Continued from part 1, on how this is a trick question
Taking the obvious Revelation 1:8 joke as given, I have established that speaking of alpha and beta is—at best—unhelpful for recovering a Christian understanding of masculinity. Jesus was not alpha, nor beta, nor for that matter omega—because these terms don’t have clear, true meanings within the Christian worldview.
Nonetheless, I believe these terms serve a useful purpose, and so we should seek to find replacements that do have clear, true meanings. One such useful purpose that I find myself gravitating toward is for analyzing the actions of characters in movies and television. It is helpful to have a shorthand way of testing and describing what characters do, to assess whether they are being portrayed in biblically commendable ways, or in ways that we are supposed to find commendable but are in fact at odds with God’s design. It is easy to do this with respect to straightforwardly moral actions—the Bible equips us with a robust system of ethics to say, “That is right, that is wrong; that is good, that is evil.” These verbal shortcuts are “hooks” that we use to connect to the broader gamut of internalized biblical teaching. We need something similar for detecting gender-bending—the Bible equips us with the information we need to say, “That is masculine, that is effeminate; that is feminine, that is butch.” We need to take what it teaches and internalize it, and then build the verbal shortcuts to hook back in.
For example, it’s exceedingly common for an otherwise dominant character to become deferent and submissive when interacting with his girlfriend. Perhaps the most egregious illustration in 2017 cinema is the recently-resurrected Superman going from a stance of vengeful head-crusher to obedient puppy the moment Lois steps into the scene. [If you want to open the clip in a new tab rather than playing the embedded video below, see Superman vs Justice League on YouTube. Try to look past the comically appalling airbrushing of Henry Cavill’s mustache.] It’s convenient and relatively accurate to label this as beta supplication with a hefty side of oneitis.
Similarly, it’s helpful to be able to analyze the nice-guy-goes-mad-with-power trope (e.g. American Beauty, Breaking Bad, Fargo season 1) in terms of a beta provider discovering his inner alpha. It gives us a vocabulary to at least reframe, and perhaps more critically consider, the imposed narrative of toxic masculinity. Since alpha is a theoretically positive term, we are perhaps more inclined to realize that it is not the traits the character is discovering that are toxic per se, but rather his lack of moral conviction. Lester, Lester and Walter were not beta because they were nice guys; they were nice guys because they were beta. Strip that away, empower them to do whatever they want, and you discover that what they want is sin—which is actually a much more realistic and compelling narrative than the one Hollywood thought it was telling.
This framework also helps us understand why we feel that these characters are in some sense heroes, despite being so wicked: it is because although we are wired to admire virtue and despise sin, we are also wired to admire masculinity and despise effeminacy. These men, as they became worse sinners, simultaneously became more masculine, resulting in a paradox of admiration for the viewer.
Here, however, we see a good illustration of my contention that the alpha/beta dichotomy is functionally useless for understanding biblical masculinity. As I’ve observed, every man—and if Dalrock is to be believed, also every woman—wants intuitively to say that alpha = manly = good.
But here we have characters who become more manly, and yet also more evil because of it (or possibly vice versa; the dynamic is complex).
Thinking in terms of alpha and beta here simply produces moral and teleological confusion. It leaves us vulnerable not only to being conditioned wrongly by media, but also to becoming inured with regard to the contemptuous and abusive view of women typical in the manosphere.
The moment one criticizes red pill attitudes to women, one invites allegations of white knighting—trying to defend women’s inherent honor, and decrying their objectification. On the contrary, I think the Bible models proper objectification of women by marking them as assets (Exodus 20:17; 21:7 etc); and I don’t think any woman is worthy of respect just for being a woman. But I also don’t think any man is worthy of respect just for being a man—yet both are made as representations of God, and both are thus worthy of honor for being human, even if their lives in every way should be condemned for repudiating God’s image. Feminist women and red pill men have both adopted contemptuous and abusive views of the opposite sex, because they have adopted contemptuous and abusive views of God and his image. Both must therefore be called to repentance.
Moreover, as Dalrock pointed out in the comments for my last post, it is not just the manosphere that propagates the view that alpha = virtue. This is the standard line inadvertently championed by complementarians like Albert Mohler and Matt Chandler, who—despite thinking that it is actually beta traits that arouse women—teach that a wife’s desire for her husband reflects his virtue.
On top of the amoral and simplistic thinking inherent in the alpha/beta paradigm, another of its failings is how awkward it is for assessing a woman as an agent in her own right. One might assess whether a man is alpha or beta with respect to a woman, but the reverse is not comfortably true. The terminology I am going to propose solves this problem also. It works equally well for women as for men, once the basic theological presuppositions are clear. This is not to say there is parity between men and women on these issues; rather, our framework for understanding intersexuality should simply have the basic flexibility to assess both sexes. We want to know what biblical masculinity looks like; but we also want to know what biblical femininity looks like; and how the two should interact.
All this preamble to say: we need a vocabulary for the concepts that terms like alpha and beta are trying to describe. In this post I’ll sketch the basis of my preferred vocabulary, explaining it from Scripture. In the next, I’ll develop it further and synthesize it into a conceptual framework for thinking about masculinity and femininity in constructively Christian ways.
I propose that command should be our primary term for building an understanding of Christian intersexual dynamics, and especially of Christian masculinity. This is because men and women are both made in the image of God, and the image of God is dominion; representative rulership (Genesis 1:26–28). This is the headwater from which flow ideas like alphaness, and the related concept of frame. [ Rollo Tomassi, Frame on The Rational Male (October 2011).]
In Genesis 1:1–25, God models what it is to have dominion. He fundamentally does two things during the creative process:
- He orders the world, imposing his will upon it to organize and govern it. Put succinctly, he has an external command over
the world to structure and control it.
- He judges the world, repeatedly assessing it and pronouncing it good and fitting for his purpose. Put succinctly, he has an internal command of the world, apprehending its nature and comparing it with the wisdomous ideal (cf. Proverbs 3:19).
These two distinct but related elements are jointly crucial to understanding our own natures as imagers of God. This will become clear as I explain further. It is why I propose the term command, rather than another like dominion or rule. Command contains within its meaning both the sense of control, and of right judgment—a command over, and a command of.
1. A command over
Though the Lord Jesus humbled himself to become a servant, he remained the Lord at all times; his command over his world was without question, and the gospels at times take pains to illustrate this. John, for instance, records Jesus’ categorical declaration that he laid down his life of his own volition; no one took it from him, nor could they (John 10:18; cf. Matthew 26:53).
Indeed, Steve Hays has recently drawn attention to the oft-overlooked fact that John describes the Pharisees enlisting a Roman cohort—σπεῖρα, 600 infantry—to arrest Jesus (John 18:3). [ Steve Hays quoting J. R. Michaels, The Gospel of John (Eerdmans 2010), 887–895, The theophanic Jesus on Triablogue (March 2018).] Despite the overwhelming force backing them up, when Jesus tells them, “I am he” (cf. Deuteronomy 32:39 LXX), the Greek reads that they literally “retreated to the back and fell to the ground.”
It is this command over the world that God creates man to carry into creation on his behalf. As Yahweh had begun ordering and governing the world, so Adam was to complete the project, expanding the sanctuary of the garden until all the earth was transformed into sacred space. [For a good primer on this, see Michael S. Heiser, Thinking Like an Israelite 2: Sacred Space and Sacrifice on YouTube. Mike speaks pretty slowly so the 1.5× playback feature is helpful.]
In Genesis 2, God forms Adam first to represent him in creation. Then, exercising his command of reality, he judges that it is unfitting for Adam to do this alone. Thus he creates Eve to meet Adam’s need of a helper (Genesis 2:18, 20)—and implicitly of a mate to make him fruitful and multiplicatious (Genesis 1:28; 2:24).
Paul makes much of this chronology in regards to the command structure of marriage in 1 Timothy 2:10–13 and 1 Corinthians 11:7–9. In the latter, he observes that man is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man (v. 7). It is not that woman is not the image of God; rather, because this image is representative rule, and because God created man to bear this rule with woman subordinate to him, it is man who mediates it to her. As the man is the crown of God (cf. Isaiah 62:3; Psalm 8:5)—the representation of his majesty—so the woman is the crown of man (cf. Proverbs 12:4). She is made to have command over the world, but she is made to do so on behalf of man. Her command is designed to be subordinate to man’s. This simple fact accounts for a great deal of the success or failure of inter-gender dynamics, as we will see.
2. A command of
The capacity for right judgment is inherent in rulership; that is why the original rulers of Israel were called judges. As Genesis 1 shows us, there’s a kind of virtuous cyle between rightly judging reality and rightly ordering it. Having a firm command of one’s world is prerequisite to having a firm command over one’s world (Proverbs 24:3–6 is perhaps a paradigm example). Pharaoh understood this well (Genesis 41:38–41), as did Solomon (1 Kings 3:8–9)—having command of reality, coupled with command over reality, produced what these days we’d call “positive outcomes”—success, prosperity, shalom not just on a personal level, but an international one (Genesis 41:53–57; 1 Kings 4:34; 10 etc). For a good feminine parallel, consider the comparison between Nabal and Abigail in 1 Samuel 25.
Of course, the converse is also true: having a faulty command of one’s world produces an inability to exercise command over it. This is basically the entire theme of Proverbs, so it’s hard to pick a single passage to illustrate the point; but see especially Proverbs 11:14.
It is in this command of that the red pill is paradoxically both strongest and weakest.
It is strongest because it infers its understanding of sexual psychology and motivation not from theory, but from raw behavioral data. In that regard—and I say this with full cognizance—it moves us closer to imitating Jesus’ perfected command of reality: specifically, his knowledge of what is in man (John 2:25). It does this by recognizing that the only way for us to have a firm command of human sexual psychology is by aggregating and assessing human sexual behavior. In biblical parlance, we can only know man’s heart by assessing his works. If a tree claims to produce figs, but it’s covered in thorns, it is a thornbush—protestations notwithstanding. In this respect, red pill men are, in fact, seeking to judge not according to appearances, but with right judgment (John 7:24). [To better understand this, I recommend Rollo Tomassi, The Medium is the Message on The Rational Male (September 2011).]
However, this is only one side of the coin. On the other, the red pill is weakest, because in the parlance of Scripture, to have a good command of the world is to have wisdom. But wisdom does not merely consist in accurately recognizing what is; it ultimately consists in recognizing what ought to be. When we exercise command over our world, it is either to narrow the gap between what is and what ought to be, or to keep the gap closed if we have already achieved parity.
It was this wisdom that Pharaoh sought. It was through wisdom that Solomon’s rule was great. In both examples, the origin of this wisdom is explicit: it is God. Proverbs 8:12–21 summarizes the point well:
“I, wisdom, dwell with prudence,
and I find knowledge and discretion.
The fear of the Yahweh is hatred of evil.
Pride and arrogance and the way of evil
and perverted speech I hate.
I have counsel and sound wisdom;
I have insight; I have strength.
By me kings reign,
and rulers decree what is just;
by me princes rule,
and nobles, all who govern justly.
I love those who love me,
and those who seek me diligently find me.
Riches and honor are with me,
enduring wealth and righteousness.
My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold,
and my yield than choice silver.
I walk in the way of righteousness,
in the paths of justice,
granting an inheritance to those who love me,
and filling their treasuries. Proverbs 8:12–21
The problem here, of course, is that if you spend just 30 seconds reading nearly any red pill comment thread, you will effortlessly discern pride, arrogance, the way of evil, and perverted speech—all those things wisdom hates. There is no fear of Yahweh here—but if the fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10), and wisdom is what a command of the world consists in, then what genuine command of the world can be offered by a red pill sans Scripture? Accurately discerning what is will certainly empower men to make up the difference with what ought to be—but how shall they decide what ought to be? The manosphere is an excellent illustration of how there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death (Proverbs 14:12), and that the anger of man cannot produce the righteousness that God requires (James 1:21)—no matter how justified it may be at the chaos and pain caused by feminism.
Ironically, while sphere pundits rightly mock the naïve sentimentality of the Hollywood/Hallmark “follow your heart” [See Feral love on Dalrock (December 2012).] and “just be yourself” [See Rollo Tomassi, Just Be Yourself on The Rational Male (January 2012).] narratives that empower women and debilitate men, they are blind to the fact that they’re producing a mirror image. They trust in their own hearts, rather than walking in wisdom (cf. Proverbs 28:26).
You’ll notice I frequently reference Rollo Tomassi’s blog, the Rational Male—yet Rollo exemplifies the problem I’m describing. He has done a good job of living up to his title and producing a rational command of the world; unfortunately, he actively resists making any kind of normative comment on red pill realities, and thus has failed entirely to achieve a moral command of the world. He explains with great clarity what is, but refuses to conform it to what ought to be. Thus, although he himself is by all accounts faithfully married, his work becomes a fulcrum around which all kinds of debauchery turns.
Indeed, it’s hard to overstate the irony of how Proverbs, a book about achieving command over one’s world by gaining command of it, repeatedly personifies the abandonment of this goal as the pursuit of seductive women—the very thing the manosphere is so thoroughly consumed with. If we are to develop a Christian framework for intersexual dynamics, we must heed the warning of Paul:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2
Without the restraining force of God’s law, red pill truths simply empower men to pursue their own sexual strategy—aka lust—at the expense of women. There may be a certain self-righteous satisfaction in turning the tables on feminism, through which women have so successfully pursued their sexual strategy at the expense of men. But there is no actual righteousness to be had. A society that despises the image of God enough to sic the genders on each other is free-falling into the pit of hell. Will it make any difference who is on top when they hit the bottom?