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.