When it comes to political matters, a person who identifies as a “social conservative” could not ask for a better ally than the Canadian psychology professor Jordan Peterson.
He arguably has all of the clarity and courage of someone like Milo Yiannopolous, but without the self-proclaimed “dangerous faggot’s” liabilities. If those who are opposed to you are absolutely determined to call you, for example, a racist, bigoted, homophobic, transphobic misogynist, you want them applying the label to Jordan Peterson.
Why? Because they will discredit themselves almost immediately. Anyone who listens to Peterson will discover that he is not only a fighter and a brilliant communicator, but a passionate lover of humanity and life itself. A person like Yiannopolous certainly claims to be the same, but his behavior and tactics, as he himself admits, are going to turn many people off.
But as is evident, Jordan Peterson has the ear of many. Just a few days ago, he was interviewed on the Joe Rogan Experience, and this 3-hour interview already has more than 800,000 views. I’ll bet that his star is only going to rise.
Now, why do I call Peterson a “Noble Pagan”? This is a phrase that Christians have used for centuries to identify those who, while not believing in Christ, are clearly more honest and sincere than their fellow men, and who tend in their words and actions to uphold the moral law of God. Peterson is certainly sympathetic to this, as we will see below.
So where did he come from? He rose to prominence this past fall when he defied the University of Toronto’s demand to use the panoply of preferred gender neutral pronouns that students might feel apply to them (he also made known his objection to Canada’s Bill C-16 which deals with this issue). Writing in November in the conservative Canadian publication the National Post, he said the following:
I will never use words I hate, like the trendy and artificially constructed words “zhe” and “zher.” These words are at the vanguard of a post-modern, radical leftist ideology that I detest, and which is, in my professional opinion, frighteningly similar to the Marxist doctrines that killed at least 100 million people in the 20th century.
I have been studying authoritarianism on the right and the left for 35 years. I wrote a book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief, on the topic, which explores how ideologies hijack language and belief. As a result of my studies, I have come to believe that Marxism is a murderous ideology. I believe its practitioners in modern universities should be ashamed of themselves for continuing to promote such vicious, untenable and anti-human ideas, and for indoctrinating their students with these beliefs. I am therefore not going to mouth Marxist words. That would make me a puppet of the radical left, and that is not going to happen. Period.
Wikipedia shares this helpful appraisal of Peterson’s 1999 book “Maps of Meaning”:
“Harvey Shepard, writing in the Religion column in the Montreal Gazette in 2003, states “To me, the book reflects its author’s profound moral sense and vast erudition in areas ranging from clinical psychology to scripture and a good deal of personal soul searching…” He goes on to note that “Peterson’s vision is both fully informed by current scientific and pragmatic methods, and in important ways deeply conservative and traditional.”
I take it many of you will agree with me when I say that Peterson is definitely the kind of person that social conservatives – and, importantly, today’s political conservatives of all stripes — are going to appreciate and want in their corner.
At the same time, there is a lot more about Jordan Peterson that we orthodox Christians need to think very hard about and be aware of. For I suspect that perhaps what many have called the “religious right” – with Peterson’s helping hand – could be in for a revival of sorts. But not the kind of revival that you might be thinking about.
Peterson is currently gearing up to teach some classes on the Bible, particularly the first few books. As anyone who has listened to him speak knows, Peterson thinks very highly of the Bible and firmly believes that “Western civilization” is based on it and must continue to be so. As he stated on a recent appearance with Dave Rubin, we need the Bible not only because it reveals truths about humanity, but, crucially, to hold us together, because “weak people do not survive in this world”.
And, also interestingly, Peterson does not think that the Bible is really about real history. It’s true like Shakespeare is true. So, in his class, Peterson is not going to be teaching the Bible even if he will be teaching about it. Actually though, that is not even really correct — he is going to be teaching Platonic philosophy by using the Bible.
Why do I say this? Because Peterson is basically a disciple of Carl Jung, which means that Platonism is at the heart of his philosophy. As Wikipedia notes: “Jung’s idea of archetypes was based on Immanuel Kant‘s categories, Plato‘s Ideas, and Arthur Schopenhauer‘s prototypes.”*
Note this extended comment from Joe Rogan’s show (starting at 2:12:15):
What do you have to contend with in life?… You have to contend with yourself and the adversary that’s inside you, that seems to oppose your every movement. The fact that… you can’t just move smoothly through life without being in conflict with yourself. So there is the hero and the adversary on the individual level. And then on the social level there is the wise king and the tyrant. You’re always going to run into that – I don’t care if you’re a Bantu tribesman or a New York lawyer. All those things you are going to run into. And then in the natural world you are going to run into the destructive element of nature – that’s the Gorgan – if you let that thing get a glance at you you’re one… frozen puppy. [And also] there’s the benevolent element of nature that’s feminine – that’s mother nature – [there’s] both those extremes. So, and that’s the world. That’s the archetypal world. And it’s because it’s eternal – as far as human beings are concerned those things are always there. That’s our true environment. It’s not these things we see around us. They’re lasting no time. These other things last forever. And that’s what were adapted to. We’re adapted to the things that last forever (italics mine).
Peterson – no doubt due to his evolutionary philosophy (“…we were chimps for Christ’s sake” – about 1:12:00 on Rogan), not only denies the ongoing permanence of the things that we experience in the world, but he also has other ideas that get close to the truth while ultimately missing the mark. Concerned about the overweening powers of the totalitarian state (he has devoted much of his life’s study to both Nazism and Communism), Peterson is eager to say that “[t]he state isn’t salvation. The individual is salvation…. The truthful individual.” (see around the 2:01:00 mark in the Rogan show). Peterson says that in the West Jesus Christ is the ultimate expression of this, and we need this. Which, of course, sounds really good on one level.
At the same time, is Jesus Christ who the church says he is in the Apostle’s or Nicene Creed? I have not heard him talk about this (if you have, let me know in the comments), but my educated guess is that he would simply say “Maybe yes or maybe no.”
You see, that is not what really matters. What actually matters is that, in some sense at least, evolutionary fitness is truth. Some, like Peterson, are simply more honest — as regards themselves, about the facts they know, and about what they think is ultimately true about the world — and what the implications of these things are.
They are also likely those who are more willing than others to think about the intellectual possibility and even practical necessity of transcendent** realities and values (God may or may not be just a — the most important! — useful fiction).
But — and this is key — all from within this very secure evolutionary framework, in which I suggest folks like Plato (and hence Kant, Kierkegaard, Barth, et. all) eventually get dissolved in Epicurean acid (more on this here).
Obviously, I think and argue with all my might that this is a big problem. Prominent and influential theologians like N.T. Wright however, do not think so in the least. They essentially want to take Peterson’s expression “we were chimps for Christ’s sake” and change its meaning — putting the emphasis on “for Christ’s sake” like a Reformation “sola” — to help save Christianity from its intellectual irrelevance. Wright is now actually arguing that if creation is through Christ, evolution is, in fact, what one would expect:
It’s all coming together, and not in a way that is good for the church. “When the Son of Man comes will he find faith on earth?” indeed. Get ready for the antiLogos.
Images: Plato from Wikipedia ; Peterson from https://www.theodysseyonline.com/jordan-peterson-controversy
**Why not say metaphysical? This word does not always necessarily imply “religion” or the theistic notion of “transcendence”. For example, the literary scholar Hans Gumbrecht talks about how he uses the word “metaphysics”. It “refers to an attitude, both an everyday attitude and an academic perspective, that gives a higher value to the meaning of phenomena than to their material presence; the word thus points to a worldview that always wants to go “beyond” (or “below”) that which is ‘physical’” (p. xiv, Production of Presence)