Saturday, June 16, 2018

Jordan Peterson

I was reading Jordan Peterson’s book 12 Rules for Life. He has a lot of interesting thoughts. I can see why people are fascinated by what he has to say. One thing that struck me is he does not have this artificial line between religion and non-religion that you see almost everywhere in our culture. Christians could learn a lot from him there. We tend to have religious conversations and music and movies and schools. Then we have secular conversations and music and movies and schools. We can live double lives. We can have people in our lives that we only see in a religious context and others who are barely aware we are Christian. Catholics are likely more known for this than Protestants. I have been the opposite. I was worse for this sort of thing in my Protestant days.

Peterson will jump into religion frequently. He does it in a way that secular people can accept. He does not treat the bible as the Word of God. He treats it as a collection of human stories with their own largely-unknown histories. What do they say about the human condition? That is interesting and frustrating. Interesting because he has read a lot of scholars, and looking at scripture from that angle can bring out things we have never seen. It is frustrating because he never really deals with the question of is the bible the Word of God or not? Or the related question of is Jesus Christ what He claimed to be or not? He has such a style of being willing to ask the tough questions and even being willing to interact with some horrible potential answers to those questions. So why are these questions out of bounds?

He does tread a strange middle ground. For example, when asserting we should do what is right he gives good reasons for rejecting the idea that nothing is right or wrong. He does a Pascal’s wager type of argument. If it leads to nihilism he just dismisses it with an assertion that if that is right everything is hopeless. So, he is not in line with any of the New Atheism thinkers. This is good because many people disillusioned by Christianity also find atheism problematic. Yet he rejects all the major religions as well. He has said he is a Christian, but he does not go to church anywhere. So, he is leaning a bit further in that direction but not hugely. In areas where Christians are counter-cultural he does not seem to take a clearly Christian position on any of those. He says if you are doing something you know is wrong then stop it. He does not say pornography is wrong so stop it. He does not even seem to tell us where he has personally landed on these questions.

On the problem of pain, he does a good job of pointing out the atheist problem with pain. That the only real answer they have is suicide. Again, he uses Pascal’s Wager type reasoning to dismiss it. I did not know that Tolstoy said the only reason he did not kill himself was because he lacked courage. He really believed his life’s pain out-weighed its value. If a man as impressive as him can believe that, then who am I to say otherwise? Peterson details huge pain in his daughter’s life. Interestingly enough, he dismisses thinking as a response. He suggests maybe there is something higher than thinking. I thought he was going to say Faith. He doesn’t. He waffles again.

Really when faced with such pain we need to either take the plunge of faith or let despair take over. We can choose to believe God is all-powerful and all-loving and this pain is not meaningless, or we can choose to believe God is either not loving or not powerful and judge him inadequate or even impossible. When life seems hopeless and God seems absent, we either accept that as the truth that or we refuse to believe that because it contradicts our faith. That in the end, God will give an adequate answer to evil and pain and injustice and everything else. In the meantime, we need to trust Him.

I was struck but how he talked about one positive thing from his daughter’s life. She was given yet another terrible diagnosis. Yet something they thought was scientifically impossible happened. She got better. Not only did her ankle pain go away and not require surgery, but her knee got better as well enabling her to walk long distances. Quite something. I noticed how he did not want to use any language of grace or miracles to describe this.

Anyway, we are already seeing some people talking about Jordan Peterson as a stepping stone towards Christianity. People follow him and that prepares them to follow Bishop Barron or others who previously they would never have come near because of all the God talk. I can see that. So many people today just shut down when you bring up the topic of God. If he can do it in a way that does not shut them down, then that is great. Yet they can’t really stop with him. He leaves them in the mushy middle and that is not a great place to be. We need to evangelize him for sure but also those who are following his thinking.


  1. You've made a fatal decision to join the ranks of popery. Perhaps a debate on the Eucharist will wake you up out of your spiritual coma...

    1. Thanks so much for the comment. I shall reply to your debate. I find debates quite interesting. Certainly your debate opponent made a lot of good points but I shall try and write a post in reply as well.

    2. I would advise waiting till the debate is over so you can give a fully-orbed review.