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I always give pause when these two…

…find themselves in some sort of agreement on a matter.

Listen to Tyler Durden soar to idyllic heights:

“Imagine,” Tyler said, “stalking elk past department store windows and stinking racks of beautiful rotting dresses and tuxedos on hangers; you’ll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life, and you’ll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower. Jack and the beanstalk, you’ll climb up through  the dripping forest canopy and the air will be so clean you’ll see tiny figures pounding corn and laying strips of venison to dry in the empty car pool lane of an abandoned superhighway stretching eight-lanes-wide and August-hot for a thousand miles.”

This was the goal of Project Mayhem, Tyler said, the complete and right-away destruction of civilization.

This is really one of the most prominent themes in Fight Club: self-destruction as a means towards a new reality, “Maybe self-improvement isn’t the answer…Maybe self-destruction is the answer.” The entire notion of a fight club involves the desire to explore the possibilities of ruin. But here Mr. Durden reveals an internal motivation for all his mayhem: peace. A peace that Durden (that is, Palahniuk) believes will come with the inception of a Thoreau-goes-green sort of simplicity, “Project Mayhem will force humanity to go dormant or into remission long enough for the Earth to recover.”

Imagine my surprise when I found a similar sentiment in some lines of verse by the esteemed Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis. The lines are from his poem, “Pan’s Purge,” (c. 1947) found in Poems.

Lewis begins with the death of Pan, Greek god of nature, which is precipitated by “the planning of peremptory humanity”:

But the lion and the unicorn were sighing at the funeral,
Crying at the funeral,
Sobbing at the funeral of the god Pan.

The poet lingers over the mourning for another stanza before turning to the vengeance hinted at in the poem’s title:

No longer were they sorrowful, but stronger and more horrible,
It had only been a rumour of the death of Pan.
The scorpions and the mantichores and corpulent tarantulas
Were closing in around me, hissing Long live Pan!
And forth with rage unlimited the Northwind drew his scimitar,
In wrath with ringing scimitar
He came, with sleet and shipwreck, for the doom of Man.

A falling of fire and brimstone like something out of John’s Revelation commences, leading the poet to conclude:

It was the end of Man;
Except where saints and savages were kept from his ravaging,
And crept out when the ravaging
Was ended, on an empty earth. The new world began.

Perhaps I’m just a naive post-modernist, but I can hardly imagine a more fitting visualization to these lines than the cataclysmic ending of the cinematic adaptation of Palahniuk’s Fight Club:

And here is where an eerie similarity in the post-apocalyptic vision of Chuck Palahniuk and C.S. Lewis becomes apparent:

A small race – a smiling heaven – all round the silences
Returned; there was comfort for corrected Man
Flowered turf had swallowed up the towered cities; following
His flocks and herds where nameless, untainted rivers ran,
Leisurely he pondered, at his pleasure wandering,
Measurelessly wandering…
Clear, on the huge pastures, the young voice of Man.

The rural swallows up the industrial. The organic survives the mechanical. Patches of green grow atop the factory’s grave.

Now, what cannot be done at this point is to pave over all the other glaring differences between Palahniuk and Lewis. Because they are legion. What I’m doing here is playing the part of the archaeologist who has discovered the same religious artifact on opposite sides of the globe. Or different planets, for that matter.

In both Palahniuk and Lewis, there is a longing for something here. What is it?

A new creation.

Lewis loved his outdoor walks. It is obvious that they had a spiritual dimension. They allowed Lewis to behold the beauty that pointed him to its Maker. “Pure white magic,” Lewis once said in the midst of some English woods. I believe this juncture between the spiritual and the pastoral is illustrated well by one of Lewis’ walks, as recorded by George Sayers in his biography of Lewis, Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis. On this walk, Lewis and his brother, Major Warren Lewis (or “Warnie”), encounter the famed Tintern Abbey. Lewis comments on the sight:

Anything like the sweetness and peace of the long shafts of sunlight falling through the window on this grass cannot be imagined. All churches should be roofless. A holier place I never saw.

Some read Genesis and say that all the world was made a sanctuary. I think Lewis would probably agree. But nature is not the only holy place, as Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” “God’s temple is holy,” he continues, “and you are that temple.” New creation. We want to see it in nature. Ironically, nature wants to see it in us, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.”

Palahniuk and Lewis longed after the same thing. Palahniuk explores this longing with the literary device of a fight club, a kind of resurrection of medieval flagellation, where one tries to force a new creation within the self through clenched fists and violent pain. But this is like the child who thinks he can measure the moon by eclipsing it with a quarter. All the revolutions in the world can’t save the soul of a man.

“Truly, truly, I say to you,” says the Son of Man, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

There will be an end of all things…

…but at the center of the new Jerusalem is a tree of life, the leaves of which will be “for the healing of the nations.”

“Behold,” announces Christus Victor, “I am making all things new.”

So I watched The Dark Knight Rises.

And it was good. Very good. But it reminded me of a few things (beware, spoilers follow).

Near the beginning, Officer John Blake (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) tries to encourage one of the many orphans of Gotham City. The boy idly draws the Batman logo onto a bench  and asks, “Do you think he’s coming back?” The child refers to Batman, but my mind instantly went elsewhere.

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:18-19)

Blake himself is an orphan. Even Bruce Wayne’s own father can’t be found in any of the countless buildings that bear his name (I’ll let you connect the analogy there). A world of strays and lost sheep. These He came to redeem.

The Batman does eventually arrive on the scene, in all his diesel-fueled glory, and he soon follows a trail that leads him to the underground headquarters of
the film’s villain, Bane (played by Tom Hardy, of Guy Ritchie fame; quick bit of trivia: apparently Hardy was not given the part of Bane because of his role as a vicious bareknuckle boxer in the film, Bronson, as was believed, but because of his lighthearted character, “Handsome Bob,” in RocknRolla). However, Batman does not arrive at the end of this trail before a seemingly close ally, Catwoman (played by Anne Hathaway), betrays Batman into the inescapable hands of his enemies.

Now who else was famously betrayed by a close friend and led to His death? (Not to mention Ms. Kyle later shares a kiss with the Caped Crusader, but I don’t want to force the connection.)

Batman is soon locked in combat with this archetypal force of evil. It does not take long before it is apparent that our hero cannot match Bane’s strength. After a series of agonizing blows, Batman lays prostrate on the ground. He lunges towards Bane in a final attempt, to which Bane responds, “I wondered which would break first, your soul or your body.” Bane punctuates this final line by lifting the defeated Batman high over his head and slamming him across his knee, breaking his back.

“‘Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.” (John 12:31-32, italics mine)

Bane, an intelligent, powerful beast of a human being, having been hardened by a virtual eternity of life within prison, digs a pit in the center of the film’s microcosm and destroys the hope of Gotham.

“Here we may reign secure, and in my choice to reign is worth ambition though
in Hell: better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n. But wherefore let we then
our faithful friends…and call them not to share with us their part in this unhappy mansion…” (Paradise Lost)

In this “unhappy mansion,” Bane surrounds himself with an army of desperate, never-ending criminals, each willing to die in order to “start the fire,” as one member of Bane’s league testifies early in the movie, before allowing himself to die in a plane crash at Bane’s request.

Bruce Wayne awakes in an enormous, gaping pit teeming with criminals, the same ancient prison that Bane ostensibly grew up in. Wayne is greeted by Bane, who celebrates his victory over the protagonist by explaining how he will destroy the people of Gotham, now that their defender has been removed. Bane justifies this course of action by alluding to some grand, necessary purpose for the people of Gotham: that they must be destroyed for their evil.

You see, the evil one is our accuser. St. John tells us in the Revelation, “the accuser of our brothers…accuses them day and night before our God.”

And the accuser would see us destroyed, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

And Batman seems to have no option but to wait and watch it happen. But there is a way out of this pit. A means of escape. Near the top of the towering pit wall is a ledge. Reaching this ledge requires a leap that no one else has successfully made.

“…the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)

And, doubtless, many inmates of that pit crawled towards the light.

“And he made from one man every nation of mankind…that they should seek God in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him.” (Acts 17:26-27)

Bruce Wayne climbs the pit wall and makes the impossible leap. He pulls himself up, clears the entrance, and stands to his feet. Before beginning his long journey to Gotham (from whatever nondescript desert the pit is located in), Wayne hesitates to drop a rope down to those still trapped. He bridged the unbridgeable gap.

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Hebrews 2:14-15) 

Bane will later ask the penultimate question, “Why did you return? To die with them?” To which Batman responds, “No, to defeat you.”

And Bane is defeated. In a sort of anticlimactic, unbelievable fashion. A single shot fired levels the beast. It is laughable how easily it happens.

“And he said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.'” (Luke 10:18)

“And I heard a loud voice in heaving, saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down…And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…” (Revelation 12:10-11)

It is this testimony that I proclaim to you. Christ is risen. What our culture marvels at unknowingly, the gospel reveals.

“God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” (Acts 2:24)

“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:38-39)