Jordan Peterson P1 - Sin and Salvation or Chaos and Order?


(SeanO) #1

This is a series of post on Jordan Peterson’s book ‘12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos’. It has become popular and it is important to understand why it is appealing to this generation and how it is different from the Gospel. 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.

Foreword and Overture

Here is my summary of the foreword and overture:

the foremost rule is that you must take responsibility for your own life

In this section of the book, we learn that Peterson always wondered how people could commit atrocities such as those in the Holocaust. His basic thesis appears to that our brains have evolved to create order out of the chaos of life. We want structure - we want to be judged - we need a moral compass. Rules do not hinder us - they set us free. Differentiating between virtue and vice is the beginning of wisdom. The ancient philosophers like Plato and Aristotle understood this fact and so did ancient religions, both of which gave their adherents tools to bring order to the chaos through psychologically rich stories and open debate.

But in our modern era we have lost the ability of these ancients to handle the chaos - we have reverted to relativism, nihilism and ideology. Relativism helps try to get along with those with whom we disagree, but leaves our personal self in chaos and without a moral compass. Nihilism is nothingness. Ideology replaces the complexity of life with simple rules that make us tyrannical and terrible - like the dictators of our century - defending our own order with violence and terror.

We must once again learn - through the power of mythical stories of heroes and philosophy - to find order in our own lives. When we take the role of hero in our own life and bring order - when we set our own house in order first - then society will flourish. The twelve rules in this book will help you do that.

Why are these ideas appealing?

What do you think? Why do you think people are attracted to these ideas? Share your thoughts!

I think what makes Peterson appealing is that he offers a pseudo-moral framework within which people can attempt to live without the supernatural. He roots his teaching in evolutionary psychology and self-realization. He is feeding people what they need - a moral framework - in a package they are eager to swallow - evolution + self-realization. We all need a moral framework within which to live our lives, but our generation has jettisoned traditional means of finding this framework via naturalism. So Peterson steps in and offers people a reason to be generally good people that is rooted not in creeds but in evolutionary psychology and a need to live in a balance between order and chaos.

In a way, Peterson is encouraging people to be their own gods - to forge their own path - to be responsible for their own Being. They can ‘be like God’ if they can balance order and chaos in their lives. His message is one of self-salvation rooted in evolutionary pop-psychology and I think that is part of where the appeal lies.

In addition, he offers a moral framework without morality. The morality he proposes depends on balancing ‘order and chaos’ and has nothing to do with purity of the heart or of the body. He avoids specifics - he leaves room for the sins (Biblical term here) people want to keep in their lives while allowing them to feel moral. His moral framework aligns exactly with that of our current culture - ‘cause the least suffering to other people’ and knows nothing of holiness. Of course, it is not good to cause others to suffer, but this kind of moral framework knows nothing of the transformed motives/heart or a holy life (Biblically speaking - not holier than thou but truly set apart for God).

Peterson suggests that our nagging sense of shame/doubt needs to be dealt with by asserting our Being and balancing order and chaos. Reconciliation to a real God is not involved - or repentance - or humility before a real God. And I think that appeals to people - salvation without repentance or reconciliation that can and must be achieved by their own effort.

And, finally, Peterson reinterprets the Bible in a way that does not require believing it is historical or that it is of divine origin. He allows his readers to breathe the air of modern culture and integrate the Bible into a naturalistic framework. This is exactly what people who have rejected God and the supernatural but have a strong affinity for the Bible as a result of their upbringing want to do - they want to make sense out of the Bible without having to actually believe it. Peterson offers them a way to do that…

How is this message different from the message of Scripture??? What are some things that Jordan gets right???

How do you think Jordan’s fundamental message is different than the message of the Gospel? What is his view of Scripture and the condition of the human heart?

Where he gets some things right:

  • we do need rules to guide our lives
  • we do sense the reality and need for justice and judgment
  • the modern solutions of relativism, nihilism and ideology do not work

Where he differs:

  • Jordan replaces the ideas of sin and salvation with chaos and order
  • Jordan makes us the hero of our own story instead of God being the hero
  • Jordan denies the historicity of Scripture - rather seeing it as an attempt by the evolved mind to make order out of the chaos of life
  • Jordan believes the beginning of wisdom is philosophical - distinguishing virtue and vice, whereas the Bible clearly points out the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord

Quotes from the Foreword and Overture

I did not have time to differentiate between quotes from Norman Doidge, who wrote the foreword, and Peterson’s own words in the Overture. But they both think along the same lines.

“the soul of the individual eternally hungers for the heroism of genuine Being, and that the willingness to take on that responsibility is identical to the decision to live a meaningful life”

“loss of group-centered belief renders life chaotic, miserable, intolerable”

“We must have the meaning inherent in a profound system of value or the horror of existence rapidly becomes paramount”

“as unfamiliar and strange as it sounds, in the deepest part of our psyche, we all want to be judged”

“the best rules do not ultimately restrict us but instead facilitate our goals and make for fuller, freer lives”

“alongside our wish to be free from rules, we all search for structure”

“cultivating judgment about the difference between virtue and vice is the beginning of wisdom”

“And, since we don’t know right from wrong (relativism), just about the most inappropriate thing an adult can do is give a young person advice about how to live — relativism’s closest approximation to virtue is tolerance”

“Jordan showed his students how evolution, of all things, helps to explain the profound psychological appeal and wisdom of many ancient stories…stories about journeying voluntarily into the unknown — the hero’s quest — mirror universal tasks for which the brain evolved”

“we all have to deal with the unknown and we all attempt to move from chaos to order”

“it turns out that many people cannot tolerate the vacuum - the chaos - which is inherent in life, but made worse by this moral relativism; they cannot live without a moral compass”

“ideologies retool the very religious stories they purport to have supplanted, but eliminate the narrative and psychological richness”

(Jacob Cheriyan) #2

This is really interesting Sean. Peterson’s book is becoming immensely popular and it is good as Christians to look into it carefully.
In the part where you say he differs from Christian Idea, you mentioned that he replaces the idea of sin and salvation with order and chaos. I understand the contradiction there, but Peterson is talking more of the outworking of sin and salvation. The result of sin is chaos and the result of salvation is order. Right from the creation account in Genesis we see God bringing order out of chaos. Even in the Garden of Eden we see harmony and order which breaks down after sin enters. And finally in the New heavens and New earth what we see is a restoration back to order. So I don’t think he is replacing Sin and Salvation, he is showing the effects of it psychologically and existentially.
In the third point on how he differs from the Christian view point you mentioned that he denies the historicity of scripture. Why do you sat that?

(SeanO) #3

@Jacob_Cheriyan Thank you for your response. Peterson does not believe in sin or salvation. For Peterson, religious language does not refer to anything real. Rather, religious terms are the product of our evolutionary biology attempting to survive in a difficult world. He does not believe the stories of Scripture actually happened as they are told, but rather that they were told the way that they were because of evolutionary psychology. For Peterson, the Bible is one language of evolutionary psychology - the ancient philosophers like Socrates had another, the Hindus another, etc.

For example, here is a quote from chapter 1, on which I will shortly write an article - “It means willingly undertaking the sacrifices necessary to generate a productive and meaningful reality (it means acting to please God, in the language of the ancients”.

This phrase - ‘it means acting to please God, in the language of the ancients’ - is very important to understand Peterson. In his mind, the ancient people used religion as a language for expressing their psychological needs and making sense of their environment. It did not correspond to a real deity who actually created the world. And we moderns do not need to use the ancient language - we can even develop our own.

For Peterson, the Bible is nothing more than the stories of an ancient nomadic tribe attempting to be at home in a hostile environment and is the result of evolutionary psychology - not divine revelation. He may not state it that plainly, but that is what he is saying.

Also, Peterson does not believe in sin or salvation. Order and chaos are not the same thing as sin and salvation. Order is nothing more than an attempt to gain a sense of self in a chaotic world - it has nothing to do with being forgiven by or reconciled to a real God. Peterson is proclaiming self-help pop-psychology - not the Gospel.

Now, Peterson never claims to be Christian, so as far as I know he is not being dishonest. Is there somewhere that Peterson claims to be Christian? I have encountered no such claim in his book.

Hope those thoughts are helpful.

(Shawn Cooper) #4

Jordan claims to be agnostic at best. A quote I found when asked if he believed God exists, “I think the proper response to that is No, but I’m afraid He might exist”

(SeanO) #5

@CroaMagna Thank you for that clarification. The more I read the book the more clear it becomes that ‘agnostic at best’ is a fitting description. I want to be respectful of his thoughts in light of his own worldview claims rather than evaluating him as if he is a false teacher that has infiltrated the Church.

(Jacob Cheriyan) #6

Is Peterson a Christian
Jordan Peterson gives quite a complex answer to the question. He says he understands the psychological necessities of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ but then acknowledges that that is not all there is to it. That the psychological necessities do not exhaust themselves in the death and resurrection narrative. Now does that make him a Christian? well I would say no. But what I do see is an honest man in pursuit of truth. He is speaking in the language of mythology and archetypes because he is steeped in the Jungian way of thought. That language is quite alien to many of us Christians and we cannot resonate with him on that.
But he does say that he lives his life on the premise that God exists and that it is more than just a cognitive belief. It is to live yournlife in light of that reality. He definitely acknowledges the historical Jesus and His death on the cross as a literal historical event and the concept of universal redemption and defeat of evil.
From listening to Peterson I understand that he is trying to understand and make sense of Christianity within his psychological and evolutionary biological categories. A dangerous task in and of itself and also one that can lead to a lot of errors and misrepresentations. So your caution Sean is much needed and thank you for going through his book in detail and critiquing it. I totally understand the need and the relevance of doing that.

(SeanO) #7

@Jacob_Cheriyan Thank you for that thoughtful response. I look forward to continuing to dialogue with you as we go through the rest of the book. I agree that mythological archetypes and evolutionary psychology are at the core of Peterson’s thought and heavily influence the way he interprets the Bible. I believe it is always helpful to participate in this type of dialogue with secular thinkers as a sign of respect for the unbelievers in our lives and in the hopes of being able to clearly articulate what makes the Biblical Jesus - God in the flesh who died, was buried and rose on the third day - who saves us by grace through faith - the true Way to salvation using language they can understand.

(Susan Baker) #8

I recall Dr. Peterson mentioning that he was raised Christian or that the family attended church. Not sure how often, but I got the sense that he was grateful yet skeptical and remains so.

This is a needed discussion. I would like to see a talk with Ravi and Dr. Peterson. I have watched Dr. Peterson’s Bible series and I kept wondering, is he considering that psychology might not be enough, that God IS real and he’s working his way and that of our post-modern millennials toward that world view? But then I’d hear him talk with Joe Rogan and the evolutionary biology and libertarianism seemed closer to his core beliefs.

We should remember that Dr. Peterson is a brilliant man and the kind of psychologist that decades ago I thought could straighten out this mess. Now he is definitely sorting things out, but I wonder if he’s knowingly, psychologically moving the discussion toward real God or mythological God.

He does remind me of my minister from youth, Duncan Littlefair, also a Canadian. Brilliant mind, but after I grew in my walk with God and understood years later when and how I’d been saved, I surmised that Duncan, and, I think, Dr. Peterson, just don’t go far enough. They cannot get outside the naturalistic world view. They cannot get beyond their own psychology.

They see the terrible results of the human mind without God, but believe the loss is only symbolic. If we would just bring back the mythology of our own highest self (what others refer to as “God”) then we could carry on and achieve the heights.

I believe the exact opposite is true. If we don’t return to the reality of God who created this cosmos, life, earth and humans, and is the moral order and objective standard to whom we shall return or be rejected at death, then the nihilistic chaos will continue and worsen.

I love Dr. Peterson for his brave efforts to restore our world to some order after the disastrous 20th century of post-modern nihilism, relativism and multiculturalism, but naturalism and materialism led to this. They don’t go far enough because their source, their alpha and omega, is Man not God. And human psychology does play a part in self-exaltation and self-destruction. The Bible refers to it as pride.

We need a Ravi and Jordan talk real soon.

(Susan Baker) #9

No he’s an extremely thoughtful and compassionate person who holds a naturalistic, materialistic world view and is trying to fix the mess that those world views, I believe, create. He is honestly doing his best to understand what is going on here. Sometimes I wonder if he is creeping out of the naturalists’ cave which he considers to be not cave but a high tech probe into the matter that made the human body, mind and “God.”

Question: Is the human mind in the midst of tricking itself? Some people think that it has tricked itself into believing in God. Others think that it has tricked itself into denying God.

(SeanO) #10

@Susan_Baker Thank you for that well thought out reply. I agree a Ravi and Peterson talk would be a fruitful dialogue and one I would certainly enjoy watching. I would be careful about ascribing to Peterson motives either good or bad without knowing him personally. Without knowing someone for years it is very hard to even guess at their motives and even then only God knows the heart.

I think one thing that Peterson is gifted at is taking a very simple idea and making it seem profound in such a way that a person is willing to reconsider it. And that is very useful as a clinical psychologist. For example, Peterson makes doing your daily chores sound almost glorious - part of realizing your own ‘true Being’ and the path to fulfilling the heroic narrative of your life. Who wouldn’t want to go to bed on time, eat a good breakfast and pay the bills after reconsidering them in that light?

(SeanO) #11

@Susan_Baker I think this is a very intriguing point. The Bible makes the clear claim that when people reject God as a result of their sin their minds becomes darkened. Obedience and sensitivity to God’s Spirit are actually necessary on the path to knowledge of God. Reason alone is not sufficient in the spiritual realm. In fact, human wisdom by itself cannot reach God.

Naturalism, however, makes the claim that purely by human wisdom we can reach the conclusion that God is not real. We deceive ourselves to ease our fear in a terrifying world (which C. S. Lewis points out is unlikely - who would create a loving God if left alone in this world?), to keep together a cohesive society, to honor the traditions of our ancestors or to give us a sense of order when we feel the world is too chaotic (Peterson). That is only a short list of alternative theories offered. But as you pointed out - the main thrust is that reason alone can demonstrate the nonexistence of God. This path to knowledge directly contradicts the Bible’s claim that it is obedience and the Spirit of the living God that lead us to true knowledge of God.

How do you think we could communicate that truth in a way that would be convincing to someone who is relying on reason alone?

Romans 1:28 - “Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.”

Romans 1:21-23 - “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.”

1 Corinthians 1:20-25 - Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

I Corinthians 2:11 - For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

(Susan Baker) #12

I agree about being careful not to ascribe motives to Dr. Peterson…or anyone else…without knowing them well. We can accurately summaraize what they say and draw some conclusions, but that does not necessarily imply a judgment of good or bad motive or character. He is complex in his thinking, and my purpose is to understand what he believes. Navigating those waters takes respect, patience and thoughtfulness. Even if he’s not a believer, he could help move the post-modern, secular culture toward health and truth.

(Susan Baker) #13

I asked for the Lord when I was a young girl, staring at my little plaque on the wall with Isaiah 55:6 inscribed: “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found.”

So surely after that the Holy Spirit guided me when I constantly went astray, usually when emotion and counter-cultural beliefs mis-guided—those not grounded in American principles and God’s revealed, Biblical truths like secular post-modernism, multiculturalism and more.

Yet, one CAN see by reason how all paths lead to the God of the Bible.

  1. Start with how the cosmos came to be. (Here I think of John Lenox) No natural, physical laws account for how the cosmos came into being. Multiverses only put off to tomorrow what one doesn’t understand today.
  2. Next major leap: how did life come to be? Again, no physical law, no statistical probability, no mathematical theorem can derive life from non-life.
  3. Next major leap: how human beings came to be. No fossil record shows convincingly how the Hominids transformed into Homo Sapiens Sapiens let alone how all species have evolved to other forms.

The real god of the gaps is Darwin, and I’m not so sure he would agree with how his observations and theories are characterized. (Have to re-read my college biological anthropology!)

Just those three major shifts in reality can be observed through reason. And reason can show the faultiness of believing in naturalism or Man as God. We can infer what not to believe in, leading us to truth. The Holy Spirit finishes the work, and that’s where human pride or humility, rebellion or obedience enter in.

I mention all this because reason helped me refine my young, previously generic understanding that there is a God, my Lord, which I sensed from faith. It took years for me to understand how Jesus and salvation fit into all this. (By the 50’s there was already an erosion in our Christian foundation and the shared cultural vision of what is truth and how to walk with it for salvation from evil. I knew nothing of Romans road, e.g. until a Bible study 7 years ago. I’m 70 this year!) No Christian or cold case apologists clarified God’s message of our only hope.

The Good News is that today we have a revival and even improvement in sharing the Gospel plus the technology to magnify Its calling. Daily reading of the Bible helped me, but ministires like RZIM provided keys that other world views had thrown away or never picked up.

Because we’re made in the image of God, we can reason and infer our way to Him, with faith in His unseen substance. Then, acting on that well-grounded, justified faith takes us over the threshold, through the door and into God’s kingdom.

I think the Bible shows us how both reason and faith, like faith and good works go together and a sound apologia like what RZIM has adopted will work mightily in the service of our Lord and His discipleship in1Peter 3:15.

I just wanted to integrate reason with faith in this reply. I can stand corrected by any points, all to His glory. God bless those who read His Good News and follow.

(SeanO) #14

@Susan_Baker Thank you for sharing your story. It is stories like these that make me thankful for the ministry of RZIM.

In terms of reason and faith, I really like the perspective of Blaise Pascal, who wrote his famous book Pensées on how men know God. In it, he points out that if a person’s heart is wrong, they will reject the rational evidence. God has given us enough knowledge of Him through nature and reason that we may know that He exists and understand His divine nature, yet still choose whether to honor Him or no. Here is the full quote.

"He gives exactly the right amount of light. If He gave less, even the righteous would be unable to find Him, and their will would be thwarted. If He gave more, even the wicked would find Him, against their will. Thus He respects and fulfills the will of all.

If He gave more light, the righteous would not learn humility, for they would know too much. If He gave less light, the wicked would not be responsible for their wickedness, for they would know too little." -Blaise Pascal

(Susan Baker) #15

I need to read Blase Pascal. :thinking: His thoughts hit home. Thank you for such thoughtful replies, Sean. As Ravi says, “May God richly bless you!”

(SeanO) #16

@Susan_Baker Yes - Pascal thought very deeply about belief and unbelief. Peter Kreeft has written a book that I read and enjoyed that goes through Pascal’e Pensees (link below). The Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.