A Bit on Jordan Peterson

Some people think I hate Jordan Peterson. The reason for this appears to be that I don’t fall down in adoration of Jordan Peterson as God’s anointed prophet to the Church, or indeed as a guide of any kind.

Contrary to the tribal convictions of his conservative Catholic groupies, that does not indicate hatred on my part, but the same sort of attitude I take to any non-Christian, pontificating on matters of the Faith when they are speaking outside their specialized field of competence.

So I will credit the views of, say, a non-Christian historian talking about some aspect of history he has studied (the Crusades, say) because he knows what he is talking about. I will pay attention to a scholar of Plato talking about Plato’s influence on the development of the Christian tradition, because he knows what he is talking about. Conversely, just because somebody is a Catholic does not mean they are automatically endowed with competence to talk about some field of academic studies.

The thing with Peterson is that he appears to me to be somebody genuinely interested in the Faith and, perhaps, on his way to entry into the Church. Great. I hope he does.

But that does not make him a prophet or guide. Indeed, it makes him, at most, a catechumen, and one I have no confidence in as somebody competent to talk about the Faith or even his own baffling field of study. Here, for instance, is a typical illustration of Peterson’s thought:

It’s not the only such chart providing us with his Map of Reality. And seeing it, it is hard for me to avoid the sense that this is all a bunch of rubbish. That sense only increases when he suddenly holds forth with this stunningly ignorant ipsi dixit:

It’s a tough choice:

On the one hand, you have the ignorant tweet of a non-Catholic pop psych oddball mysteriously valorized as an alternative Magisterium by right wing Catholics looking for affirmation in all the wrong places. On the other hand, you have the actual Magisterium of the Church, with an entire huge body of teaching called the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

Now here’s the thing. I have no problem with a non-Catholic being ignorant of the Church’s teaching. What do you expect? Even most Catholics are ignorant of it. It’s a huge body of information and it is normal for people to not know a lot of it. I’ve been a Catholic since 1987 and I’m still learning about it. And when you consider the fact that the Catholic tradition aims to communicate God Almighty himself to us, the idea that the Catholic faith is a “subject” or “topic” that can be “mastered” is insane. Far wiser the story of Augustine walking on the beach and pondering the Trinity, only to meet a small child pouring ocean water into a hole in the sand. Asking the child what he was doing, he was told that he was trying to fit the sea into the hole in the sand. When Augustine told him that was impossible, the child (suddenly revealed to be an angel) retorted as he vanished that it was easier than fitting the mystery of the Triune God in Augustine’s tiny head.

So I have no problem with a maybe/maybe not catechumen having ignorant opinions.

What bugs me is that, because this odd man reinforced a couple of their culture war opinons about sex a few years ago, conservative Catholics hoisted him on their shoulders and declared him a prophet, Doctor of the Church, a guru, a sure guide and an alternate magisterium. He’s not. He is a crank. And he is a crank who needs to abandon some dangerous associations with whack job racists and with their racist garbage, like this

When Apollos, also attracted to the Faith, was found to be going around preaching well-intended but ignorant half-Christian stuff (since he knew only the baptism of John and not the full story of Jesus), Priscilla and Aquila welcomed him, took him in, and “explained to him the Way of God more adequately” (Acts 18:26). They did not drive him away as a heretic, but neither did they fall at his feet as a guru. They taught him the gospel. Peterson’s views appear to not even pass muster as well-intended if they drink from Molyneux’ deadly notions of racial superiority.

Somebody should be teaching Jordan Peterson the gospel, not elevating him as prophet, teacher, and guru when he is not, after all, even a Christian yet, much less a Catholic.

Somehow, in some fanboi circles, that makes me a “hater” of Peterson. I have no idea why.


21 Responses

  1. A few of my own observations on Peterson.

    * I’ve seen a lot of his talks on YouTube, but I cannot make it through his books. His books (especially “Maps of Meaning”, which is written the way that illustration in your post is drawn) are somehow both ponderous and superficial at the same time.

    * But his talks are amazing. He is fully invested in everything he says. He speaks with emotion and intelligence. He can riff for two hours on a given subject and be interesting the whole time. He’s one of the most talented lecturers I’ve ever seen.

    * He’s a fan of Carl Jung’s. Before my conversion, I read everything Jung wrote (in translation). For me, it was, at the time, a substitute for healthy spirituality. There’s good and bad in Jung, but the stuff that fascinates Peterson is (like everything in Jung) a mixture of legitimate insight and pseudoscience. I think the Jungian influence explains a lot of what smells bad in Peterson and the Petersonians.

    * Peterson has had a big impact on young men. Apparently, nobody has had the courage and directness to tell them to quit playing video games in Mom’s basement, get off their butts, take a risk and enter the challenge of living that God has placed before them. He’s apparently saved many young men in his audience who were in despair – and that stems not just from what he says but from the power of his witness, which combines bravery and intelligence and open vulnerability (it is not unusual for Peterson to cry when speaking of things that touch him). Peterson addresses the whole challenge of “being a man” in a way that seems quite positive on the whole – and in a way that no one else seems to be doing.

    * Peterson is never duplicitous. What you see is what you get. When he’s wrong, he’s honestly wrong. Part of his own “intellectual conversion” story is how he made a vow to himself always to tell the truth and to use language as carefully as he could. That’s part of what got him out of his own despair, and he seems always to be true to that project of speaking honestly at all times.

    * In that vein, he more or less said to Bishop Barron, “WTF is wrong with your Church?” – and you’ve got to admire him for that!

    * Oh! And I interviewed him. See http://twinc-tv.blogspot.com/2020/10/kevin-obrien-interviews-jordan-peterson.html

      1. @ mark

        He is both very right and very wrong. This is why I cannot take this man even remotely seriously, aside from all the mystical claptrap he spouts. You should never be a monster if at all possible, but you certainly should know HOW to be a monster and when to turn it on.

        I am generally known as a very nice guy, but there have been a few times in my life where I had to tell someone not to mess with me. Decades ago, my wonderful partner was dying and in a hospice. He needed to have a phone in his room that was properly billed. There was a phone in his room, and I used it to call Pacific Bell to get the billing switched to me. I explain to the lady that he was dying, but she said that it would take at least three weeks for a phone to be installed in his room, because there wasn’t one. I told her I was calling from the phone in his room, and she said that was impossible and we would have to wait three weeks to get an appointment.

        I explain to her that I was a nice guy, but that if she persisted in her Folly, well, I had a brother who is a lawyer and another brother who wrote for the Chronicle, and that I would make it my business to make sure that her life and the life of everyone associated with this idiocy would be made as miserable as I could possibly make it. I also told her I had had plenty of practice. “You can **** a marine, but never **** with a marine.”

        for some reason, two hours later, the phone that didn’t exist was being billed to me. for the record, I’m not a marine, I have no lawyer or writer brothers.

      2. One of the guru’s latest videos was a conversation with Mohammed Hijab, hailed by some as a milestoen for Islamic dawa. One question is why many of his followers will hail this as, whereas pope Francis coming within half a mile of a mosque is labeled an Apostate. The other is who his followers will eventually elevate to sainthood. Peterson, Ben Shapiro or Mr. Hijab?

      3. The few things Peterson says which make sense to anyone not in his field of study are things most people’s moms taught them in kindergarten or which Fred Rogers drove home every day on his shows.

        The problem he has is that of all celebrities: Verbal dysentery. When someone puts a microphone in front of him, he will expound on any subject exhaustively and with the full confidence of someone who thinks he knows all about the topic.

    1. Catholic faith and moral philosophy is such a vast treasure. It’s hard for any human being to master. So naive for Catholics to follow these New Age kooks, ignoring their own Catholic inheritance.

      Aquinas realized his writings were nothing but straw when he got a glimpse of the truth. These dilettante’s claim to have found the truth. Whatever.

      Peterson and Pavone (yes, he is for all purpose a kook) are cut from the same cloth… dilettantes who suddenly think they are pros, with a cult of even greener folks following them. It’s yet another New Age religion sold in yet another new bottle.

      All of these new religions have one thing in common – hate. There is some “others” on this earth that need to be detested. liberals, fake Catholics, gays, the pope, Big Pharma, big government … . hate is a defining characteristic of all these movements. Hate fulfills “the height of psychological luxury, the most delicious of moral treats.” ala Huxley.

      The sad part is their followers, who are shackled to the dilettante’s progress and errors. The tragedy will come, when their followers will be repurposed and abused, for nefarious aims. It’s a repeating meme through history, Qanon being the latest. Very few of the followers will escape the darkness of their leader’s blindness.

      One thing is for certain – these dilettantes are filling a void left by the inability of the Church to proclaim the truth. Precisely because the Church has lost it’s moral voice playing political/culture wars.

      1. @burgo

        I have said this many times before on these very pages, but in general, I don’t think it’s hate, though it sometimes is, as much as it is simple despite (on an individual psychological level) and tribalism (on a group, sociological level).

        Despite simply means this: I am better than you, and I will make sure that you know it. Whatever I do to you is justified by the fact that I am better than you. If you object, that simply proves that I am better than you, because you want to object to what we both know is true,

        Tribalism is simply this on a group scale. Our tribe is better than your tribe, and we will make sure that you know it. Whatever we do to you is justified the fact that we are better than you. If you object, that simply marks you as a member of a different tribe, an inferior tribe.

  2. On one hand, Science tells us that genetics cannot possibly have any influence over intelligence. I trust Scientists when they tell us that the human brain is simply not affected by the kinds of genetic variations that cause variations in the performance of other organs. But then I see white people (and it is always white people) believing the contrary (the crazy and racist idea that isolated populations might have variations in average intelligence) and I start to think that it might be true… and that the white race is just stupider than everyone else.

  3. @Kevin O’Brien – “…I cannot make it through his books.” Amen! My younger son is – or was; he hasn’t talked about Peterson for a while – a kind of an of Peterson’s. I listened to a few things. Yeah, I see some stuff that is good; others … well, not so sure. I tried reading one of the books, I forget which – that forgetting is itself a sign. I confess I had to skim or even skip over a lot. It was just unreadable. The couple of grains of wheat in it were drowned out by the flood of chaff.

  4. Mystical, yet meaningless claptrap. The worm Ouroboros is not a symbol of of chaos, but of continuity, regeneration, rebirth, and infinity. Sexism personified, with patriarchy being of the light and matriarchy – i.e., wimmens— being of the darkness.

    Precosmogonic egg? It’s only good if it’s scrambled.

    Nearly three years ago, we discussed peterson on these very pages. I had this to say then.

    It seems to me that where Peterson’s real academic expertise lies is in the projection of his worst qualities onto the objects of his disaffections.

    Nein, danke

  5. Mark, I think you are too quick to dismiss Jordan as a quack. Bishop Barron, who I know you respect, has a lot of respect for Jordan, and high praise for what he us doing. I personally know someone who went back to the Catholic church because of Peterson, he’s not the only one. Jordan has done something I’ve only really seen in the eastern church, he’s pulled the veil back a bit on life’s mystery, and through mythology and psychology entered into the conversation with humility bringing his listeners along for the ride. Now that I have been catholic (Roman rite) for awhile, yes, I have eyes to see that mystery everywhere, in the mundane. But while I was converting, the stark contrast provided by the eastern church and Bob Marley (among other unlikely people) helped me to be drawn further into the unknown, where I found Christ, waiting for me. I think Jordan, and bishop Barron seems to agree, that Peterson and others like Jonathon Pageot(sp.?) are doing a better job at making the mystery of truth attractive, relevant, authentic, than the church and her bishops, priests and catechists have been doing for many years (Barron being an exception)
    I think you’ll enjoy giving the guy more of a chance, I hope you are surprised by this ‘oddball’.
    God Bless you and your work brother!

  6. I’ve been concerned about these male Pied Pipers for years. Peterson is one of many. Rush Limbaugh was one for my parents’ generation. Males seem to have a deep need for them. My sixth kid (the Republican) simply loves Peterson. A few years ago when he was barely into his teens, he confidently asserted the “fact” that some races are superior–and THIS is coming from a kid who is significantly brown (or “cafe-au-lait” as we say in our family.) I usually keep my cool with him, but it ended up being a rip-roaring argument that his brown father needed to mediate. If it is Peterson who put that filth into his head, then I’d say he’s dangerous. He’s not some benign seeker. That’s straight up evil.

    And that’s how evil always operates: attractiveness with just enough venom to poison the victim.

    If I ever meet Peterson, I will first thank him for being the one who convinced my son to make his bed every day, –and then tell him he needs a hearty slap for being in the Eugenics club. For shame. Bishop Barron should have been firmer with him. It must be tempting to be the one to convert a Peterson to Catholicism like a feather to be worn in a hat.

    1. @Taco

      Bishop Barron, whose videos I really enjoy, is not entirely free of *conservative* leanings. I still want to ask him why he thinks (or once thought) the *existence* of Labor Unions might be against Catholic teaching.

      1. @Artevelde,
        I will be interested to see if and how Bishop Barron is able to continue on his high-wire walk. He has had both the right and the left attempt to take him down, and sully his reputation. I respect his desire to create more unity in the Church, but what is ugly and unchristian shouldn’t be ignored in the name of promoting peace. (We Catholics are so good at avoiding the elephant in the room!) Pope Francis is fighting that old mentality. As a mother I understand the need for peace to protect my sanity, and have in fact, in the moment, reflected on my own weakness in not taking on a fight. (Feeling damned if you do and damned if you don’t..) I remember when my mother would promote this “peace at all costs”. She was tired, sometimes at the end of her rope, but even as a child I realized that it was a real cop out, and contributed to the delinquency of the ones who frequently used bullying tactics to get what they wanted. Ultimately it harmed her children in a serious way.

        btw I googled Bishop Barron and labor unions but couldn’t find anything.

        Anyway, I have benefitted very, very much from Bishop Barron’s great mind. I’ll be honest, I think he is probably so comfortable with the white superiority complex that most of us grew up with, that these discussions on race, IQ, etc. go right by without any real reaction on his part.

        I think genes do affect the way we learn, and the way we are able to do well or not do well on a test. Having eight kids couldn’t have illustrated that reality better. My fifth son scored 1550 on his SAT. My sixth son has struggled to read and write his entire life. It isn’t just a platitude to observe that #6 is not more intelligent than #7. No way. All of their siblings would concur. Unfortunately, mastery of the written word is the key to performing well in school, but I would imagine that a day is coming when that will no longer be the case. My dyslexic children score very high on auditory tests and have exceptional vocabulary. The one with the most challenging case solved a mathematical equation when he was being tested–that hadn’t been solved for years.

        So Jordan Peterson is a wordsmith, and an exceptional one at that. He manages to captivate an audience and sell millions of books. He has a financial interest to titillate and provoke the ones he hopes to sell his special ingredients to. Okay. But I would imagine that snake oil vendors were also silver tongued and enjoyed the gift of gab. It doesn’t mean that Jordan Peterson is right or in the business of helping humanity. St. Paul had a few things to say about people who are so bright they know the language of angels.

  7. The cynic in me says that the American right understands that wielding the staff of the High Priest of Amon is a prize as worthy of winning as wearing Pharaoh’s Crown.

    The politician in me says that they will be highly successful in this endeavor, considering the spiritually infantile mewling of their opponents on the left.

    1. And finally, as a proud owner of stretch sheets, duvets (which I tuck below the mattress at the foot end) and natural latex pillows, I am always a bit puzzled at the bed making thing.

  8. Peterson seems to be a member of the non-religious right, and that is why it seems so hard to categorize him. He prescribes for his patients to clean their rooms and get careers, but his social views are derived from Darwinism. The Jungian stuff is an outflow from Darwinism.

    With regards to Bishop Barron, Bishop Barron has been trying to reach out to young “nones” for years. Barron has noticed Peterson’s success reaching these young people, mostly men, and Barron is interested in the charisma, though is mixed on the content.

    What is different (and superior) with Catholicism is that it is not just “working on yourself” or Stoicism or Darwinian competition. Catholicism is about relationship, with others and with God. If ever a young person sought connection, marriage, job networking and career management, Catholicism is a far better path than Petersonism. I share Barron’s dilemma though – who and how to communicate this in a relevant, reachable manner to the young?

    1. If we are serious about communicating Catholicism to the young then I would suggest avoiding calling people cranks and oddballs simply because they do not adhere to the magisterium especially when that person is not even a Catholic.
      Young people are not impressed with this sort of poor behaviour especially when we bang on about loving our neighbour. Young people have a radar attuned to this sort of hypocrisy and will run a mile when they see it.

  9. Surely if misguided people are “elevating Peterson as prophet, teacher, and guru when he is not, after all, even a Christian yet, much less a Catholic” then the subject of criticism should be the misguided people doing the elevating not Peterson who, as far as I can tell, has no desire to be any of these things.
    As Mark points out Peterson is not a Christian let alone a Catholic so to criticise him for presenting views that are at variance with the magisterium seems to me to be more than unfair to him.

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