Evangelical conversion to pickup-artist culture: Why so common?
January 26, 2016 12:13 PM   Subscribe

It has been point out anecdotally - in this comment and others - that there seem to be a lot of former Evangelicals in PUA culture. Is this a real connection, or an artefact of the fact that Evangelicals were having a lot of kids in the '70s and '80s and thus there are a lot of former Evangelicals everywhere? If it is a real connection, what does (or did) Evangelicalism teach that both a) prepares the ground for PUA conversion and b) causes the converted to describe PUA culture as the opposite of everything they were taught growing up about sex, women, and relationships?

I'm especially interested in hearing from people with exposure to both cultures, though answers from all viewpoints are welcome.

I'm willing to assume that patriarchal culture is at the root of both; however, I'm more interested in the specific things might be that connect these two cultures that's different from the many other manifestations of patriarchal culture.

When and why do Evangelicals turn to PUA culture? What feelings drive them? Are there common life events that trigger the conversion? Do they go straight from one culture to the other, or is there usually an in-between period after they've lost one faith and before they've found the other? If there is an in-between period, how does it contribute to the conversion?

What are the specific beliefs they learned as Evangelicals which are so deftly flipped on their head in PUA culture?
posted by clawsoon to Society & Culture (23 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Speaking as someone who has no background in Evangelical culture or pickup artistry, I'd posit that when you leave a religion or way of life with a lot of "rules" around sex, relating to women, mating, dating, etc, you would still be drawn to the idea of having rules around those things, even if the rules become completely different.
posted by cakelite at 12:19 PM on January 26, 2016 [20 favorites]

Sexual repression because of/in addition to a dogmatic belief system can cause really diseased behaviour. You can see it everywhere. One of the most egregious recent examples is the Cologne sex assaults.
posted by Klaxon Aoooogah at 12:30 PM on January 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

there are a bunch of google hits, fwiw:
How Christianity set me up to become a pickup artist
The Failure of Macho Christianity (read down for PUA tie-in)
Was Brian Presley Actually Trying to Convert Melissa Stetten?
disclaimer: haven't read any in detail, may be offensive.
posted by andrewcooke at 12:35 PM on January 26, 2016 [9 favorites]

When and why do Evangelicals turn to PUA culture? What feelings drive them? Are there common life events that trigger the conversion?

The common thread is treating women like property.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:38 PM on January 26, 2016 [75 favorites]

Leaving an Evangelical upbringing for a phase of PUA acting out seems to be an obvious rebound. What would be interesting is if Evangelicals were also PUAs at the same time.
posted by Sir Rinse at 12:42 PM on January 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Sir Rinse - see second link above (it's not exactly that, but it's close)
posted by andrewcooke at 12:44 PM on January 26, 2016

The Red Pill stuff is built on a notion of absolute truth--that by "taking the red pill," you're opting into a greater understanding how Shit Really Works. RP is about gender roles and sex as transactional, but where else do you hear talk of "truth" and "the way"?

It also holds appeal for a certain type of personality that gets off on being or seeming intellectual. If they've debunked Evangelical Christianity, they also believe, confidently, of their own correctness in seeing past the veil of contemporary gender/identity politics. A certain Evangelical-cum-PUA I once knew would really rag on his relatives who still attended church, in a "these poor suckers" way. A lot of his operations came from a place of intellectual superiority--which I think he cultivated mostly by doubting, then rejecting, the church where he was raised.
posted by witchen at 12:56 PM on January 26, 2016 [10 favorites]

At least among ultra-Orthodox Jews, there's the teaching that secular people are all a certain way (hypersexual, drug users, amoral) and while there is some indication that not everyone is that way, the essential stereotype remains that those who are outside are only interested in debauchery. If it is similar (and I would guess it is) in Evangelical Christian doctrine, then the instinct upon leaving the fold is to engage in these behaviors, even if it's somewhat subconscious.
posted by Sophie1 at 12:57 PM on January 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

I come from an evangelical family. Members of whom have on occasions gone out in public to stop passers-by and convert them. Seems like there's a lot of overlap there with PUAs who go out to pick up women in public too. My brother's line was "do you know where you're going to go when you die?" which is a bit of a neg really given his assumed destination!
posted by JonB at 12:59 PM on January 26, 2016 [13 favorites]

Both prescribe hard, unyielding rules about male-female interaction. Coming from a very socially conservative environment where men and women are treated like different species, it's easier to "convert" to another mode of interaction where men and women are considered strictly unlike one another, as compared to a secular mode of interaction where women are treated like men socially.
posted by deathpanels at 1:04 PM on January 26, 2016 [8 favorites]

The common thread is treating women like property.

And to expand on that a bit (not to say you're wrong, FFFM), there tends to be a lot of gender essentialism among American Evangelicals, and moreover a specific kind of gender essentialism that says men are supposed to be "providers" who go out into the world and get all the things their family needs to succeed, whereas women are supposed to "obey" and "support" their husbands. So that's the ultimate goal of an Evangelical Christian relationship. And furthermore it's the only "right" kind of relationship - you shouldn't be having kids out of wedlock, forget all about being gay, etc. - thou shalt get involved in a straight, marriage-oriented relationship. One could even develop a sense of entitlement to that kind of relationship, you might imagine.

Add to that the fact that women who are following the Christian rules about premarital sex are... not exactly willing to engage in a lot of premarital sex. Furthermore out of completely understandable self-interest such a woman wants to make sure that a particular guy is right for them before going down the path to marriage (since she'll basically be trapped with him forever after).

So you have these guys who are, in their minds, willing to do the "providing" for "their" women, who furthermore feel entitled to get a woman on that basis, and yet the immediate availability of women is not forthcoming. The women have higher standards and do not feel urgently obligated to fulfill the men's needs and so a resentment builds. Then they encounter the PUA culture.

Now, all this red pill shit doesn't actually challenge all aspects of the idealized male/female relationship dynamic they've been learning all their lives. It really just challenges the one aspect, which is that the men owe the women anything in return for all the services men are, of course, entitled to (including sex). That sense of entitlement and ownership is not only not challenged, but is of course completely reinforced in the PUA culture. And once the men can "liberate" their minds from the idea that they themselves have to be providers and good partners, too, their resentment can run wild and their misogyny can take over completely.

That's why it probably feels like a "complete" reversal - because they've been pressured, at least on some level, to be decent partners and bring something to the relationship if they wanted to "get" a woman. So they've felt this pressure and have been self-policing for a long time, and now they get to let it all go and just unleash all their feelings. But oh, those same feelings have been building up all along, you can be sure of that.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 1:04 PM on January 26, 2016 [32 favorites]

You should look at where former evangelicals go after a hard line upbringing. In the 60s, many left to come back to their home churches in the 70s. 25 years later the prosperity gospel hit its apex and many older and newly awakened evangelicals went to non-creedal churches which preached the same values but in increasingly mediatized faith landscapes where relationships were taught to be forged in male dominion/stewardship (see Promise Keepers, Wall Builders). PUA feed on that dominion attitude strongly, essentially dividing the world in two halves: The feminists who have already checked out from male control and who openly "subvert" men/environment; and the woman who are looking for submission whether they know it or not.
PUA and some evangelicals, particularly those affiliated with the Southern Baptist Church between 1980 and today (SBC was actually moderately pro-choice in the 1970s), stress this idealistic divide as a means of showing how God has punished American Christian men (and women) by forcing them to live in a state where men are not relevant until they assert their dominion/stewardship.
Having said this, I think it is worth reviewing the general decline of evangelical Christians in the US, noted through dismal baptism drives in the last 15 years, and the eclipsing election of Dr Frank S. Page to SBC leadership in 2006. Page's drive to zero tolerance of sexual abuse in churches was monumental. His book about his daughter's suicide is incredible, it's also worth a look at his book "The Incredibly Shrinking Church", which lays out his vision of a post-political church.
posted by parmanparman at 1:04 PM on January 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

andrewcooke, your first link has some additional links to insightful posts (1, 2) about the link with Nice Guy-ism and fundamentalism.
posted by clawsoon at 1:30 PM on January 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Everything they were taught about sex, women, and relationships is that women are lesser objects for men to control and use and most of all, own. So translating the Madonna whom they were supposed to marry and put on a pedestal to the whore who "leads them to sin" is not so much of a stretch at all as far as their core beliefs about women are concerned.
posted by mermayd at 1:40 PM on January 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Both are patriarchal constructs which hold the belief that women take the role in domesticating men and setting boundaries, where men and their sexual appetites are to be fended off and defended against continuously, otherwise, whatever happens to the woman is considered solely her fault.
posted by SassHat at 1:55 PM on January 26, 2016 [6 favorites]

So you have these guys who are, in their minds, willing to do the "providing" for "their" women, who furthermore feel entitled to get a woman on that basis, and yet the immediate availability of women is not forthcoming.

And their society refuses to acknowledge or explain this betrayal - that everything the person been taught and everything they're doing doesn't seem to "work" - and they are shamed for even being upset or angry about this, then along comes PUA-scene which instead says "We know exactly how you feel! We were there too! Here's the secret that they haven't been telling you. We cut through all the bullshit that fails you, here's how things actually work, here is a cut-the-crap understanding of why none of that shit everyone filled your head with ever did you any good".

Cults attract the vulnerable. (Even if not "vulnerable" in the traditional sense)
posted by anonymisc at 2:20 PM on January 26, 2016 [5 favorites]

I think the gender essentialism that's common to both American Evangelicals and to PUAs has a LOT to do with it.

Evangelical Christianity also talks a lot about women as temptresses who, even when they think they're being Godly, are sitting there having ankles or heaving their bosoms while breathing, in such a way that men are tempted to sin. I think that bears a lot in common with PUA ideas about how women are all "teases."

Evangelicals also learn that people who want sex must repress that desire; it's pretty easy for them to pick up by observation that there are DEFINITELY girls they know who are interested in sex but are pretending not to be. Lots of young men they know are interested in sex, but pretending not to be. The PUA himself is probably thinking about sex ALL THE TIME but, as a young Evangelical, had to pretend not to be. So it's not a big leap to the PUA idea that women WANT sex but are pretending otherwise and you've just got to overcome that pretense.

The other thing is that sexual confusion and dysfunction are heavily repressed in most Evangelical churches, so that unhealthy sexuality is never talked about and never guided or corrected. Your average suburban teenager who's talking about women like objects stands a chance of being overheard by a parent, or teacher, or peer, who says, "Dude, that's fucked up," and offers rebuke and correction. They also (hopefully) see various healthy models of sexuality. Evangelical teenagers learn REALLY QUICK that there is only one way to talk about sex, and that it is absolutely not worth it to confess to a parent or pastor if your actual thoughts don't run along those lines, because that sort of teenaged sexuality issue results not in private counseling with your pastor but awkward conversations with your parents and pastor and the church men's group and possibly the entire teen club and basically it will be everyone's business and you will never live it down. So kids keep both healthy and unhealthy sexualities secret, and there's no real chance for adults to help young people develop healthy sexualities unless those sexualities fall EXACTLY within the very narrow bounds of the church's rules. (Literally nothing surprised me about the Josh Duggar scandal, once we knew he was on AshleyMadison.com, hiding an unhealthy sexual behavior from his family and church, the rest of what was going to come out was pretty inevitable. You don't end up "just a little screwed up" sexually in these churches; if you end up screwed up, you end up REALLY screwed up.)

There are definitely certain types of sexual dysfunction that are more common among various religious groups; Catholicism is noted for devout young men developing Madonna/whore complexes, sometimes to the point where they're impotent on the wedding night because you can't have sex with "good girls." It turns up everywhere from novels about Catholics in the 1920s to the odd psychology textbook to the common wisdom of the dating scene at modern Catholic college campuses. ("No, don't date him -- he's got a huge Madonna/whore thing going on." "No, not him -- he's like really, really into Marian devotions," which is code for "and therefore thinks other women are all whores and treats them badly.")
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:26 PM on January 26, 2016 [31 favorites]

Another point that I think no one has touched on yet is that an evangelical man who leaves the church in his late teens or older will have missed much of the healthy dating/sexual experimentation that secular young adults engage in. He may feel that he is behind his peer group in still being a virgin or relatively inexperienced with women, and the scripts he learned as a teen for interacting with women will not work well outside the church environment. So you have the perfect set-up for the disenfranchised "nice guy" who is desperate to learn "one weird trick" for catching up with his peers in the dating world.
posted by lollusc at 6:06 PM on January 26, 2016 [7 favorites]

I'm from an evangelical background, though I've only read about PUA culture. Both have a strong subculture wherein they believe most people are deceived as to really important facts about society. There also is a strong self help/self improvement element in each. And lots of misogyny in each, as others have noted. And both have really unhealthy obsessions with a fucked up sort of sexuality.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:42 AM on January 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

And building on what lollusc said, people who leave the screwed up subculture that is American evangelicalism often tend to act out. Suddenly there are all these new options, and they've not been taught to deal with relationships and women in a healthy or respectful way.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:46 AM on January 27, 2016

Thanks for all the responses so far. I asked the question to help clarify the effects of my own immersion in Evangelical Christianity growing up and briefer exposure to the online PUA community a little over a decade ago. Thinking about it, reading your links and responses has brought one more feature of both to mind: They both teach the fundamental unattractiveness of the average man.

A caricature of Evangelical Christianity - though it comes close to reality in the mind of someone like me who starts with some self-doubt - says:
  • Women are pure, faithful, holy and beautiful.
  • Women face constant sexual pressure, and they hate it.
  • Men are fundamentally sexually unattractive to women. The best you can hope for is not to offend a woman.
  • Therefore, if you are thinking sexual thoughts while interacting with a women, you are harassing her. If she has sex with you, it is against her will and you are abusing her. Only love as pure and non-sexual as hers is okay.
  • If, by some miracle, a woman you are attracted to is willing to tolerate you as a provider and father of her children, you are obliged to commit yourself to her for the rest of your life.
This guy, a follow-on from one of andrewcooke's links, remembers the moment a preacher crystallized some of these ideas for him:
“Girls,” intoned the Texan preacher, “he’s gonna make his move to get what he wants from you. He’s going to whisper in your ear all the things you want to hear. But girls, when he tells you he loves you…”

Here the preacher’s voice slowed to a crawl.

“…he only wants one thing.”

I remember thinking “I’m not like that! I don’t want to defile you! I just want to love you!” ...

I mean, clearly it wasn’t just one sermon which made me think that. Those ideas were not new to me—they were the wallpaper of Christian teachings about relationships—but this was the evening it all fell into place. Men were evil scumbags, girls were precious floaty things to be protected, and I was one of a handful of true gentlemen on the planet capable of truly loving them.
The PUA community agrees with Evangelical Christianity about the fundamental unattractiveness of the average, sexual-thought-thinking man. But, it says, you were not taught one thing: Women, all women, are sexually attracted to an elite sliver of men, and they will have sex with you if you trick them into believing that you're part of that elite. And if they believe you're part of that elite, they'll be willing to degrade themselves for you whatever way you'd like.

Digging into the Waking Life material, it becomes clear that the result is unhappiness:
  • Women are stupid, since they can be tricked into having sex with you.
  • You are still fundamentally unattractive, because none of the women would've had sex with you if you hadn't tricked them.
  • Commitment to a woman is worthless, since the instant you commit they'll realize you aren't actually part of the sexual elite and will start looking for someone who is to have sex with. Even though you are capable of commitment, they are not. They are willing to be thoroughly degraded - not pure, faithful or holy at all! - by a stranger after a few simple tricks are played on them.
There's no possibility in either system that an average woman might be sexually attracted to - excited by! - an average man, or that different women might find different men - average men, even - attractive in different ways for different reasons.
posted by clawsoon at 7:09 AM on January 27, 2016 [7 favorites]

In both cases, there is an official rulebook. You learn basic principles and guidelines for behavior that are laid out by a higher authority who knows more than you do.

You follow the official rules, and you get rewards. In the one case, you study your Bible, follow the rules laid down by God, and make your way to heaven. In the other case, you study some manual written by a love guru with a garish outfit and too many accessories, and you learn how to interact with women in a way that leads to sex.

In either case, you submit your independent will to a system that promises better results than you've been getting in your life until now.
posted by theorique at 6:26 PM on January 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also true is the reverse of what I suggested above: No Evangelical man is supposed to settle for less than a pure holy angel virgin. No PUA is supposed to settle for less than a supermodel. Based on their comments about women they dated, it seems that the Waking Life guys wouldn't settle for less than a pureholyangelvirginsupermodel. No average women would do.

Shared message: You're not good enough, and neither is she.
posted by clawsoon at 7:00 AM on January 28, 2016

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