“Our fathers were our models for God. And, if our fathers bailed, what does that tell us about God?” — Tyler Durden
This is the statement I want to tackle in this article. Watch the clip above, its 2 minutes. I’ll give some background to the question he asks, then move on to an answer.
Our father is a model for God. Or as Freud stated, “God is a projection of the human father.”
When we are young, our father protects us. He brings order to the chaos, certainty to the unknown world. Some kids bullying you at school? He tells you what to do, how to fight back. He tells you what reality is and how it works.
We in turn view him as God. Or rather, view God as him.
But as we get older, things change. After a certain point, he no longer solves our problems. You got a cut from running around outside? Suck it up. Go wash it off yourself. Rather than having dad solve all our problems, we have to solve the problems ourselves.
We begin to take responsibility for what happens to us.
This is a crucial moment in maturity. In primitive tribes, this is when the child undergoes initiation.
During initiation the child is ripped from his mother’s arms and forced to fight. No longer can he hide in her comfort, no longer does he have the father’s protection.
For the first time, he must fight for his survival — he must fight nature.
This may be the elders of the tribe wearing masks of the gods, brutally beating him until he fights back. This may be the child going out into the woods and surviving on his own.
Whatever the specific ritual is, its what happens during the initiation that is of extreme importance — It’s when the child becomes a man.
The father is gone. The child is on his own and must learn to make sense of the world himself — to bring order to the chaos just like his father did. He is thrown against the rules of nature and they become ingrained in his soul:
Its kill or be killed.
You're on your own, nobody will save you.
Everything dies. Including you.
Eat and drink or you die.
And with these rules, forced onto him, he now has order. He has done the job his father once did for him — bringing certainty to the uncertain, forming a narrative about the world, a set of beliefs that can be built upon.
Beliefs that can be trusted with an unwavering loyalty.
He is one of the adults now. He understands reality in the same way all the elders do. The brutal game of life and death they face every day.
“If our fathers bailed, what does that tell us about God?” — Tyler Durden
So back to Fight Club.
As we grow up, the father will no longer protect us. We’re on our own. This is the abandonment of the father Tyler speaks of (though his abandonment was premature, his father was never there in the first place).
With no father to protect you, your problems are up to you to figure out.
Through initiation, we learn how to do this. We learn to solve our problems and understand the world. The man we once viewed as God is just that, a man. A mortal creature just like us who will die one day.
But what happens to God during this transition? Where does he go? Lets rewind.
“God is a projection of the father” — Freud
Let’s look at this again. We view God in the image of our father, but what does this look like from the father’s perspective?
The father channels God through his words, he taps into the divine masculine and delivers it to his child. It’s not magic, but a psychological instinct to play the father character — an instinct to teach his child the ways of the world.
Through his stories, the father gives the child a foundation to understand the world from. It gives the child a framework to take in information and sort it into categories that he can comprehend.
It is through this communication that the child comes to know God. God is not the story the father tells, but the truth behind the story. God is the rules of nature the father tries to convey to the child.
The child doesn't learn the truth of God, only a second hand image his father creates. Thus the child must go through initiation and learn of God directly. But this is why the child views God as his father — the foundation of his beliefs is built upon his father’s stories.
We now have a definition of God. God is the set of foundational beliefs, the rules of nature. He is all of the objective facts of the world.
God is gravity, God is death, God is musical harmony, God is hunger.
God is the set of all of these objective facts of reality that we build our understanding of the world upon.
So let’s recap.
In youth, the father tells us stories, and from these stories we build our understanding of the world. Animals come out at night, kids bully you if you don’t fight back, etc.
He also physically protects us, solving our problems, and appears unstoppable. Dad can fix anything.
Our image of God is then shaped after our father. Our father created the fundamental truths we believe, he is all powerful, and protects us. When the child imagines God, he sees a figure strikingly similar to his father.
The father attempts to teach the child about the world, but he can only do so much with words. A father can tell his son “it’s kill or be killed”, but it’s only in a life or death fight that the child will fully understand what that means.
As the child comes of age, the father God begins to die. His father no longer protects him — the child must protect himself. He must solve his own problems. It is at this time that the child is sent through initiation.
Initiation shows him how to make sense of the world in the way his father did. It shows him the rules of nature, the fundamental truths of his reality. Through this process he becomes an adult, abandoning his old way of viewing the world and following these new principles.
Since nature is now the one that created the fundamental truths the child believes, not his father, the image of God changes in the now initiated child’s head. God is no longer shaped like his father, but is shaped like nature.
God is gravity and death and pain and all the other facts of reality we can observe, and he did observe, in initiation.
Armed with these new unbreakable truths, a new foundation, the child can build his understanding of the world. He can learn to navigate the unknown and bring certainty to himself and others.
“If our fathers bailed, what does that tell us about God?” — Tyler Durden
So back to Fight Club (again).
This initiation of the child, where we must grapple with nature and learn it’s way. Where we must tame the beast of uncertainty just as our father did for us. Where we must find a new God.
This is exactly what Tyler Durden is doing with the chemicals.
Tyler undergoes an initiation. He looks pain in the eyes and learns from it. The chemical burn grounds Tyler in his physical reality and teaches him a fundamental truth of nature, a fragment of God.
You are a living being that feels pain. You are mortal. You will die.
Its one thing to say it, but to be in that moment, to feel the pain in your hand, to stare it down and accept it, to understand that fact of reality. That's what initiation is, and that’s what happened to Tyler.
The child’s initiation is is not an abandonment of God, a loss of truth — it is the grappling with a new truth, a truer truth. A new God.
The God we knew is dead, but there is a new God to take his place — the God we discovered during initiation. He is no longer personified by the father figure. He is no longer solving your problems. The new God doesn’t care about you. The new God is the tough reality of the real world.
And a new God really is out there in nature, but you have to discover him yourself.
Zeus lived way up on mount Olympus, he didn't care what was happening in human lives. Moses had to climb a mountain to talk to God. But, when Moses did climb up that mountain, when he fasted for 40 days — pushing himself to his limits — God rewarded him.
Through initiation we discover God, and to be rewarded by God you must play by his rules. The rules are what you build your understanding of everything upon, thus by following these rules, by following God, you will be rewarded.
Take music for example. A fundamental rule of music is the harmony. A physical phenomenon that the human mind recognizes. Certain notes sound good together, so by following that rule in creating your music, your music will sound good.
In modern day we don't have initiations, at least not explicitly.
This is a problem. Without our initiation we are left abandoned. As we grow up the father God dies off, and without the discovery of a new God through initiation, we are alone. We have no foundation to build our beliefs upon. We are left out in an ocean of uncertainty without a ship to navigate it. We are left in total nihilism.
We can see this happening today. Without a set of beliefs people become lost in the noise of consumerism, a post-modern whatever the fuck they call it that leaves people hollow. An empty existence with nothing inside. No beliefs to guide us, no framework we can fall back on. The best we can do is create a facade to put in front of the mirror, but none of it is real. This empty existence drives people to suicide.
This is what Tyler was avoiding with those chemicals. He was escaping consumerism through an act of initiation. He was discovering the foundational beliefs of nature that he could build his world on top of.
This is what you must do.
You must be like Tyler and stare down the pain, stay with it, and accept it.
You can form complicated systems in your head to cope with it and try to justify it— but the pain is right there, in your hand, and you cannot escape it. There is no justification, no reason behind it, only the reality of pain in that moment.
You are mortal. You will die. You failed out of school and ruined your life. The world sucks.
“First you have to give up. First you have to know, not fear, know, that some day you’re gonna die.” — Tyler Durden
And finally, by abandoning your past self’s childish thoughts.
By accepting the world as it is.
By accepting your new God of nature and all the objective facts of your situation.
By building your thoughts upon this new foundation.
You can finally move forward. You can finally believe in something. You can create a place of order.
You can create a way out of the noise.
But you have to create it. God only rewards those that climb the mountain.