Hi and welcome back! Yesterday, we looked at one of the worst subcultures in Christianity: bro-dude Christianity. It takes regular ole toxic Christianity and amps it up to 11 with extra misogyny and chest-thumping. Today, I want to show you just why bro-dude Christianity is so much worse than other toxic variants of the religion.
(Note: Bro-dude Christianity is neither Catholic nor Protestant, neither mainline nor progressive nor evangelical. While most of its adherents are Calvinist evangelicals, I’ve found these guys in almost every flavor of Christianity. One of the biggest names in the bunch seems to be a Catholic hardliner. So toxic Christianity is more about authoritarian tendencies than any one denomination. Also, I’d like to point out that many Christians very thoroughly disagree with bro-dude Christians. See here1, and also here2 for more info.)
Amped to 11: A Biff Story.
Set the Wayback Machine for about 1990.
Late one night/very early one morning this one time, an apartment neighbor of ours decided to play super-loud music. Y’all, I’m not even sure how he got it that loud. When the cops arrived in response to multiple noise complaints, including our own, the guy got super-violent in response to their demand that he turn down the noise. Because he was apparently humongous, beyond enraged, and higher than a Tibetan prayer kite, it took a dozen cops to wrestle him into their car to take him into custody.
I don’t know exactly what the full charges against the guy turned out to be, but it was a wild night. They had to be numerous. I’m sure the whole complaint made for interesting reading.
In the resulting criminal case, the prosecution called Biff to the witness stand. (I had to skip out due to classes.)
On the witness stand, Biff mentioned that the defendant played rap music that night. Immediately, the defense lawyer pounced. He tried to negate Biff’s testimony by implying that Biff was just racist. (We had no idea what race the guy was till he showed up in court.)
In response, Biff burst out, “It doesn’t matter if the guy was playing Mozart. It was still loud enough to shake our walls and rattle our windows!”
It was a very dramatic moment.
Indeed, it hadn’t been the type of music that was the problem here. It was the sheer unthinkable volume of sound the guy had managed to unleash that night that began his ill-fated journey into the legal system. (The jury convicted him of the charges, whatever they were.)
Similarly, it’s not the form of the Christianity, the shape of the words or actions bro-dudes use when they practice this variant, that makes bro-dude Christianity so bad.
Back in May, we took a brief look at the tragic death of Darrin Patrick. Patrick, an evangelical pastor who’d risen through the ranks nicely, fell from grace after some scandals came to light that he wasn’t powerful enough to ignore. After the usual restoration song-and-dance, he seemed to be on a sort of rebound — before his death. Police investigators recently declared that death intentional.
Early in his career and long before his downfall, Darrin Patrick found a niche in one of the worst subcultures in his religion. He burrowed deep into the world of belligerent, chest-thumpy, ultra-male, confrontational bro-dude Christianity.
Mark Driscoll pioneered that mindset and took it to its very limits. Since then, many Millennial-aged evangelical guys have followed in his footsteps. That crowd has always liked weird Christianity. Going bro-dude wasn’t even that weird. Ever since the 1990s, right-wing Christians have been trying to push the envelope on just how hardcore they could go.
Well, they may have hit apotheosis with bro-dude Christianity.
A bro-dude in secular culture is a homophobic, appearance-obsessed, sexist twit of a guy. The Christians who get drawn into this variant of Christianity don’t cuss quite as much or use slurs quite as openly as their secular bros, and they sure tend to be puritanical about sex.
But their similarities to that stereotype, neatly summarized here, make them stand out from the rest of the Christian
It’s like Denis Leary’s 1993 song “Asshole,” just with lots more religious posturing. Don’t miss that his bandmates dress as a priest, a President, and a cop.
“Real Men Love Jesus”: How to Jesus Like a Bro-Dude.
Real men love Jesus
And they love mama
If they can get more than forty hours
You know they gonna
They give it hell till they get it right
The kind every country girl’s tryin’ to find
Every girl’s daddy’s kinda guy
Ain’t scared to pray, ain’t scared to fight
— “Real Men Love Jesus,” sung by Michael Ray
What I describe here is the “Real Men Love Jesus” style of Christianity. Christians constantly gatekeep what it means to be male or female, but bro-dudes take that tendency to extremes.
Like most of those guys, Darrin Patrick expressed intense concern about his male followers’ masculinity. He even wrote a book in 2014 on that exact topic: The Dude’s Guide to Manhood: Finding True Manliness in a World of Counterfeits. The book’s Amazon writeup refers to him as a “pastor, author and dude.”
In the book, Patrick ties his vision of TRUE MASCULINITY™ to Jesus-ing the correct way.
To be a proper bro-dude Christian, the men of this subculture cultivate lumberjack beards, neg their flocks and evangelism targets, and brag about all the brown liquor, cigars, and guns they own and enjoy. They loudly proclaim their family values and aggressively protect what they view as their property. Gratuitous shows of religiosity go hand-in-glove with this swaggering, over-compensating vision of masculinity.
In that crowd, the chiefest sin is to be seen as too suspiciously female. To that end, bro-dudes consider the proper performance of the tribe’s definition of masculinity a sacrament.
The Bro-Dude Hallmark: Confrontational Evangelism.
Shows of dominance also become a major way for bro-dudes to perform their ideology — for themselves and others.
As part of his bro-dude schtick, Darrin Patrick cultivated an intensely confrontational way of engaging with non-Christians. With their emphasis on aggressive protection of their property and their self-estimation as straight-shootin’ guys who get right to the point, bro-dudes value this style of engagement over all others. Patrick’s friend Bob Oesch spoke admiringly in a Religion News Service biography (link) of what he called “the Darrin question:”
Oesch recalled that Patrick would often ask people who “lived without God in their lives”: “How’s that working for you?”
“And that was a great way of getting people to see the value of putting God in their lives,” Oesch said
Ouch. I cringed so hard there. That’s an awful thing to be known for.
If he’d ever tried to hand me that question, I’d have told him that life was going way better after deconversion than it ever did when I believed in Jesus. Indeed, I think almost all ex-Christians would say the same, as would any lifelong non-Christian.
For that matter, I’d have quickly pointed out that feelings are a terrible way to gauge a claim’s truth value in the first place. As George Bernard Shaw pointed out, “The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.”
But we are not the target for this kind of marketing. We would, if we received such a question, immediately self-select ourselves out of the consideration of any bro-dude Christian using it. He’d know it too, and likely wouldn’t even remember our non-script-conforming reactions when tallying up his success rate with the tactic.
WTF Marketing (That Isn’t So WTF After All).
At first, it was really hard to imagine anyone who’d respond correctly according to Patrick’s script. But I soon came around to understanding why he not only used it but was known by his colleagues for the tactic.
Someone deeply authoritarian would absolutely recognize the show of dominance Patrick was making by asking that question.
Authoritarians respond to such performances. They like really scripted, conformist groups with what appear to be clearly-defined, objective demands, even if those demands are ridiculous and impossible to achieve, and even if they’re neither clear nor objective in reality.
By showcasing the performances they value, bro-dude Christian salespeople blow a clarion-call on authoritarian horns. Generally speaking, only other authoritarians will respond to it. And it sounds like they did, in this case. Though I usually take all personal-evangelism success stories as r/ThatHappened tall tales, Patrick apparently enjoyed some success with his strategy.
But this story takes a dark turn.
Very clearly, “the Darrin question” didn’t even hold up for Darrin Patrick himself — any more than it has for all too many of his fellow bro-dudes. Nor does it keep any of them out of hypocrisy. When they gain power over others, even imaginary power, they act out just as much as any other authoritarians do.
Since we know that with toxic Christians every accusation is really a confession, I gotta wonder if Patrick was wondering himself how his faith was working for him.
(Right as I was deconverting, I did much the same thing. It was startling to realize that my sales pitches seemed more directed to myself than to anybody else.)
Why Bro-Dude Christianity Doesn’t Work.
What’s mine is mine. If it’s not nailed down, what’s yours is mine. If it’s nailed down but I can pry it loose, then obviously it was always mine anyway.
And if I can’t pry it loose, then I’ll set fire to it.
— the authoritarian creed
If Darrin Patrick did wonder how his faith was working out for him, he was right to do so. Because it doesn’t. It doesn’t work — not even for its truest believers.
Toxic Christianity — Catholic, Protestant, evangelical, mainline, Calvinist, whatever, I don’t care what it officially calls itself — concerns itself first and foremost with dominance. It always has and always will. And the religion itself easily allows toxic people to enter its ranks and rise quickly to power.
In authoritarian groups, whatever their actual stated beliefs might be, those beliefs exist only as a bludgeon. Authoritarians wield that bludgeon to accomplish their real goal of gaining and wielding power. That’s why authoritarian groups all tend to behave similarly — like how Lambchop’s weird Buddhist cult SGI bears so many striking similarities with modern evangelicalism and cults especially.
It amazes me that so many guys think that right-wing Christianity just doesn’t go quite far enough with authoritarianism. But here we are. There’s always room for a wingnut to twist a bit tighter. Nobody can rein in a wingnut, either, because they don’t care what reality has to say about anything they’re doing.
So this is a deeply authoritarian variant of an ideology that was already deeply authoritarian.
There’s no other way bro-dude Christianity could go than worse.
Appearance Over Reality.
In authoritarian groups, displays and performances matter way more than truth and reality. Conformity is valued far more than being authentic to one’s true self.
We see this thinking in action in abusive political regimes like the one in North Korea. It breaks my heart to see starving North Koreans singing and dancing in parades and marches. I know that if any of them don’t perform adequately, they and their entire families will suffer in horrific ways that I can’t even begin to imagine. I’ve heard dissidents talk about the terror they feel when they realize just how wrong that regime is, but don’t even trust their spouses or parents or children enough to share their true feelings. Their version of nationalism looks like one big game of Happy Pretendy Fun Time Game, but it’s way more overtly coercive — and played for the ultimate stakes.
Bro-dude Christians can’t punish anybody to that extent (yet — I’ve personally seen Reddit exchanges between men who’d love to be able to go Old Testament on those who defy them). However, I know that the men in their ranks who feel any kind of doubt about any aspect of their ideology can’t talk about those doubts — much less explore them. If they ever do discover that some major plank in their ideology is untrue, they certainly can’t disavow it or act on what they discover without fear of retaliation.
As for apostasy and heresy, authoritarian Christians tend to punish these even harder than they do rejection from outsiders. The abuse I’ve seen heaped on men who turn their backs on bro-dude Christianity (similar to what happened when Joshua Harris announced his deconversion) staggers me.
Tickling Their Ears.
But this form of Christianity serves the interests of its adherents better than the other flavors they’ve tried.
Bro-Dude Christianity offers men who are already authoritarian a blank permission slip to do all the terrible stuff they want to do. It tells them they have a perfect right to make wild (and often completely unfounded as well as flat-out wrong) attacks on their enemies.
As just one example, check out the recent bro-dude Christian hand-wringing over “WAP.” One conservative-Christian congressional candidate publicly fretted about it, pretending he was oh-so-concerned about the women who made it. He wasn’t the only one, either. Like the vast majority of toxic Christians, these guys can’t do much besides try their best to silence and shame the women involved. But ohhh, they sure gave it the good college try. Little orange kittens bless their little cotton socks. We all had a good and justified laugh at them.
Oh well. At least all the other hand-wringing bro-dude Christians could applaud their virtue-signaling about the supposed value of authoritarian fatherhood and the dubious virtues of utterly controlling and suppressing women’s sexuality. And they did. (We might talk about this whole brouhaha later. It’s just so funny to me.)
In addition, this flavor of Christianity tells control-hungry misogynists that they don’t need to work on those boring “Christian virtues” Jesus talked about. Worse than that, their ideology tells them that those aren’t virtues at all anyway. In fact, anybody who displays meekness and kindness and patience and grace and all that blahblah is worthy only of mockery and destruction by TRUE MANLY CHRISTIAN MEN™.
But they’re a dying breed. And they know it. Maybe that’s part of the appeal.
Just The New Big Trend.
Thankfully, bro-dude Christianity might just be another big trend that pops up and then fades amid embarrassment.
More and more men are rejecting stereotypes and moving past them. More and more relationships reject one-sided complementarian models. And more and more people flourish outside of, and utterly without, Christianity.
Thus, we can expect more of this behavior from right-wing Christian men for a while.
Their entire survival — and their leisure time, and their pleasure, and their unwarranted sense of superiority over women, and really their entire self-definition as men — is at stake here.
Hopefully, these guys won’t cause too much damage before they hop onto the next ice-floe trend in the religion-river, or before they leave it at last, hopefully for something much better.
NEXT UP: Let’s go watch evangelicals wring their little handsies over yet more proof that even their own flocks don’t take their silly rules seriously. See you tomorrow!
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(“WAP,” by Cardi B feat. Megan Thee Stallion. NSFW.) I’m laughing so hard. Bless those nutjobs’ lil cotton socks. This was just great.