Royal Fire, Love, & Wedding

Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.

Song of Solomon 8:6-7a, NRSV

Bishop Michael Curry’s amazing 13-minute royal wedding sermon began with the verses above followed by this quote:

We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world. Love is the only way.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

He explained that we shouldn’t underestimate the power of that love because its source is God and its why we are here:

There’s power in love. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t even over-sentimentalize it. There’s power, power in love. If you don’t believe me, think about a time when you first fell in love. The whole world seemed to center around you and your beloved. There’s power, power in love. Not just in its romantic forms, but any form, any shape of love. There’s a certain sense, in which when you are loved and you know it, when someone cares for you and you know it, when you love and you show it, it actually feels right. There’s something right about it. And there’s a reason for it. The reason has to do with the source. We were made by a power of Love. Our lives are meant to be lived in that love—that’s why we are here. Ultimately, the source of love is God himself—the source of all of our lives.

He backed this up with a quote from John:

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.

1 John 4:7-8, NRSV

Sometimes the way forward seems impossible but because love is from God:

There is power in love to help and heal when nothing else can. There’s power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will.

As someone who believes that God’s love will succeed “when nothing else can”, I take the “died to save us all” (which Curry repeated) to literally mean that through Jesus’ death and resurrection, each and every person will be saved—healed, liberated, and lifted up.

[Jesus] sacrificed his life for the good of others, for the well-being of the world, for us. That’s what love is.

The highest good and well-being of others is to be in a mutually loving union with God. As Jesus demonstrated, this is a voluntarily self-sacrificial relationship.

When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.

Setting things right (justice) and right relationships (righteousness) will flow out of this love.

When love is the way, there is plenty of good room for all of God’s children. Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other like we are actually family. When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all and we are brothers and sisters, children of God. My brothers and sisters, that’s a new heaven, a new Earth, a new world, a new human family.

I agree that one of the implications of each and every person being a child of God is that we should try to treat people as family (see Everyone is a child of God).

Curry concluded by going back to the initial passage and reflecting on the why love is like fire.

There was no Bronze Age without fire, no Iron Age without fire, no Industrial Revolution without fire. The advances of science and technology are greatly dependent on the human ability and capacity to take fire and use it for human good. … Fire makes all that possible. And de Chardin said that fire was one of the greatest discoveries of all of human history. He then went on to say that if humanity ever harnesses the energy of fire again, if humanity ever captures the energy of love, it would be the second time in history that we have discovered fire.

God—the ultimate Royal—is often associated with fire in the Bible. Like God, fire is immensely powerful, it is essential to human civilization, it invigorates, it transforms, and it purifies (Surprising Fire). Praise God that the royal wedding proclaimed to the world that the Royal’s redemptive Love is unquenchable!

Bishop Michael Curry's captivating sermon at The Royal Wedding

Will God burn the world up?—The Bible Project

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief; on that day the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, the elements will burn and be dissolved, and the earth and the works on it will be disclosed.

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

2 Peter 3:10, CSB vs KJV (other translations)

Jon: Peter, I think, talks about “the earth will be destroyed by fire”—something like that?

Tim: He uses images of fire, yes, and things melting. The things that are melting… there’s an interpretative translation challenge there, of whether it’s “elements” or whether it’s “the rebellious angelic hosts of heaven”… Either way, he uses fire imagery to talk about the purifying of Creation.

Jon: Ok. In the Flood narrative with the sign of the rainbow and God’s not going to [destroy all life again by a flood]. If the Flood represents Creation collapsing back on itself, that seems to be the paradigm of, “Start over—let Creation collapse back on itself and I’m going to pull out the remnant and start fresh”, and that’s kind of like: “let everything burn”, “Titanic’s going down”, “rapture people out”, “start afresh”. But it seems like the promise, the sign of the promise, in the Flood story is, “I’m not going to do that!”

Tim: “I won’t ever do that again”. Yes.

Jon: So is that just the end of discussion? That’s not going to happen, God isn’t going to do that.

Tim: Yeah, I think that is what that means. The reason he brings the Flood is that the heart of humans is screwed up all the time. Then the moment Noah get’s off the boat he repeats the same thing! God says, “You know what I know about humans… therefore, I’m never going to do that again.”

Jon: And if it was, “I’m never going to flood the earth again”, it’s kind of like, “Ok, thanks God, but you could burn the earth!” … But the Flood story is not about how God’s going to destroy the earth as much as it’s showing you the collapsing of Creation.

Tim: Yes, correct, that’s right.

Earth burning

Jon: And He’s saying, “I’m not going to do that again” So is it “I’m not going to flood the Earth” or “I’m not going to collapse Creation on itself”?

Tim: Yeah, I think it’s that. So when Peter brings up that narrative, he says, “Remember by the word of God the heavens existed and the Earth was formed out of water by water” [2 Peter 3:5] So the word of God, waters separate from waters, dry land.

“And through it the world was also destroyed—flooded with water.” [v6] God allows the waters to come back over.

“But by His word the present age—the present heavens and the Earth are being reserved for fire—kept for the day of justice for the destruction of…” [v7] I’m not going to finish the sentence but what in your imagination? …

Jon: Destruction of the land?

Tim: Yeah, the cosmos or something. [But] what he says is, “the destruction of the wicked”

Jon: Oh.

Tim: The purifying fire is about the removal of evil, which maps on precisely to the nature of fire imagery in the prophets. God says he’s going to burn Jerusalem so that he can remove the wicked and restore the repentant remnant into the New Jerusalem, which is purified.

Or the best is Zephaniah chapter 3, when it’s like, “I’m going to assemble all nations and pour out my burning wrath and fire on them”, and you’re like, “Oh, no more nations—they’re done for”, and then the next sentence is, “so that they can call upon me with a pure speech”—“pure” being purified. So even the fire imagery is metaphorical.

Therefore wait for me, says the Lord, for the day when I arise as a witness. For my decision is to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms, to pour out upon them my indignation, all the heat of my anger; for in the fire of my passion all the earth shall be consumed.

At that time I will change the speech of the peoples [the nations] to a pure speech, that all of them may call on the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord.

Zephaniah 3:8-9, NRSV

Jon: It’s not about deescalating Creation into nothingness.

Tim: Then [Peter] goes on later on in the paragraph and talks about the Day of the Lord comes like a thief, the heavens pass away with a roar and then the “something” will be destroyed with heat and the land and all of its works will be… and then there’s a textual variant. One is “burned up”, the other one is “discovered” [“disclosed”], in which case, it’s another melting down to expose what needs to be removed. Like melting down metal so the dross comes up. For me at least, I think the most coherent reading is that the fire imagery is metaphorical because the things that are getting burned up isn’t Creation, it’s evil deeds.

Jon: Whether or not the fire is metaphoric, like is it getting to that this needs to be destroyed or does it need to be remade new?

Tim: Yes, so I think depending on the communication goals of an author. The Apostles will sometimes really want to emphasise the continuity between this age and the new age, and so John will talk about “I am making all things new” and this has the parallel in the resurrection narratives where Jesus is showing them his hands that have the scars and he has a human body, and they can recognise him most of the time. So the same Jesus they hung out with in Galilee is the same that is risen. So the point there is about the continuity and God’s not going to give up—He’s going to redeem this thing—the redemption from slavery imagery—Creation redeemed from slavery and decay.

But then there are other times, especially when the Apostles are focusing on the tragedy and the horror of what humans have done to the place and when they want to emphasise how that won’t be around anymore—God’s going to deal with that—what you find is that they typically use images or metaphors that emphasise discontinuity. So the world as we experience it will be burned.

Jon: “The sky will fade away”.

Tim: Correct. Again none of this is about video camera footage, it’s telling us something about the nature the world as we know it and the nature of the world to come. And there it’s evil won’t be allowed to pass through the Day of the Lord—it will stop and be removed. 


My transcript above is of the last 10 minutes of Design Patterns in the Bible Part 4: Chaotic Waters & Baptism by Jon Collins and Tim Mackie (slightly edited for readability). I’m delighted that Tim views divine fire as purifying—eradicating evil deeds rather than evildoers themselves. I think the logical trajectory of this is that only evil will be entirely eradicated forever, which seems to leave no room for eternal conscious torment or annihilationism.

Surprising Fire

Fire is an important image in the Bible about God’s presence. God appeared in a burning bush to Moses, in flames over Mount Senai, and in a pillar of fire over the tabernacle. And so the flames at Pentecost: this is the marking out of temple space—places where heaven and earth meet, become where God’s appearance manifests itself.

The Bible Project, Acts E2: Pentecost and the Expected Unexpected Spirit

(I experienced shivers down my spine as I wrote something very similar just minutes before I heard the above podcast)

Unlike earthly fire, God’s fire isn’t indiscriminate but only eradicates evil to refine and purify. For example:

I will turn my hand against you and will burn away your dross completely; I will remove all your impurities.

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, and in his hand was a glowing coal that he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your iniquity is removed and your sin is atoned for.”

Look, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.

Isaiah 1:25, 6:6-7, 48:10, CSB

Isaiah being purified by glowing coal in The Bible Project's excellent video on Holiness
Isaiah’s shock at being purified by God. Image: The Bible Project’s video on Holiness

I will put this third through the fire; I will refine them as silver is refined and test them as gold is tested. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say: They are my people, and they will say: “The Lord is our God.”

Zechariah 13:9, CSB

Yet he knows the way I have taken; when he has tested me, I will emerge as pure gold.

Job 23:10, CSB

For you, God, tested us; you refined us as silver is refined.

Psalm 66:10, CSB

But who can endure the day of his coming? And who will be able to stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire and like launderer’s bleach. He will be like a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver. Then they will present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.

Malachi 3:2-3, CSB

The crucible is for refining silver and the smelter for gold, but the one who purifies hearts by fire is the Lord.

Proverbs 17:3, GW

each one’s work will become obvious. For the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. If anyone’s work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will experience loss, but he himself will be saved—but only as through fire.

1 Corinthians 3:13-15, CSB

This is why the Holy Spirit, whilst described as fire, doesn’t eradicate people. For example:

John answered them all, “I baptize you with water, but one who is more powerful than I am is coming. I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Luke 3:16, CSB

They saw tongues like flames of fire that separated and rested on each one of them. Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them.
Acts 2:3-4, CSB

In everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not extinguish the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt.
1 Thessalonians 5:18-20, EHV

When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the Spirit of judgment, and by the Spirit of burning.

Isa 4:4, BRG

Showing hospitality to someone who has enmity towards you is “fiery” in this sense.

If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head.
Romans 12:20, CSB

In my next post, God willing, I’ll look at how this, somewhat surprising, image of refining fire needs to inform the way we interpret verses about fire at the end of the age and in the ages to come (which providentially, The Bible Project discussed a few weeks ago).

Checkmate C. S. Lewis

Title titled
C. S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy, 247

In a chapter titled, “Checkmate”, C. S. Lewis describes his own conversion, which demonstrates that even when people make free moves, God will always checkmate them in the end.

I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England … a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape. The words compelle intrare, compel them to come in, have been so abused by wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood [my emphasis], they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. … His compulsion is our liberation.

C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, 228–29

Looking back he realised that because he chose God it was free choice—an overwhelmingly superior choice. Had he rejected God, it would’ve have been because he was enslaved to a sick, sinful delusion.

… before God closed in on me, I was in fact offered what now appears a moment of wholly free choice. I say, ‘I chose,’ yet it did not really seem possible to do the opposite. … You could argue that I was not a free agent, but I am more inclined to think that this came nearer to being a perfectly free act than most that I have ever done. Necessity may not be the opposite of freedom…

C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, 224

Imagine a firefighter at the top of a ladder imploring someone to escape the flames. Surely if the person “chose” not to come, they’d be considered insane—not pejoratively but literally unable to make a rational free choice? Because of this, the firefighter may need to drag them to safety so that they can come to their senses. Likewise, our loving Father doesn’t abandon us to our own misguided “choices” but instead shatters our delusions, frees us from our enslaving sin, and heals our minds. In doing so, God comes inside, lifts us up so together we can unlock the door (I highly recommend reading the article Free-will Theodicies of Hell, where Thomas Talbott fleshes this out).

Jesus is a king because his business is to bear witness to the truth. What truth? All truth; all verity of relation throughout the universe—first of all, that his father is good, perfectly good; and that the crown and joy of life is to desire and do the will of the eternal source of will, and of all life. He deals thus the death-blow to the power of hell. For the one principle of Hell is “I am my own…

George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons—Kingship (emphasis mine)

Lastly, consider the context of Lewis’ MacDonald quote (“The one principle of Hell is ‘I am my own'”) at the start of his “Checkmate” chapter. Immediately preceding the bit that Lewis quoted, MacDonald explained that Jesus reveals all truth universally, including the truth that the glorious goal (“the crown”) of all life is to choose (“desire and do”) the will of God, thus defeating hell—all the deluded, sinful, egotistic pride.


The above post is based on Thomas Talbott’s The Inescapable Love of God: Second Editionp199-200

Ultimately, evil is unstable and unchoosable

Over the last few months, I’ve been reflecting on what God’s response to hell was, is, and will be, and how that shapes our response to it. My sermon, God went through hell so we can too, engages with this but in this post, I want to respond to the objection that those in hell may not want God to rescue them—that “the doors of hell are locked on the inside.” (C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 130)

There are times when we do “lock the door”—when we try to shut God out, try to run away from home. Initially, that may even seem desirable and pleasurable. The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) initially was very confident that he didn’t need the father—that he could go it alone (v12-13). At that point, he certainly didn’t imagine he’d ever need forgiving or saving.

However, proud, egotistical hedonism is a path to hell—becoming lost and dead (v14-15).

One of the things I’ve noticed as a clinician and as an observer of people, in general, is that I’ve never ever seen anyone get away with anything and Jacob doesn’t get away with any of this. He is humbled by his eventual experiences and he learns that he did it wrong.

Jordan Peterson, Jacob’s Ladder, 2h7m38s

Thankfully, evil doesn’t have God’s sustenance and strength—it is inherently unstable, it collapses, it shatters, it falls apart, revealing that it’s utterly pointless, boring, disappointing, unattractive, undesirable, and repulsive—utterly unchoosable.

The nature of evil is unstable and passes away. It did not come into existence in the beginning with the creation … and it will not continue to exist eternally …. Consequently, in that life which lies before us in hope, there will remain no trace of evil.

Gregory of Nyssa, On the Titles of the Psalms, 155 (translated by Ilaria Ramelli)

A modern example would be Russell Brand—he made a living out of his infamous lifestyle but things slowly fell apart. He got to the point where he woke up.

My route to spirituality comes through addiction, so it comes from desperation and fear and this sort of defeat, destruction, annihilation of self in a very humiliating way, I suppose… So, I had no choice but to embrace spiritual life, but now I am grateful for this. It makes sense of my life.

Russell Brand, The Second Coming of Russell Brand

Hopefully, you won’t need to go to the same extremes but even if you utterly destroyed your life—literally end up dead—the underlying truth is universal. Whether it be in this life or the next, we need to turn back to God—to be found and made alive (v24, 32). This can only occur because the Father forgives (v20), transforms (v24), and restores us (v22). Indeed, the Lost Sheep/Coin parables show that God even goes out and finds us—which is what Jesus did and the Spirit continues to do.

You always have the opportunity to return to the proper path … There’s no easy out … but there is that positive idea—that’s continually represented—that the individual is the source of moral choice. And the individual is prone to genuine error and temptation in a believable and realistic way but that that doesn’t sever the relationship between the individual and the divine, and the possibility of further growth… thank God for that because without that, who would have a chance!

Jordan Peterson, Jacob’s Ladder, 2h1m24s

As the Prodigal Son shows, delusions take time to break but break they must as darkness cannot withstand Light, ignorance and lies cannot withstand Truth, hate cannot withstand Love, death cannot withstand Life, and evil cannot withstand Good.

There’s no evil so evil that good cannot triumph over it.

Jordan Peterson, Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors, 2h8m47s

Only the Good brings the real joy, meaning, and life with God we were created for.

Google’s definition of “reform” includes “cause someone to relinquish an immoral, criminal, or self-destructive lifestyle” and “make changes in something [such as the trajectory of your life] in order to improve it”. So it makes sense to describe both the Prodigal and Brand’s experience as reform. However, we all need God to reform us—especially those in hell, who are the most lost, sick, and deluded. This is why Jesus went there after His crucifixion, and this is why the Spirit continues to work wherever there is hell—and invites His Body and Bride to do the same now and in the future.

Jordan_Peterson_and_Russell_Brand
Jordan B. Peterson photo © Jesse Blayney 2018. Russell Brand photo via Pinterest.

Common Ground for Christians?

Occasionally I get condemned as a non-Christian heretic because I believe in God’s ultimate, universal restoration and reconciliation—similar to Robin Parry, Tom Talbott, and the Church Fathers Origen and Gregory of Nyssa. Below is a summary of some of my beliefs. What do you think, do we share common ground?

  • God: I believe the eternal Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is the best way to describe the God revealed in the Bible. I believe God is infinitely and perfectly loving, holy, glorious, wise, powerful, knowing, and just. I believe God deserves complete (heart, mind, and body), voluntary, joyful praise and worship from each and every created being.
  • Jesus: I believe in the historical and physical incarnation, life, death, descent, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth—about 2000 years ago. I believe this Jesus was also fully and eternally divine, the Son of God, the Logos, and the promised Messiah. I believe He will return in glory to judge the living and the dead, and that one day every knee will bow and confess allegiance to Him.
  • Holy Spirit: I believe the Holy Spirit works within us to teach, encourage, and to help us bear the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, temperance, and self-control.
  • Bible: I believe the Bible was intentionally created by God and inspired humans. I believe that it has been well preserved, and when correctly translated from its original languages and rightly understood by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it is authoritative in both matters of faith and practice.
  • Humanity: I believe each and every person is irreplaceable—immeasurably valuable—as everyone is created in God’s image. I believe each person is a unique child of God— personally known and cherished by Him forever!
  • Sin: I believe any opposition—physical, mental, or spiritual—to God is a sin. I believe everyone, from Adam onwards, has sinned (except for Jesus). I believe sin taints and affects every aspect of our lives. I believe we need God to free us from our slavery to sin. I believe sin has severe ramifications—including suffering, death, and even outer darkness (God completely hiding his presence from us). However, I believe God will eventually eliminate sin entirely from all beings and therefore from existence eternally.
  • Judgement: I believe God will raise the dead and that Jesus will judge everyone fairly, that no sin will be swept under the carpet—instead, people will experience God’s correction.
  • Salvation: I believe Christ is the atonement for all sins, the only Saviour, that salvation is a gift of grace, received by repentance and faith (with the Spirit’s help), and that it cannot be earned.
  • Missional: I believe God wants us to be actively involved in reconciling people to him, through our love and prayer for others and the proclamation of the Gospel.
  • Early Ecumenical Creeds and Councils: I believe my beliefs comply with the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, and therefore remains within the bounds of orthodox Christianity. I also have a high regard for the early ecumenical councils, but like most Protestants, I don’t believe they are infallible and disagree with some points (e.g. veneration of icons).

Nicene Creed Wordle

Dart: Jordan Peterson—Transcending Tribalism in Cloistered Virtues

Below is my transcript of Ron Dart’s helpful video above—I’ve edited it slightly for readability.


I’d like to call this presentation, Jordan Peterson—Transcending Tribalism in Cloistered Virtues. A few decades ago when I was doing my undergraduate studies in the 1970s, I took a course on John Milton and (it was with the Jesuits, which was quite interesting because rarely do something like Milton and Jesuits come together) we did the standard texts: Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, Samson’s Agonistes, many of Milton’s fine poems. We also touched on one of his key prose works, the Areopagitica, and in one of the lines (amongst the many lines in the Areopagitica) Milton says:

I cannot praise a cloistered virtue that never sallies forth.

John Milton, Areopagitica

In the culture we live in today, there are many people, whether religious, ideological, intellectual, they live with their cloistered virtues, and they don’t sally forth into other terrain where they encounter people who think different, see differently, and if they do, they usually marginalize, subordinate, demonize. Those are various ways of ignoring or not heeding different perspectives.

Jordan Peterson has very, very much come on the stage in the last two years, specifically, he’s been working on much of this thinking for decades. In the last two years, he has stepped on the stage and certainly speeches his speech insightfully, evocatively, challengingly. He’s received, as a result, an immense amount of public attention, probably more than any other Canadian in the last couple of years. He’s taken the role in a more popular way than someone like Charles Taylor had historically, or George Grant before him. He’s become a media darling for good or ill, but he’s nonetheless become a media darling in terms of someone to interrogate, someone to applaud, and there are different reactions to Jordan Peterson.

What I’d like to briefly touch on in the next few minutes is how he transcends the tribalism of different ideological outlooks and cloistered virtues of the progressive and trendy left or the reactionary conservative right, and he’s attempting articulate a third, nuanced, and more thoughtful way, which cannot be easily capitulated to any of the tribes as a were in the culture wars.

There tend to be three attitudes towards Jordan Peterson when his name comes up in discussion. I might add that certainly in the last few months, I’ve had more students who’ve come to me regularly wanting to discuss Jordan Peterson or wanting to write papers on Jordan Peterson or get class presentations on Jordan Peterson, than probably any other public figure in a consistent way. So there’s obviously an interest, even from a sociological perspective, in what he’s saying, what he’s articulating, and how people, for good or ill, are responding and reacting to Jordan Peterson. To ignore him on the public stage of thought and issues is to live with cloistered virtues, to live with one’s head buried in the sand. He’s a person that cannot be missed in that sense. As I said, there’s probably three reactions to him at the present time.

Within Canada largely, we’re seen as a liberal culture on the cutting edge of progressive liberalism and there’s a whole range of content issues, which I’ll touch on briefly, which define progressive were cause de jour liberalism. Jordan Peterson has dared to question that tribe or that clan, with its own definition of what is right and what is good, and one reaction from that clan to Jordan Peterson has been to demonize him, to caricature him, to dismiss him, to see him as a scapegoat, to see him as the alt-right or the light right, to see him as a man of white privilege. I mean there are various ways that one castigates or shuns the person, those who don’t fit in the tribe. He’s been compared to Martin Luther, by some, who dared to question the Catholic Church. Well, Jordan Peterson has dared to question, as it were, the modern “Catholic Church” of liberalism because, in that sense, an ideology is just a secular form of the Church. It’s had its own way of defining itself, what are the important issues, who’s in, who’s out, depending on whether you salute or genuflect to the trendy issues of the particular denomination or a tribal outlook you belong to.

To help understand a lot of Jordan Peterson’s thinking, he did a degree in political science in Alberta. His background is Alberta, then went on to do finally a degree in clinical psychology. In the last 20 years, he’s taught at the University of Toronto.

But some of his early work was very, very much on the way totalitarianism works and particularly forms of totalitarianism—we saw a former USSR under Stalin or Mao in China. We in the West and we’ll often talk about the various forms—we’ll see Germany and Hitler, Mussolini in Italy, Japanese nationalism. But underneath it is a concern he has with groupthink—that you’ll get people in groups who don’t know how to think outside of that group or if they do, they fear doing it for fear of ostracization and the implications of that.

Now obviously in the larger political authoritarian or totalitarian tendencies of the right or left, the consequences are rather tragic in the lives lost are horrendous. But the underlying way of seeing, in terms of a certain idea or mapping one’s worldview (this is his first big, book—came out in the late ’90s—on forms of mapping reality), is an attempt to explore how ideological outlooks define who’s in and who’s out and the implications of that (even though in the larger political ones the consequences are much more tragic and certainly in a liberal democracy they’re more benign, those worldviews still exist). A way of saying, “My group is right, my tribe, my clan, my cloistered virtues”, and if one doesn’t accept or genuflect or sign the password or the Shibboleth to get in, then a person is excluded from that particular tribe.

Now the dominant ideology in the liberal West (large elements certainly in Canada, our own Liberal Party, which is in power and Justin Trudeau, which would be a part of that), in that sense, embodies a form of progressive liberalism, which means on a whole variety of issues, you know where you stand and no one dares to differ with them. Let me just touch a few to just highlight this particular tribe or family and then what happens if one dares to differ with them.

At one crude level where Jordan Peterson has challenged the new atheist. There’s a whole understanding of secular liberalism, predicates crudest level of what we would call the right wing of the Enlightenment—that a certain view of science is the only way to know and that’s an empirical way of knowing, and that view of science defines what is reality and if something cannot be demonstrated through an empirical research, objective way of knowing, then it’s not real. That particular approach plays a dominant role, say in the universities in the public square, then tends to demean religion and so then you get these clashes, these clashes between science (as understood in a certain way, of which people like Sam Harris and Dawkins and many others are apart) and religion, which can’t seem to compete at that level. If you’re part of that sort of secular liberalism tribe, then people from religious backgrounds can feel inferior, they can feel marginalized, they don’t know how to quite compete at that level, and that’s one way in which that secular liberalism dominates.

But if you move to a more moderate form of liberalism (what we would call pluralist liberalism and which you can really see this played out once again), “okay, we’re open to spirituality” and when we have public events, we’ll bring First Nations people and you can beat their drums and do their prayers or if it’s some form of oriental origin, you can do the bowing at a public event. But to have a priest or a minister come in to do a prayer…? No, no, no! So very open to alternate spiritualities other than Christianity. So this sort of religious pluralism is open to some forms of spirituality but tends to marginalize others. Needless to say, those forms of sort of political correctness and culture wars have very much been a part of treating Christianity and religion in a secondary manner.

In the larger culture wars, Jordan Peterson will be having a big debate this spring in Vancouver with Sam Harris on, “You want to talk scientifically, well whose definition of science, okay? So you want to exclude religion, but can you explain consciousness in terms of a pure material investigation of the world that we live in?”. So then these particular new atheists want to talk as if their definition of science is the only way to understand science. But Jordan Peterson obviously is well-trained in science as well, the science of consciousness and the subconscious and the unconscious, so then it gets into a discussion of whose definition of science, which methodology are we going to use and things like that.

There are other elements in what Jordan Peterson is going to go after, in what’s called the politically correct world of the progressive left. Whether it’s identity politics or whether it’s gender politics or whether it’s white privilege, whether it’s Empire and colony, whether its power and powerlessness. There’s a whole world of discussion at the public university in which certain things are legitimate to talk about and other things that if you do think, then you must be a troglodyte or live in the Catskills. I mean even things like, say abortion, which is often seen as something on the right, it’s all right to talk about pro-choice but not pro-life. When it comes to euthanasia, “yep, pro-choice” but not questioning who are we to define the family in terms of a man/woman. These become ideological constructs in terms of social conservatism. Jordan Peterson has come along and essentially said, “Why do the liberal and progressive left only define what is good in those terms?”, and in one sense, it’s not very liberal of a liberal not to critique liberalism.

A lot of his work, in terms of looking at things like Neo-Marxism, post-modernism, and progressive liberalism has upset the ruling elite or the family compact or the Mandarin class in terms of the issues he’s written. What they tend to do then is to caricature, they dismiss, they demonize, they turn him into a scapegoat. In the recent interview with Cathy Newman in Channel Four, which has caused a huge reaction amongst many, you can see her constantly trying to stump him from within that trendy progressive left and him quite astutely and acutely knowing how to respond to her caricatures of them. She thought she knew what he stood for, but he’s much more subtle and nimble than that particular way of thinking.

One of the things, probably the first thing, as I mentioned earlier, just as he saw certain forms of authoritarian or totalitarian thought politically, so he sees the whole culture wars of political correctness is just a more benign form of groupthink. If you dare to break from the ranks, there’s going to be consequences. He certainly feels the ire and the consequences of that liberal elite or, as I mentioned, the family compact. He understands that world well because he’s lived within it for much of his adult academic and intellectual life, and so he speaks of what he knows. He’s not someone who stands outside the public educational institutions. He lives within them and he knows their agendas.

He’s dared to deconstruct progressive liberalism and many progressive liberals or ideological liberals or postmoderns, they love to deconstruct everything—except their own agenda, so it’s very dishonest. Or you might want to ask why don’t deconstructionists deconstruct deconstructionism? He’s dared to do that and carried it a step further. He points out very clearly, even though they talk the language of liberty and individuality, there is a groupthink, there is a clan, there is a tribe here. And those who dare to question it will feel the same ire as anyone would in a larger political system when you dare to differ with the party line.

Now the dilemma that often he has faced is that for people who think just dualistically black/white, right/wrong, my-tribe/your-clan—that very Manichean dualism—”Well then, if he’s critiquing the progressive left, then he must be a Herald and a pioneer and the Messiah of the alt-right or the light right!” Of course, many on the right have tried to co-opt Jordan Peterson for their agenda and see him as one of the family, and in that sense, they’re just as dualistic as the progress progressive left in that sense, the alt-right. Again and again, they’ve tried to co-opt him, whether it’s Rebel Media or whether it’s even the Canadian Christian College in Toronto (and there are a variety of other organizations), which have really cheered him on in his critique of that progressive liberalism and its seeming inability to critique itself. Even though it uses the language of critical thinking, it only swings the sword one way—to the right. It doesn’t allow the blade of that sword to come and also critique the left. It’s what Jesus would talk about, mote-beam syndrome, as we could always see the beam and the other’s eye and we either don’t see the mote in our own eye or we just see a mote but not a beam.

What he’s really highlighted is that tendency of mote-beam thinking, and the other always has the beam and we have the mote—if we have that at all. But those, as I mentioned before, who only see ideological perspectives (certainly within liberal democracy) as liberal progressive or reactionary conservatives, think, “Well, if he’s deconstructing liberal progressivism with all of its agenda and its laundry list of issues, therefore he must really be a prophet of the right or a Herald or a pioneer of the right.” He’s made it very clear again and again when they attempt to co-opt him or bring him into their household as a part of the family, that he’s quite as willing to deconstruct the alt-right and the light right as he is the left because at the heart of a lot of his thinking is the commitment to critical thinking—and the sword of critical thinking swings both ways. It will swing in terms of the alt-right, the light right, and any forms of reactionary right or conservatism.

So the left and the right don’t quite know what to do with him because even though the content of their perspectives is different, the way they see reality is often similar in terms of right/wrong, black/white—almost a comic book way of approaching reality. Someone who slips through that net becomes a little too elusive and they don’t know how to deal with him in that sense.

In attempting to understand Jordan Peterson, it’s important to see that underneath his concern is, on the one hand, a fear of groupthink and the importance of responsibility of the individual to think for themselves if they’re going through situations in life that are difficult and try not to blame mom and dad, not to blame circumstances. Not to blame but each person is very responsible for making choices that bring them a more meaningful life.

But he’s more than just sort of a “power of positive thinking” sort of a person. There’s much more to him than that. He believes there are structures of reality and to the degree we ignore those myths or structures, we, in fact, do our soul, our society, our families, great hurt and harm. And this is why he has done a great work on examining the great religious texts of the pasts.

In one sense, it’s probably important to understand he’s very much a Renaissance thinker. He can’t be reduced to a discipline in the academic world or a silo, in saying, “Oh, you’re a clinical psychologist, that’s all you can talk about, that’s all you know, so who are you to talk about philosophy, theology, social issue, political correctness?” Well, in fact, much of his work transcends the tribalism of disciplines, to begin with, as well as transcends the tribalism of the culture wars or the cloistered virtues of these different tribes that will not sally forth into the bigger world and actually engage different perspectives in a thoughtful, listening, and mediating way. Remembering, he spent years as a clinical psychologist and counseling and he has the ability know how to listen and listen very well in that sense, and be sensitive—to call forth people to live their lives in a meaningful manner, that they don’t blame others for their state and station in life, and that each and all are responsible for their decisions, and, yes, there are influences that can impact them, but they can’t use those influences as a justification for their continuing problems in the present, in the future. They have to work through those to move forward. He uses different analogies, but one is the analogy of the chess game.

He points out that life, like a chess game, has rules and if you violate those rules, there’s no game—just like violating rules of anything. Freedom is only found to move the pawns, the rooks, the Kings, the Queen within a framework. And the problem with certain types of liberalism is it highlights the role of freedom but there are no rules by which you can decide how to use your freedom or there’s no content to freedoms. It’s like Janis Joplin once said, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to do.” He’s acutely aware of the ideology of liberalism with its highlighting of individuality, liberty, open-ended notion of human identity, but absolutely no markings or care in terms of how to use liberty and freedom and an open-ended notion of human nature.

It’s as a result of that—over really the last 20-30 years of his life—he has tried to look at what are the great stories of civilizations that in fact give us the rules by which we play the game of life, which doesn’t mean there’s not great freedom but there’s freedom to move within, as it were, these rules. At the present time, and certainly in 2017 (which has come as a shock to a great many people who assumed we live in a secular age and nobody who thinks beyond a Sunday school that would want to go to public forums where teachings in the Bible were being done outside of the church), he’s literally packed out lecture theaters in Toronto (which is seen as one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Canada) with lectures on the Bible! This has sort of stunned those who take the temperature of culture and postmodernity—”Certainly no one cares about the Bible anymore and who would sit in lectures on the Bible other than maybe people in Bible school or seminaries or churches or synagogues or things like that.” He’s obviously speaking to a generation of people in which the markings are gone, in which the quest for meaning has become so diluted and thinned out, they don’t even know where to look anymore.

They are looking for those hints, those clues (without slipping into a dogmatic conservatism or, on the other hand, a form of relative liberalism in which nothing goes),  and say there are these broad rules that, as it were, can point the way into the future. He looks at the Bible in these lectures in terms of not a simple either literal way in which you’ll get sort of creationists (remember, a lot of his work is from evolution of biology, so he’s not going to certainly read Genesis, which he’s done a lot of lectures on thus far, in simple young earth notion of creation versus evolution. He takes seriously the role of evolution—what it has to offer), but he also doesn’t look at the Bible in terms of the way some biblical scholars will, in terms of the historical, as it were, “Was there a flood?”, “Can we find Noah’s Ark or Jericho?”, “Do we have the archeological digs?”, “Do these things…?”—that doesn’t interest him. He’s very interested in a psychological reading. He’s been influenced by Carl Jung and, some would argue, Kierkegaard, and a whole variety—again, it’s his Renaissance nature. There’s a quite a wide range of sources he draws from—he draws from them thoughtfully. He wants to look at how do you map the Bible in terms of the meaning it offers to the soul, the community, to society, and what are the great themes.

I’d like to look at two briefly. Let me take one in terms of just how to read the Bible, say elements of Genesis or Exodus, which gets beyond either a simplistic literalism or an unhealthy just doing historic digs to find sites or places or archeological, places like that, manuscripts and this is supposed to verify these places existed or stuff like that. I mean “genesis” in the Greek is “the beginning”—it’s the beginning of all myths (remember, “myth” is not an untruth, it’s “myth” in this classical sense, it’s the perennial truth wrapped in the garment of a story). The great myth of Western civilization, which you’ll find in other civilizations, is the Eden myth.

Underneath the Eden myth is the notion of the tree. Of course, you don’t read the tree as a mere literal tree. One of the great symbols of the human soul is the tree and the tree, by its very nature, the question is, “What is it rooted in?”, “What sort of soil is rooted in?”, and any tree produces fruit. The story of the Eden tree is that humans have many desires and we’re told in that passage those desires are good, enjoy them, pick from there to be enjoyed, they’re nutritious for the soul. They’re nutritious for the soul, but don’t pick from the fruit of certain desires because there’s going to be consequences, and one is going to lose one sense of who one is.

The story of Eden is, in fact, people use their freedom in a way that they lose their freedom and hence, the “East of Eden” that John Steinbeck will talk about, and then the rest of the human journey is being banished from who they really are, the real image and likeness of God, living east to Eden, but always longing for the homeland again. You can see this mythic structure played out in this Edenic myth in that sense, which is the foundation myth of the West—it’s liberty and order. And what is the order? Just as in a chess game that allows a game to be played. But what’s the order of the human soul in society that gives life meaning.

The other would be the Exodus myth, it could be again read in the Jewish story of slavery/bondage, being freed from a Pharaonic empire, across the desert into the promised land. That can be read at one level. The other level is that when we are east to Eden, we are in slavery to false desires, to fantasies, to imaginations. We were very, very much victims of turning to mirages for meaning and they can give us a sense of order, direction, but they don’t fulfil, they leave us restless. We’re enslaved but there’s a certain security and predictability. Exodus, the “ex” (“out”), “odus” (“the way”), is about the story that people have to go through to leave that which is secure but in bondage, so that they can be free but insecure in the journey. The whole story of Exodus being read from a mythic perspective, it’s psychologically and spiritually extremely insightful, the price that has to be paid and then the journey to the desert. Of course, most never in time reach the promised land, but it’s the journey of letting go and the desert is the place of all those distractions and diversions are taken away and then “Oh, who am I when all that’s taken away?”

Jordan Peterson in his lectures in Genesis, he’s really trying to get at, in many ways, and he’ll take key biblical figures, the Cain, the Abel, the Adam, the Eve and he’ll read them metaphorically or mythically—that, of course, is what appeals to people beyond the simple literalism or “Can we find these sites in the Middle East or the Near East that the Bible talks about to prove for us that the Bible somehow was valid?” In drawing from people like Carl Jung, archetypes and myths, he’s sort of a more popular version of Joseph Campbell—doing the same sort of thing. He looks at the mythic hero who’s trying to find their way beyond that which enslaves, that which is ideology, that which prevents people from being free and finding their true and unique individuality on the journey.

Perhaps a criticism that could be levelled at him is he’ll critique the right and the left in terms of its ideology as if he himself is not coming out of an ideological perspective. Very important to understand a lot of his underlying principles are very much classic forms of liberalism, the individual versus the community or the state, and the state can oppress the individual has to fight for their own freedom. Now he’s not daft enough to see the state or community as always negative and the individual as always good, but often when they’re pitted against one another, he’ll often see the individual hero as having to find their way against these oppressive structures.

In his conversation, interestingly enough about the Church, he finds that he’s often asked if he’s a Christian, if so what kind of Christian, if he’s doing these lectures on the Bible “well, he must somehow have some interest in religion?” and he talks about the danger, as it were, of groupthink in the Church as if people in the Church all think the same way, no more. He has enough experience obviously in a public university, and to know they don’t all think that. Actually, he’s been marginalized within that context, and no community is homogeneous unless it’s extremely ideological.

Whether you’re in education, church, politics, sports, policing, culture, any of these communities are highly layered, so there’s always the danger of saying well, the church or the political party or the education is collective, but anyone who lives in them knows they’re layered. He tends to in his own thinking prioritise as what we call first-generation liberalism with the individual against the community, liberty against order, even though you can see him again, again grappling with that tension, which is, I think, to his credit and he’s aware of it.

I think the more he explores obviously biblical themes you get beyond the stories, you get under the myths into the principles that the myths are all about, that inevitably you’re into these huge, huge tensions in world philosophical thought in terms of liberty and order, individuals, community, unity, diversity without divisive. These are all significant and the role of thinking which of course is very important for him. Critical thinking in this. Property rights are very important to him and again, in some ways, he reflects a more sophisticated version a bit of his Alberton upbringing in that sense when you start getting underneath that, some of the liberalism which defines that.

And in that sense, I started off with Milton because Milton was the quintessential sophisticated liberal of his time, as Bunyan was the cruder liberal of his time in Pilgrim’s Progress and the hyper-individualism of Milton and of the populist one of Bunyan. It shares that sort of first-generation liberalism.

To sum then, I think it would be important in reflecting and evaluating the Jordan Peterson to recognize very clearly he is attempting to transcend the tribalism of the ideologies of his time, the dominant ideology in Canada, and large elements of the liberal West, whether the democratic tradition in the states or the liberal party or the NDP in Canada is very much a family or it’s a tribe which has a laundry list of issues that come from certain principles, whether it’s as I mentioned earlier post-modernism, postmodern feminism, whether it’s gender issues, whether it’s identity politics, whether it’s a certain uncritical support to a Neo-Marxism, whether certain views of abortion, euthanasia, family, certain views of the environment, certain views of war and peace, and crime and punished.

You can list 20 to 25 issues in terms of that progressive trendiness or cause de jour liberalism, and there’s obviously good in that. When it becomes a frozen ideological perspective, then you’re intellectual totalitarianism. Does that mean Jordan Peterson then uncritically genuflects to the right? No, they’re exactly the same. The dualism of the right is not much different than the dualism of the left. You know but the hero is, you know who the enemy is. It’s sort of the Captain America mentality. He then turns beyond the dominant ideologies, and this is why he’s interested in the Bible in a much more nuanced read of it (it’ll be interesting to see where he goes as those lectures unfold). And the fourth part would be interesting in terms of getting Jordan Peterson as he goes along to actually begin to critically reflect on his own ideological principles and both the strength of those principles, and perhaps the Achilles heels and blind spots of those principles. As I mentioned earlier, I started with John Milton’s Areopagitica, cannot praise a cloistered virtue that never sallies forth, the right and left tend to be tribal. They have their cloistered virtues and those who disagree with them are in the world of vices usually.

The particular reads of the Bible and can open us up to a much more vibrant and more in-depth understanding of the contributions of myth and its role in terms of freeing individuals to see actually the landmarks that have been laid down in history through stories, through narratives, when these sacred texts are read in a certain way. Then the fourth point would be is Jordan Peterson depending on how he goes along his journey would be to reflect on perhaps the ideological framework within which he lives, but he does not substantively criticize because it’s one thing criticize various positions. The task of a healthy thinker is to know how to be self-critical as they go along on their journey.

To end, absolutely important … Well first of all, absolutely important that people don’t put their heads in the sand and ignore these bigger public issues of which Jordan Peterson is very much on the stage articulating. That would be the first thing, either religiously or politically or culturally, and not sort of slip into a religious ghettoism in that sense, but enter into the larger public fray. Secondly in Peterson, to know how to see the immense good he’s contributing in terms of deconstructing both forms of liberalism, the sort of trendy liberalism and reactionary conservatism, to look at his unique … I won’t say it’s unique because the historic Church has read the text this way and he’s just making it more popular from a clinical psychologist’s point of view.

Then the fourth point would be to reflect on, for those who are interested in critical thinking, to be posing before Peterson himself, what does he see as the ideological construct and the house he inhabits by which then he reads the Bible and which he critiques the progressive left and the reactionary or conservative right.