Review by Dr Pravin Thevathasan
Jordan Peterson, God and Christianity
The Search For A Meaningful Life
by Christopher Kaczor and Matthew R. Petrusek
Word on Fire Institute
What Jordan Peterson has achieved is quite incredible. A Canadian psychologist who became one of the leading public intellectuals in the world, he has been a scathing critic of political correctness and its insane consequences. He tells people that they need to order their lives and live lives of self-sacrifice: promoting the self does not lead to happiness. We need to take responsibility for ourselves and for our family. We need to respect and learn from the wisdom of the past. Our modern scientific age is seriously limited in so many ways. We need to learn the virtues, and that includes humility. What is absolutely astounding is that the people listened, to the annoyance of the so-called progressives. He has reintroduced God and the Bible into mainstream secular culture. The secularists have not forgiven him for that. He speaks like Saint John Henry Newman or Saint Josemaria Escriva. And yet he was not a Christian when saying these things.
This very helpful book is an analysis of his thought by two Catholic academics. My own summary of their conclusions is this: Peterson helps us by pointing in the right direction. But ultimately, we need something more that will satisfy our hunger. And that is Christ. For Peterson, when writing a decade ago, Christ is an example of authentic living. For Christians, he is God incarnate. That is an enormous difference. Peterson offers us therapy. Christ offers us much more.
In the first section of the book, Christopher Kaczor examines what Peterson has to say about the Bible and the Book of Genesis in particular. For most academics these days, this means nothing. For Peterson, they are stories we can learn from and live by. There is a logic to the created order as described in Genesis. The story of Adam and Eve tells us to take responsibility for ourselves. Cain yielded to self-centredness and consequent misery. If you read the Bible with humility, you will learn to appreciate its mystery. You can never understand it fully. Peterson is speaking like Aquinas and the Church Fathers. And yet, there is a difference. For Peterson, the stories in the Bible are mysterious myths to live by. For Christians, they are mysterious truth to live by.
Matthew Petrusek then comments on Petersons's famous 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos. As he points out, the Rules are much more valuable than what we can pick up from the many self-help books out there.
Peterson is calling us to live meaningful lives. He talks about the vice of pride and its antidote. He asks us to reflect on true love. And he talks about our need for redemption. There is nothing wrong with any of this. But Peterson is telling his readers to live as Christians, even if they have no faith. Again, all well and good. But not enough.
In the final section, the authors comment on Peterson's recent book Beyond Order: 12 More Rules For Life. Peterson has famously undergone suffering in his personal life. In this book, he explores the meaning of suffering, the role of chaos and the ultimate insufficiency of materialism. There is more than a hint that Peterson himself is on a journey himself that is spiritual. It is perhaps a sad fact that Peterson would not have had such a huge following had he been a practicing Christian. What people are looking for is therapy. What they need is redemption.
The book ends with a dialogue between Bishop Barron and Peterson. Barron asks why Peterson has succeeded in addressing the contemporary deeply secular world when the Church has not been able to do so. Barron suggests that we as Christians are unwilling to engage in the spiritual struggle involved in witnessing to the world. Both Peterson and Barron agree that people need to take responsibility for their sins.
This is a hugely enjoyable read. It tells us about Peterson. And his limits.