Joe Rogan, host of the highly successful podcast The Joe Rogan Experience, is an unlikely media mogul. But the comedian-and-UFC-commentator-turned-podcast-host has created a wildly popular show (about 190 million monthly downloads) unique in its vibrant, diverse exchange of ideas and mutual respect between host and guest. Although Rogan has never professed to be a Christian, he offers a model for how we can converse those who differ from us on important beliefs.
Rogan made headlines this summer for securing a $100 million licensing agreement with Spotify, reflecting the company’s claim that his podcast has been the most searched podcast on their platform. The deal elevates him to the pinnacle of podcast earners, a highly competitive and difficult-to-monetize medium. Apple currently ranks his podcast at #2. Rogan’s YouTube channel attracts more than 9 million subscribers, and he has amassed more than 6 million Twitter followers. Rogan recently relocated his profitable company from Los Angeles to Austin, citing overcrowding and homelessness as key drivers for leaving. He also turned heads when Donald Trump tweeted support for the possibility of a presidential debate hosted by Rogan.
Why is Rogan so popular? Why do millions tune in to three-hour episodes to hear Rogan converse with philosophers, authors, scientists, and politicians? And what lessons might his counterintuitive success hold for Christians?
Keys to Rogan’s Success
Rogan’s podcast covers a vast array of topics. He has mused on life’s meaning with Jordan Peterson and discussed pollutants and the environment with Princeton physicist Frank von Hippel. Other notable guests have included conspiracy-theorist Alex Jones, comedian Bill Burr, and Senator Bernie Sanders.
Not all of his conversations are appropriate for mass appeal, and some will likely turn off religious listeners. Rogan is profane, pro-drug legalization, and even smoked a joint with Elon Musk on air. His personal politics are difficult to pinpoint. He is pro-gun but supported Bernie Sanders early in 2020. He is pro-gay marriage but recently sympathized with Trump supporters in light of the violent protests. He has been quick to clarify that people shouldn’t listen to him about politics, directing them to more informed figures instead.
Rogan follows his own advice. He listens intently to his guests, especially when they’re speaking in areas of expertise. His affable nature invites the kind of free-thinking, open-to-being-persuaded conversations sorely lacking in mainstream public forums. Rod Dreher, author of The Benedict Option and Live Not By Lies, recently wrote about Rogan’s appeal and told me, “There’s no doubt that my worldview doesn’t align perfectly with Joe Rogan’s, but what I enjoy about his show is that he comes across as a decent everyman who is curious about the world.”
Rogan’s laid-back demeanor reflects this decency, as if you’re eavesdropping on an after-dinner conversation between two old friends, carrying on for two or three hours on an array of complicated and diverse topics.
“I just want to hear intelligent conversation, especially if it challenges my way of thinking,” Dreher said. “Joe Rogan provides that. He has a definite point of view, but he seems to actually like people—all kinds of people. It says something about our time that this is so unusual in broadcasting.”
Rogan listens intently to his guests. . . His affable nature invites the kind of free-thinking, open-to-being-persuaded conversations sorely lacking in mainstream public forums.
Rogan recently hosted Abigail Shrier, author of Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, a book examining rapid-onset gender dysphoria—the alarming phenomenon of teen girls identifying as males. Rogan has been sympathetic to the transgender movement but expressed genuine curiosity and alarm at Shrier’s research that shows an increase in teen girls taking hormones and undergoing surgeries because they feel they’re really boys. Rogan refrains from interrupting and asks his guests insightful questions, reflecting a genuine curiosity to hear their responses.
Rogan also hosted conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro, an orthodox Jew who does not sanction premarital sex and shared data showing that the longer a couple cohabitates, the higher the chance of divorce. “That’s interesting,” admitted Rogan, who differs from Shapiro’s views on marriage. “I wonder why that is.” Again, such curiosity and willingness to consider opposing views is sadly missing in today’s public sphere.
Lessons for Christians: Hospitality and Courage
Rogan’s incredible success is good news in a society inundated with fake news, cancel culture, and three-ring circuses disguised as presidential debates. It shows that long-form conversations between people who disagree, but genuinely like each other, are possible. When Shapiro hosted Rogan on his own successful podcast, Rogan remarked, “There’s something missing with this idea-war that people are engaged in, where they want to demonize people that disagree with them instead of just sitting down with them and talking with them.”
Rogan’s example challenges the current echo-chamber paradigm of discourse—a paradigm that’s also shaping Christian media. Hosting voices outside the echo chamber is uncomfortable and can be seen as an endorsement of opposing or even heretical views. But Rogan shows Christians it’s possible to hospitably engage on weighty issues of faith, morality, and culture. We really can interact with “gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15)—even with those who differ from us in lifestyle and belief. Rogan’s success shows that audiences are eager to hear respectful, friendly, deep conversations—tinged with a humanizing humor that defuses heavy topics and intense disagreement.
Rogan shows Christians it’s possible to hospitably engage on weighty issues of faith, morality, and culture.
The Bible continuously exhorts fearful believers to take courage (Deut. 31:6; Josh. 1:6; Acts 23:11), even in the face of opposition. Anti-Christian sentiments are on the rise, and the speed with which you might get “cancelled” for saying something biblical is alarming. But our tenuous partisan climate is no reason to shrink back from lively debate. On the contrary, the biblical exhortation has always been to be hospitable toward others, to stand firm in the faith, and to shine in a world sunken in moral darkness (Heb. 13:2; Eph. 6:10–11; Matt. 5:16).
After all, the road to truth is best traveled with humility that produces curiosity, compassion that welcomes the stranger, and courage that proclaims hope.