The Rational Male Religion
The manosphere is a collection of male-oriented blogs and discussion forums spanning several subcultures, especially pickup artists. They are linked by a shared framework of intersexual dynamics known by the shorthand of the “red pill,” taken from the film The Matrix. To “take the red pill,” in their view, is to reject society’s lies on gender in favor of the often-bitter truth about men and women.
In my Theopolis article on the manosphere and the church, I noted that the heyday of the manosphere was from around 2013 to 2016 and that most of its seminal figures had moved on. The pickup artist Roosh Valizadeh, for example, converted to Christianity and unpublished all of his books.
The main manosphere OG who is still active is Rollo Tomassi, who calls himself “the Rational Male.” Rollo was a prolific blogger back in the day but has largely pivoted to video. He’s also published a few books summarizing his beliefs. He’s a true oldtimer – I think he’s a year or two older than me – and has been active in the red pill community for around 20 years, since its very early days.
Rollo is most famous for his “sexual market value” chart that plots male and female attractiveness over time:
This chart seems like the kind of harsh, unfair, and stereotyped, and crudely sexual content for which the manosphere has been criticized. But viewed directionally, not literally (i.e., don’t get hung up on the precise levels), his chart has also been empirically validated by social scientists studying behavior on online dating sites. For example, back in Masc #24, I included this chart from research featured in the Atlantic.
This is basically Rollo’s chart presented in a different form, based on a scientific analysis of online dating sites. It’s similar to what I called the “attractiveness curve.”
While there are many reasons to criticize the morality and other aspects of the manosphere, it’s important to recognize that they have put their fingers on some empirical truths, something we should not ignore. Hypergamy exists, for example, even you don’t like the way the manosphere talks about it.
The Red Pill and Religion
Rollo just released a new book called The Rational Male Religion. As the title implies, it’s about the intersection of the red pill system with religion.
I did a deep reading in the manosphere about seven years ago but hadn’t paid it much attention for several years until checking in while writing my Theopolis piece. Amazon tells me that I bought Rollo’s original The Rational Male book in 2013. I did not read any of his subsequent works, but I did pick this one up to see what he had to say.
The book is essentially a mashup of Rollo’s own longstanding views on gender with a religious perspective derived from a blogger named Dalrock. Dalrock, the most prominent member of the Christian subculture within the manosphere, stopped blogging about a year ago and declined Rollo’s initiation to be a co-author of the work. But Rollo drew heavily on Dalrock’s corpus, as he freely acknowledges.
Rollo says that he has some personal faith but does not go into details about it. He was raised in a household with an atheist father and Evangelical mother during the 1970s and 80s and has personal knowledge of the Evangelical culture of the era that shines through in the work.
However, as his “rational male” moniker implies, Rollo examines the world through a pure materialist lens. He correctly anticipates that this will cause many Christians to reject him out of hand. For example, as with the rest of the manosphere, his entire red pill framework for understanding the sexes is derived from evolutional psychology. (Jordan Peterson also famously works the same territory).
I am not per se opposed to using evolutionary psychology if it gives you a way to make sense of the world, so long as you recognize that you are using it as a modeling tool rather than as a statement of objective reality.
My main problem with treating evolutionary psychology as a description of truth is that it is full of “just so” reasoning. That is, we take some behavior we observe in humans today, then project backward an evolutionary explanation for it. But it’s generally not tied to much if any hard evidence such as genetics.
Evopsych is similar to much historical analysis in this regard. For example, there’s a famous (and excellent) book called Regional Advantage that looks at how Silicon Valley achieved tech supremacy over Boston’s Route 128. Its conclusion was that Silicon Valley’s open, networked culture was superior to Boston’s insular, hierarchical culture. But had Boston won, the exact same analysis could have been done, just with the conclusion reversed and Boston’s culture deemed superior.
Most things like this are just stories we tell ourselves to make sense of the world, not science as such. I would suggest treating the red pill’s evolutionary psych explanations similarly to stories. There are some things we know empirically. Historically a large share of men never passed on their genes. Women are vulnerable during pregnancy and while caring for young children. Large numbers of societies were polygamous. Etc. We can infer some things from this, but most evolutionary psych explanations, including those of the manosphere, seem overdetermined.
But I would not let an allergic reaction to evolutionary psych keep you from examining the manosphere’s claims about today’s world, which we are capable of judging for ourselves. Rollo himself notes that the red pill is a praxeology, not an ideology. If that’s true, what matters is whether the ideas themselves are accurate and practical for taking action in life, not whether their ultimate derivation is correct. If they work, who cares where they came from? If not, likewise.
Red Pill Rhetoric
One of Rollo’s longstanding claims is that since the 1960s or so society has shifted to a female-centric structure. Women are to be liberated from prior constraints. They are allowed to have sex as much as they want with whomever they want. They have an absolute choice over having children. They can pursue a career or personal fulfillment in any domain. They’ve been freed from dependency on men for provisioning via having their own careers, state aid, or having the state compel men to support them through alimony and child support. Any traditional expressions of masculinity or male behavior that do not in some way support female empowerment or women’s agendas are delegitimized as toxic masculinity. Conversely, anything that women do for the benefit of men (or in some cases even their children) is attacked as vestiges of the patriarchy or some such. Rollo writes:
The narrative for women was all about manifest destiny; greater access to power, greater access to independence (from male provisioning), and a greater sense of entitlement to all aspects of ‘being a woman’. The prime directive for women and feminism in this new order is, and has always been: “Never do anything for the express pleasure of a man”… The push for female-primacy has conditioned generations of women to an entitlement of respect and deference to their authority from men.
This gives a sense of the manosphere style, and how it intersects with the incentive structures of the present-day social media world. A lot of Rollo’s take on societal shifts here could easily be written in the form of a history of gender role evolution or of the accomplishments of feminism and be published in a prestigious magazine like the Atlantic. It was Irina Dunn (later Gloria Steinem) after all who said, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”
Like many online subcultures, however, the red pill community chooses to phrase its views in bespoke terminology using transgressive, polarizing rhetoric almost intentionally designed to repel “normies.” Consider this paragraph from the book:
The Christo-feminists assimilating the modern Western church have already fashioned a Christ-like figure, but he’s been thoroughly feminized and represents the ideals of a sympathetic female-correct experience in a Gynocentric framework. He “forgives all sin” without requiring insight, remorse, repentance or change. In Red Pill terms this Fem-Christ is the divine version of an Emotional Tampon. Jesus is put in the Friend Zone. He’s there when a gal needs Him to dry her tears after her night with the Alpha male lover and tells her “then neither do I condemn you.” Others may not judge you because It never judges you. He (It) “speaks” to them giving extra-Biblical “guidance” and comforts their innate need for security, but without the discomfort of accountability or rebuke. Fem-Christ becomes the great spiritual life coach in this age of emotionalism.
What the heck is the man in the pews supposed to think of this? Rollo says that there’s “no elevator pitch for the red pill.” He complains that many groups of men have rejected the red pill for various (bad) reasons. But a big reason is most likely prose like this.
As he might point out, however, this is what the modern “hustle economy” mandates. Cool, dispassionate, logical argument would not be drawing Rollo tens of thousands of viewers to his 3+ hour live streams. Whatever his claims to being the “rational” male, colorful rhetoric plays a key role in drawing his audience. Let’s admit it, as with Trump’s tweets, this sort of thing can be hilarious at times. On the flip side, this rhetorical approach ensures that the red pill remains a niche “bro” phenomenon. The very metaphor “red pill” itself is suggestive of being one of only a handful of people clued into the true state of affairs.
The Church as Culture Follower
Rollo’s view is that the church has become female-centric as a result of adapting to the larger societal shift. He says modern churches today are “franchises,” meaning that they operate as businesses and respond to the demands of the “hustle economy.” So they respond to market demand by incorporating secular developments into their system via what he called the “Kosher Principle.”
What the Kosher Principle does is verify an otherwise religiously suspicious product as being okay for believers to partake of, participate in, or otherwise enjoy free in the knowledge that God would be cool with it.
He uses Christian heavy metal as an example of this. Back when he was growing up, there was strong pushback against contemporary Christian music in some circles, particularly against genres like heavy metal that were seen as Satanic. I remember this era well. The Christian heavy metal band Stryper was able to start the process of gaining mainstream Christian acceptance of metal as a valid Christian music genre. (The same process was later repeated for Christian hip-hop). As he puts it, “The lesson of Stryper wasn’t lost on me even then; Christians would fluidly adopt whatever was cool in the secular world to incorporate it into their means of witnessing or spreading the gospel.”
Anyone who has been around the church for any length of time has seen this process play out multiple times. A secular trend starts is denounced at first, but later is accepted and then incorporated into church culture at large. In some cases doctrine itself is even repackaged to accommodate itself to these new trends. As I previously documented, for example, both the egalitarian and complementarian view of gender roles are modern innovations.
This is the process by which Rollo suggests the church adopted a female-centric model:
Since the mid 80s the most sustainable profit model in mainstream religions follow a similar template: Be sensitive to the secular needs of women. Foster a church culture of female empowerment. Find contemporary ways to be relevant to women outside the belief structure. Reward and reinforce the appreciation of women’s experience and struggle. Appeal to, and affirm the emotional nature of women. Remove judgementalism, and reassign responsibility for women’s sins to irresponsible men. Make covert feminist ideology kosher, and later an identifying characteristic of that religious franchise.
He later describes how this plays out practically:
The central Christian teaching that all people are sinners gets glossed over. Instead, the notion that men are somehow worse by nature than women is everywhere, sometimes stated overtly, but more often in the subtext and sub-communications. At the same time, women are elevated to a position of moral and spiritual superiority. Women’s sin is often excused in light of men’s failings — failings we endlessly harp on because it’s expected.
Rollo isn’t wrong that the church has taken a “man bad, woman good” type approach. But as I’ve documented elsewhere this goes back further than the 1980s, likely originating around 1800 in England along with industrialization. During that time, we started moving from a rural-agrarian to an urban-industrial economy. Women, who were previously economically productive members of the household economy, became a dependent class while men left home to work in factories. This created horrible living conditions for many, and it was not in fact uncommon for a man to get a paycheck, head straight to the pub, and blow the money without keeping enough back to support his family. But while there were some grounds for legitimate concern around areas like problems from excess drink, these new ideologies went far beyond factual warrant and have persisted to the present day.
Like Dalrock, Rollo enjoys berating the church for being a collection of Beta boys:
Christianity, in particular, is by women, for women – if not directly executed by women – though even that is changing. Church culture is now openly hostile towards any expression of conventional masculinity that doesn’t directly benefit women and actively conditions men to be serviceable, effeminate, gender-loathing Beta males. Men who, generationally, have no concept of conventional masculinity…. Even in what some consider to be pro-masculine, or re-masculinized “macho” churches, we still find the Paper Alpha leaders who preach from a mindset that defers wholesale to the feminine.
His most provocative argument in this area is actually philosophical-theological. He notes that men have always faced the “burden of performance.” Manhood has always been an earned status, whereas women simply grew automatically into socially legitimate womanhood. Rollo argues that patriarchal religions are associated with this burden of performance and salvation by works. Christ’s perfect life and obedient death on the cross are a kind of demonstrated, earned manhood – and an example of male expendability. (“It’s, therefore, unsurprising that Christ’s symbolic death on the cross is almost a perfect analogy for the expectation of altruistic sacrifice from human males.”) Traditional works-based religions like (in Rollo’s opinion) pre-Reformation Catholicism or Islam operate in a male model and are thus patriarchal. But he views the gospel of free (unearned) grace through faith alone that he associated with the Protestant Reformation as a break with that, which perhaps aligns itself with a more female-friendly Christianity.
Christians themselves would be the first to agree that the gospel represents a radical break with religions of works, though wouldn’t apply a gendered lens to it. But it’s always interesting to see new interpretative lenses put on the Bible. It’s similar to Jordan Peterson talking about creation in terms of chaos and order.
Rollo the MGTOW
Years ago a fellow manosphere blogger noted insightfully that Rollo Tomassi was a MGTOW blogger. MGTOW is an acronym for “Men Going Their Own Way,” a manosphere subgroup that argues that men should never get married and avoid entanglements with women generally. They argue that divorce and child custody laws are so unfavorable to men that marriage should be avoided at all costs.
Rollo does not call himself an MGTOW, but his advice is mostly in that line. He writes, “Marriage today is an Unconscionable Contract that no sane man would ever enter into were the terms offered to him by a potential business partner in any endeavor other than marriage.” He goes on to say:
I simply cannot endorse marriage, as it exists today, as a good idea for any young man. I regret that I have to take this position, because social enforced monogamous marriage, based on conventional gender roles, has been a foundation of societal stability for centuries. Remember, this is coming from a guy with a damn good marriage. As MGTOWs are fond of saying, endorsing marriage today is leading the lambs to slaughter. I agree. It has statistically, become the worst decision a man can make in his life at present, yet so many men want to believe they won’t be one of those statistics.
Rollo bills his takes on gender as a rational and realistic look at the world the way it is. But his vision is extremely bleak and essentially nihilistic. In the “hustle economy” of today, positive “awaken the giant within” programs have a great appeal. But negative messages like this can sell too.
Marriage today is undoubtedly risky. No man can have the sort of reflexive security in his marriage that my grandfathers could. Divorce risk is real and the consequences potentially severe. Men have to go into it with their eyes wide open. Pastors frequently fail to appreciate the extent to which the degree of difficulty dial has been turned up for younger people these days and how the “old order” rules don’t work anymore.
But Rollo oversells his case. It’s definitely possible to marry a woman whose statistical correlates with divorce are low (10% or less). He’s right that it’s impossible to ever fully “vet” a potential wife (or husband for that matter), but many people have managed to create happy marriages that have lasted. Rollo himself is one of them, as he frankly confesses. So was Dalrock. Marriage can also be a great thing, as again he and Dalrock can attest from their own.
He also neglects to mention that not being married also comes with downsides. You want to take a chance of ending your life like George Bell? It’s one of the possibilities that await you as a confirmed bachelor.
The average manosphere reader is probably in his 20s or early 30s. These are precisely the people to whom a single life can seem attractive. They can have fun going out and partying (or playing pickup artist), play video games, watch lots of porn, do online fantasy football with buddies, climb the career ladder, etc. But will a life that sounds amazing to the 21-year-old or even 31-year-old guy still be as attractive at age 41, 51, 61, or 71? I don’t think so. The dead-end nature of the pickup artist’s life itself is undoubtedly the main driver of Roosh’s turn to Christianity, for example.
Interestingly, while Rollo says he had sex with a number of women when he was younger, he does not seem to have ever been a pick-up artist. And he’s been married for 25 years. He can perhaps afford to indulge in anti-marriage risk analysis precisely because the realities of being single in your 50s are something he’s never personally experienced. It’s easy to visualize a disastrous divorce. It’s much harder to conceptualize being 50+ and alone, without many (if any) even semi-close male friends, and economically superfluous. But if you aren’t married that’s a very realistic scenario for you.
I am a believer that marriage and children are the normative path for humans even today. Marriage is a risk to be sure. But there’s no sure thing in life no matter what you do. By all means, stay single if you think that’s the best path or think Rollo makes a convincing case (though if you are a Christian remember that means continuing in a life of chastity). It’s a free country and people are entitled to live however they want – even MGTOWs.
It’s just that in this area, and in general, Rollo and the manosphere writers give the impression, fairly or not, of cynicism and a worldview that leads to nihilistic conclusions. “Welcome to the desert of the real world,” he might say. But while there is quite a bit of bleak reality out there, I retain much more hope than he does.
There’s a ton in this book I did not even begin to address: a critique of the blank slate, “old order” vs. “new order” reality, the shift from localized to pseudo-global dating markets, a look at the origins of “courtly love,” and more.
If I were to recommend just one book that came out of the manosphere it would be The Biblical Masculinity Blueprint by Stephen Casper, which summarizes the positive conclusions of the Christian manosphere. But The Rational Male Religion would serve as a better primer on the manosphere generally, should you want to get a sense of what it is about and what that community believes. It’s hot off the presses and written by a manosphere legend.
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