Jordan Peterson P3 - A False Gospel - Articulating Our Being


(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.

Chapter 2

Treat Yourself Like Someone You Are Responsible For Helping

We take better care of our dogs than we do of ourselves because deep down we have an abiding sense of guilt and shame. The path of salvation requires us to live at the intersection of order and chaos where we can ensure stability in our lives but also the expansion of ‘habitable, productive territory’. When we achieve this balance of yin and yang we can once again return to paradise and walk with God. Then we can do what is good for us - not give ourselves what we want, but what we truly need to become the type of people who can bring Heaven to earth - to help others to navigate order and chaos and find both the stability and opportunity their mind has evolved to crave. In this way we can atone for our sin - by walking with pride and confidence as a person who is walking at the boundary of order and chaos, both stable and expanding, a person who has articulated their Being.

Why Are These Ideas Appealing

I think this chapter is appealing because everyone needs a pep talk - go out there and get’em tiger. Be yourself - be confident - navigate order and chaos.

In addition, this chapter puts the blame for our sense of shame and guilt on things external to our own heart. It allows us to maintain our pride in ourselves. In fact, it fans the flames of pride - it encourages us to confidently achieve self-realization. That is a message that is easy to resonate with as a human.

Critique of Chapter 2

In this chapter Peterson articulates a false Gospel - another road to salvation. He calls it ‘articulating your Being’. And honestly it was difficult to tell exactly what he was talking about at times.

But the gist of all of his thoughts seems to be that if we live a life with enough stability to keep our evolved minds at peace but also enough opportunity to keep them from getting bored then we achieve some type of brain nirvana. Living in this happy place between order and chaos will, by some unexplained mechanism, allow us to do what is truly best for ourselves (though he offers no explanation of how we know what this is…) and to make the world better (though I cannot see quite how).

For me, this chapter basically boiled down to this - Overcome your guilt and shame by being confident and doing something meaningful with your life. Stand up for yourself.

Peterson has denied one basic premise of Jesus and of the Scriptures - that the heart of man is the problem and is in need of a Redeemer. He reduces the work of Christ on the cross to set us free from the presence, power and penalty of sin to nothing more than a message of self-help and self-realization. This chapter is a false Gospel.

Matthew 15:19 - For out of the heart come evil thoughts–murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.

Tim Keller has a Biblical and clear explanation of our sense of shame and guilt in this free sermon on “Nakedness and the Holiness of God”.

Tim Keller - Nakedness and the Holiness of God

What are your thoughts?

What is your response to this chapter? What are your thoughts?

Quotes from Chapter 2

“People are better at filling and properly administering prescription medication to their pets than to themselves.”

“The scientific world of matter can be reduced, in some sense, to its fundamental constituent elements: molecules, atoms, even quarks. However, the world of experience has primal constituents, as well. These are the necessary elements whose interactions define drama and fiction. One of these is chaos. Another is order. The third (as there are three) is the process that mediates between the two, which appears identical to what modern people call consciousness. It is our eternal subjugation to the first two that makes us doubt the validity of existence—that makes us throw up our hands in despair, and fail to care for ourselves properly. It is proper understanding of the third that allows us the only real way out.”

“Chaos is the domain of ignorance itself. It’s unexplored territory… Order, by contrast, is explored territory. That’s the hundreds-of-millions-of-years-old hierarchy of place, position and authority.”

“We see what things mean just as fast or faster than we see what they are. This is because of the operation of what psychologists have called “the hyperactive agency detector” within us.35 We evolved, over millennia, within intensely social circumstances. This means that the most significant elements of our environment of origin were personalities, not things, objects or situations.”

“when we first began to perceive the unknown, chaotic, non-animal world, we used categories that had originally evolved to represent the pre-human animal social world. Our minds are far older than mere humanity.”

“novelty (the unknown, or chaos) and routinization (the known, order)”

“We all have a palpable sense of the chaos lurking under everything familiar.”

“This is the kind of knowing what that helps you know how. This is the kind of is from 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 14:6: I am the way, and the truth and the life. The same idea is expressed in Matthew 7:14: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”

“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.”

“When life suddenly reveals itself as intense, gripping and meaningful; when time passes and you’re so engrossed in what you’re doing you don’t notice—it is there and then that you are located precisely on the border between order and chaos. The subjective meaning that we encounter there is the reaction of our deepest being, our neurologically and evolutionarily grounded instinctive self, indicating that we are ensuring the stability but also the expansion of habitable, productive territory, of space that is personal, social and natural. It’s the right place to be, in every sense.”

“It seems to be a reflection, in part, of the order/chaos dichotomy characterizing all of experience, with Paradise serving as habitable order and the serpent playing the role of chaos. The serpent in Eden therefore means the same thing as the black dot in the yin side of the Taoist yin/yang symbol of totality—that is, the possibility of the unknown and revolutionary suddenly manifesting itself where everything appears calm.”

“It means that people, unsettled by their vulnerability, eternally fear to tell the truth, to mediate between chaos and order, and to manifest their destiny.”

" Perhaps Heaven is something you must build, and immortality something you must earn."

“Only man could conceive of the rack, the iron maiden and the thumbscrew. Only man will inflict suffering for the sake of suffering. That is the best definition of evil I have been able to formulate.”

“who can deny the sense of existential guilt that pervades human experience?”

“If we wish to take care of ourselves properly, we would have to respect ourselves—but we don’t, because we are—not least in our own eyes—fallen creatures. If we lived in Truth; if we spoke the Truth—then we could walk with God once again, and respect ourselves, and others, and the world. Then we might treat ourselves like people we cared for. We might strive to set the world straight.”

“I learned two very important lessons from Carl Jung, the famous Swiss depth psychologist, about “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you” or “loving your neighbour as yourself.” The first lesson was that neither of these statements has anything to do with being nice. The second was that both are equations, rather than injunctions. If I am someone’s friend, family member, or lover, then I am morally obliged to bargain as hard on my own behalf as they are on theirs. If I fail to do so, I will end up a slave, and the other person a tyrant. What good is that? It is much better for any relationship when both partners are strong. Furthermore, there is little difference between standing up and speaking for yourself, when you are being bullied or otherwise tormented and enslaved, and standing up and speaking for someone else.”

“To treat yourself as if you were someone you are responsible for helping is, instead, to consider what would be truly good for you. This is not “what you want.” It is also not “what would make you happy.” Every time you give a child something”

“Heaven, after all, will not arrive of its own accord. We will have to work to bring it about, and strengthen ourselves, so that we can withstand the deadly angels and flaming sword of judgment that God used to bar its entrance.”

Start with yourself. Take care with yourself. Define who you are. Refine your personality. Choose your destination and articulate your Being. As the great nineteenth-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche so brilliantly noted, “He whose life has a why can bear almost any how.”

“You could help direct the world, on its careening trajectory, a bit more toward Heaven and a bit more away from Hell. Once having understood Hell, researched it, so to speak—particularly your own individual Hell—you could decide against going there or creating that. You could aim elsewhere. You could, in fact, devote your life to this. That would give you a Meaning, with a capital M. That would justify your miserable existence. That would atone for your sinful nature, and replace your shame and self-consciousness with the natural pride and forthright confidence of someone who has learned once again to walk with God in the Garden.”

(Jimmy Sellers) #2

Is it a stretch to say, If you strip out the God and Bible talk we are left with Objectivism courtesy Ayn Rand?

I like objectivism as it identifies selfishness as being OK without trying to ease your conscious with feel-goodism by adding a little jesus. For me Objectivism appealing like Islam and Mormonism as a possible alternative to the Truth. Just some thoughts.

(SeanO) #3

@Jimmy_Sellers Hmmmm… That is interesting. I am not sure that I could honestly say Peterson advocates objectivism because objectivism positions reason against faith. In contrast, while Peterson does basically advocate working hard and looking out for yourself as someone that is valuable, he also suggests a leap into the unknown with the hope that ultimate Being is good (and he calls this faith). So I think there are distinctions to be made here.

For those not aware, a bit on objectivism below.

What is Objectivism

Wikipedia: Rand described Objectivism as “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute”

"What Rand advocates is an approach to life that’s unlike anything you’ve ever heard before. Selfishness, in her philosophy, means:

  • Follow reason, not whims or faith.
  • Work hard to achieve a life of purpose and productiveness.
  • Earn genuine self-esteem.
  • Pursue your own happiness as your highest moral aim.
  • Prosper by treating others as individuals, trading value for value."

(Jimmy Sellers) #4

Keep in mind, I did say strip away all the “mysticism”. I am not suggesting that he is advocating Objectivism. I am saying that without mysticism (that is anything that you can’t prove) you have Ayn Rand, reason, work, self, selfness and value based on all the above.

(SeanO) #5

@Jimmy_Sellers You may have a point. I will keep that in mind as I read more. I am just getting my feet wet in his way of thinking. I certainly think there are many similarities in how pragmatic both systems of thought are…

(christopher van zyl) #6

Hi there! I can’t help but notice that Petersons journey seems very similar to Lewis. I may be wrong, but after reading the pilgrims regress, it seems like Peterson is well on the way to being a Christian (what Lewis described is very similar to what I see in Peterson) , and I truly pray our Lord may guide his path. That being said, I appreciate what you are doing, as I love Peterson, and it’s easy to be blinded. However, the appeal he has for me, however, is that he speaks with more authority than most preachers. People are getting more from him than they are the church. And I believe it is because the church is guilty of preaching a false gospel. My question then is this: would you do the same thing you’ve done with Peterson for Christian leaders? He may say some contrary stuff to what we believe, but then again he isn’t professing our world view. Meanwhile, some of the most seen pastors in the church mislead people all the time and all under the banner of Christian. I would love to evaluate Christian thought, as for me, this seems more relevant to us as a global church. Looking forward to your response. God bless

(SeanO) #7

@c3vanzyl Thank you for your response. My purpose in writing this series is simply to help Christians think critically about Peterson’s book in light of Scripture. Part of the reason @CarsonWeitnauer suggested this undertaking is that Peterson is very popular right now and he is influencing the thinking of young Christians. Since part of RZIM’s mission is to help the believer think, we thought it would be helpful to help Christians think deeply about Peterson’s ideas. There is of course lots of wrong theology in churches and I would certainly be willing to help someone work through a specific teacher’s thoughts if they had that need. But it would take centuries to critique even a small percentage of all the people who have commented on the Bible - I think it is more practical to know the real deal than to go about trying to rebuke all the incorrect theology.

I know Peterson is not Christian and I respect the effort he has made to be honest in his thoughts. However, I would ask you one question in response to your statement - where do you think Peterson’s authority is rooted? What is his source of authority? How does Peterson interpret the life and death of Jesus?

I believe the value in critiquing Peterson is to help Christians think more clearly about how they are arriving at their conclusions. Peterson uses evolutionary psychology and comparative religious study, as well as some pop psychology, to try to create a unified theory of how to alleviate suffering and bring order to the chaos of our lives within a naturalistic framework where truth is relative to a person’s experience and God does not actually exist. That is a very different meta-narrative than that presented in Scripture and if we are unclear in our thinking than we could get our meta-narrative wrong. If we lose the meta-narrative of salvation history in the Scriptures we miss the meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Peterson actually reinterprets Jesus’ life and death - he creates a false Gospel in which we save ourselves by believing in the ‘goodness of Being’.

So even though Peterson is not a believer, he is not only offering a new interpretation of the Scriptures, but an alternative interpretation of the Gospels.

What are your thoughts? The Lord Jesus guide our conversation.

(christopher van zyl) #8

“I think it is more practical to know the real deal than to go about trying to rebuke all the incorrect theology”
What you have just said here has really stumped me. You’ve just demolished a thought pattern I’ve had for ages in one sentence. So first of all, thank you for your wisdom and your response.

I think perhaps saying he speaks with greater authority was wrong, perhaps It is better to say I have a deep appreciation for his willingness to search for the truth. Whereas church leaders, at least in my experience, and perhaps this is where my question is coming from, have been a tyranny where questions are frowned upon. If you are asking things, at least when I asked, it makes you a rebel. This is one of the main reasons why I appreciate RZIM so much, more than I can put into words. Because thinking is encouraged. But that’s more for another thread perhaps
I agree with what you are saying, and appreciate your brilliant analysis. There’s definitely a lot to chew on and digest.

“I believe the value in critiquing Peterson is to help Christians think more clearly about how they are arriving at their conclusions.”
This is true. I didn’t realize this. I think for me, I don’t take things to their logical conclusions, and I say this to my fault, as can be seen in my thinking. I often take premises that are true, and think because they are true, that the conclusion MUST be true. For example, Peterson says we don’t look after ourselves properly because of the Fall. Brilliant. I believe in the fall too. I believe in original sin too. But then he jumps to say that you should live on the border of order and chaos to remedy the situation. But WHY? So I don’t think through the conclusions properly, and thank you for pointing this out. I hope I can see things clearly, and pray the Lord guides our path.
That being said, while his theology is real bad, his political and psychological analysis is really important. Would you say it is worth it to risk all the bad theology in his books, for the political and psychological? Is it possible to take the good and throw out the bad?
Thank you for your knowledge and wisdom.

(SeanO) #9

@c3vanzyl I appreciate your kind words. My personal opinion is that there is value in Peterson’s experience in dealing with people and in the wisdom he has gained through his study and experience, but that we must think about how that wisdom fits within a Christian worldview. Also, when Peterson uses Biblical texts, we must assess whether he is using them correctly or not. Generally, I would say Peterson misuses Biblical texts - he filters them through his own hermeneutic - his own worldview.

So anytime we encounter a teaching by Peterson that we like, we should ask a few questions to engage with his thought at a deeper level:

1 - How does this truth relate to a Biblical worldview?

2- If Peterson is using Scripture, is he doing so in a way that is legitimate or is he bending it to fit his theory of evolutionary psychology and order/chaos?

3 - How would this truth look if Christ were at the center rather than ‘goodness of Being’ and order/chaos?

So, I do not think there is a simple answer. I think each time we hear a truth that resonates with us, it takes effort to process it in light of Scripture and the Christian worldview. Every time I read a chapter of Peterson’s book, it takes me time to process these types of questions about what he said in that chapter.

Is that helpful?

(christopher van zyl) #10

Very. Appreciate you. Looking forward to more discussions!