Jordan Peterson—Hero or Heretic?

Jordan B Peterson is the most thought-provoking person I’ve come across in a long time so it’s apt that my 100th blog post is about him. There are already more than a million videos of him. People on both the Left and the Right regularly get offended by him. To some, he is a bigoted extremist; propagating harmful lies—to others he’s a profane heretic; undermining the inerrancy of Scripture. Yet to others, he is a brave hero; a prophetic genius daring to speak the truth. One thing is clear, he’s gaining followers and enemies at an exponential rate!

I keep discovering that people I respect are following him e.g. the editor of Four Views on Hell:

Preston Sprinkle tweet about Jordan Peterson https://twitter.com/PrestonSprinkle/status/888132334855180288
And:

I’ve been listening to this guy… his name’s Jordan B Peterson and he’s not like an orthodox Christian guy but … he has these lectures where he’s talking about Genesis one through four. And he loves the story of Cain and Abel, and one of the things that he said that’s really stuck with me is … he goes, “I don’t get it, this story of Cain and Abel is so densely packed with wisdom … it’s only like two paragraphs long and this story does so much and explains so much about reality!”

Jon CollinsThe Bible Project podcast, Why isn’t there more detail in Bible stories?,  10:55

One of the reasons he’s generating so much interest is that it’s remarkably hard to put him into a box. I’ll admit that the first time I came across him I thought, “Who is this crazy man?”! While he definitely is unconventional and controversial (not your classic conservative or liberal), it’s obvious that he is highly intelligent, well-read, and educated. So who is he and what exactly is he saying?

Dr Peterson is a Canadian psychology professor at the University of Toronto (previously at Harvard), a clinical psychologist, and the author of Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief and 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.

His areas of study and research are in the fields of psychopharmacology, abnormal, neuro, clinical, personality, social, industrial and organizational, religious, ideological, political, and creativity psychology. Peterson has authored or co-authored more than a hundred academic papers.

Wikipedia

The list above gives an indication of the topics he formally covers—although, given he does many informal Q&As and interviews, he actually discusses an even greater range! So it’s difficult to know where to start… He has fascinating and practical insights into personality traits, emotions, goal-setting, education, addiction, mental illnesses, relationships, racism, politics, why people behave the way they do, etc. (e.g. Jordan B Peterson Clips20 Minutes on UnderstandMyself.com, and Self Authoring), but today I’m only going to briefly introduce a few of his philosophical and theological ideas.

  1. He honestly values all sorts of people, no matter where they are on the Left/Right spectrum. He explains the essential contributions of different views in our ever-changing social, political, and physical environment (e.g. Why It’s Useful to Talk to People You Don’t Agree With).
  2. He emphatically promotes the need for articulate, truthful, and free speech—Logos. To survive we need ongoing conversation, dialogue, negotiation, and open communication, especially between people who see the world so very differently from each other. Truth is also the antidote to suffering, it’s the means by which we can overcome chaos, create good, and discover meaning (e.g. The Articulated Truth).
  3. He has an interesting argument about how we can know what is real. Logically, given we are finite beings, we have limitations that cause suffering. The resulting pain is self-evidently real. But we can go further, we know that we can do things that make the pain worse. Therefore, we have some idea of what we can do to reduce or mitigate the pain, and indeed it’s then conceivable that there is an opposite to the pain—namely, something that is good (e.g. Is Your Pain Real?).
  4. We should try to aim for the highest and greatest good—good for you, your family, your community, and the world, not just for today but for tomorrow, and the foreseeable future. If we don’t, we risk going around in circles, or worse, descending into chaos and hell (e.g. Dare To Aim For The Highest Good).
  5. In order to have any chance of making the world a better place, we must first sort out our lives rather than assuming we can go around “fixing” others (e.g. How to Change the World—Properly).
  6. We need to voluntarily face and defeat our “dragons” before they get too big and eat us. All sorts of problems can become “dragons”—from small things, like not cleaning your room or paying a bill, to large things, like abuse that you’ve suffered (e.g. Slaying the Dragon Within us).
  7. We want to try to walk with one foot in chaos and the other in order. If we go too far into chaos we will drown, if we go too far into order we will become frozen (e.g. Living a Proper Life between Chaos & Order).
  8. He soberingly articulates the many ways we can make life hell for ourselves and those around us, frequently citing frightening examples from the past 100 years. But he doesn’t leave it there, he encourages us forward.
  9. He appreciates a wide range of art, music, culture, beauty, and wisdom—which, combined with his authentic, conversational style and everyday topics, make him accessible to a broad audience I think, although some people might think he’s too coarse or intellectual at times.
  10. He is great at showing how religions, mythology, archetypes, and psychology are interrelated—which actually gives me a greater appreciation for all of them. Out of this, he explains why Postmodernism is self-defeating and an inadequate philosophy for life. While there are numerous ways to interpret things, many interpretations can be demonstrated as false.
  11. Religion shouldn’t be written off as mere superstition as it’s the distillation of countless generations of profound wisdom and the acting out of deep psychological truths. He sees Christianity as the most thoroughly developed example.
  12. Peterson is doing a lecture series called, “The Psychological Significance of the Biblical Stories”. It has given me an even greater appreciation of how truly insightful, inexhaustible, and multilayered the Bible is.

Jordan B. Peterson

I’m unwilling to rule out the existence of heaven. I’m unwilling to rule out the existence of life after death. I’m unwilling to rule out the idea of Universal redemption and the defeat of evil. Now I know perfectly well that all those things can be well conceptualized metaphorically… but I’m not willing to make the claim that those ideas exhaust themselves in the metaphor.

Jordan Peterson talking to Timothy Lott in, “Am I Christian?”

So what do you think—is he a hero or a heretic?

11 thoughts on “Jordan Peterson—Hero or Heretic?”

  1. Superbly written summary of the things that strike me about Peterson. I love the clarity. In a way Peterson brings in a set of evidence for the validity of the Biblical narrative that actually affirms its authority. Where is the heresy? The thing I would add is that he frequently refers to a couple of books, particularly The Gulag Archipelago and Crime and Punishment as documents of truth. His affirmation of Dostoyevsky is also i think an affirmation of orthodox Christianity.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Steve! It helped that Shelley proofread and polished it! I agree that he promotes Christianity far more than he detracts from it (some Christians would see his criticism of fundamentalism as heresy). Yes, I was thinking last night that it would be good to try to include some of the books he frequently refers to but as I was already over 1000 words, I’ll have to save that for a future post 🙂

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  2. Never heard of him prior to this post — thanks! — will try to learn more.

    One of the unfortunate consequences of infernalism is that it becomes almost impossible to dialogue with people who see things differently in any way that touches on the question of “how to avoid the infernal fate”. One durstn’t concede the possibility that the other side may have valid ideas if one has persuaded oneself that deviation from one’s view of things leads to eternal woe. It’s arguably one of the unfortunate fruits of the line of thinking that runs through Tertullian and Augustine into most present varieties of christian tradition.

    I can’t imagine that the people who regard JP to be an heretic will relent any time soon; in their view too much is at stake.

    Again, I thank you for calling attention to him. I will explore with great interest.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll glad I was able to introduce you. Indeed, it’s hard to properly consider other people’s views if you think any doctrinal error will land you in ECT 😦

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  3. Sounds like a regular Robert Falconer. 😉 I couldn’t say though–hero or heretic–except he sounds like an honest man, which is such a rare commodity ime. I look forward to checking out some of his writings. Since you know me, any suggestions?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know much about Robert Falconer but there seem to be some similarities. Yes, I think he tries very hard to be honest & authentic even when it costs him. I’ve mostly watched videos & listened to his podcast but I’ll email you some written stuff 🙂

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  4. Love him!! He makes me think. He’s very genuine and what you wrote 👍. He loves truth. He does not believe in “hell” but never heard is talk Am I Christian. That will be interesting, Will check it out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment Jodie—I’m glad you love him too! I think he believes in “hell” in this life & doesn’t rule out the possibility of “hell” in the afterlife (unfortunately I didn’t write down where he said that—I think I was listening to his podcast while driving at the time).

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  5. This is a well balanced introductionary article to share with others who may never watch the 20+ hours lecture videos, but who might bepuzzled by misinformation about Dr. Peterson.

    * Kudos to he who commented him as “could be. a real life 12th Doctor, but better”! Made me laugh in amusement and delight.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Prism for the very kind words! I’ve benefited a lot from Dr Peterson and really wanted others to be able to too.

      I hope you have a wonderful Christmas!

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