Responding to Jordan Peterson's Message to the Christian Churches
I’m not a Jordan Peterson fan, but I am intrigued by the Jordan Peterson phenomenon, precisely, how Peterson is garnering a following by rejecting certain politically progressive dogmas and embodying a type of post-postmodern patriarchy. I find myself very sympathetic to some things Peterson says, but have a gag reflex at other things.
Peterson’s relationship with Christianity has been evolving, but Peterson has now reached a point of some kind of faith-affirmation, which is ironic since he’s been doing the lecture circuit with new atheist author/speaker Sam Harris. So I’m curious. I was doubly curious when I heard about his “Message to the Christian Churches” which is a ten-minute video on you.tube. See below:
What to make of this?
Well, Peterson is rallying against the white progressive upper middle class who love to signal their moral superiority with a denunciation of Western civilization as an evil mass of patriarchy, over-population, male ambition, and privilege. Along the way, Peterson uses some of his trademark rhetoric about “that joker Derrida” and “that mass murderer Karl Marx.” And he calls the churches to join his program of resistance to this assault on masculinity and “reality.”
In my Evangelical Theology, I’ve critiqued the postmodern quasi-Marxist eschatologies of the bohemian bourgeois elite. In my Religious Freedom in a Secular Age, I’ve warned about “civic totalism” by progressive political parties, when the state is your only permissible deity, a view that could take us to a type of political authoritarianism somewhere between the Third French Republic and the Soviet Union.
On the whole, my response to Peterson is Yes and No!
On patriarchy, well yes, others have spoken about the “War against Boys” and how they are neglected or left behind in education. But no, patriarchy is not a good thing, because there is misogyny, domestic violence, and sexual assault at record levels. We need a post-patriarchal conception of manhood that recognizes the biological differences between the sexes but restrains the worst of male behaviour.
On environmentalism, well yes, the Malthusian rhetoric that human beings are a kind of cancer and we need to start turning people into soylent green is weird and whacky. But no, climate change is a really big problem, we do need global action on this front, environmental care is a noble and explicitly Christian venture, even if we have to make sure that green policies do not unfairly target the poor and working classes.
On essentializing maleness as pernicious, well yes, the equation of maleness with intrinsic evil is not healthy for our society. But no, a return to pre-modern patriarchy is not necessarily going to make boys into better men.
Peterson waxes eloquently about what the church can do when faced with this assault of Marxist man-hating Malthusian nihilism.
The Christian Church is there to remind people, young men included, perhaps even first and foremost, that…
They have a woman to find.
A garden to walk in.
A family to nurture.
An ark to build.
A land to conquer.
A ladder to heaven to build.
And the utter, terrible catastrophe of life to face, stalwartly, in truth, devoted to love and without fear.
To me, this sounds like a cross between Melito of Sardis and Mark Driscoll! It is poetic, typological, apocalyptic, and challenging. But then Peterson goes full Driscoll when he challenges young men to join a church because whatever cynicism or apathy they have is a self-indulgence that we can no longer afford:
What else do you have, man? You can abandon the Churches in your cynicism and disbelief. You can say to yourself narcissistically and solipsistically, ‘The Church does not express what I believe properly!’
Who cares what you believe? Why is this about you? Do you even want it to be about you? What if it was about others? What if it was about your duty to the past and the broader community that surrounds you in the present?
To me, this is a smoking gun that Jordan Peterson is basically trying to pick up from where Mark Driscoll left off. That is, Peterson wants to abruptly and shockingly call lazy, apathetic, and allegedly emasculated men to fight for the civilization that gave us the world we live in. Peterson, highly reminiscent of Driscoll, is challenging, shaming, and chest-poking young men to join a movement that is not about themselves, to be part of something greater than themselves, which requires their fortitude and fearlessness. It’s like Giuseppe Garibaldi, the general who unified Italy, calling for recruits in stark terms, "I offer neither pay, nor quarters, nor provisions; I offer hunger, thirst, forced marches, battles and death. Let him who loves his country with his heart and not with his lips only, follow me!"
Some of this sounds good, but Peterson is lacking two big things: the cross and the teaching of Jesus!
First, Peterson’s plea is deficient because there is no cross in his account of ethics, manliness, and human vocation. The cross does not mean making masculinity great again because the cross is power in weakness, greatness in service, taking the apron of a slave, and solidarity with the oppressed. Remember, the Romans depicted their victims as feminized, placed into servile and submissive positions, humbled and humiliated. That is what the cross stands for, glory in shame, resistance when reduced to rubble, and it’s a symbol for Christian men and women alike. Peterson offers a gospel about a triumphant Christ without a cross.
Second, Peterson complains, “Churches! Quit fighting for social justice! Quit trying to save the bloody planet! Attend to your souls! That’s your holy duty! Do it now, the hour is nigh.” Okay, I understand making sure the main thing is the main thing, our business is the gospel, the life of piety and devotion, not running a start-up non-profit to save New York City’s failing pigeon population. But there are various things we do along the way, good works, feed the poor, speak truth to power, stand against injustice - what the church has always done just as the Lord Jesus commanded us. If you don’t believe me, read the Book of Amos or the Gospel of Luke!
My basic gripe with Peterson is this: The church’s goal is not to create man-bots to fight in the culture war! Rather, the church and its ministers have the task to tend to the care of souls, ferment deep discipleship, teaching the Holy Scriptures, walk in step with the Spirit, promote the imitation of Christ, keep to the teaching of Christ, proclaim the gospel, administer the sacraments, and sanctify the saints into conformity to the image of Christ Jesus until the day when God fills all things in every way. I submit doing that stuff will be our best resistance against the Putin’s and Trudeau’s of this age.