Jordan B Peterson has become a phenomenon of digital and print media over the last year. His university lectures have gone viral on YouTube and his book 12 Rules for Life is a best-seller. He has been elevated by many to the status of Marshall McLuhan and has been touted as the most influential “public intellectual” so far in this century. I have been watching his YouTube lectures, especially his biblical series, for the past six months or so. I also bought 12 Rules for Life. I guess you could call me a fan. I have read different takes on him. I dismiss the Left’s take on him out-of-hand because the Left paints this thoughtful, painfully honest and surprisingly humble man as a right-winger. I do not find willfully stupid or casually dishonest people credible. A hit piece in Slate called him a “darling of the alt.right.”
As opposed to the malevolently stupid radical left, other people are finding his take on the human condition compelling. He appeals to reasonable people, from conservatives to classic liberals, because he has captured the essence of the human condition and managed to distill it down so that people of differing backgrounds whose politics include preserving democracy in the west can find much to agree upon.
Peterson is not a conservative but he is a conservationist. He wants to keep the institutions and structures of western culture from dissolving into what he refers to as the chaos produced by nihilistic post-modernism. He says that chucking our liberal democracies’ foundational principles and beliefs imperils our civilization and perhaps even our continuation as a species. Others, including our biblical prophets, have said similar things, so his warning is not new. He is not claiming novelty, just coherence, clarity and comprehensiveness. Many younger people, especially young men, are drinking in what he is saying like people dying of thirst.
Peterson's views are problematic for Christians. He is almost a Christian but not quite. I hope his search for truth continues until he can make the leap of faith necessary to authentic belief, but even without that, his point-of-view is likely to spur many people to embrace the values that Judeo-Christian beliefs have influenced over the past four millennia.
I enjoy his lectures because he knows how to think on his feet. He has the knack of making each person in the audience feel that they are in an intimate conversation with a friend who happens to be brilliant and who is very interested in making sure they understand what he is trying to say.
Peterson critiques the Christian belief in unmerited grace through the lens of two people whom he respects, Nietzsche and Jung. Since Nietzsche is the originator of the phrase “God is dead,” Christians can dismiss any arguments from that quarter. Peterson does not fully endorse Nietzsche’s pronouncements about God, but agrees with Nietzsche and with Jung that Christian beliefs have been undermined by the very system those beliefs made possible, science.
Unfortunately, Peterson believes in evolution. He uses it to make the case that our beliefs today are the result of millions of years of adaptation. According to Peterson, those humans who walk the earth today are the success stories of countless generations who all had to make enough right choices to remain alive long enough to reproduce.
Science as a system of belief that is supposed to supplant Judeo-Christian belief is woefully deficient. Evolutionary theory is ultimately a con game with a preposterous central thesis: That a random process could by accident somehow initiate life and that life could then, by many thousands of random structural changes, end with a human being. It is the biological equivalent of hawking a perpetual motion machine. Thermodynamics is not suspended to make evolution possible. If someone claims to accept scientific laws as true, then their arguments must stand or fall based on those same laws. The Theory of Evolution violates the Laws of Thermodynamics. Only a Creator can intervene to reverse the process of inevitable heat death.
The value of Peterson’s analysis lies in his contention that all of us tread the line between order and chaos. God is Logos, the Creator of order out of chaos, the Creator of life. Peterson uses biblical stories and art to illustrate this. For example, in Medieval and Renaissance art Eden is frequently depicted as a walled garden. Adam and Eve are protected behind the wall but evil (or chaotic disorder) breaches the barrier and enters into Paradise. Adam and Eve succumb to Satan’s wily mis-characterization of God’s Word. The Word of God is replaced by the words of a creature who presumes status equal to God. Pride begets death.
I believe that Peterson is talking to an audience that is largely unversed in scripture and his take on the meaning of bible stories has not been challenged by people of faith, at least in his lectures. The positive side is that Peterson will influence others to read the Bible with a bit more seriousness. Some may even come to the Lord as a result.
While Peterson supports a Judeo-Christian view, it is as an outsider. It is apparent that he has only recently examined the Old Testament. For example, the week before he talked about the flood story in one of his lectures, he was asking an icon-making artist who accepts the truth of the Bible to bat some ideas back and forth. Peterson was still puzzled by the story and had not yet organized his thoughts about it. Peterson did not hide his lack of easy familiarity with the Bible—after all, he posted those conversations about Noah and the Flood on YouTube—so he made clear that he is looking at these stories anew.
It is refreshing to watch a brilliant man talking up to people, rather than down. That is what makes Peterson so appealing to many. He is exploring territory new to him and he invites us along for the ride.
I hope and pray that Peterson finds God the Person and not God the idea of a person. Almost being born again is still as far from God as the east is from the west. Only genuine faith bridges that gap. Dr. Peterson, the Logos is the living God. God is not the product of our collective imagination. He does not exist because we made Him up. We exist because He spoke us into life.