Why Jordan Peterson is Wrong About God and Christianity

Before I begin this blog entry, I shall first state that I have the upmost love and respect for Jordan Peterson. I first heard of Peterson whilst researching Jungian Psychology, and since then I have always enjoyed hearing him lecture and give his views on a whole array of topics. Peterson is a well-seasoned scholar, and it is extremely refreshing to see someone like him teaching millennials (and others) the importance of marriage, family, personal responsibility and cultural roots. I strongly suggest you read his book “Maps of Meaning“. However, I have one sharp bone to pick with Peterson, and it concerns his views on Christianity and God.

To begin with, it doesn’t help that Peterson’s view on religion is somewhat vague, to say the least (please remember that I am saying this with the upmost respect for Peterson). However, I must simply try to deduct Peterson’s view from what has been said from the man himself. The main source (or at least the most popular one) for Peterson’s view on God is a clip from an interview (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VPIh1xQiuI8).

To begin with, Peterson dives into some hardcore, radical Logician thinking, picking apart the definitions of words, and how those definitions are attributed to the concepts (in this case the words “believe” and “God”). It reminds me of the scene in The Hobbit where Bilbo wishes Gandalf a “good morning!”, to which Gandalf replies “What do you mean? Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?”. This kind of thought process might be a bit tedious (I’m sure there is a general consensus on what it means to be asked whether or not you believe in God), however, it is not strictly incorrect. The problem is, however, that Peterson then seems to jump from one school of thought to another, so to speak.

Peterson then goes on to say “I act as if God exists”, and that “now you can decide for yourself whether that means I believe in Him”. It seems to me that what Peterson is getting at here is very much linked to his view on truth – that infamous discussion with Sam Harris springs to mind. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am in general agreement with Peterson on the subject of truth/s. His view on truth/s is most certainly nothing new, and has been shared by many scholars of the past. However, we won’t go into that here. Peterson begins answering these questions on God in a way you might expect a stiff upper-lipped 20th Century Freudian Logician to answer, but then within a matter of seconds continues his explanation in a way that has more in common with, say, JRR Tolkien. There is, of course, absolutely nothing wrong with this if you can justify the switch in approach. However, I don’t think Peterson has justified it based upon all the things I’ve heard him say about God.

Now, waters could become very muddy here, I must confess. Again, I can only put this down to the vagueness of Peterson’s answer. Peterson seems to be hinting that acting as if God exists is in many ways the same as believing in God because it has the same effect on the individual. For example, if you are watching a movie and you feel sad, is that experience of sadness invalid or not “true” because what is happening on the screen is a falsehood? It seems, at least to me, that Peterson is taking his usual approach to the matter of truth. This is a very long philosophical debate and could go on forever, so I’ll have to jump straight into the conclusion. I don’t think this approach can be taken with the existence of God, and I’ll explain why.

To begin with, whether or not you think God exists – in the traditional use of the phrase – has some serious implications on the world and humanity. If God does exist, it is a game changer for many philosophical arguments. Peterson hates the postmodernist worldview; he hates moral subjectivity and all that comes with it. But if one believes in God, then one also tends to believe in an objective morality (especially in Christianity, the faith that Peterson claims to belong to). Surely “acting” as though God exists – and in Peterson’s case, Christianity’s objective stance on morality – is simply another form of moral subjectivity? Let us, once again, take the example of watching a film. If I were to watch a film and act as though it were reality, would that make it any more of a reality than it really is? Would the film somehow cease to be a mere fictional drama if I were to act as though it were reality? In short, acting as though there is a God and an objective moral code does not subtract from whether or not there is a creator of the universe or objective morality. God either exists or He doesn’t; Christianity’s objective morality is either real or it isn’t. “Acting” does not have an effect on that. Surely choosing to act as though such things exist is simply a paradoxical abuse of Peterson’s view on postmodernism and moral subjectivity?

I must also take issue with Peterson’s view on Christ, and thus Christianity. On the question of whether he believes in Jesus’ bodily resurrection, Peterson simply says “I don’t know”. Now then, those who are vaguely familiar with Christianity and Christian Theology will see the issue with this answer and his claim to be a Christian. If I were to phone up one of my Christian friends and ask them whether or not the resurrection of Jesus’ body happened, and they were to answer “I don’t know”, I would heavily suspect that their faith had taken a huge blow. After all, anyone who knows anything about Christianity knows that its entire worldview rests wholly upon the resurrection of Christ. I don’t want to question Peterson’s faith or choice of religion, it is absolutely none of my business and is a very sensitive subject, but there are clearly some huge contradictions within how he perceives Christianity.

In conclusion, I think Peterson is simply wrong about God and Christianity. Symbolic or cultural Christianity (which is the type that Peterson seems to be leaning towards) is a contradiction with the actual message of Christ in the New Testament (and I am saying this as an Agnostic). As I said at the beginning of this post, I have a lot of respect for Jordan Peterson, but I simply cannot meet him in the middle with his view on God and Christianity.

Three Thinkers for 2018

Just before the new year, I published a blog piece briefly reviewing and explaining some of my favourite books which I read in 2017. I have decided to follow that post up with this post: three thinkers you must “check-out” in 2018.

Owen Barfield
My obsession with JRR Tolkien is what originally lead me to the Inklings, and thus to Owen Barfield, one of the groups most respected thinkers. Owen Barfield was an author, poet and Philosopher, as well as a Professor at Oxford University. During his Undergraduate years at Oxford, he became close friends with C.S. Lewis, who later went on to dedicate the first of his Narnia books to Barfield’s daughter, Lucy, who was also Lewis’ goddaughter.

Barfield specialised – albeit somewhat controversially – in consciousness, the power of imagination and anti-reductionism. His work is, by no means, an easy read. Matters of consciousness are never easy, to put it lightly. However, if you really want to put your brain to the test, and learn about a truly classical thinker, Owen Barfield might be the man for you in 2018.

Books I recommend from Owen Barfield: Saving The Appearances: A Study in Idolatry. Poetic Diction. Romanticism Comes of Age.

GK Chesterton
I don’t think I’ve ever come across a writer who could be so serious, yet so witty and funny at the same time. Chesterton was certainly a one of a kind writer, specialising in Theology and Philosophy – he was a famous thorn in the side of HG Wells. You will, however, have to take Chesterton with a pinch of salt. He was a product of the late 19th and early 20th Century, and some of his political views and choice of words are a reminder of that.

Books I recommend from GK Chesterton: The Everlasting Man.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
I briefly mentioned Solzhenitsyn in my 2017 book recommendations. Solzhenitsyn was a truly classical thinker; a staunch critic of the Soviet Union and Marxism following his imprisonment in one of Stalin’s infamous gulags. Solzhenitsyn’s style of thought and writing can only be described as brutally clinical, often going into important and gritty details. He was also a great critic of modern society, but his criticisms were far from the usual political objections, and he often wrote about the deep moral underpinnings of society (or the decline of that underpinning, to be more accurate).

Books I recommend from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: The Gulag Archipelago. Cancer Ward. One Day in The Life of Ivan.

Book Recommendations From 2017

Below you will find a list of my favourite non-fiction books that I have read in 2017 – the cream of the crop, as they say!
Anything you recommend for 2018?

Politics

Conservatism, Roger Scruton [4/5]
Famous philosopher, and fellow High Wycomber, Sir Roger Scruton breaks down precisely what Conservatism is. Scruton does a magnificent job of cutting through the usual misconceptions and misunderstandings that people have towards Conservatism, and lays out a fairly detailed history behind the ideology.

Anarchism: From Theory to Practice, Daniel Guerin [4/5]

This book was recommended to me by Noam Chomsky himself via email quite a while ago. I have finally got round to finishing it, and can say that it lived up to my expectations. Guerin seems to cover every aspect of Anarchism in this short work, albeit from a fairly biased perspective.

The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn [5/5]
Possibly one of the greatest books I have ever read, and was a fantastic way to kick off 2017 back in January. Solzhenitsyn, with his usual accuracy and blunt style, cuts through the “that’s not real communism” myth with this masterpiece. Not only is The Gulag Archipelago a attack on the Soviet regime, it also demonstrates how people can logically plan and justify atrocities under the influence of Marxist/Communist doctrine. A complete eye-opener for a former Leftist like myself.
Reflections on the Revolution in France, Edmund Burke [4/5]

Prophetic piece of work from Burke. In this book, he explains why he thinks the French Revolution will go down hill, as the old saying goes. Given the rise of Napoleon, Burke was clearly right.

Government Bullies, Senator Rand Paul [4/5]
An incredible book from Paul exposing how the American government and politicians, both Republican and Democrat, are destroying liberty. Quite a disturbing read.

Philosophy

Critique of Pure Reason, Immanuel Kant [4/5]
Highly recommend. In this book Kant sets out to demonstrate how there are different types of truths, judgments and knowledge. It will certainly test your brain.

A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis [5/5]
Easily the most moving book I have read in 2017. After waiting many years for the love of his life, Lewis’ wife passes away of cancer after just 3 years of marriage. Lewis reflects upon her passing in raw detail, and how it challenged his view on God and Religion. I would highly recommend reading The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis himself before moving on to A Grief Observed.

Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis [4/5]
C.S. Lewis appears on my list for a second time. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis makes a case for the religion of Christianity in its purest form. I highly recommend that everyone, whether you are an atheist, theist or agnostic reads this book. It is a collection of deep philosophical musings on Christianity that are completely separate from dogma and denomination.

A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, Edmund Burke [5/5]

Edmund Burke has become one of my favourite philosophers over the past few months. This is, perhaps, his greatest work. A great introduction to the philosophy of aesthetics. A classic, which dives into our conceptions of what is beautiful.

Psychology

Maps of Meaning; The Architecture of Belief, Jordan B. Peterson [4/5]
I started reading this book in December 2016, but I didn’t finish it until February 2017. For some reason, I found this a very tough read, but an incredible one. Peterson offers an alternative explanation for the origins and architecture of religious/spiritual belief, and it is incredible to try and get your head around.

Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle, C.G. Jung [4/5]

The theory of synchronicity is, at least to me, one of the most interesting theories in the psychology. There is quite a bit of maths and statistics in this book, which does make it a tough read. Nonetheless, it is very interesting. Jung was never frightened to dive into frowned upon topics, as demonstrated within this book.

History

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown [5/5]
A moving historical account of the genocide against the Native American people. Brown displays a whole array of photographs, first hand accounts, newspaper articles and commentary to tell the tragic story of the Native Americans in the American West.
Hitler’s Table Talk, compiled by Martin Bormann [5/5]
These transcripts of Hitler’s everyday discussions are both interesting and extremely disturbing. Reading about what Hitler would say over lunch gives the reader a huge insight into the mind of one of the most evil men to have ever lived. A must read.

Why “Good Will Hunting” is so Important, and Why you MUST Watch it Again.

I will warn you in advance… This blog entry contains movie spoilers.

A lot of people, it seems, have quite an emotional response to the two-time Oscar winning film Good Will Hunting. The film’s success is clearly reflected within its awards and figures, but most people who have seen the film seem to draw something deeper from it. Often it is a very on the surface account of the plot that is given by people to explain their emotional attraction to the film. It is, after all, a rollercoaster of a ride. It begins with a troubled young man – who can only be described as a genius – who works as a janitor at MIT; the film ultimately ends with him being in a much better place than he was before – a true underdog story. However, I feel as though this summary does not do the film nor the viewer justice. I would go as far as saying that Good Will Hunting is the most important Hollywood film ever made from a philosophical perspective. If viewed through the lens I am about to offer now, I think the film can give you great insight about yourself, your own life and the direction of your life and own being.

I want to focus on what I believe to be the most important part of the film (at least from a philosophical perspective): the relationship and discussions between Will Hunting (played by Matt Damon) and his counsellor Sean Maguire (played by the legendary Robin Williams). Will Hunting, who is the main character, is a 20 year old boy genius, capable of effortlessly solving mathematical problems that award-winning mathematicians struggle with. Will, however, and mainly due to his history, has what one might describe as a bleak view on life; he is very nihilistic, and spends most of his time avoiding all meaning and responsibility in fear of being emotionally hurt. Sean Maguire, on the other hand, is the complete opposite to Will. He is a middle-aged man, who wears his heart on his sleeve but is also very intelligent. Sean had lived a life of meaning; he had been married to the love of his life for years, until she died of cancer. A lot of the key conversations between Will and Sean seem to revolve around love, relationships and pain.

On the topic of relationships, Will and Sean, yet again, are at two polar opposites. Will, who begins dating a girl and seemingly falls in love with her, refuses to commit himself emotionally or even admit his feelings to himself and others. Sean, as we know, was romantically and wholly committed to his wife, who he clearly loved very much. In short, Will is afraid of getting hurt, whereas Sean has been hurt in the most tragic of ways. When Will questions Sean over this, Sean says that he has no regrets, because it was worth spending all that time with the love of his life, despite his pain. This is what we call meaning, and Will refuses to see it. For anything meaningful to occur, there must be some pain along the way. To give a common and obvious example, somebody who is looking for a long-term partner is likely to experience heartbreak at least once on the road to a relationship. It is very much like the Yin and Yang symbol – there can be no white without black, no love without pain and no happiness without sorrow. But Will undertakes what Sean (and others) describe as a “super philosophy”. Will’s life philosophy was as follows: never get close to anybody or anything, never commit to anything meaningful, because that way you can’t get hurt. But, as Sean constantly tries to point out to Will, how can one lead a meaningful or happy life with such a philosophy? I would, if you have not discovered this deeper philosophical plot already, recommend watching the film again. But, instead of just viewing the conversations between Sean and Will as therapy sessions, view them as philosophical battlegrounds, because that’s what they essentially are.

But it is not only the therapy discussions between Will and Sean which are extremely philosophical, but the entire films plot within itself. What is most interesting is that the film seems to be an inflated version of the discussions between Will and Sean; or, between meaning and nihilism. Everything from Will’s relationships, education, social life and career is a constant flirtation from nihilism to meaningfulness and responsibility. He dips his toe into the pool of responsibility, but then always seems to end up refusing to take the plunge (until the very end of the film, at least).

Now, the question is, what can watching this film tell us about ourselves and our own lives? Quite a lot, I think. I’ll give you my own personal experience of this. When I first watched the film, I was about fifteen years old. At this time in my life, mainly due to personal reasons, I was very nihilistic and negative. I took a very similar view as Will in terms of how one should live life. However, from the ages of around 17-18, I undertook a huge personal transformation. I now actively seek meaning and responsibility, and in short, I would now identify with Sean’s outlook on life rather than Will’s. When I first watched the film, I found myself (for obvious reasons) sympathizing and relating to Will more. But watching the film for the second time as a nineteen year old, after this huge personal transformation, I found myself whole heartedly admiring Sean, and almost egging Will on to take the plunge every time he dipped his toe into the pool of meaning.

The film, as far as I can see, can be used as a good measure on one’s life. Given these two contrasting characters, and the running theme of nihilism vs meaning throughout the entire film, it can be used as a tool to discover where you – or somebody else – is in terms of the way they live their life and how they view more specific things such as family, friendships and romantic relationships. I found, on second viewing of the film and general reflection, that my views on life have swayed dramatically, and I am now reaping the rewards of that, and living a much fuller and more meaningful life. I would be very interested to hear how others perceive the underlining philosophical battle within the film. So, I would highly recommend watching the film again, especially if you have undergone a huge personal transformation since the last time you watched it. And, I can guarantee you, that it will reveal a bit more about yourself than you’d expect.