This is a series of post on Jordan Peterson’s book ‘Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief’. It provides clearer insight than his more recent book into what Peterson actually believes. Each post will be on a specific chapter or section of the book and the hope is that we can engage in conversation over these matters. I hope to represent his thought accurately - but due to being human may not always do so.
Peterson briefly describes his rejection of Christianity as scientifically and rationally untenable in his youth when the person leading catechism had no decent answers and appeared not to have even considered the questions. His family was basically agnostic and no one in his community seemed to care that he left the faith. As he went to college he was committed to an ideology - leftist socialism - but over time he came to dislike the people he saw at leftist rallies. They were uneducated and seemed to be more angry with the rich than genuinely interested in the poor. He liked people on the other side of the political spectrum who were educated and reasonable. In addition, the arguments of Orwell swayed him rationally from this position.
He went through a period of soul-searching in which he recognized his own capacity for violence and began to have terrible dreams. He came home drunk one night and painted a sacrilegious picture. What was going on? Then he began to read Carl Jung in more detail and felt he had found someone who could really understand his dreams - or at least offered a possible explanation.
This quote from Jung particularly struck him - “It must be admitted that the archetypal contents of the collective unconscious can often assume
grotesque and horrible forms in dreams and fantasies, so that even the most hard-boiled rationalist is not immune from shattering nightmares and haunting fears”.
Peterson then gives a full summary of his theory about the world that is rooted in Jung’s belief that there are archetypes common to the collective unconscious. Peterson says that the world is composed of 3 fundamental archetypes:
- unexplored territory or chaos
- explored territory or order
- mediation between chaos and order
Culture, like the Father, maintains a sense of order that fends off the chaos. But when a culture refuses to mediate between order and chaos - when it insist on order and will not update itself through mediation - it becomes totalitarian - it identifies itself with the devil by claiming to know all that is known and rejecting the existence of chaos. The hero is the character that, like the Son of God, helps navigate between order and chaos.
How can we be the ‘hero’ / ‘the savior’? By looking out for our own personal interests - by finding subjective meaning that allows us to both uphold culture and to update it.
My heart goes out to the young Peterson who was trying to find some order in a chaotic world; who was haunted by nightmares and disgusted with the violence of the world. I wish someone with better answers to his questions about Christianity had been there - that he had seen the Christ-life lived out. May Christ have mercy.
As an aside, Peterson specifically mentions that he did not like the lack of social status that accompanied those who were devout in their faith. While I do not know what he means by devout or whether or not these individuals were truly following Christ, there have been many people throughout history who have rejected Christ because they were unwilling to share in His humiliation - to count the world as nothing to gain Christ and be found in Him. I am not making any definitive claim - only an observation.
In ‘Maps of Meaning’ Peterson clearly tells us what he believes - without the self-help feel of ‘12 Rules for Life’. We see that Peterson found Jung at a time in his life when he desperately needed a way to make sense of the world and that the idea of mythological archetypes that became present in our dreams held great appeal. Peterson generalizes these archetypes into 3 basic categories that mirror his own struggle to find order in the chaos of life. In way, these archetypal categories are Peterson’s own life journey writ large.
In a way Peterson’s 3 categories could be mirrored in the political realm - anarchy, totalitarianism and democracy. Peterson seems to believe that the best way to be a good citizen is to find our own meaning in life in such a manner that we can avoid both anarchy and totalitarianism; anarchy because it denies to good things about our culture and totalitarianism because it is a lie that denies the culture’s need to grow and learn. If each citizen has their own subjective meaning - a way to balance order and chaos - then civilization can flourish.
Who is Jordan Peterson and what does he believe? While Peterson would be the first to say that our beliefs and our person are different day to day - I think ‘Maps of Meaning’ provides a much clearer view of the origin and nature of Peterson’s beliefs. Peterson was an individual trouble by the suffering in the world and in his own mind who, through the influence of Carl Jung, found mythological narrative as a helpful means for navigating the chaos of his own experience.