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What is an incel?

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The term incel is short for involuntary celibate. Incel is a self-identifier used by a group who particularly resent their inability to have a relationship, specifically a sexual relationship. The concept originally included a wide range of backgrounds and applied to different kinds of people who felt especially lonely, rejected by society, or spurned by sexual partners. Over time, the self-applied label has become more limited. It now applies mostly to those with an especially bitter, cynical attitude toward sexuality, women, and Western society in general.

Incels, mostly young, straight, white males who feel betrayed or disappointed by a lack of sexual or romantic experience, are the product of three toxic aspects of modern culture:

1) The victim mentality. The rejection incels feel is a result of the consistent suggestion that not getting what you want is primarily because some person, group, or culture is oppressing or persecuting you.

2) The idolization of sex. The bitterness nurtured by incels can be traced to a belief that any and all sexual desires or inclinations must be accepted, celebrated, and fulfilled.

3) The echo chamber. The isolation experienced by incels is due to their ability, greatly enhanced by the internet, to surround one’s self with like-minded people, while completely ignoring other, healthier perspectives. This social media contact, ironically, leads to even further isolation and loneliness.

Extremist views, such as those of incels, are often fed by legitimate concerns. Lack of healthy, loving relationships inspires loneliness and depression. Those who would be satisfied with “modest” sexual experience grow resentful when extreme sexual tastes are celebrated and promoted. A feeling that their experiences are being ignored—or even mocked—leads people to gather with like-minded persons to validate perceived victimhood. In the absence of a biblical worldview, those factors can merge into extremism, venting hatred at anyone perceived as an oppressor.

Some who find themselves under these stresses call themselves incels, whose failure to establish meaningful or fulfilling relationships leads them into thicket of misogyny, misanthropy, and bitterness. They interpret their lack of romantic or sexual fulfillment as proof of prejudice or persecution against them.

Extremism among incels varies. A minority openly advocate rape or assault. In recent years, several high-profile mass shooters in the United States have been linked to the incel community. Targets of their hatred include women, non-incel men, and others who are seen as contributors to “the problem.”

Obviously, the incel mindset contradicts much of what the Bible says about human value, sexuality, and community. So does a culture that breeds loneliness and unbiblical sexual expression. Both need to be countered with truth. Incels need to know that God intends sex to be special and sacred and that their value is not determined by whom they sleep with. Isolation and the sense of being deprived are negative factors that the gospel and Christian fellowship can ease.

At the same time, it’s important to realize that extreme attitudes don’t develop in a vacuum. Western culture currently sends all kinds of false messages: sex is no big deal, everyone should have their sexuality celebrated, all sex is good sex, people who don’t have sex are losers, flaunting one’s sexuality is a right to be defended at all costs, and so forth.

Incels have been misled to think they are being spitefully denied something that is supposedly cheap, common, and critically important. A biblical response will confront two things: culture’s incorrect attitudes about sex and relationships, and the negative responses people may have to their own experience. Embracing a biblical view of sexuality and self-worth is the answer to the incel mindset.

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022