An evangelical perspective on Jordan Peterson – Part 2


PetersonOne of the most striking aspects of Peterson’s interviews and lectures is his enthusiasm for the Bible. Peterson is not a Christian in any traditional sense. He’s agnostic about the resurrection, thinks of Christ more in terms of a Jungian archetype than a historical person, and has difficulty answering questions like “do you believe in God?” or “Is Jesus divine?” But that makes it all the more surprising that he’ll talk unblushingly about the wisdom and importance of the Bible for understanding the deepest questions of life.

Another point of contact between Peterson and Christianity is his openness to narrative. While modern rationalists tend to scorn narrative and drama in favor of the empirical and propositional, Peterson embraces story as a crucial element of discovering truth. This posture makes him much more open to religion than Neoatheists like Dawkins or Harris. He speaks about the Christ mythos as the greatest story ever told or, perhaps even more provocatively, as the greatest possible story that can be told. At its root, he sees Christianity as the narrative of a maximally good hero who voluntarily embraces the maximally greatest suffering for the good of the community. In Peterson’s estimation, this is the sense in which Jesus truly is the “King of kings and the Lord of lords.”

While the points mentioned above are of interest for Christians, they are surely not the reason for Peterson’s popularity. What catapulted him to fame was his opposition to what he calls “postmodern Neomarxism.” He argues that large segments of both academia and the culture at large have embraced an ideology in which 1) the individual is subsumed within a larger identity group delimited by gender, race, class, or sexual orientation that is either oppressed or oppressor and 2) the fundamental duty of human beings is to seek liberation for oppressed groups. Peterson believes that this ideology is fatally flawed in its willingness to exalt emotion over reason and in its disregard for the individual.

While I have some disagreements with Peterson (see below), I think that his assessment of this ideology is basically correct. And his willingness to oppose it is doubtless a major part of his appeal. Growing numbers of college students and intellectuals, even those on the left, have been silently horrified by the excesses of campus activism and Peterson has become a flash point. Here was someone who was finally willing to say that screaming “white cis-het male” at your opponents as a way to discredit them was neither rational nor morally acceptable.

Yet Peterson’s insistence that individuals be judged as individuals and not as avatars of their demographic groups is not an excuse for apathy. His exhortations to his audience to “clean your room” and “set your house in order” have the same foundation as his criticism of the radical left: you need to stop avoiding personal responsibility. “Life is suffering,” Peterson insists. “Meaning is found in embracing that suffering and shouldering the heaviest load you can carry.” His stern yet sincere tone appear to have struck a chord. YouTube commenters frequently talk about how Peterson’s tough love has helped them turn their lives around and even move them from atheism to some form of ‘spirituality’.

Back: Part 1 – Introduction

Next: Part 3 – Negatives

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