Sunday, August 21, 2011

Is There Any Purpose for the Male Urge to Fight? Violent Anarchy or Heroic Virtue--Which Shall We Choose?

I got to thinking about this topic because of a very good February, 2011 article by Dan Lord at the Crisis Magazine web site, "What Is Fight Club?" I recommend reading it.

I saw the movie (it was released in 1999) perhaps two years ago and was quite intrigued by it. It is violent, and definitely not a family-friendly type of film. I would only recommend it to someone on an individual basis depending on the person. As Lord says, it is "a dark film about existentially desperate young men struggling to create meaning by way of consensual fistfights and controlled anarchy." Lord further tells us that the characters, "are reacting against a contemporary society that lacks a soul. . . . 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."

I agree. While the film is disturbing and rather nihilistic, nonetheless, I have to admit as a man that there is indeed something mysteriously attractive about it as a man.

While I do think there is truth to Lord's remark about a certain disgust at least in some men--perhaps hidden even to themselves--for suffering emasculation, "at the hands of a soft and lazy culture," there is more to the picture. Near the end, he concludes, "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." He is on to something here.

I very much agree. Contemporary Western society (and, forgive me, especially some women in Western society, perhaps especially urban professional women with degrees) seems to have largely lost the ability to place the male urge for a fight into its proper and healthy context--the fight against evil.

It's hard to even write this today, the fight against evil, without feeling a little silly. I'm actually very serious. But this indicates how far away from a traditional Christian perspective we have slipped as a culture.

There is truly real evil in the world. It is just as dark and destructive as it has ever been. It wants to destroy society, destroy human life, destroy peace, destroy God's image in the world--which is the human person transformed by grace.

There really is an interior, natural urge in men--especially evident in young boys!--to fight. But--and this is very important for women to understand--this urge is NOT simply a general urge to fight anything, for any reason. Boys (especially young boys where this urge is closest to its naturally more innocent state before being pulled in a dark direction by the world) do not, generally speaking, want to fight simply for the sake of fighting. The urge in young boys is not to fight for no reason at all. They want to fight--for the sake of what is good! They want to fight against evil, against the forces of darkness!

Yes, we men I would claim without apology, have a natural drive to fight. But despite the claims of contemporary culture to the contrary, this drive is NOT generic. It's an urge with a purpose--a reason--a desired destiny. We want (just as small boys) to fight against evil. We want to defend what we know is good and true and beautiful. We want, if and when appropriate, to be able to defend our families--to keep our wives and children safe. We want to be the mythical prince slaying the dragon who is trying to eat the princess. It is a very primal and deep instinct. It is very connected to simply being a man at a very root level. This is why, I believe, it is one of the earliest and most commonly and easily observed differences between boys and girls at a young age. The young boys (for the most part) are the ones running around with pretend swords raucously engaging in mock battles. There is a natural attraction to this in boys that is largely lacking in girls (at least to the same intensity). The attraction of boys to superheros is the very same desire in action. Superheros have a purpose. They fight against evil, they protect others from being harmed by evil forces that will harm and destroy if they are not aggressively and forcefully opposed.

But we live in a culture, more and more, that takes this healthy urge to fight for what is right and good and true, and calls it bad without qualification. It no longer knows what it is for. It squelches it, stuffs it away and is embarrassed about it. The only barely acceptable place for it to still be on display is in organized sports. But even there, with more and more restriction.

So, what happens? How does the culture respond to the denigration of men's proper desire to fight? Fight Club, for all its brutality and nihilism, is a powerful symbol of the deep inner drive to fight in the hearts of men. And it also shows in a fantastical way just how twisted things can become among men when our drive to fight is no longer embraced and valued by the larger culture in an ordered and healthy way.

Indeed, it is specifically Christianity which is able more than any other force of life on earth, to place fighting in a good context. Without the Christian understanding of standing up, with God's grace, for what is right and true according to Jesus Christ and His Church, this primal urge cannot help but to become itself easily twisted and deformed, becoming a source of harm rather than a force for preservation and protection.

But to realize and to live this in a healthy and balanced way, under God's grace, we first must not abandon the ancient awareness that there is indeed a force for great evil ever active in the world, at war with mankind, trying to enlist men to its cause against other men. When we first remember this, we can then realize that fighting on behalf of the good--in defense against an attacking evil, or even attacking evil first--is itself a good thing. A noble thing. A manly thing.

Update:  Might a Fight Club sort of ennui have had anything to do with the recent riots in London? Of course this is only part of a complex picture. The rise in fatherless homes, increasingly welfare-state policies that require little contribution to society from the young, and the decline in the sincere practice of Christian faith all play a major role.


  1. Agreed. But how does the Catholic Church provide the solution? Especially in the modern age? I don't really see it..

    Is this not why the military religious orders were founded? The Knights Templar, the Knights of St. John etc... It seems that they provided exactly what you describe here..

  2. Well, I don't know for sure. I don't think this is the sort of problem that can be solved by directly targeting it. I think it's the sort of problem that is a sign of an even more fundamental issue--a loss of faith.

    First and foremost, the thing that has to be focused on is trying to make our culture Christian again--transforming society one person at a time. Before a man can channel his fighting spirit in a proper way under the guidance of God's grace, he must first be a sincere believer. He must have Christ present in his soul. This has to come first. Without Jesus Christ being alive in a man's soul, taking other measures to address this issue are doomed to failure.

    In one way of looking at it, it's very complex when you try to think of all the various factors that are relevant. But in another way, it's simple (which doesn't mean easy)--the restoration of a healthy, masculine fighting spirit that serves what is good and true and beautiful has one foundation as its bedrock: a real, living faith in Christ.


Thank you for civil and well-considered comments!