give all you have to God and to others.
The Catholic Church is the ultimate fight club. Here we train men who can say, “Hit me as hard as you can. In Christ, I will never fall.”
Image: (c) 20th Century Fox