Online cults part 1: “The Manosphere”

Today I want to start a bit of a series to help make church leaders aware of the online cults out there vying for the attention of your members, particularly the younger ones. This first one we’ll look at is “The Manosphere.”

What is the manosphere?

The manosphere is a very loose grouping of various communities. They are:

  • Men’s Rights Activists (MRA)
  • Pickup Artists (PUA)
  • Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW)
  • Involuntary celibates (incels)

They all share a common view of the male-female relationship that is inherently hostile and calculative. 🤦 With the proliferation of the internet and online communities, they have all thrived. In particular, they tend to draw in young and vulnerable men.

It may sound fringe, but it’s absolutely mainstream and very much viral. It has been invading the social media feeds of the males at your church, it’s definitely influencing them, and it’s damaging the relationship between males and female Christians.

The intersection with “hustle culture” and right wing

Hustle culture has a lot of grifters that started off in the pickup artist world and shares a lot of the terminology with the manosphere. Similarly, it’s heavily male dominated and you will encounter overlapping beliefs. Likewise, while not always, it does tend to start skewing toward the right wing, so it’s not uncommon for consumers of straightforward popular right-wing influencers like Ben Shapiro, himself not at all connected to the manosphere, to be heavily bombarded with manosphere recommendations.

These two groups appeal to Christians based on predominant Protestant “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” work ethic and conservative outlook held within the broader Christian subculture. This means the people in your church are targeted for and susceptible to manosphere content.

How can I identify when my congregation is being influenced by the manosphere?

The manosphere tends to communicate in a particular way and there’s an insider language utilized. Here’s some very broad terminology guidelines:

  • You hear terminology inspired by The Matrix: “in the Matrix,” blue pill, red pill, agents, black pill, white pill, etc. 🥱
  • You hear evolutionary psychology, or quasi-scientific terms: “lizard brain,” alpha, beta, omega, sigma, “dark triad,” hypergamy, etc. 🤔
  • Women are increasingly characterized in competitive or antagonistic terms, particularly in terms of disparities, legitimate or not, where males appear at a disadvantage: divorce proceedings, manual labor, education rates, “sexual value,” etc. 🙄
  • Other peculiar terms being used like: cuck, soy boy, incel, monk mode, going monk, Chad, Stacy, high value (HV), low value (LV), “sexual marketplace value” (SMV), “monkey branching,” gynocentrism, frame, etc. 🤢
  • The use of absolutes and harsh dichotomies when referring to categories of men and women: “Becky vs. Stacy,” “virgin incel vs. Chad Thundercock,” “thot vs. tradhot.” 🤮

One of the core things you will notice is that women are increasingly dehumanized and viewed as incapable of making their own choices. Instead, the manosphere insists that they make choices entirely driven by biological impulses formed through evolutionary processes. Women, as the manosphere ultimately believes, are viewed by the manosphere as a commodity.

Notice as well, that men and women are heavily viewed as a caricature of masculinity and femininity. In Jungian archetypal terms masculinity is only the ruler, the outlaw, and the hero… emphasis on a ruler/outlaw combo… but leaves out a myriad of attractive masculine traits found in the creator, sage, jester, magician, explorer, etc. It also has a highly caricatured view of relationships that boils down to sex and has very little to say about intimacy, particularly of the emotional sort. It very literally views humans as little more than animals driven by procreative impulses and accrual of resources.

There are also certain influencers that persons impacted by the manosphere are likely to follow as well as how likely the person is being influenced toward manosphere ideologies:

  • Andrew Tate – extremely likely (as of this writing he is under arrest for human trafficking)
  • Pearl Davis, AKA JustPearlyThings – extremely likely (suspected of alt-right views as she opposes mixed race relationships)
  • “The Rational Male” – extremely likely
  • “Better Bachelor” – extremely likely
  • “Whatever” dating podcast – extremely likely (going viral regularly)
  • Casey Zander – extremely likely
  • “Entrepreneurs in Cars” – extremely likely
  • “Fresh and Fit” – extremely likely (goes viral with some regularity)
  • Grant Cardone – likely (mostly a hustle grifter, but uses the manosphere terminology liberally)
  • Jordan Peterson – likely (not himself a manosphere proponent, but appeals to the manosphere)
  • Valuetainment – likely (mostly a business/right-wing channel but does put out some overt manosphere content)
  • Chris Williamson – possibly (uses the evolutionary psychology terminology but seems to value and respect women)
  • Douglas Wilson – possibly (controversial complementarian)

This list is not an exhaustive list as there’s no shortage of second tier grifters selling courses to people that get sucked into the manosphere. You’ll also likely find overlap with right-wing or conservative influencer viewing tendencies, but those channels don’t usually espouse express manosphere ideologies. Similarly, there’s often overlap with “hustle culture” influencers who also often have a certain misogynistic slant and will use the “evolutionary psychology” terms like “alpha,” “beta,” and “high value male.” Andrew Tate being the most notorious crossover. Hustle culture often promises to make a “beta” into a “high value” male so that they will be attractive to women, which is where the main connection is found.

A word of caution here as well, if your church is complementarian, the manosphere is particularly dangerous because it can masquerade or hide behind “traditional male and female values.” It’s anything but traditional as it has more in common with The Stepford Wives, particularly in an underlying belief that women are not free-thinking agents, than it does with a biblical view of manhood, womanhood, or relationships.

The extreme fringes of the manosphere

It’s worth mentioning briefly that the manosphere has some very extreme fringes. First, there’s the incel extremes, the most recent extreme for incels is “transmaxxing” wherein young men come to believe that the solution to their dilemma is to become trans females. On the other side of the incel coin, there have been acts of incel terrorism. Yes, it is that cultish, people are encouraged and cheered for these extremes. 😱

If that weren’t dark enough, the manosphere has significant crossover with the alt-right and neo nazi movements. Some of the most vocal voices of the manosphere have also been the most vocal voices of white supremacy. Andrew Anglin, one of the most notorious, even advocates spousal abuse.

How can I counter the teaching of the manosphere?

First, remember, the manosphere is very much a cult. It has an orthodoxy and if you don’t adhere to the orthodoxy you are cast out. This is especially true of the incels. That means that for people to get out of the manosphere, they need real life relationships with people that care about them when they abandon the manosphere orthodoxy.

Second, the science that the manosphere touts is generally nonsensical. Human beings are not so simple to categorize as an “alpha” or a “beta.” Well established sociological theories like role theory very much show us that people don’t have a singular fixed hierarchical position. In some scenarios you are the respected expert, in others you are the student, in some you lead, in some you follow, in some you are a face in the crowd, so on and so forth. Humans and their interactions are too complex for such a simple perspective.

Even if it were true, from a theological perspective, God calls people that wouldn’t fit the “alpha” mold to lead or speak to his people. A few examples: Moses who is a bit introverted, Gideon who is reluctant to lead, Jeremiah who is too timid about his age, Deborah and Esther who are not even dudes, so on and so forth. The message to your congregation is this: God calls us all to things bigger than we can accomplish on our own, he knows our personalities and his power is displayed through all of them!

Similarly, it’s worth holding up as an example, masculine examples of creativity, kindness, comedy, intellect, etc. I’m not a woman and I wouldn’t presume to know how they choose mates, but I’m no “alpha” yet managed to marry a pretty good one. 😉 As my fellow Idahoan, Napoleon Dynamite attests, having some skills seems to help:

Joking aside, women choose mates based on more than attractiveness, power, resources and we need to disabuse the notion that they would be universally vapid.

Third, push back against the objectification of women. Whether your church is egalitarian or complementarian, double down on the fact that women and men are both bearers of the divine image. Similarly, women are not guided entirely on some sort of automatic physiological program. Men need to understand they are much more complex… and frankly, intriguing… than that.

Fourth, have frank talks with the single and divorced men in the church. The church, on the whole, hasn’t been great at teaching young single men how to navigate relationships or prepare them for rejection. The 90’s with the whole I Kissed Dating Goodbye nonsense certainly didn’t help things, and it’s only gotten more convoluted in the age of swiping left and right. They need our help and encouragement to navigate this time of their lives to help prevent them from becoming jaded manosphere adherents. For the divorcees, they are understandably hurt, but hurt doesn’t give license blame.

Finally, advocate online with content that gives a healthy perspective on the interaction between men and women. Interview all kinds of couples in your church about the dynamics in their relationships and what makes them work. Tell the story of how you met your spouse. The manosphere is available 24/7 because their content is out there, make the Christian narrative on male and female relational dynamics available online 24/7 too!

Closing thoughts

I don’t love to throw around the term “toxic,” but the manosphere is absolutely a toxic influence on congregations today given how it exerts a cult-like influence and foments a twisted view of male and female relationships. It’s one that we have to confront head on and put out the message pointing out how bereft of value the manosphere is. That being said, the solution is not in shaming men drawn to the manosphere, but by empathizing and leading them out from the cult of the manosphere.

Isaac Johnson

Isaac has been in professional ministry since 2002, holds an M.Div. from Moody, and his goal is to equip churches to reach digital natives.

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