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Why I Can’t Not Love the Noble Pagan Jordan Peterson – and Be Concerned

12 May

“I’m trying to resurrect the dormant Logos” (2:04:30 in Rogan show)

 

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.

Resisting the gender unicorn

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.[13]

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.

Peterson’s 1999 magnum opus.

That said…

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”.

Hmm.

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.

Plato: How large is his influence in Christianity? See, e.g. here.

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.

FIN

 

Images: Plato from Wikipedia ; Peterson from https://www.theodysseyonline.com/jordan-peterson-controversy

*Some might be under the impression that Jung was nevertheless a materialist (philosophical naturalist). This does not appear to be the case at all. See here and here and here, for example.

**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)

 

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6 Comments

Posted by on May 12, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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6 responses to “Why I Can’t Not Love the Noble Pagan Jordan Peterson – and Be Concerned

  1. davehershey

    September 7, 2017 at 10:07 pm

    Hey, I came across your blog when I searched “Jordan Peterson David Bentley Hart” just to see if anyone else liked or wrote on those two. I read Maps of Meaning years ago, before he was hugely popular, and found it thoughtful and challenging and interesting. I like this post, you offer a good analysis.

    Are you a Tolkien or Lewis fan? When Peterson talks about the archetype, I can’t help but think of Lewis speaking of Jesus’ resurrection as the myth that came true. But yeah, Peterson is hard to pin down as to his thoughts on theology. Anyway, good post.

     
    • Nathan A. Rinne

      September 8, 2017 at 5:44 pm

      Dave,

      Thanks much. You’re the first person I’ve met who heard about him a long time ago though I don’t doubt there are many of you. I’ve got some more posts that I am working on about him to.

      I like Tolkien and Lewis, but I haven’t explored their “Myth Became Fact” idea enough to know how comfortable I would be with it.

      +Nathan

       
  2. As It Is Written - Mark 1:2

    December 4, 2017 at 3:20 pm

    MY NOTE: This is the best assessment of Peterson by a Christian that I have seen. I thank God for you. I hope you will go one to produce a more definitive and complete assessment of the religious beliefs that Professor Peterson is advocating for people to adopt. So many people are regarding Professor Peterson as a Christian, and in one video he even says directly and plainly that he is a Christian.

    In this comment below I will quote from your blog post and then follow each quote with “my note” on what you said.

    NATHAN A. RINNE: 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.

    MY NOTE: If he were honest, we would not pretend to be a Christian. He knows he’s not.

    NATHAN A. RINNE: (QUOTING PETERSON) 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.

    MY NOTE: Showing basic respect for transgendered people is worse than the Nazi Holocaust? That is so ridiculous and laughable. Nuclear weapons pose the greatest threat to Western Civilization. Not including and accommodating in our society that .001 percent of people who change their gender identity from time to time–that is not going to end Western Civilization.

    NATHAN A. RINNE: (QUOTING PETERSON) 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

    MY NOTE: Peterson is against human rights and civil rights, period, for the marginalized and weak. For Peterson, only the strong have “rights” in the form of Might Makes Right, rather than under the law. I.e., the Law of the Jungle. He wants everything, or at least many more things, in human society decided by Natural Selection, i.e., Survival of the Fittest. Is that Christian? Of course not.

    NATHAN A. RINNE: 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.

    MY NOTE: Yes, exactly.

    NATHAN A. RINNE: 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”.

    MY NOTE: Professor Peterson’s quote, “weak people do not survive in this world,” really reveals his ideology to be virtually identical to that of the Social Darwinists (Herbert Spencer) and the Fascists. The weaker people in any society DO survive when there is a regime of basic human rights for all. But the weaker people did not survive well in the Nazi-ruled parts of Europe, since the Nazi’s did not believe in basic human rights for all.

    MY NOTE: Notice how Professor Peterson supposedly teaches the Bible, but never says anything about one of Christ’s central teachings: AGAPE (Biblical Greek word for charity, undeserved kindness). Hitler likewise has no use for Christ’s agape commandments.

    NATHAN A. RINNE: 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.

    MY NOTE: Yes. Or instead of Platonic philosophy, I might say that Professor Peterson is advocating a form of Gnosticism (which is usually based in part on Plato and Plotinus, with elements from ancient Egyptian and Babylonian religions). The New Testament itself contains some condemnations of Gnosticism, and the early Church Fathers wrote extensive condemnations against the Gnosticism that was leading many Christians into error. Gnosticism is alive and well today, usually taught by teachers that are classified as being “New Age” teachers. And the New Age teachers are usually aligned with the political Left. Professor Peterson is the exception: A Gnostic who is aligned with the political Right. But in this regard he is simply following in the footsteps of Joseph Campbell, the right-wing atheist author of “The Power of Myth” and “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.”

    NATHAN A. RINNE: You see, that is not what really matters. What actually matters is that, in some sense at least, evolutionary fitness is truth.

    MY NOTE: Yes, yes. For Professor Peterson, truth is what enables people to win, to succeed, to rise, to dominate, to survive. And this clearly puts Professor in the camp of the Social Darwinists and Fascists. And President Trump. Clearly. This is not an exaggeration at all. And this is another point on which I think we must say that Professor Peterson is not honest. He is simply too smart and well read to not realize that what he is advocating for is, in many key ways, fundamentally the same as the philosophy promoted by Herbert Spencer and by Fascists like Mussolini. So please let us stop calling Professor an honest man, or an honest scholar. He’s not. He’s deceptive and he practices obscurantism on a profound level. When asked questions by interviewers, you can often see him practicing real evasiveness out of a fear that his real beliefs will be clearly exposed and he will lose the Christian part of his audience.

    NATHAN A. RINNE: 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).

    MY NOTE: Yes, for Professor Peterson, the Bible is just a useful fiction. He did not originate this idea at all. The “Noble Lie” idea goes back to Plato, and in our time the right-wing philosopher Leo Strauss (1899-1973) promoted it.

     
    • Nathan A. Rinne

      December 5, 2017 at 3:48 pm

      Mark 1:12,

      You seem to know more about him and know him more than I do. Or you don’t really know. I don’t know.

      I, e.g., doubt that he doesn’t care for the poor and weak.

      +Nathan

       
      • As It Is Written - Mark 1:2

        December 5, 2017 at 6:48 pm

        LEO STRAUSS & THE ART OF DISGUISE

        Nathan A. Rinne was so kind as to comment on my comment (As It Is Written – Mark 1:2), saying: “You seem to know more about him and know him more than I do. Or you don’t really know. I don’t know.”

        In 1952, the influential philosopher Leo Strauss published his book “Persecution and the Art of Writing.” Wikipedia says: “The thesis of the book is that many ancient and early modern political philosophers, in order to avoid persecution, hid their most heterodox ideas within their texts.”

        Professor Leo Strauss spent much of his career revealing the intentionally hidden or disguised meanings of philosophical texts.

        After watching 100s of Jordan Peterson’s videos, and reading many of his texts (such as his December 2016 “Letter to the World”), I have developed a working hypothesis that Professor Peterson intentionally partially conceals or disguises some of his more radical political and religious beliefs.

        Therefore, following the example of Professor Leo Strauss, I have been striving to uncover the whole package, the whole philosophical system (including the parts that are so politically incorrect that if known and understood Professor Peterson would be fired from his tenured university teaching position), that is causing Professor Peterson to skyrocket in popularity. I believe that many of Professor Peterson’s fans are getting, consciously or unconsciously, the “in between the lines” messages that Professor Peterson is sending out to the world.

        But I could be wrong about all this. That’s why I hope some really qualified people will soon produce a Ph.D dissertation-type review and assessment of the religious and political teachings that Professor Peterson is advocating for people to adopt.

        I had gotten the impression that the Christian author of this blog was, like me, disturbed by the implications of Professor Peterson’s statement in one video that “weak people do not survive in this world.” I believe that there are a number of other statements in the teachings of Professor Peterson, including some that might be classified as “Freudian slips,” that reveal or suggest some commitments and values that are profoundly unChristian. This is what has led me to take such a contrarian point of view regarding Professor Peterson, while 99.99% of the things currently being written about him by conservatives and Christians are laudatory. This blog, though, has taken a more measured, critical, and concerned tone, from which I have learned a lot.

        One Christian blogger wrote a post titled “Jordan Peterson: A 21st Century Prophet.”
        I believe that Christians and other conservatives are falling in love with, and becoming addicted to, the videos of Jordan Peterson, because they contain, in a somewhat sub rosa manner, messages that are truly anti-Christian, anti-solidarity, and anti-human dignity. Because of his sky-high IQ, immense erudition, and profound loquaciousness and charisma, Professor Peterson is, I hypothesize, uniquely qualified to successfully communicate in a double-speak sort of way.

        By the way, I don’t mean that Professor Peterson is not sincere. Professor Peterson is sincere, profoundly sincere. He is truly, truly is dedicated to saving Western Civilization (as he conceives of that), and he is truly dedicated to helping people (especially males) live a more productive, successful, rewarding, dominant life. I just hypothesize Professor Peterson believes that in accomplishing these goals, he cannot immediately make all of his views known in a plain and unambiguous manner.

        But I know that this view of mine is a real minority point of view. Most blog posts and articles by conservatives and Christians praise Professor Peterson to the high heavens for his profound honesty and truth-telling. So, surely I must be wrong, right? Oh, if only Leo Strauss were here to advise us!

        Proverbs 4:18 “The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.”

         
  3. Nathan A. Rinne

    December 8, 2017 at 1:52 pm

    Mark 1:12,

    I appreciate your thoughtful engagement. I have also listened to much of Prof. Peterson’s lectures and so am glad to find someone else who has.

    “I had gotten the impression that the Christian author of this blog was, like me, disturbed by the implications of Professor Peterson’s statement in one video that “weak people do not survive in this world.””

    I am. What he says is true of course, which is why God expects His people to defend the weak.

    “I just hypothesize Professor Peterson believes that in accomplishing these goals, he cannot immediately make all of his views known in a plain and unambiguous manner.”

    Sure. But who can? There are beliefs that I hold as a Christian that are very unpopular in the world and even among other Christians. I am not eager to lead with such things, or to say such things in a completely explicit and blunt manner. And what of the persons on the opposite side of Peterson who harbor real sympathy with folks like Marx and communist leaders who “meant well”? On the contrary, I am confident Peterson has no good feelings for persons like Hitler.

    Mark 1:12 — I am glad for your contrarian view, and for your willingness to speak it hear. Your words and observations are valuable and provoke thought. That said, I think Leo Strauss was no one to imitate and see him as captive to Hegel as well, because I don’t think that Plato, who He admired and upheld as a model, can withstand the acid of historicism and evolutionism.

    +Nathan

     

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