Beat to a Pulp Fiction

A few years ago, Promise Keepers exploded onto the cultural radar screen, driving Christian men to reconsider what it means to be masculine. Well, today another cultural explosion is taking place, this time in movie theaters. I'm talking about a film called "Fight Club," and it is a brutal portrait of what happens when men look for ultimate purpose outside of a biblical worldview. "Fight Club" tells the story of Jack, a young man trapped in his sterile office cubicle, pushing paper and living for the next IKEA furniture catalogue. His hollow existence torments him. One day Jack meets a charismatic figure named Tyler Durden, who regales Jack with his vision of what America has become: a place where men have no purpose, no great war, no great depression to overcome. Men are nothing more than homogenous consumers, indistinguishable from women or from each other. Success is defined in terms of mindless conformity. Admittedly, Tyler has identified a real issue in today's culture—men are struggling to figure out what it means to be masculine. But Tyler's notion of how men can free themselves from this emasculated cultural prison is startling. He asks Jack to hit him—as hard as he can. He wants to find out what he's made of, to test his limitations. It's the beginning of Fight Club. Soon, scores of men all around the country are meeting to fight one another. The goal is to overcome their fears—fear of pain, failure, inadequacy, and even death—any fear that keeps them from achieving their potential. But the movie is not about fighting; it's about manhood and calling. In one of the film's most powerful scenes, Tyler takes Jack to a convenience store—apparently intent on mayhem. Instead, Tyler terrorizes the store's clerk into abandoning his unfulfilling job in order to pursue his dream of veterinary medicine. It's a curious ritual of existential redemption. Tyler then leads a kind of terrorist assault upon the idols of the consumer age. He and his followers vandalize effete retail stores and blow up major credit card companies. In the end, however, Jack realizes that Tyler's purely destructive project is inadequate. Certainly real manhood can't be defined by consumerism, he realizes, but it can't be defined by violence, either. The film is right as far as it goes. Christian writer Leon Podles says the real purpose of masculinity is "the protection and provision of the community." In that respect, he says, it finds its perfect "fulfillment in the one who is Lord, because he is [both] sacrifice and savior." It is by imitating Christ, even sacrificing themselves if necessary, that men find true masculinity. Now, I don't recommend you see this brutal and vulgar film. "Fight Club" has received Bill Bennett's "Silver Sewer" award for good reason. But if your friends and neighbors see it, use it as an opportunity to discuss with them its deeper themes. Help them to see that neither consumerism nor violence can satisfy the yearning for purpose. The truly meaningful life is found only by living according to a biblical worldview. The real measure of manhood, you see, is not throwing punches—it's following the example of the One who taught us to turn the other cheek.


Chuck Colson



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