Archbishop, If you will…

I did not expect, on this cold yet sunny day, to be writing a response to the Archbishop of Canterbury; but upon opening my copy of today’s Mail on Sunday, my eyes were met with the headline “Archbishop: Britain split and crushed by Brexit and austerity”. The Archbishop, it appears, feels as though his job entails the same tasks as that of a political commentator. Given that the Archbishop insists upon interjecting in the lives of the non-religious, I feel that it is only fair for me to give “The Most Reverend” a piece of my own mind in return. Given his Christian nature, I am sure he will forgive me for doing so.

The Archbishop’s article begins by claiming that “we are facing our biggest challenge and shake-up to society since the Second World War”. One of the reasons for this, he believes, is the imminent arrival of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union (or “Brexit”, to use that ugly term). The Archbishop says that he is neither “Eeyorish” nor “blandly optimistic” about Britain’s post-Brexit future, and appears to focus on the rocky social climate surrounding Brexit rather than the negotiations or possible implications to the economy. Of course, Archbishop, the first thing the conflicts surrounding Brexit needs is the running commentary of the Church (I hope the reader can sense my sarcasm).

However, all was not bad in his public address. I shall give the Archbishop credit where credit is due, despite my disapproval of his interjection as an official man of the cloth. He expressed his concerns with growing inequality, and his words on the tragedy that struck Grenfell Tower, which he described as “a metaphor for our collective failings, shows us that that we need a moral revolution in housing that centres on people”, were rather moving. He was also right to point out that austerity “is crushing the weak, the sick and many others”. Those words will resonate with a large proportion of the general public. The Archbishop, however, made the age-old mistake of commenting on politics whilst trying to remain apolitical. His written piece was quite clearly an attack on the Conservative Party, but it appears that the Archbishop knows he can only push his luck so far in the realm of politics.

The Archbishop finished his article with a flurry of Christianity (as one would perhaps expect from the Archbishop of Canterbury). His closing statement made it clear, at least according to him, that “it is the duty of the Church and of all us to reimagine what it means to be this remarkable nation in the 21st Century”. The Archbishop is correct to point out that Britain is “suffering from a lack of such common values”, as he was right to say the things he said about Grenfell. But the last thing this country needs is more interference in political matters from the Church (as an institution). Of course, Archbishop Welby is not the first of his line to stick his oar in clouded waters. Again, I shall give Archbishop Welby credit, and praise him for not going as far as his predecessor, Rowan Williams, who called for Sharia Law to be introduced in the United Kingdom for those who wanted it.

Despite the fact that I have many agreements with the Archbishop, we simply cannot have the Church constantly trying to put its foot in the door of politics. The Archbishop can vote as he pleases, he can favour whichever economic system he pleases, and he can be as nostalgic about the Christian days of old as he likes, but he cannot do so on his own terms; and his religious position should not, by any means, give him a national platform to comment on such issues. His opinion must remain an ordinary opinion. If Archbishop Welby wishes to influence government policy he shall have his opportunity at the polling station; he can go one step further, if he wishes, and abandon his Holy post and stand for Parliament. It must also be said that both the Mail and the Archbishop have, perhaps, overestimated the power of Welby’s position. Many people, based upon the reactions I have read online, have expressed concern at the political nature of the Archbishop’s public address, including some Christians who are in absolute agreement with him. Like many other people, my heart sinks when I see an “official” religious figure making political statements (especially when they are doing so in the national press!). Call me cynical, but before I had even read the Archbishop’s piece, I was ready to throw it into the fire of eternal damnation.

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.

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.