This post is written for men -- young men, married men, and at the end, I make a plea to men who are church leaders.
Since Theopolis has started a conversation over the value of so-called "red pill" thinking for men, I thought I'd chip in something a little different here. I've read a number of red pill writers over the years and found them to be mixed bag, yet very profitable if read with discernment. Sure, there are dangers in reading the red pill guys, just as there is danger in reading Freud or Nietzsche. But there is also value. In this post, I am not really interested in critiquing all that is wrong with the red pill; that has been done elsewhere. Rather, I am interested in asking how we can derive benefit from what the red pill gets right and how we as Christians (and especially pastors) might build upon.
Aaron Renn’s Theopolis contribution is correct in claiming that the church has largely failed men. Indeed, it’s not just that the church has failed to attract men; the church has in some cases almost actively driven men away, either by shaming them or misleading them. The "manosphere" has been one place many men (especially younger men) have turned to take up the slack. Of course, this has produced mixed results, as Renn notes. The early red-pillers were largely focused on fornicating and many were brimming with misogyny. But there have been a few red pill writers who have matured and do have something useful to offer. We can also include here those who have developed a Christian version of the red pill (though they may not like that terminology, and understandably distance themselves from it). I'd especially include here many of those who have intentionally sought to reach Christian men with a better message than either the manosphere or the contemporary evangelical church. I have in mind especially Renn (who has been one of my chief influences), Craig James (who has perhaps the best blog on practical manhood), and the excellent work being done by Mike Foster and Bnonn Tennant at the It's Good to be a Man website as they seek to reconstruct biblical masculinity and the productive household. The loudest voice in the manosphere, of course, is Rollo Tomassi, unless Jordan Peterson is also considered a rill pill guru (and I would put him in that category, even if Renn and Rollo would not).
The kinds of things of value found in Rollo Tomassi, Jordan Peterson, etc., are what I would classify as “folk wisdom,” albeit "folk wisdom" for men in particular. Granted, it's an odd kind of folk wisdom because it is often mixed in with evolutionary psychology, bits of the Bible, “inside baseball” type jargon that requires a glossary for the newbie, sociological research, etc., but that’s essentially what it is. A lot of what these figures have to offer is knowledge that would have been taken for granted in previous generations. But we are not quite like those generations. While there is nothing new under the sun in an ultimate sense, there are certainly significant changes in our social and legal structures, our technology, and our cultural situation that have produced a very different understanding of intersexual dynamics. In short, modern people believe that their technology will empower them in such a way that their ideology will be able to triumph over nature. Technology + modern ideology = a new reality of our own making. The ideology in question is sometimes called egalitarianism, at other times called feminism, but it is at root a denial of deep differences between the sexes. But the real reality -- the true truth -- is that men and women remain what they have always been. That is to say, the differences between the sexes are stubbornly resistant to all our attempts to overcome them. In other words, our effort to use technology to redesign who we are is proving to be a massive failure. Instead of creating a newly fashioned egalitarian reality where everyone lives happily ever after, we have created a huge cultural disaster that leaves people incredibly unhappy but with no idea how to fix the problem. Enter the red pill -- an attempt to reckon with realities, biological and otherwise, that are politically incorrect by current standards, but tend to align with pre-sexual revolution views of intersexual dynamics. The red pill presents itself an antidote to the disaster brought onto male/female relationships by feminism and egalitarianism.
When I introduced my son to Jordan Peterson several years ago, I explained he was not a Christian (so only read/listen with discernment) but had many helpful things to say precisely because he was courageous enough to stand for things that many preachers no longer would. I also pointed out that a lot of his best insights could be found in old Lynyrd Skynyrd lyrics (“….be a simple kind of man…”, etc.) — ok, an exaggeration, but my point was, this stuff is not exactly earth shattering or novel, it’s just been lost in a culture that is dominated by political correctness, that has allowed the misappropriation of technology to blind us to obvious natural/creational realities, etc. Most of what Peterson and other red-pillers give you is stuff your great grandpa knew, even if he could not articulate it (and he probably did not need to).
Start with a familiar example: Moms have been telling their sons for generations, “make your bed.” And sons have (hopefully) obeyed — but often with a roll of the eyes. Then Peterson commands those same young men, “make your bed,” and suddenly this becomes the most profound piece of life-changing advice they’ve ever heard. Why? Mom wanted the bed made because she wanted a clean house -- but, of course, boys don't care about having a clean house. But Peterson connects bed-making to something much bigger. He connects bed-making to world-conquering — something that appeals to all young men. His message is challenging and testosterone filled young men like to be challenged: You can’t fix the world without first fixing yourself. You cannot change the world unless you develop core competencies and skills and disciplines in the real world. You have a mission and you cannot fulfill that mission unless you bring discipline and order to bear on your life and surroundings. You must take responsibility for yourself and your domain. Suddenly bed-making becomes crucial to manhood, not just something you do to make mom happy, but something that contributes to a purposeful life arc. It becomes part of your mission. It becomes a form of dominion.
Of course, men not only want to conquer the world, they also want to “conquer” a woman. They want to win her heart, her loyalty, her affection, and especially her sexual responsiveness. Enter Rollo. Most (though admittedly not all) men have a sense that their manhood is incompletely developed until they have won a woman’s heart and respect. Most of what the culture tells them about male/female relationships does not work and/or is grossly immoral. A lot of counsel emanating from the church doesn’t really work either. Young me are told “godliness is sexy” and then they see the pretty girls chase men who are…..well, not exactly godly. There’s a void of wisdom here that needs to be filled.
A little more context. We have to reckon with just how much the world has changed as the sexual revolution has come full circle (or as Cornelius Van Til would say, “reached epistemological self-consciousness”). I am 47. When I was in my 20s, gays were still in the closet for the most part. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that” was funny -- precisely because everyone knew there actually was something wrong with it. Everyone knew which bathroom to use. Men were generally expected to treat women differently -- to clean up their manners and perhaps their language in the presence of the more delicate sex. There were special privileges and responsibilities connected with manhood. Yes, we could probably expect the higher paying jobs, but we would have families we were expected to care for. And if the ship went down, well, it was “women and children first.” We would be left to drown in the icy sea. Manhood brought privileges and respect -- but those privileges and respect were connected to responsibilities, and if a man did not fulfill them, he would not be considered a man at all.
Think about what the world is like for today’s 20 year old. Masculinity is toxic, and the more “traditional” a man is, the more toxic he is viewed. Chivalry is considered offensive...or is it? No one seems to know for sure, as men get mixed signals. Sometimes holding a door open for a lady is considered sexist (albeit referred to as “benevolent sexism”), sometimes it is appreciated. But there is no question both masculinity and femininity are undergoing a reappraisal and redefinition in the eyes of the culture. Lines between men and women are blurred; androgyny is often a stated goal. A mixed sex work place has led to a kind of bureaucratically, HR-department enforced androgyny which turns workers into sexless corporate drones. Jewelry companies run ads in which a man gets down on a knee in front of another man to propose. They also run ads in which a woman gets down on her knee to propose to a man -- perhaps the ultimate form of role reversal. Sure, in most situations, at least where I live in the deep South, men are probably still expected to buy their girlfriend's engagement rings if they want to marry…but since women are fighting for equal pay, outnumber men in college and graduate school, and so on, it’s not exactly clear why the man has to be the one to take on the risk, the expense, etc. associated with proposing. How exactly can a romantic relationship between interchangeable equals ever work? Transgenderism has further confused sexual roles and relationships. No one knows which bathroom to use…or who might be in there when you enter. And if you say only women can have babies, you are branded a bigot, because "feelings trump facts." Yes, in our Christian enclaves we are somewhat insulated from the worst of these follies. But they are still pervasive in the culture. You cannot escape them. They surround us and they are closing in.
The red pill seeks to push back against these cultural trends. It seeks to do this not by turning back the clock to a more sexually innocent age. Rollo in particular is clear about this. There is no going back. There is no undoing the sexual revolution. But we can be more honest about our biology and psychology, and if we men tap into these now largely obscured truths, we can have success in relationships with the opposite sex in a world in which that has become increasingly difficult. Does the red pill live up to its promise?
Rollo is far from perfect, but his value is like Peterson’s. He is saying that things that many younger men need to hear and that resonate with those young men because they see how his insights “fit” and explain observations that have already made. Rollo's insights are often intuitive. Rollo’s work contains a good deal of crudities and isn’t for everyone, but if you can read with discernment, and filter out some garbage, there are some nuggets of truth to pull out and put to use. Non-Christian red pill writers are not opponents of the sexual revolution per se; you will not find them arguing for traditional, biblical sexual ethics. They tend to be materialists and base many arguments on evolutionary psychology (since that is the one field of academia left where differences between men and women can be acknowledged) rather than creational/natural design. However, Rollo is very critical of what feminism has done to men and women, as well as what it has done to the institution of marriage, family law, abortion, and other facets of the culture. He is also critical of the feminization of the church. In general, Rollo tries to not be political or religious; he presents himself as a neutral observer of intersexual dynamics who is providing information that could be used for a variety of ends, good or bad. Obviously, many aspects of his worldview should be critiqued, but that’s not my purpose here. Like Renn, I want to suggest some areas where the red pill writers can be of value.
Over the years, as I have read various red pill authors, I have collected various slogans, aphorisms, and proverbs that encapsulate aspects of the red pill message. If these sayings are treated as “secular proverbs” (as opposed to, say, inspired proverbs in Scripture), they can be helpful in providing a generalized understanding of how male/female relationships work (especially from the male perspective). Here are some of these “red pill proverbs” I have gathered together, from Rollo and others, with a bit of commentary, which admittedly reworks red pill insights into a Christian framework.
- “Men were made to fight physically, women were made to fight psychologically.” Who can argue with that? Men and women relate differently and they are built differently. Even our bodies communicates this difference: the male body is obviously built for fighting and building; the female body is shaped for nurture and communication.
This does not mean men should get into fistfights — actually, it means men have a big incentive to look for peaceful ways to resolve their disputes so no one gets hurt. Men practice peace through strength. But it also acknowledges that women have to look for other ways to protect themselves (e.g., think of the women in Scripture who fight the tyrant by using justified deception). The differences in the way men and women relate have to be acknowledged if we are going to get anywhere.
Men are certainly capable of keeping the peace with each other. And women are capable of loving friendships with one another. And of course, both sexes need same-sex friendships. But when male friendship breaks down, it often turns violent. Meanwhile, women have a hard time sharing turf -- and when they become rivals, their competition is covert rather than overt (like men). They wage psychological warfare rather than physical warfare. The sisterhood is very different from the brotherhood. Women are not team players the way men are because women are not mission oriented the way men are.
Think of it this way: There will never be a “Mean Boys” movie analogous to the “Mean Girls” movie. The "Mean Girls" movie is largely girls waging psychological warfare against one another. A "Mean Boys" movie would be nothing more than a fight on the playground after school -- one or two swings and it'd probably be over. Male friendships are different from female friendships. Women bond face to face, men bond side by side. Women build friendships mainly by talking, men by doing (and when we men talk with one another, it is not about ourselves or feelings in the same way as women). Men are insensitive by the women’s standard. Women are sensitive to the point of madness by the man’s standard. Men cannot play the “hurt feelings” card and gain sympathy because we rightly expect men to be thick skinned. But women can easily turn the victimhood of hurt feelings into leverage. It makes it much easier for women to become manipulative (again, part of their covert form of communication, or "psychological warfare").
Further, when men fight with one another, it often leads to mutual respect. Not so with women. If usually leads to a lasting grudge. In general, girl-girl friendships are harder than boy-boy friendships, even though that may be counter-intuitive. Friendships between girls have far more drama, far more ups and downs -- precisely because there is no stabilizing masculine force present in the relationship, and it all emotion all the time. (Lesbian relationships are the most extreme form of this.) Of course, there are a lot of downsides for men. Men are far more likely to be loners -- to have no friends at all. Men are also much more likely to sacrifice a friendship for something else, often to their own detriment. The main thing to note here is not only are our same-sex friendships different from one another, but relationships play a different role in the life of each sex.
- “Men are cruel to one another, but they don’t mean it. Women are nice to one another, but they don’t mean it.” Ok, so that sounds a little harsh towards women — still who can deny there is more than a grain of truth in it? Men often build camaraderie through insult. Men use insult as a test, to see how the insulted will respond. If he is thrown off by it, it is a sign of weakness. Men always operate in terms of an implicit hierarchy, and insults are a way to size one another up and place one another within that hierarchy. The strong man can handle the insult, either with witty repertoire of his own or in some other way that demonstrates he can maintain frame even when challenged. Meanwhile, surveys (if not experience!) show women would much rather work for and alongside of men than other women. We all know what happens when two women have to share a kitchen. Or look at how young girls treat one another on social media. Look at how polygamy in the Bible always led to a rivalry between the females.Or consider the trenchant observation that after the Civil War, figures on both sides recognized it was harder to reconcile the women of the two regions to one another than the men -- despite the fact that men had been the ones out on the battle field killing each other. And so on. Al Bundy put it this way: “Don't try to understand women. Women understand women, and they hate each other.” That's an extreme overstatement, but it still gets at an important truth.
- "Do not self-deprecate in front of your woman." Rollo constantly says this. Why? Basically he says, “Look, she is already looking for reasons to not sleep with you. She is already trying to find reasons why you aren’t good enough for her, and why she can do better. Don’t give reasons to her!” Further, women cannot be aroused by a man they pity. To the degree that self-deprecation makes a man pitiful -- the object of his wife’s pity -- she will be put off by him. So Rollo is right: Men, do not do things that will make you look like an incompetent fool or a pathetic victim in your wife’s eyes. Do not do things that are designed to make her feel sorry for you. This does not mean you should be arrogant; it just means do not think there is any virtue in running yourself down or using “oh woe is me” rhetoric. You are actually sabotaging your marriage -- especially its sexual dimension -- when you self-deprecate.
More generally, I would put it this way: Self-deprecation is not actually a sign of humility. She already has enough anxiety and doubt about you as it is -- so don't feed those doubts! Don’t make her think that when she married you, she married down -- in insulting yourself, you actually insult her. This connects with hypergamy -- the desire of women to “marry up.” Women are programmed to respond to and be attracted to men who are strong -- who can protect and provide for them. Women generally prefer men who are taller, bigger, smarter, wealthier, higher status, etc. This is God’s design -- women are always more vulnerable than men physically and emotionally, but these vulnerabilities will be especially intensified when she is pregnant and after she gives birth. This is why it is well known that women “test” men -- a woman has to see what her man is made of and if he can withstand pressure. While such tests can be acts of defiance, most of the time they are not necessarily disrespectful -- rather, they are part of her built-in defense system to keep her from pairing with a man who will not be able to take care of her. The first “test,” of course was in Genesis 3, when the woman offered the man the fruit of the tree. This is the paradigm for all such tests. The man failed that test, and women have been anxious about our ability to protect them from serpent figures ever since. A woman will test a man because she knows if he cannot stand up to her, he won’t be able to stand up any real threat. She needs to know that you are the stronger vessel. Think of it like this: Just as we stress test banks to see how they will hold up in a real economic crisis, so women stress test men to see if the man will hold up and maintain frame. Men should see these tests as an opportunity to reclaim and reassert frame. If a man fails the test, horrific consequences can follow. In the Scripture there is such a sin as a man “listening to his wife," so that he follows her rather than leads her. This was the problem in Genesis 3. It was Abraham’s sin in Genesis 16. It’s also the problem with the young man and the whore in Proverbs 7. In each case, the man follows the woman….and in some cases, he follows her straight into hell.
Note that refusing to self-deprecate does not mean you refuse to confess sin when you have actually done wrong. Men should be quick to confess and seek forgiveness when they have actually sinned. But they should not apologize/confess when they have not sinned. And a man's relationship with his wife is different from his relationship with God. In God's presence, it is always appropriate for creatures and especially for sinners to self-deprecate, as a way of offering to him the sacrifices of a broken and contrite heart.
- “Women just are. Men must become….For women nature is kind, but time is cruel. For men, nature is cruel, but time is kind.” Unpack these things, and they make a lot of sense — and even resonate with some things we could spell out in the Scripture. A woman is naturally endowed with most everything she needs to captivate a man’s attention — her physical beauty does it. But a man has to build something — he has to create a life a woman wants to be a part of — in order to attract a woman’s affection. He needs time to do that (unless a woman is willing to marry him young on the basis of his potential). That can be nuanced in all kinds of ways, but it rings true. It gets at what Rollo means when he says, "Men are success objects. Women are sex objects,” another proverb we will deal with shortly.
Think of the expression “Be a man.” Why is there no corresponding expression “Be a woman”? Or “woman up!”? Because manhood and womanhood are just different in this way. Womanhood is, in a very real sense, given to females. Nature forces her femininity on her. There is no need to develop cultural rituals that delineate girlhood from womanhood because nature itself marks that transition out for her. Not so for manhood. A boy must in some way be initiated into manhood. And even then remaining a man in good standing among other men depends upon performance. Otherwise a man will have to turn in his man-card. But women never have to turn in their woman-cards, even when they act in very unfeminine ways. Again, we just look at womanhood as a different kind of thing than manhood.
This is why the provider role is so important to men. It is a man’s way of making his life count. A woman can give birth. She can carry another human inside of her and then keep that human alive in its infancy. What can men do that could possibly correspond to this miracle of life going on inside the woman? A man’s unique contribution is provide for his family, to protect his family, to lead his family. But all of these tasks require that the man grow -- and continue growing -- in competence and confidence so he can continually expand his dominion within the creation.
Of course the downside for women is that they have a biological clock in a way that a man does not. A woman’s ability to attract a man diminishes over time, whereas a man peaks in his attractiveness to women considerably later in life. Today, we are supposed to pretend like women do not have a biological clock -- that their reproductive capacities mimic men’s -- but this is a lie. We cannot trick our biology.
- “Men are individualists, women are collectivists.” Obviously, this is not true across the board, so it perhaps more tenuous than other proverbs, but it does capture something about our respective sexual psyches. Men are much more at home in competitive environments, where there are winners are losers. Women are more empathetic and therefore much more likely to want “everyone to be a winner.” Men simply do not organize themselves collectively in that way. Men are oriented to hierarchy and achievement; women want everyone to get a trophy. Men tend to be individualists, which has served them well as inventors, explorers, pioneers, entrepreneurs, etc. Women's tendency to collectivize has served them well in the domestic sphere where they could help one another care for children.
In the pre-feminist days when women were largely domestic and men the primary public figures, the respective differences were very helpful. The woman’s collectivist nature was well suited to home life and family culture. But now that women have entered public life, including politics, en masse, there are significant problems. Unless women are willing to recalibrate their outlook to understand what it takes for an economy to work and for a nation to defend itself, trouble looms. Thankfully, many women have made this recalibration and understand why conservative political principles, like the free market, simply work better than socialized and statist alternatives. But many women in public life and public office have not done this. In general, women's involvement in public life has skewed our nation much further to the left. Politically, capitalism is masculine and socialism is feminine. We need to reisst the reordering of public, political, and economic life on feminist principles.
One thing we need to recognize here is that God intended for there to be a division of labor (at least to some degree) in terms of how the creation mandate of Genesis 1 is fulfilled. The mandate has two side: multiplication and dominion. Obviously men and women are both involved in both sides of the mandate. It would be wrong to deny that, since men and women need each other in all they do and their spheres do overlap. But there is still a division of labor, at least in terms of emphasis, and we find it all throughout the Scripture. We see it in Genesis 3: the man is cursed on the dominion side of the mandate because that is his primary task. The woman is cursed on the multiplication side of the mandate because that is her primary task. All throughout Scripture, men are required to show valor and strength as they protect and provide. Men are heads of their households, they are ordinarily the political rulers, and they are always the rulers and public teachers in the church. Women, meanwhile are commanded to be workers at home and commended for building up their households (Prov. 31; Titus 2). It is clear a woman is to be a helper to her man in his mission.
We can put it this way, keeping in mind this is not a strict binary but a matter of emphasis: Men create, women procreate; men produce, women reproduce; men are protectors and providers, women are helpers and nurturers; men are the money and the muscle, women are the glory and beauty; the man is the head of the home, the woman is the heart of the home.
If these generalizations ring true -- and they do, both biblically and naturally -- then we can start to see just what the modern egalitarian social order has done to the sexes. Modern liberalism is at war with manhood. Gun control laws are an attack on man’s calling to protect. Welfare is an attack on man’s calling and responsibility to provide. But womanhood is not faring much better. The feminist agenda, driven largely by women, has turned out to be a form of self-sabotage. Think of feminism’s “big wins”: Women can now go to college -- which all too often means they amass huge debt, and then work 50 hours work weeks into their 60s to pay it all and provide for themselves since they have to be "strong and independent." Sexual liberation means men can now “use” women sexually without loving them, caring for them, or committing to them. Abortion gives women the “right” to kill their own children, which means men can have sex with them without having to pay for children or raise a family with them. Immodesty and pornography have been normalized as forms of female “empowerment” which means men get to see women’s bodies without having to be honorable in any way. And now the transgender movement means that women get to lose in sports to boys pretending to be girls. How exactly is any of this truly “liberating” or helpful to modern women?
- “Polarity drives attraction. Men want the feminine. Women want the masculine.” Again, isn’t this obvious? And yet many men are told today that in order to attract a woman, they should suppress the masculine, get in touch with their sensitive feminine side, enter into her world, etc. And you can find countless women on the web in their 30s complaining about men as they wonder why they can’t get a date since they own a house and have good jobs. These "alpha” women have become so masculine, no man wants them. The sad reality is that we are raising an entire generation of men and women who are almost entirely incapable of bonding with one another. Between their use of porn and their premarital sexual escapades, both of which destroy their ability to pair bond; the tendency to downplay sexual differentiation in favor of androgyny; and the loss of a script by which men and women can come together and form a lasting relationship -- in all these ways we have subverted the institution of marriage and the family, which are the biological and cultural base of civilization. Even if egalitarianism worked in society -- and it really doesn't - anyone who is honest has to admit it most certainly does not work in the bedroom. We can pretend men and women are interchangeable pieces in society. But when the lights go out, the differences are what drive attraction. There is no getting around that reality. Husbands who lack masculinity in the bedroom quickly find the marriage bed grows cold.
- "Finding a soulmate is a myth. There is no One. There are only good ones and bad ones." Rollo often takes on the soul-mate myth, which he calls "oneitis." This serves a number of purposes in Rollo's red pill program, not the least of which is helping men to get over breakups. Rollo encourages "spinning plates," or "playing the field," to gain experience with women before marrying. Guys who get oneitis make themselves weak and vulnerable; the easily become simps and white knights, thus sabotaging any chance they have at a successful relationship. While Rollo lacks a biblical ethic of sex (obviously), there are aspects of this that actually echo the best Christian teaching I have seen on this topic. There is no "one" who will be a match made in heaven for you. While there are certainly varying degrees of compatibility between men and women, there are plenty of people out there who could be a good match for the single Christian. There are many candidates you could be happily married to -- and every one of them will require a good deal of work to get there. Thus, it is wise to focus less on trying to find the one, and more on trying to become the one -- the kind of person who will be attractive to the opposite sex. Oneitis is especially rampant in the church today not only because of bad teaching that overly sentimentalizes dating/marriage, but also because of the perceived scarcity of viable marriage prospects. While prospects may be somewhat scarce, those who put in effort can generally find someone who is a good match. Don't give up and don't feel like you have to settle. Be realistic about your marital prospects, get lots of counsel from old and wiser people who know you well, and seek seek out opportunities to meet as many candidates for marriage as possible. Once you get married, remember that being a soul-mate to someone else takes years of work in getting to know each other. Just because marriage is hard at times does not mean you married the wrong person. One of the Puritans attacked oneitis this way: "You chose your love; now love your choice." Or, as one of your own prophets has said, "Love the one you're with."
- “Men should always maintain frame in the relationship.” Frame does not mean being a domineering jerk and turning her into a doormat. But it does mean taking the lead because she cannot follow if you are not going anywhere. Frame is basically what we Christians call headship. Women were designed to respond to strong masculine leadership -- so men need to provide that kind of leadership. Rollo echoes Paul's teaching in Ephesians 5:21ff. The traditional marriage vows provide a sense of frame for the husband, though of course he needs to build off it. Here is the declaration of consent and the vows from the (mostly Book of Common Prayer based) wedding liturgy I use:
[Bride], will you have this man to be your husband; to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love him, comfort him, obey him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?
The Woman answers “I will.”
[Groom}, will you have this woman to be your wife; to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love her, comfort her, cherish her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?
The Man answers “I will.
The Man, facing the woman and taking her right hand in his, says
In the Name of God,
I, [groom], take you, [bride],
to be my wedded wife,
from this day forward,
forsaking all others,
and clinging only to you,
for better for worse,
for richer for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
I will cherish you and love you as Christ does the church,
until death do us part,
according to God's ordinance and word,
and to these promises
I pledge my faithfulness.
Then the Woman says
In the Name of God,
I, [bride], take you, [groom],
to be my wedded husband
from this day forward,
forsaking all others,
and clinging only to you,
for better for worse,
for richer for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
I will respect you and submit to you as unto Christ
until death do us part,
according to God's ordinance and word,
and to these promises
I pledge my faithfulness.
Ironically, women are put off by men who "always give them what they want." She does not want a "yes" man. She needs man who is strong enough to say "no" when such an answer is really in her best interests (notice what happened when Adam in Genesis 3 and Abraham in Genesis 16 failed to say "no" to their wives). She needs to know he has a mind of his own, that he has backbone. Most women are calmed when they live under strong masculine frame. Part of understanding her is understanding that because she is the weaker vessel, she needs you to be the stronger vessel (1 Peter 3). A marriage with two weaker vessels is going to be a weak marriage.
Men who are always reacting to their wives, instead of leading the way with decisive action of their own, have lost frame. Men who are "servant leaders" rather than "leader servants" have lost frame. Such men do the bidding of their wives, and measure their success as a husband by the emotional state of their wives ("happy wife, happy life") instead of serving the family by providing the leadership -- indeed rulership -- it needs, as defined by God's Word. A man who maintains frame has a vision for where he wants to take his life and his family. He has convictions and the moral courage to live them out. He is not afraid to be counter-cultural. He is constantly working to improve himself, to extend his mastery and dominion over new parts of his life and the world. He leads by example.
Every couple has a power dynamic; every couple has one partner who wears the pants; every couple has a "head." If a couple says, "we make every decision together, through a process of negotiation and compromise," then I know she is really in charge. This reminds me of the couple that said when they got married, he would make the big decisions and she would make the small decisions -- and after 25 years of marriage, it dawned on him, there had never been a big decision. If a couple says, "Neither one of us in charge; we have an egalitarian marriage," then I know she is really in charge. If a couple says, "the husband has tie breaking authority," then I know he has no real authority at all in their decision making. The fact is, even in conservative and Christian marriages, men are often scared of crossing their wives because they know he knows she is really in control -- and she knows it too. Of course, there have been men who are tyrannical, who boss their wives rather than ruling them, who do not really have the gravitas to lead but still like to LARP as if they were noble patriarchs. "Asses pretending to the steeds, " is how one friend put it, and I think that is an apt description.
The key is frame. The man who holds frame rules his wife and children, and they know he rules them. He rules them wisely and lovingly, so they (in general) can rejoice in his rule. Frame means he rules for their good, and he has won their trust. Frame means that when a couple comes together, she enters into his story and his world. Frame means there is a hierarchy, and the man is on top. The keys to frame control are what you expect, particularly competence and confidence. Frame means a man is not just a figurehead for his family; he is an acting head, exercising decisive leadership, providing direction, and setting the family's pace. Frame means he has shaped the culture of his family in accord with his convictions. A man with frame knows he is the king of his domain -- but he also knows his wife is a queen and his children are princes and princesses.
Yes, for a Christian husband, frame means being an icon of Christ to your wife. But in the evangelical church today, we reduce this too often and too quickly to Christ's sacrifice and ignore his lordship. A truly evangelized husband will do both: he will make genuine sacrifices for the sake of his wife's well-being, to protect and provide for her, to do all he can to give her "the good life." He will make her feel heard and understood (1 Peter 3). But he will also be her ruler. He will not always seek her permission. He will not allow himself to be nagged or shamed into doing that that he knows are not really for the good of the family. And while he will always be kind, patient, and gracious to his wife, he will also drawn firm boundaries in terms of the nagging, drama, etc., he will be put up with. In my experience as a pastor, the biggest problems in the congregation are caused not by alpha males but by females married to beta males; these women are insecure about their husband's leadership and project that insecurity onto all around them. They may say they "just want to be heard" -- but what they are really desperate for is male leadership, which they are not getting at home. Women are who are married to confident, competent men respect their husbands and are therefore happy to submit to them. These men know that respect (unlike love) cannot be unconditional (e.g., one can love a baby, but you cannot really respect a baby); thus they have worked to qualify themselves as worthy of respect. Of course, some women will still rebel against their husbands, and in such cases we must be careful about assigning blame where blame is due. Headship means a husband is always responsible, but it does not mean he is always to blame. In a biblical, covenantal marriage, the husband is responsible precisely because he has authority; responsibility and authority are coordinated. In modern marriages, shaped by egalitarian and feminist assumptions, the man has no authority but is still held responsible -- and thus it is easy to see why so many men are simply uninterested in the institution of marriage, since it seems to bring far more liabilities than benefits.
True headship does not negate arguing, persuading, and reasoning with one's wife. Women have agency too, so it is perfectly sensible that she wants to understand why her husband is choosing to go in a particular direction. And he needs her wisdom and input; indeed, she is his Lady Wisdom according to Proverbs, so if he refuses to hear her out, he is a fool. Any man who thinks headship is easy is either out of touch with what it actually means or has not yet experienced it. There is an old saying, "heavy is the head that wears the crown," and every faithful husband comes to this realization, usually early on in his marriage. Leadership is not easy. Maintaining frame is not easy.
- “The man must have a mission. The woman is never the mission.” Again, this squares with Scripture — Adam was given his job before he was given a wife. He can never make his wife his mission; rather, he needs a wife to help him fulfill his mission which transcends (but also serves) his home and family life. Men who are inward facing, who make domestic life their focus, tend to become petty tyrants or weak simps. A man needs a mission in the world. Women are drawn to men with a purpose. A man should not center his life around his wife.
I will not develop mission further here because Bill Smith has done so admirably.
- "Respect is earned. Respect, unlike love, is conditional." This also should be obvious -- from nature and Scripture. We know wives are called to submission -- literally, a woman is called to "get under" her husband's mission. She's to be a supportive helper to whatever vocation God has assigned him. She shares in all he accomplishes in the world (which is why she wants to know how your day went when you get home from the office/work place). The women who complain the most about having to submit to a man are the ones who are married to the weakest men. Women married to competent, capable, confident men hardly ever complain about submission. They respect their husbands because they are worthy of it. Their hypergamy is satisfied so they do not see submission as a problem but a joy.
A man who takes responsibility for himself and his family (protection, providing, etc.) is owed loyalty, submission, and respect. A man who takes care of his own business, caring for his family and setting them an example to follow, deserves his wife's obedience. Women do not need feminism to liberate them; they need strong patriarchs, worthy of fear and respect. A man who is lax, lackadaisical, or lazy is not going to have a wife and children who are able to flourish. Instead his wife will feel like she needs to step in to fill the gap. She will act out of insecurity and fear. The kids' lives will be disordered. A man who cannot handle things will find that his home-life rapidly falls apart. A man's headship should be a comfort and joy to his family most of the time. If a man is not competent to lead, his wife will be filled with anxiety, burdened by the failures and vulnerabilities of her head; if he is competent, she will actually find her fears and worries being relieved.
Having acknowledged that respect is conditional, I will also add that wives have a duty to be respectful towards their husbands in a certain sense even when he not being all that worthy of respect. Even if she is only saluting the uniform, showing respect because of the office he holds and not because of the man he is, so be it. But there are also limits on the kind of respect that can be shown to men who are not actually worthy of respect. Obviously, if a man is doing something sinful or criminal, she does not need to follow him; indeed, the best thing for her to do on such occasions might be to call the elders or the cops.
Finally, it is worth noting how the love and respect dynamic works in marriage. Husbands are commanded to love their wives because wives need love and men are often poor at showing love. Women are commanded to respect their husbands because men feed off of respect and women are often not very good at giving respect. In a marriage where these commands are fulfilled, both partners flourish.
- "Desire cannot be negotiated." Rollo means by this that married men should not have to beg for sex. Part of this is due to the man making himself desirable (e.g., "game"), and working to cultivate sexual responsiveness in his wife. But it is also due to his wife having an understanding of her covenantal obligation to her husband and what it means to "honor the marriage bed" (Heb. 13). Rollo wants couples to have "desire sex," not "duty sex," which is a good aim. But since "duty sex" is better than no sex at all, let me start with that and then circle back around to the "desire sex" question.
Sex should be mutual in marriage -- mutually desired, mutually satisfying. Sex is for both the husband and wife; it is not just something she does for him, but something they are to enjoy together for the good of their marriage. Sex is obviously procreative. But it is also a form of covenant renewal. Sex is the glue that holds a couple together. It is the ultimate expression of their oneness. For this reason marital sex is regularly and beautifully celebrated in Scripture (e.g., Proverbs 5, Song of Solomon). But this is a fallen world and sometimes sex and sexual desire are not what they should be.
A key text that is often misunderstood in this regard is 1 Cor. 7:1-5. This text addresses a common practical issue in marriage, namely, mismatched sexual desire. What to do if the husband (as is usually the case) desires sex more frequently than the wife? The rule is not her feelings, e.g., "only have sex when you really feel like it." Feelings should never be the rule of anything we do in the Christian life. We do a lot of things in life because they are right and because they are our duty. I don’t always feel like praying, but I pray. And usually once I've prayed, I realized I enjoyed and benefited from my time with God. I don’t always feel like getting up and going to work, but I do it because it’s right and other people are depending on me, and afterwards I get the satisfaction of knowing I put in a hard day's labor. I may not always feel like serving my wife, but I do it because it is good for her and good for our marriage. Sure, it’s great if feelings are there. But if I wait around for feelings, I’m going to destroy my marriage in the meantime. C. S. Lewis has a great section on this in Mere Christianity. What should the wife do who has fallen out of love with her husband? Keep acting as if she did love him! Sooner or later feelings will probably catch back up. Sometimes feelings lead to action; other times actions lead to feelings. But we should never make our feelings our master. That’s disastrous in any area of life.
As for sex, Paul has given us the rule in 1 Corinthians 7:
"Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. 3 Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control."
The key here is to see that sexual refusal is (ordinarily) a sin. Let that sink in. It is a sin for a spouse to not have sex have when the other spouse desires it. That's the teaching of God's Word; that is God's inspired wisdom for married couples. For all the teaching on sex done in the church today, it is rare for the church to address this fundamental problem, one that shipwrecks many marriages. Sexless marriages, or marriages with infrequent sex, are failing to fulfill God's purpose.
Note what Paul says in verse 5: Couples should only deprive one another sex by mutual consent. In other words BOTH spouses have to agree to NOT have sex. If one wants sex, the other (barring exceptional circumstances) needs to provide sex. Why? Paul says “so that you may not be tempted.” But I would add: For the health and strength of the marriage. As a pastor who has done a lot of marriage counseling over the years, I can tell you that couples who follow this rule are generally very happy. Feelings of closeness will sometimes be the prelude to sex, but other times they will be the product of sex. If a wife only has sex when she feels like it, it’s very likely her husband will spend a lot of life incredibly frustrated and, yes, tempted. That’s not God’s design. It has been said Satan wants us to have a lot a lot of sex before marriage and none in marriage. God's will is the opposite. God wants every married couple to experience oneness — sexually/physically, and in every other way — because they are one covenantally. Of course, sexual refusal on the part of one spouse does not in any way justify the sexual sin on the part of the other spouse. A man who commits adultery because his wife will not have sex with him is still without excuse; his sin is still sin. But it is clear from 1 Corinthians 7 that God desires spouses to protect one another from sexual temptation and the best way to do this by having frequent sexual relations.
Wives often withhold sex from their husbands because they don't "feel like it." But where did she get that idea that her feelings determine her obligations? What standard is she using to gauge her feelings? And why does she think her feelings should have this kind of power over their marriage? Does she want her husband to be guided by his feelings in everything he does (or doesn’t do) for her? I would guess not. Is she doing all she can to be desirable and to desire her husband?
Of course, there are certainly things a man can do to stoke desire in his wife — and he should do those things. He should understand how attraction works and then drive it up as much as he can (and Rollo and Craig James can help with this). "Desire sex" is much better than "duty sex." Treating her unkindly outside of the bedroom is not likely to lead to fireworks inside the bedroom. Being out of shape or lazy can kill her desire. She should feel secure, cared for, provided for, and protected. She needs to know she married a quality man who is worth following, obeying, and submitting to — in other words, he needs to strive to be the best man and best husband he can be if he wants her to open up sexually. But the bottom line is Paul’s rule in 1 Corinthians 7: Couples should only forgo sex by MUTUAL CONSENT. You have to BOTH agree to NOT have sex. Otherwise, have sex. Today, in our sexually confused culture, we tend to use the word “consent” in the exact opposite way from Paul in 1 Cor. 7. We say, "Both parties have to consent to have sex.” (Of course, if they aren’t married, no degree of “consent” can sanctify the sex….but that’s another issue.) Paul says, “Both parties have to consent to REFRAIN from having sex….otherwise, have sex.” (Note: This does not open the door to “marital rape” or any such thing; force is never an option. It just means there is always an obligation to satisfy your spouse’s sexual needs/desires in marriage, barring exceptional circumstances. Whoever has the lower sex drive will have to adjust accordingly.)
If a spouse feels “used” or “like an object” because of sex, that is a problem. No spouse should feel that way. If this is the case, then learn how to improve your marriage and heighten your desire for one another. Lack of sexual interest/responsiveness may point to other problems in the marriage, in terms of how the spouses treat each other. Oftentimes, what happens (or doesn’t happen) in the bedroom is an indicator of marital health in other areas.
Feminism has influenced women in unhealthy ways in this area. One example: Feminism teaches women to not do anything for the express pleasure of a man. Feminism trains women to focus on their own feelings, desires, and supposed rights. This is an incredibly destructive dynamic in marriage. A wife who wants to have a good marriage needs to understand that sex is like oxygen to a husband. She needs to see that central to her calling as a wife is pleasing her husband in this area. Can some men be unreasonable? Sure; some men have very twisted expectations because of their experience with porn or promiscuity. Those things need to be worked through. But in general, both spouses should make a conscious effort to please one another in the bedroom.
In principle, the sexual consent question was settled when you took your vows. You promised to be sexually available to your spouse when you said "I do." Thus, another way to deal with the idolatry of feelings might be to remind the spouse refusing sex of the vows (assuming they had a traditional wedding service). In the wedding a vows, a couple says NOTHING about their feelings, in the present or in the future. What they do promise is a course of action towards one another in the future, come what may. They promise to be there for one another in sickness, poverty, etc. Feelings are not even in the picture. Again, it’s great for feelings to be there but feelings never determine the range of our obligations. If you feel like doing your duty, great, doing your duty should be a delight. But if you don’t feel like doing your duty…well, do your duty anyway and hope your feelings get aligned with where they should be. Again, feelings are servant, not master. 1 Corinthians 7:5, not romantic feelings, is your rule in marriage. Desire cannot be negotiated, but neither can duty.
I am mainly writing to men here, though sexual frigidity is more often a problem for wives. It is important for men to see that when a wife is refusing sex, the goal in dealing with the problem is not first and foremost getting sex, but gently leading your wife into repentance. And of course, you may need to repent of ways you have failed to be an attractive/competent husband as well. Craig James is particular offers counsel here and here.
I can virtually guarantee any married couple this: However good (or bad) your marriage is, it can get a whole better if you will follow Paul's rule in 1 Corinthians 7:1-5, and have sex whenever either spouse desires it. When I do pre-marital counseling with a couple I will sometimes ask the question, "What's going to happen the first time one of you wants sex and the other does not?" The answers are telling. Thankfully, there are many older Christian women who are willing to teach younger wives what they need to know about their husband's sex drive, how much sexual refusal hurts him and their marriage, and how failing to "render due benevolence" is indeed a sin that defrauds her husband.
- “Men are success objects. Women are sex objects.” This might sound reductionistic, and it could be if separated from other important truths about the sexes, sexual desire, love, respect, etc. But just think it through. What are men and women looking for in each other? What draws us to each other? What arouses desire?
I have put it this way: “From one sex according to its ability, to the opposite sex according to its need.” In other words, God made us for each other. Each sex is missing something it finds in the opposite sex. Consider: A woman needs to be protected and provided for, and she needs to be led; thus, man was created to protect and provide for her, and to lead her. A man needs help to reproduce, to nurture his offspring, and to bring beauty and glory into his life; thus, women were built to help the man reproduce and to be his glory and beauty. Or to put it slightly differently: Women need protection and provision -- so they are drawn to men who demonstrate the strength, competence, and confidence to take dominion; that is to say, they are drawn to men as “success objects.” Men want to reproduce and need a woman’s help to do so — so they are attracted to fertility markers in women; that is to say, women are “sex objects.” The point is this: sexual attraction is tied to the creation mandate, to man’s commission to be fruitful and to take dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:26ff). We drawn to the very things in the opposite sex that will enable us together to fulfill God’s vocation for the human race.
A simple example: I came across a Twitter thread the other day in which Christian women were discussing what attracted them to their current husbands. One woman said that on her first date with her future husband, he was not necessarily smooth, but he did open doors for her and he drove a stick. Why would those things matter to her? Opening doors is a sign of caring and strength; it is a form of chivalry that shows a man has intentions to protect and provide for a woman. Driving stick is a rather rare skill today; thus, it demonstrated some kind of manual competence on his part. "If he is skilled at driving a stick shift, he's probably good at other things" is the train of thought.
Attraction is not random; it is what it is by design. Yes, sin now distorts it, but sin is a parasite, feeding off something that was originally good. Why does “game” work? Why do “pick up artists” find success? They calibrate their self-presentation to a woman in order to demonstrate the very things she is created to look for, to be drawn to, and to respond to in a man. They are using this knowledge of created realities for wicked ends, but there is no denying those underlying created realities. Men and women, of course, knew these things about themselves and each other until feminism got us all confused about what we want and what the opposite sex wants.
So: What one sex desires, the other sex provides in order to satisfy that desire. Or at least, that’s how it should be. Man is thirsty; God gives him his wife as a drink of water. Attraction is a design feature. As men and women, we were made for each other. Men are attracted to femininity; women are attracted to masculinity. Attraction, in terms of the divine design, is functional — it functions to drive us forward in fulfilling the creation mandate. The sexual glue between the sexes is the foundation of civilization in a very real sense; it is what makes everything else possible. It is what makes the fufillment of the creation mandate a reality. Obviously, when a guy first sees a girl he’s attracted to, his initial thought is not “Wow, I’d really like to have her help in fulfilling the dominion mandate.” He’s just thinking, “Wow, she looks good in that dress and I want to talk to her.” But in terms of God’s design, his desire for her will lead to the fulfillment of the creation mandate (assuming sin does not get in the way too much).
Of course, all of this found in that paragon of wisdom, Rocky Balboa. In the he first Rocky movie, he has a conversation with his trainer Paulie about why he likes Adrienne:
PAULIE: Ya really like her?
ROCKY: Sure I like her.
PAULIE: (nervous laughter) What's the attraction? I don't see it?
ROCKY: I dunno -- she fills gaps.
PAULIE: What gaps?
ROCKY: (shrugs) She got gaps. I got gaps -- together we fill the gaps.
That sums it up. I actually think it’s a pretty good summary of Gen. 2:23. Maybe Rocky was the original red piller!
For the finale here, compare Rollo’s proverb about attraction (“Men are success objects, women are sex objects”) to the attraction proverb of pastor Matt Chandler: “godliness is sexy.” Following Renn, I do not believe Chandler’s proverb is honest or accurate, at least the way he intends it. But it is important to understand why -- and then to see if we can rehabilitate it so it does communicate something true.
Consider: From the creation, women were programmed to respond to expressions of masculinity because masculinity will give the woman what she most wants and needs — protection and provision. God made her to desire male strength because that strength is exactly what she lacks, especially during pregnancy and in the years following pregnancy when she is uniquely weak/vulnerable. She is drawn to a man with a life mission, because that mission means he will be able to take care of her.
Strong expressions of masculinity, even divorced from godliness, can be attractive to a woman, even a godly woman who knows better. A wise woman of course will know that what she really needs is godly masculinity, a man who is both godly and masculine. This is a man who combines so-called alpha and beta features -- alpha features that will arouse her sexual desire but also beta features that convince her that he is a trustworthy, stable partner who will stick with her through thick and thin because he is a man of his word.
Renn rightly points out that if “godliness is sexy,” there is no reason for Pall to warn against a believer marrying an unbeliever in 1 Corinthians 7. Why would a believer be attracted to someone without godliness if godliness is what attracts? But the truth -- the God-honest truth -- is that godliness is not particularly sexy. Sexiness is sexy. Masculinity is sexy to women. Femininity is sexy to men. And this is not just because of sin. It is the way we were made in the beginning.
This is why Chandler’s paradigm of attraction does not work — it is focused solely on godliness, and ignores creational design features. Women were not made to respond to godliness per se; they were created to respond to manliness. In a post-fall world, that should be manliness combined with godliness, though it is often not, and many women obviously opt for an ungodly masculine man over a godly un-masculine man (though I’m not sure that category really should exist since a man who is not good at being a man is actually not a very good man -- more on that below).
Chandler’s view that women can be drawn to godliness without manliness is a lie. It just does not work, and it does not work because of how she is created (not just because she is a sinner). Chandler wants to start his doctrine of attraction with sanctification, when really he should start with creation. Then he would be able to deal with the sexual markers that each sex finds attractive in the other, and thus he would be more honest. In this case, Rollo is telling the truth and Chandler is not.
But perhaps we can still rescue Chandler’s proverb. To do so, we will have to redefine “godliness” in a broader way so that includes gendered piety. We must sexually differentiate between the masculine godliness that is appropriate for men from the feminine godliness that is appropriate for women. In reality, the godliness/masculine contrast only works because today’s Christian men have been feminized; indeed the church has encouraged this feminization by adopting fem-centric definitions of holiness and piety so that what we think of as “godly” has a feminine bias. This is why we simply must recover “gendered piety.” Sanctification, contrary to writers like Aimee Byrd, is not an asexual or androgynous process. Christ-likeness in a man looks different from Christ-likeness in a woman. In a sense, that’s the key to all of this. With the right definition of godliness, we could affirm “godliness is sexy” without qualification. If we are talking about godly masculinity -- yes, a Christian woman should find that attractive. If grace restores then nature, then a man's true godliness includes growing into his masculine identity and a woman's true godliness includes growing into her feminine identity.
Let’s be honest: there are many truths about human sexuality, male and female, that are quite embarrassing in a feminized, egalitarian age. For all our crassness about sex, our culture really does not get it. And while it is good that churches are talking about sexual issues, perhaps more than ever before, it is not helpful if pastors are failing to present the unvarnished truth about how God made us. Too many of these things are still unspeakable. We are still too conditioned by the blue pill. Perhaps we need to gulp down the red pill.
Hopefully it is now clear why I classify much of the red pill as "folk wisdom." I have put my own Christian spin on the red pill here, and no doubt many red pill authors would not be happy with what I have done. But what are we to make of all this? Is the red pill worth getting into, as I suggest above? A man who has maturity, who is grounded in his faith, but who needs to supplement his understanding of his duties as a man because he is not getting much help from his father, pastor, or mentors, will very likely benefit from wading in. Unstable men, “boys who can shave,” and guys who are looking for tips on how to fornicate more successfully, will not be furthered in real manhood by swallowing the red pill. I want to close with a couple of pleas directed to older men, fathers, and pastors.
First, consider again why the red pill has attracted such a following, particularly among young men. The red pill is a kind of surrogate father for a fatherless generation. This is something a number of manosphere writers have pointed out, including Renn and Foster. Many young men today use the internet (youtube, podcasts, etc.) as a substitute for the fathers they never had. You need to know how to tune the carburetor in your ’79 Chevy? There’s a youtube video for that. You want to know how to negotiate a raise from your employer? There’s a podcast for that. You want to tie a bowtie? Go online and figure it out. You want to know how to make a relationship with a woman work? There’s a manosphere for that. Obviously, a lot of the advice there is trash. But some of it is in tune with realities that aren’t being discussed elsewhere. Some of it resonates with disaffected men as being true to reality. Some of it even corrects what overly pious teachers have propounded from the pulpit. So young men are running with it. The "internet Dad" is a thing now, and we need to reckon with what it says about where we are as a culture.
If you are around young men today, inside and outside the church, having familiarity with Rollo, Peterson, and similar figures, is worth it just so you know what many of these younger guys are likely reading/watching. For the record, I certainly don’t think someone needs to read any of these authors to have a good marriage, to grow as a man, to have a good relationship with a woman, etc. But those of us men who are older and happily married would do well to understand exactly what today’s younger men are up against. The rising generation of men will have a hard time duplicating our marriages because the culture has largely eaten through the scripts that made that kind of marriage easier to come by for folks who are, say, over 30 years old. Rollo, Peterson, etc. are helpful not just because their counsel could improve our marriages, but because they can help us understand the wider social currents that are leading fewer people to even aspire to marriage, leading people to have fewer children, etc. They can help us grapple with the kinds of changes in the workplace environment that many men find emasculating. They can help us understand the various ways the infusion of women into public life has radically altered the social matrix for men, creating things like “cancel culture,” over zealous HR departments, and so on. The entrance of women into the public sphere has completely reshaped public life — and it is crucial for us understand how, whether we think it’s a good thing or not. Of course there are a lot of other factors that go into these social trends — including internet pornography, the expense of higher education, the proliferation of technology into all areas of life, a globalizing economy that brings swift changes to the job market, etc. — but they are still trends that we need to understand as best we can if we want to shepherd younger folks, and these are writers who can help us do that.
This is how I see it: The church has focused on making men good. The manosphere has aimed at making men good at being men. But these cannot be separated so both are failing. The church is producing effeminate men, who are not heads but figureheads, who end up helping their wives rather than being helped by them. The church has become a beta male factory. Meanwhile, the manosphere is producing pagan men, who live for their own glory, often at the expense of women. What we need is an integration of manhood and manly virture: men who are good men and who are good at being men.
Does the red pill really explain intersexual dynamics? In many ways, yes. Paying attention to created realities, empirical observations and studies of man and women, and so forth, does shed a great deal of light. We Christians should embrace wisdom wherever we find it. But we should also be careful about over-promising and under-delivering. Nothing will ever fully solve or eradicate the mystery of male, female, and their union. Proverbs says as much (30:18-19), and when Paul described marriage he called it a mystery (Eph. 5:32). Granted, Paul was talking about Christ and the church, but if the archetype of marriage is mysterious, the type is as well. Red pilled men should beware of reductionism (scientific or otherwise) about themselves, about women, about relationships. Confidence is a good thing, but over-confidence is a danger.
Does the red pill entail a form of patriarchy? That’s not the term I’d necessarily choose, but I know of no suitable alternative at the moment. Patriarchy is the only view of the sexes that really roots the prescritptives in the descriptives -- that bases roles and responsibilities on our design. Roles are not arbitrary; our duties derive from the way God designed us as men and women. Patriarchy, of course, has a complementary matriarchy (properly understood), but it puts a special set of responsibilities on the shoulders of men. It is important to understand that “patriarchy” entails far more than a generalized pattern of male rule in family, church, and society (granting that in society, male/female roles are much more flexible and variegated than in the other spheres). Patriarchy entails a high view of the natural family and the household, and thus in patriarchal society, there is a desire to keep sex tied to the covenant of marriage. In a patriarchal society, men know they have failed as men if they do not protect and provide; to leave a child fatherless is a great source of shame. (If you think you are opposed to patriarchy, a close look at America’s inner cities will change your mind. Riots and looting are simply the fruit of fatherlessness on display.) In addition, the building up of a family inheritance to pass on to future generations becomes important; patriarchy is future-oriented and dominion-oriented. In a patriarchal society, children are seen as blessings more than liabilities and certainly not mere “accessories” needed to complete a lifestyle. Of course, patriarchy is dangerous for many reasons, including the possibility of men functioning as self-serving tyrants and the family becoming an end in itself and thus a rival to (rather than servant of) Christ’s kingdom. But there is also something about patriarchy that is grounded in the very nature of things, that arises out of the created order itself, and is reflected throughout the Scriptures. Whatever we choose to call it, we need it.
It is important to understand that we really cannot "fix" men without also "fixing" women. While women may be more attracted to manly men as romantic partners, docile and feminized men actually serve women's interests in other areas of life, e.g., in the mixed gender workforce. In broader social settings, women would rather "compete" against emasculated simps who do their bidding and defer to them than have to go against confident, aggressive, ambitious men who exude masculine energy and do not accommodate themselves to the feminine imperative. What can be done? What should women do? John MacArthur famously told Beth Moore to "go home." In doing so, he was simply echoing the Apostle Paul in Titus 2. The point is not that women can never have a job outside the home. The point is that husbands need to make sure their wives are household-centric, especially in those years when they have young children. So long as women are being encouraged to seek "empowerment" by pursuing careers in the same was as and on the same terms as men, society is going to continue to be filled with tame, domesticated, weak men and society will take an androgynous shape to the detriment of men, women, and children. Society is actually better when women are not "empowered" in the feminist sense, that is, when women know they need men and men know women need them. (Men needing women is never in question, except for a handful of misguided MGTOWs.) Society is better off when men and women know they have different roles, responsibilities, and duties, because they have a different design. The dance of the masculine and feminine can only happen when each sex is willing to play its role, the man competently knowing the dance steps, while she respectfully follows his loving lead.
I will say it again: The need of the hour is not just good men, but men who are good at being men. Normally, we would not want to make any deep distinction between these categories, but today’s widespread feminization of the church has in many ways pried apart virtue in the sense of ethical goodness from virtue in the sense of manliness. We need to reintegrate virtue, so the men coming out of our families and churches are virtuous in both senses of the term. Of course, only divine grace makes this possible. Everything — masculine strength included — must be received as a gift. Faith in Christ is at the core of true masculinity, including things like warfare and athletics. But we also need an account of the practices that make up mature masculinity, growing out of this faith in Christ. While there is no true masculinity apart from faith in Christ, there is more to true masculinity than faith in Christ. There are things men are called to do as men that distinguish them from women and children — and those uniquely masculine competencies/skills/practices need to be further developed. Masculinity by faith = a good man. Competence in uniquely masculine skills/practices = good at being a man. How do we become good men who are good at being men? That is the challenge. The red pill can help because it helps us recover aspects of our own heritage as Christian men that we have forgotten.
We are going to have to radically revise what we mean when we say that men are “equal” because all too often, equality is used to open the door to androgyny. We must also notice that our culture’s view of equality is at war with nature. Either we must acknowledge the natural “inequalities” between men and women or we must use the force of technology and law to make nature conform to our ideological wishes. Men paying child support is an example of this (since women almost never have to pay child support even when they do not get custody or when they make more than the man). This is a legal inequality for the sake of trying to create an artificial equality nature has not granted. Likewise, abortion is necessary to feminism because nature “penalized” women by making them the ones who carry babies. Only if a woman can be completely free from the obligations of bearing children (while still being "free" to engage in promiscuity) can there be equality between men and women. The logic of equality necessitates legal abortion. Transgenderism is a technological attempt at equalization; it is forcing gender fluidity onto nature. Androgyny is another example -- make the whole culture as unisex as possible, e.g., men and women become interchangeable cogs in the bureaucratic machinery of the modern corporation. Abraham Kuyper saw the coming androgyny and transgenderism from afar: “Finally Modernism, which denies and abolishes every difference, cannot rest until it has made woman man and man woman, and, putting every distinction on a common level, kills life by placing it under the ban of uniformity.” Feminism promised a utopia but has given us something closer to a dystopia. The survival of our civilization depends upon reversing feminism's effects and returning to some form of biblically-shaped, creational patriarchy.
The greatest lie of feminism was convincing women that under the patriarchal order men oppressed women rather than protected them. In reality, patriarchy promotes men as protectors, not oppressors; indeed one purpose of the patriarchy is to enable good men to protect women from predators (bad men). Men were designed to be leaders, spiritually, physically, and economically; they have authority over their households but also take responsibility for every aspect of their household. Their authority and privileges were coordinated with responsibilities and obligations. Under the classic patriarchal order there were certainly cases of abuse, but they were not systemic in places reached by the gospel. The claim that patriarchy produces abuse is a fabrication. Just the opposite is true. Abuse happens when patriarchy collapses. Abuse happens when masculinity collapses and men become effeminate cowards. If one wants to understand the real source of abuse, it would be better to look at a place like Hollywood, perhaps the most abusive culture in the world for women. Does anyone think Harvey Weinstein was motivated by complementarianism or a biblical theology of patriarchy? No; in fact, there is no doubt he would be some kind of egalitarian or feminist, who would claim he is "empowering" women even as he treats them like garbage. Historically, the patriarchy has been the biggest friend women have had. As the Western patriarchal order evolved over the centuries, building upon the Scriptures and observations from the created order, things like domestic violence were outlawed and abuse of all sorts became criminal. Calvin's Geneva made wife-beating a civil and ecclesiastical crime, and nations influenced by the Reformation followed suit over time. But feminism led women to believe the evil patriarchy was all that stood between them and happiness, so they began dismantling the patriarchal legal order, replacing it with an egalitarian one, really beginning in the late 19th century, but kicking into high gear in the 1960s. The result has left men and women confused and alienated from one another. Patriarchy is not the problem, it is the solution. But how can patriarchy be recovered when we have so few patriarchs? How can we raise up a generation of good men when we have so few to mentor them?
I have said for quite some time now that the best features of the red pill actually repristinate wisdom that was once widely known, and has been taught in various forms throughout the history of the church (though not always with consistency). I could give numerous examples, but let this one from Presbyterian theologian R. L. Dabney, writing against the woman's rights movement in the 1870s, suffice. Dabney understood well what the rising tide of feminism would do to marriage and family life, as it pitted the interests of men and women against each other instead of keeping them united in a covenant household:
This suggests a third consequence, which some of the advocates of the movement even already are bold enough to foreshadow. “Women’s Rights” mean the abolition of all permanent marriage ties. We are told that Mrs. Cady Stanton avowed this result, proclaiming it at the invitation of the Young Men’s Christian Association of New York. She holds that woman’s bondage is not truly dissolved until the marriage bond is annulled. She is thoroughly consistent. Some hoodwinked advocates of her revolution may be blind to the sequence; but it is inevitable. It must follow by this cause, if for no other, that the unsexed politicating woman can never inspire in man that true affection on which marriage should be founded. Men will doubtless be still sensual; but it is simply impossible that they can desire them for the pure and sacred sphere of the wife. Let every woman ask herself: will she choose for the lord of her affections an unsexed effeminate man? No more can man be drawn to the masculine woman. The mutual attraction of the two complementary halves is gone forever. The abolition of marriage would follow again by another cause. The divergent interests and the rival independence of the two equal wills would be irreconcilable with domestic government, or union, or peace. Shall the children of this monstrous no-union be held responsible to two variant co-ordinate and supreme wills at once? Heaven pity the children! Shall the two parties to this perpetual co-partnership have neither the power to secure the performance of the mutual duties nor to dissolve it? It is a self-contradiction, an impossible absurdity. Such a co-partnership of equals with independent interests must be separable at will, as all other such co-partnerships are. The only relation between the sexes which will remain will be a cohabitation continuing so long as the convenience or caprice of both parties may suggest; and this, with most, will amount to a vagrant concubinage
Dabney is giving red pill insights 130 years before the manosphere. He sees that the feminist movement will masculinize women, which will weaken the marriage bond because such women do not inspire true affection in men. Dabney also understood how men would be made effeminate, which would make them repulsive in the eyes of women. Men would still be sensual, because it is their nature, but they would find it difficult to satisfy their sensuality in marriage to a "women's rights woman." In other words, Dabney is saying: Do not marry a feminist. Dabney understood well that polarity drives attraction and any movement that unsexes the sexes -- that androgynizes them -- will be disastrous for marriage and therefore for civilization. It will spell the end of the mutual attraction that is designed to bond husband and wife together for life. But Dabney not only understood game; he also understood frame. If a man does not maintain frame, not only does he lose his wife's respect and therefore his submission, but it spells doom for the children since the parents are no longer united. Parenting itself becomes a conflict of wills, with the children thrown into confusion. If there is no sovereign will in the household, there can be no peace. And while feminists saw marriage as a form of bondage for women, Dabney rightly sees that the loss of marriage as a permanent institution will actually hurt women in greater ways, as they are reduced to concubines (or worse, as Dabney could not have imagined the all the consequences of the "free sex" movement, which makes it easy for men to use women sexually without having to commit to them even temporarily, essentially turning them into cheap whores). In short, Dabney saw with keen insight what was coming -- and he was right.
What Dabney feared is now our reality. This is what today’s young men are up against: the cultural, political, economic, and legal deck is stacked against them. And too often, the pastoral and ecclesiastical deck is as well. And for many young men, the familial deck is not on their side either since they had bad fathers or no fathers at all. Today's man is expected to take responsibility for his household but he will not have authority over his household. He is expected to marry a woman (perhaps even one who already has children from another man), ignoring the fact that he puts his at least half his possessions, income, and perhaps access to his own children at risk should she get antsy and decide to fly the coup. What's a young man to do? How can he find his way through this mess? Who will help him?
That leads to my second plea. I want to plead with pastors and churches to do a better job with men. Can we learn to speak to our young men with the earnest empathy of Jordan Peterson? (I realize that empathy is not always a virtue, but I believe Peterson’s compassion for the men he seeks to help is truly admirable and does not lead him to compromise telling men what they need to hear.) Can we learn to speak truthfully and honestly to young men about what they are up against and what it will take to succeed in our current cultural context as men, in their work and their relationships with women? Rollo is doing this as best he knows how. But shouldn’t pastors be able to do much better? Where are the pastors, who are discipling young men into real masculinity? Why have we not fully developed our own far more more robust, far truer account of the red pill? All Rollo can pull from is “nature” as interpreted by secular scientists and sociologists. We have the written Word of God, the inscripturated wisdom of the Creator and Redeemer, which not only gives us a better lens for interpreting the created/natural order, but also gives us plain and direct guidance in all of these matters. But we have muted God’s Word because it is politically incorrect and therefore requires courage if we are to teach it faithfully, especially in this area of intersexual dynamics. The result is that our young men are hung out to dry. Let’s do better.