The first time I saw Jordan Peterson on the internet was his interview with Cathy Newman where he effectively demonstrates that in order to think we have to risk being offensive and offended. It was an extremely compelling critique on how our culture and society is taking off our thinking caps to don “don’t hurt me” helmets. This video led me down a YouTube rabbit hole to Peterson’s many other videos and lectures.
I finally got around to reading Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaosand I have to say the 368 pages flew by pleasantly.
The 12 Rules are;
1.) Stand up straight with your shoulders back.
2.) Treat yourself like someone you are respond for helping.
3.) Make friends with people who want the best for you.
4.) Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.
5.) Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.
6.) Set your house in order before you criticize the world.
7.) Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient).
8.) Tell the truth—or, at least, don’t lie.
9.) Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.
10.) Be precise in your speech.
11.) Do not bother children when they are skateboarding.
12.) Pet a cat when you encounter on on the street.
When preparing for this blog, I found myself marking many more pages than I usually do. There are just so many quotable, notable sections. I’ve selected several pieces from the book to touch on here.
The thing that struck me from Peterson’s book is his acknowledgment of the depravity of man, or at least the potential for depravity in man. He points to new military soldiers who experience post traumatic stress disorder, “which often occurs because of something they watch themselves doing, rather than because of something that has happened to them.”1This is significant since many people today believe that humans are inherently good by nature. This is something that Peterson determines not to be true in his observations. He is well aware that the Nazi soldiers were mostly ordinary men who were completely capable of monstrous acts. Peterson writes, “There is very little difference between the capacity for mayhem and destruction, integrated, and strength of character. This is one of the most difficult lessons of life.”2It is difficult but it’s true. Man is born with a sin nature. (Psalm 51:5).
Peterson seems to set everything up on the dichotomy of Chaos and Order. Chaos is evil and hell and Order is a civilized, moral world, and heaven. “In the domain of order, things behave as God intended.”3I’m assuming he means the Garden of Eden. A place where everything is in harmony with everything else. Peace and contentment reign. But God also made the serpent who lived in the garden (Gen. 3:1). I always squint my eyes and purse my lips when I hear someone talk about “God’s intentions.” From what God reveals in his words about his sovereignty, it’s safe to say that if something happens, it’s by God’s intention or at least his indirect allowance.
This next section from Peterson’s book, I’ll admit, I’ve been wrestling with. He explains,
“the very hemispheric structure of the cortex reflects that fundamental division between novelty (the unknown, or chaos) and routinization (the known, order)…Many things begin to fall in to place when you begin to consciously understand the world in this manner. It’s as if the knowledge of your body and soul falls in to alignment with the knowledge of your intellect. And there’s more: such knowledge is proscriptive, as well as descriptive. This is the kind of knowing whatthat helps you know how. This is the kind of isfrom which you can derive an ought. The Taoist juxtaposition of yin and yang, for example, doesn’t simply portray chaos and order as the fundamental elements of Being—it also tells you how to act. The Way, the Taoist path of life, is represented by (or exists on) the border between the twin serpents. The Way is the path of proper Being. It’s the same Way as that referred to by Christ in John 14:6I am the way, and the truth and the life. The same idea is expressed in Matthew 7:14: Because straight is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
We eternally inhabit order, surrounded by chaos. We eternally occupy known territory, surrounded by the unknown. We experience meaningful engagement when we mediate appropriately between them we are adapted, in the deepest Darwinian sense, not to the world of objects, but to the meta-realities of order and chaos, yang and yin. Chaos and order make up the eternal, transcendent environment of the living.”4
There’s a lot here I’d like to unpack. Peterson sounds like a Christian trying to appeal to Naturalists using their terms to reveal eternal/spiritual truths. He points to the hemispheres of the brain and shows how, on a carbon-based level, our brain and mind and therefore our thinking, physically represents a dichotomy of order and chaos, known and unknown, yin and yang, good and evil. From this Darwinian anthropology of man, he draws a moral ought. This is extremely significant because one of the main arguments from faithful Christian apologetics is that an oughtcannot be derived from nature itself. The study of nature can only show you what is and never what ought to be. An ought can only come from something outside nature, which provides purpose and meaning to natural things. Peterson is saying that the juxtaposition of “good” and “evil” that divides the hemispheres, the “yin and yang” of our brains—on this border exists “the Way.” He’s saying this “Way” is a tightrope between Good and Evil that exists in every man. In this we find balance and knowledge of good and evil within ourselves.
The only biblical truth I can gleam from this comes from Romans 1:18-23
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”
Jordan Peterson is admitting what the bible has been saying for centuries, that by the natural world around him, man has a certain common knowledge of God and therefore, good and evil. This knowledge came from Adam and Eve when they ate of the fruit of the knowledge of Good and Evil. Their eyes were opened to God’s truth of right and wrong. So, of course man knows this but that’s not the point. Peterson seems to think it is. The point is “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom. 1:21). It’s not enough to know good and evil. The truth is men do know and (but for the saving grace of God) are only capable of choosing evil instead of good. Romans goes on to say in verse 25, “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator…”
So the only breakthrough Jordan Peterson reveals here is that man, by nature, knows right from wrong. The bible’s been saying this for centuries. What Peterson fails to acknowledge is that because of the Fall, man always chooses sin regardless of the common-grace knowledge of good and evil.
It’s also worth pointing out that Peterson still doesn’t have an ought from nature. So the brain points to a basic human understanding of order and disorder. So what? What’s the reason we ought to choose order over disorder or even a balance between the two? Preservation of the human species? For a happier, more productive society? Given the Darwinian perspective of what humanity is, who cares about it’s preservation? We’re all still just stardust.
A good example of Peterson missing the point of Christianity is when he writes about how God banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and placing a sword-wielding angel at the gate. “Why not just make the poor humans immortal, right away? Particularly if that is your plan for the ultimate future, anyway, as the story goes? But who would dare question God? Perhaps Heaven is something you must build, and immortality something you must earn.”5Jordan Peterson is a smart guy. I don’t want to think he’s just not getting it. A Christian worldview that is completely God-centered would not comport with Peterson’s man-centered message. I can’t believe Peterson just doesn’t know about Eph. 2:8, Rom. 9:16, and John 1:13. But maybe he hasn’t considered these scriptural truth in his study of Christianity.
Peterson goes on to misunderstand the Bible. After explaining that the whole bible I about man trying to claw their way back to God, he reveals adherence to a free-will doctrine. “The answer is already implicit in Genesis 1: to embody the Image of God—to speak out of chaos the Being that is Good—but to do so consciously, of our own free choice.”6I’m not sure what doctrine of Christianity Peterson is studying, (Catholic?) but he’s got it all wrong. This shows how dangerous unsound doctrine can be, an (at least functional) atheist can come along and adopt “christian” principles and apply them to a Darwinian worldview that has a good humanity as its highest aim. Doctrine matters. Theology matters. Peterson, nor any other clever, right-minded, yet misguided philosopher, could so easily take a sovereign-God doctrine and twist to his humanist ends.
And then, just like that, Peterson is back to speaking truth, but not before missing the mark again. It seems that although he is blind to the Truth of Jesus, he has a great sense of “smell” or something. He gropes around in the dark and gets closer than anyone to the doorknob to let the light in. “It is for this reason that Christ said, in the Gospel of Thomas, “The Kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, but men do not see it.’”7By his use of apocryphal books, it’s obvious Peterson does not refer to any doctrine of true Christianity but rather only to “Christian texts.” Why did he use the Gospel of Thomas to convey the idea of God’s kingdom on earth and not John 18:36?
Peterson uses the gospel of Thomas to show that we only see things through our religious worldview, and if someone objects and says they are an atheist and have no religion, that simply isn’t true. It’s common for the atheist or secularist to assume his naturist stance is the neutral stance and there is no real “atheist worldview.” Peterson points out that that’s absurd. “You might object, ‘But I’m an atheist.’ No, you’re not (and if you want to understand this, you could read Dostoesky’s Crime and Punishment…in which the main character, Raskolnikov, decides to take his atheism with true seriousness, commits what he has rationalized as a benevolent murder, and pays the price).”8Honest atheism leads to nihilism. It reduces humanity to mere molecules, devalues life, relativizes truth, and obscures morality. But most importantly to remember, atheism is a worldview with an agenda.
Peterson goes on, “You can only find out what you actually believe (rather than what you think you believe) by watching how you act.”9 Proverbs 20:11 says, “Even a child makes himself known by his acts, by whether his conduct is pure and upright.” Lost people will claim there is no truth and then call religion a lie. With the same mouth they’ll say love is nothing more than a chemical reaction in homo sapiens brains that randomly evolved in order to preserve the species, then they’ll kiss their children goodnight and mean it. Most people act as if the things we do mean more than mere natural processes. But only Christianity can make any of it intelligible. Sometimes talking with a lost person is like nailing jello to the wall as far as what they say they believe. They’ll say they’re naturalists but then subscribe to some sort of “extra-natural” or vague “spiritual” element to account for things like human consciousness. I’d rather speak to a militant atheist any day than a wish-washy secularist who “hasn’t thought much about it.”
Peterson seems to understand that everyone has a worldview and a dogma but I’ve never heard his. The closest I see he gets is when he writes, “Aim high. Set your sights on the betterment of Being. Align yourself, in your soul, with the Truth and the Highest Good. There is habitable order to establish and beauty to bring into existence. There is evil to overcome, suffering to ameliorate, and yourself to better.”10But I bet he doesn’t mean Jesus when he says Truth (John 14:6). I’m not sure what he means. Although, when he uses words like “better” and “good” it’s safe to assume he means the betterment and good of humanity, as in the preservation of the species. But he never offers a reason for why this is a valuable goal.
It’s a common view of religion among secularists, that religion is something that’s good for humanity. Like capitalism or human rights, religion is something that man has developed over time and has found useful in a society. There’s no truth to any of it but it helps us, so we should keep it around. Peterson has a high view of humanity and his anthropology is wrong. “human beings are evil, as well as good, and the darkness that dwells forever in our souls is also there in no small part in our younger selves.”11The Bible says ““None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands: no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12).
Peterson seems to contradict himself in his assessment of the human condition when he writes, “Violence, after all, is no mystery. It’s peace that’s the mystery. Violence is the default. It’s easy….Why do people take drugs? Not a mystery. It’s why they don’t take them all the time that’s the mystery.”12I’d point that a great many people do self-medicate their entire lives. This is only an apparent contradiction because Peterson’s assessment begins and ends with how actions benefit or hurt humanity. If someone does something helpful or beneficial for someone else it’s “good” because he’s contributed to society and made himself feelbetter. If he does something “bad” then he’s hurt someone else or somehow inhibited society’s advancement. Either way, the action is measured by how it serves or disrespects the god of Humanity. So from this perspective people can be both good and evil because they’re seen doing “good” and “bad” things. But the good things are not actually good because they’re in service to a false god, the god of Self.
The highest praise Peterson gives Christianity comes in Rule 7 where he writes, “Christianity achieved the well-nigh impossible. The Christian doctrine elevated the individual soul, placing slave and master and commoner and nobleman alike on the same metaphysical footing, rendering them equal before God and the law.”13This is true. It is one of the most incredible aspects of Christianity, that every man has a certain intrinsic value because we are all created in God’s image. This affords everyone a certain dignity and respect as human beings. It’s just one tangible way that Christ changed the everything in the world when he came to visit. “It [Christianity] objected to infanticide, to prostitution and to the principles that might means right. It insisted that women were as valuable as men…It demanded that even a society’s enemies be regarded as human. Finally, it separated church from state, so that all-too-human emperors could no longer claim the veneration due to gods. All this was asking the impossible: but it happened.”14Christianity has done this by the common grace of God to the world. Christ has established His kingdom on earth now. These advancements in humanity are part of God redeeming the world back to himself.
Everyone has a worldview, no matter where we get it, either from our parents, or our friends or television, we have one. We all have a way in which we view the world, morality, logic, love. Peterson points out that for the founder of analytical psychology, Carl Jung, “whatever was at the top of an individual’s moral hierarchy was, for all intents and purposes, that person’s god.”15Peterson uses this to say that there are no true atheists because everyone worships something. While this is true, I don’t think that’s what atheists mean when they claim there is no God. They’re usually denying the God of the Judeo/Christian Bible. The typical atheist would gladly accept that they “worship” themselves or human society as a “god.” Where Jordan Peterson stands in relation to God is that he rightly understands that everyone worships a god in some way but these gods are ideas that humanity has come up with and they’re either gods of order or of chaos in life. Peterson greatly admires the God of Christianity but only as an idea that humanity created that has worked the best for us, just as he sees capitalism and liberty as better ideas than socialism and totalitarianism. Like most secularists, his measure for good and bad is the difference between human suffering and human prosperity.
I’m conflicted with Jordan Peterson. At first glance, I want to nod my head and clap my hands at many things he says. But then I have to recognize that he is not a Christian. He does not hold the bible to be the inerrant Word of God. He does not see the glorification of God as the end-all purpose of humanity. So where are his ideas coming from? Like many morally right-minded atheists they speak truth and fight for true moral good—but in their atheism they have no justification for why they’re doing so. I did my best to compartmentalize this truth and just read Peterson’s book and not constantly mentally ask him, “so what?” People waist their life on being a victim. So what? People see the world as nothing but intersectional power structures. So what? What reason does Peterson have for humanity to excel and grow with these moral truths? With the worldview he holds as to what humans actually are, who cares if we thrive and prosper? If we are stardust or highly evolved societies of bacteria, walking talking African apes…who cares? So what? Peterson claims that people have a certain inherent, intrinsic value but does nothing to explain where that value comes from?
I like Peterson’s outlook on life if for no other reason than it flies in the face of the increasing value of victimhood in our culture. I just wish he was counted among the faithful and was honest enough to admit that he is merely using Christianity and Truth in a pragmatic way, for the “betterment” of humanity. But if this is done without Christ in mind, then so what?