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.
Summary Chapter 7
Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)
Humanity has discovered what no other animal has - that by sacrificing our present desires or comfort we can build a better future. Through a process that took thousands upon thousands of years our ancestors expressed this fact through ritual sacrifice, then through more developed religion and finally in plain words. Christianity was a major player on that process - helping the human race to do away with the master/slave hierarchies of the past through the teaching of grace. But by the time Nietzsche was born, Christianity had achieved its chief purpose in the evolution of the human race and science now had a role to play. Christianity had not alleviated suffering and caused people to forego their moral responsibility.
But the horrors of the 20th century caused us to remember our need for the ability to do what Christ did in the temptation in the desert. He resisted the devil’s allure to seize power and pleasure in the present and sacrificed immediate gain for a better future - to alleviate the suffering of others and make the world a better place. We must do the same - face the most evil and dark parts of our human nature - and like Christ in the desert choose to make the world a better place and alleviate suffering rather than gratifying our desires.
Why are these ideas appealing?
What do you think? Why do you think people are attracted to these ideas?
In this chapter Peterson offers his reader a way to handle both the darkest parts of their own heart and the fear of death. He appeals to the human conscience and calls people to live in order to make the world a better place. Then, he says, you can face whatever comes your way. This message resonates with the part of us that wants to achieve our own salvation - to follow our own heart and yet also challenges us to sacrifice something - to be noble. It allows us to define good and evil for ourselves and yet still feel as if we are living sacrificially.
“If you cease to utter falsehoods and live according to the dictates of your conscience, you can maintain your nobility, even when facing the ultimate threat; if you abide, truthfully and courageously, by the highest of ideals, you will be provided with more security and strength than will be offered by any short-sighted concentration on your own safety; if you live properly, fully, you can discover meaning so profound that it protects you even from the fear of death.”
Critique of Chapter 7
In short, Peterson suggests we can be like Christ without be saved by Christ. He rejects our need for a new heart - for the Spirit of God to indwell us and renew us. In some ways, he suggest we take the path of the rich young ruler - he allows us to keep our idols and yet think ourselves good. He reduces goodness to the alleviation of suffering and does not recognize the need to know and be known by God. (Of course we must remember that for Peterson the concept of deity was just part of humanity’s evolutionary process and the result of trying to bring order to the chaos around us). He also commits a logical fallacy by pitting science against Christianity as two different worldviews and suggesting science had answers Christianity did not and has supplanted Christianity. On the contrary, Christianity posits the God who created the natural world that we study - God and science are two different types of explanation and science in fact depends on the prior existence of the natural world. Science is the study of the world created by the God who sent His Son to redeem us from sin and death.
According to the Bible, the law of God reveals to us the weakness of our flesh - we cannot slay the darkness within us by our own power. We cannot conquer sin without a Savior. We cannot be born again apart from the Spirit of God.
What Peterson suggest no man can do - it is Christ who breaks our bondage to sin. It is in Him - by His Spirit - that we find life. We must be born again to overcome sin.
In addition, Peterson’s view of sin is narrow - so long as we alleviate suffering we are doing what is good. This is a utilitarian definition of goodness and if we read Scripture we see that there are many things - envy, greed, sexual immorality - that live within the heart of man that are sin. All of these things lead to death and only Christ can set us free from them. We must be born again.
John 3:3-6 - Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit
Galatians 5:24-25 - Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us walk in step with the Spirit.
Romans 6:19-23 - I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:1-4 - Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Jesus also did not leave room for us to simply believe he was a good teacher - another step in the evolution of human culture. He claimed to be God - the “I AM”. If we honestly read His teachings, we must either revere Him as God or reject Him. Jesus claimed to be the only way to God - the exclusive path of life and salvation. Here is a good sermon by Tim Keller on this topic.
John 14:6 - “I am the way, the truth and the life and no man comes to the Father but by Me.”
Quotes from Chapter 7
The fact of life’s tragedy and the suffering that is part of it has been used to justify the pursuit of immediate selfish gratification for a very long time.
Long ago, in the dim mists of time, we began to realize that reality was structured as if it could be bargained with. We learned that behaving properly now, in the present—regulating our impulses, considering the plight of others—could bring rewards in the future, in a time and place that did not yet exist.
Our ancestors acted out a drama, a fiction: they personified the force that governs fate as a spirit that can be bargained with, traded with, as if it were another human being. And the amazing thing is that it worked.
If the world you are seeing is not the world you want, therefore, it’s time to examine your values. It’s time to rid yourself of your current presuppositions. It’s time to let go. It might even be time to sacrifice what you love best, so that you can become who you might become, instead of staying who you are.
To use the dramatic conceptualization of our ancestors: It is the most fundamental convictions that must die—must be sacrificed—when the relationship with God has been disrupted (when the presence of undue and often intolerable suffering, for example, indicates that something has to change). This is to say nothing other than that the future can be made better if the proper sacrifices take place in the present. No other animal has ever figured this out, and it took us untold hundreds of thousands of years to do it. It took further eons of observation and hero-worship, and then millennia of study, to distill that idea into a story. It then took additional vast stretches of time to assess that story, to incorporate it, so that we now can simply say, “If you are disciplined and privilege the future over the present you can change the structure of reality in your favour.”
I had outgrown the shallow Christianity of my youth by the time I could understand the fundamentals of Darwinian theory. After that, I could not distinguish the basic elements of Christian belief from wishful thinking.
What can I not doubt? The reality of suffering. It brooks no arguments. Nihilists cannot undermine it with skepticism. Totalitarians cannot banish it. Cynics cannot escape from its reality. Suffering is real, and the artful infliction of suffering on another, for its own sake, is wrong. That became the cornerstone of my belief.
For Jung, whatever was at the top of an individual’s moral hierarchy was, for all intents and purposes, that person’s ultimate value, that person’s god. It was what the person acted out. It was what the person believed most deeply. Something enacted is not a fact, or even a set of facts. Instead, it’s a personality—or, more precisely, a choice between two opposing personalities. It’s Sherlock Holmes or Moriarty. It’s Batman or the Joker. It’s Superman or Lex Luthor, Charles Francis Xavier or Magneto, and Thor or Loki. It’s Abel or Cain—and it’s Christ or Satan. If it’s working for the ennobling of Being, for the establishment of Paradise, then it’s Christ. If it’s working for the destruction of Being, for the generation and propagation of unnecessary suffering and pain, then it’s Satan. That’s the inescapable, archetypal reality.
What is expedient works only for the moment. It’s immediate, impulsive and limited. What is meaningful, by contrast, is the organization of what would otherwise merely be expedient into a symphony of Being.
has been my experience, however, that human beings are strong enough to tolerate the implicit tragedies of Being without faltering—without breaking or, worse, breaking bad. I have seen evidence of this repeatedly in my private life, in my work as a professor, and in my role as a clinical practitioner. Earthquakes, floods, poverty, cancer—we’re tough enough to take on all of that. But human evil adds a whole new dimension of misery to the world.
It was in the aftermath of God’s death that the great collective horrors of Communism and Fascism sprang forth (as both Dostoevsky and Nietzsche predicted they would)
If a father disciplines his son properly, he obviously interferes with his freedom, particularly in the here-and-now. He puts limits on the voluntary expression of his son’s Being, forcing him to take his place as a socialized member of the world.
Thus, the person who wishes to alleviate suffering—who wishes to rectify the flaws in Being; who wants to bring about the best of all possible futures; who wants to create Heaven on Earth—will make the greatest of sacrifices, of self and child, of everything that is loved, to live a life aimed at the Good. He will forego expediency. He will pursue the path of ultimate meaning. And he will in that manner bring salvation to the ever-desperate world.
It is for this reason that the Christian sacrificial drama of Son and Self is archetypal. It’s a story at the limit, where nothing more extreme—nothing greater—can be imagined. That’s the very definition of “archetypal.” That’s the core of what constitutes “religious.”
It means that Christ is forever He who determines to take personal responsibility for the full depth of human depravity. It means that Christ is eternally He who is willing to confront and deeply consider and risk the temptations posed by the most malevolent elements of human nature.
This is not to say that Christianity, even in its incompletely realized form, was a failure. Quite the contrary: 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. Christianity insisted that even the king was only one among many. For something so contrary to all apparent evidence to find its footing, the idea that worldly power and prominence were indicators of God’s particular favor had to be radically de-emphasized. This was partly accomplished through the strange Christian insistence that salvation could not be obtained through effort or worth—through “works.”
There is a powerful call to proper Being in the story of the third temptation. To obtain the greatest possible prize—the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth, the resurrection of Paradise—the individual must conduct his or her life in a manner that requires the rejection of immediate gratification, of natural and perverse desires alike, no matter how powerfully and convincingly and realistically those are offered, and dispense, as well with the temptations of evil.
This is not to say that Christianity was without its problems. But it is more appropriate to note that they were the sort of problems that emerge only after an entirely different set of more serious problems has been solved.
the development of science, aimed at resolving the corporeal, material suffering that was still all-too-painfully extant within successfully Christianized societies. The fact that automobiles pollute only becomes a problem of sufficient magnitude to attract public attention when the far worse problems that the internal combustion engine solves vanished from view.
by the time Nietzsche entered the picture, in the late nineteenth century, the problems Christianity had left unsolved had become paramount.
Nietzsche writes, “The Christians have never practiced the actions Jesus prescribed them; and the impudent garrulous talk about the ‘justification by faith’ and its supreme and sole significance is only the consequence of the Church’s lack of courage and will to profess the works Jesus demanded.” Christianity results in devaluation of the earthly life, passive acceptance of the status quo and the believer rejecting their moral burden because God already did it for them.