Philosophy, Religion

The Peculiar Opacity of Jordan Peterson’s Religious Views

During a recent conversation in Vancouver—the first night of a massive four-part event sponsored by Pangburn Philosophy—Sam Harris asked Jordan Peterson a question that he can never quite answer: “What do you mean by God?”

If you’ve ever heard Peterson discuss the subject or read either of his books, the answers he provided in Vancouver will not surprise you. God is “how we imaginatively and collectively represent the existence and action of consciousness across time.” God is “that which eternally dies and is reborn in the pursuit of higher being and truth.” God is “the highest value in the hierarchy of values.” God is the “voice of conscience.” God is the “source of judgment and mercy and guilt.” God is the “future to which we make sacrifices and something akin to the trascendental repository of reputation.” God is “that which selects among men in the eternal hierarchy of men.”

It went on like this for awhile, but you get the idea. Or do you? Peterson’s definition of God is a sprawling, book-length collection of abstractions, some of which are grounded in narratives about the human condition, while others are mere descriptions of psychological and temporal realities (“…the future to which we make sacrifices”). In other words, it’s a definition that’s so elastic and subjective as to be almost meaningless. As Harris put it, “That’s not how most people most of the time are using the word, and there’s something misleading about that.”

To which Peterson responded, “I never made the claim that what I’m talking about is like what other people are talking about.” That’s true, and he often says he doesn’t define ‘belief’ or ‘God’ in the same way as anyone else. Even when he’s asked a more specific question—about, say, his belief (or lack thereof) in the divinity of Christ—he says the answer depends on the interviewer’s definitions of ‘Christ’ and ‘divine.’ But Peterson still uses words like ‘divine’ all the time. He’s happy to describe consciousness as divine, which he considers to be an “axiomatic statement.” He’s more than willing to tell you “magical things happen as the logos manifests itself” before announcing his firm belief that the logos is divine, too. But only if, by ‘divine,’ you mean “Of ultimate transcendent value.”

But then, what does Peterson mean by ‘transcendent’? Or ‘value’? And what will he mean by all the words he uses to answer those questions? Communication becomes extremely difficult if we allow ourselves repeatedly to be drawn into a labyrinth of semantic distinctions. That is precisely why there has to be some fundamental agreement about what words actually mean at the beginning of any conversation. This is something Peterson can be particularly bad at doing, when the mood takes him—just listen to his excruciating two-hour conversation with Harris that never managed to get past the disputed meaning of the word ‘truth.’

With some questions, Peterson behaves the same way as anyone else trying to communicate an idea or argument. He clarifies what subjective terms mean to him in specific contexts and then does his best to answer the question at hand. But with others, he says there are insuperable semantic differences that make clear answers unattainable. Instead of doing his best to adhere to definitions of words like ‘God,’ ‘divine,’ and ‘religion’ that are likely to be understood and shared by his audience, Peterson endlessly repurposes them in ways that make it impossible to have a straightforward discussion.

It’s no surprise that Peterson struggles to make coherent claims about his religious beliefs—his use of religious language and imagery has always been slippery. For example, he often professes his belief that “hell exists,” but it’s clear he isn’t talking about a supernatural, eternal torture chamber—he’s just using the word as a metaphor for suffering (as many people do). In his 1999 book Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief, he argued that the “rejection of the unknown” is a manifestation of “Luciferian pride, which states: all that I know is all that is necessary to know. This pride is totalitarian assumption of omniscience—is adoption of God’s place by ‘reason’—is something that inevitably generates a state of personal and social being indistinguishable from hell.”

Peterson also described the rejection of the unknown as something “tantamount to ‘identification with the devil,’ the mythological counterpart and eternal adversary of the world-creating exploratory hero.” Does he think the Devil is a real supernatural being that actually interacts with the world? Does he think hell is a physical reality? If asked, I suspect he would answer “No” to both of these questions, but he always wants to split the difference—after all, hell (in the sense that Peterson uses the word) is perfectly real to those who are in it. The “world-creating exploratory hero” wouldn’t make any conceptual sense without an “eternal adversary,” and so we call that adversary the Devil.

While it’s helpful to view some psychological facts through the lens of archetypes, mythological narratives, and metaphors about heaven and hell or God and the Devil, Peterson doesn’t want you to think of these things as mere literary devices or explanatory tools. He wants you to think of them as true in a more fundamental sense; as integral components of the human experience that we discard at our peril. To Peterson, our ancestors may have had an impoverished understanding of the world from a scientific perspective, but their spiritual life was rich and sustaining. Now that spiritual life is falling away, and he wants us to reclaim it.

Religious apologists have long sought to reconcile faith with science, and I doubt that Peterson would take issue with this project. But he’s willing to admit that scientific and philosophical progress has diminished the power of religious and spiritual traditions in our lives. As he puts it in Maps of Meaning: “Prior to the time of Descartes, Bacon, and Newton, man lived in an animated, spiritual world, saturated with meaning, imbued with moral purpose. The nature of this purpose was revealed in the stories people told each other—stories about the structure of the cosmos and the place of man.”

Peterson is nostalgic for the “mythic world” that has been deconstructed by scientific and philosophical inquiry over the past few centuries, and he laments this process in Maps of Meaning: “Now we think empirically (at least we think we think empirically), and the spirits that once inhabited the universe have vanished.” For Peterson, this is a slow-moving catastrophe, and not just because it has sapped our lives of meaning. It has also undermined our sense of morality.

Recall what Peterson wrote about the “adoption of God’s place by ‘reason’” and the “totalitarian assumption of omniscience.” Peterson isn’t just concerned about what many religious people regard as the intellectual hubris of atheists—in Maps of Meaning, he writes that the rejection of religion is inherently corrosive to our “belief in the utility and meaning of existence.” He even uses the words ‘religious’ and ‘moral’ interchangeably: “We have become atheistic in our description, but remain evidently religious—that is, moral—in our disposition.”

If you think atheism is, by definition, a rejection of morality and meaning, then nobody who lives an ethical and purposeful life can possibly be an atheist. In Peterson’s world, to the extent that someone is really an atheist, he is a malevolent agent of chaos. To the extent that someone is committed to the values that underpin Western civilization, he is not really an atheist. This is why he identifies with Friedrich Nietzsche’s claim that the “death of God” would destroy the moral and psychological pillars that once held Western civilization aloft. And it’s why he blames the greatest moral cataclysms of the twentieth century on atheism.

In a recent interview, Peterson stated that he regards Nietzsche’s writings as prophetic warnings about the “deaths of tens of millions of people in the aftermath of the death of God.” But this is just the same false dichotomy—a society is either God-fearing or murderous (a dichotomy Peterson extends to individuals)—that apologists have been repeating for decades.

Nietzsche’s theory can’t account for the fact that fascism co-existed with Catholicism everywhere from Spain and Portugal to Italy, Croatia, and Slovakia (where the despot who ran the country was actually a Roman Catholic priest, Jozef Tiso). Nor can it explain the bizarre synthesis of beliefs that made up the religious substrate of Nazism—a tangle of Christian millenarianism and anti-Semitism, Nordic blood myths, and other scattered forms of mysticism. Call this ideological abomination whatever you want, but it certainly wasn’t atheism.

Although some Nazis were hostile to Christianity, it’s not as if German soldiers, members of the SS, and other Nazi elites repudiated Christianity en masse—on the contrary, many of them continued to take their faith very seriously. And Hitler frequently used Christian symbolism in his speeches for a reason. He understood that the vast majority of Germans were Christians (Catholicism doesn’t deserve all the blame here—many were Protestants as well), and he wanted them to see that Nazism was compatible with their faith.

How does Peterson accommodate these facts? Does he argue that Nazis couldn’t possibly be true Christians? That would just leave him with the same tautology mentioned above: if you behave well, you’re a Christian, and if you don’t, you’re not. If he refuses to declare who is and isn’t a Christian, he’s left with the fact that the most heinous crimes of the twentieth century were committed by people for whom God was still very much alive.

During the most recent Pangburn event in London on July 16, Peterson made his now-routine claim about the horrors of “secular” systems like communism and fascism: “The secular alternatives [to religion] that we produced in the twentieth century were certainly no less blood-sodden, and they produced nothing of any productivity whatsoever.” However, earlier in the evening, he had made a concession that seemed to complicate this claim. After asserting that democratic institutions “grew out of the Judeo-Christian substrate,” he went on to observe that, “There are Christian substructures—maybe most obviously in the case of the Russian Orthodox Church—where the same metaphysical principles apply, but out of which a democracy did not emerge.”

Despite his simplistic claims about the provenance of fascism and communism, Peterson is clearly capable of recognizing that the historical development of large-scale political and cultural institutions is a complex process that can’t be solely attributed to religion. He even admits that the criticism of religion was a necessary component of the rise of democratic institutions in the West: “It does seem to me that what we have in the West is the consequence of the interplay between the fantasy-predicated poetic Judeo-Christian tradition and the rational critique that was aimed at that by the Enlightenment figures.”

Doesn’t it give him pause that many of these figures—such as David Hume and Baruch Spinoza—were atheists? Would a society based on the principles they espoused be a “bloody catastrophe” that would lead to the “deaths of tens of millions of people”? Harris made a similar point onstage in London: “It was not the ideas of Bertrand Russell and David Hume that brought us to the Gulag or to Auschwitz.”

But this is where Peterson’s redefinitions come in handy—he can simply say that Hume, Spinoza, and Russell weren’t really atheists. He even said this about Harris several times, describing his attempt to ground ethics in a scientific understanding of well-being as a “transcendent” project to move the world as far away from hell as possible. To Peterson, anyone who “acts out the logos” in the service of making the world a better place is participating in a divine process, whether they admit it or not. Under this assumption, even the most vociferous attack on religion can ultimately be construed as a religious exercise if it’s undertaken for the right reasons.

Because Peterson believes morality is inextricably bound to religion, he says every other attempt to behave ethically is a religious exercise, too. In his international bestseller 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Peterson dismisses the protestations of any unbeliever who doesn’t spend his days raping, murdering, and stealing. After explaining the moral necessity of internalizing a religious structure, he writes, “You might object, ‘But I’m an atheist.’ No, you’re not … You’re simply not an atheist in your actions.” Hitler and Stalin, on the other hand, were real atheists: “It was in the aftermath of God’s death,” Peterson writes, “that the great collective horrors of Communism and Fascism sprang forth.”

It’s almost always a mistake to argue that a single variable is responsible for systems as complex and historically contingent as fascism and communism—particularly when the precise role of that variable is wide open to interpretation. In his infamous interview with Cathy Newman on Channel 4 News, Peterson said, “If you’re a social scientist worth your salt, you never do a univariate analysis.” Yet that’s exactly what he has done with his assertion that atheism is to blame for the greatest engines of chaos and bloodshed in the twentieth century.

This misreading of history is suggestive in the context of the rest of Peterson’s work. As he explains in Maps of Meaning, he has spent much of his life trying to “make sense of the human capacity, my capacity, for evil—particularly for those evils associated with belief.” And the nightmares of the twentieth century were what drove this pursuit: “How was it possible,” he asked, “for people to act the way the Nazis had during World War II?” It must have been a powerful and indelible revelation when he realized the Nazis acted that way because they had abandoned God.

Which brings us back to the problem with which we began. What does Peterson mean by God? What is this force that gives our lives a transcendent purpose and binds us to the values and principles that ward off the evil he has been trying to understand for so long? Peterson’s definition encompasses everything from our most fundamental moral axioms to the psychological forces that compel us to assume greater responsibility for ourselves and our fellow human beings. In other words, his idea of God is too vague and expansive to be useful: He might as well just add an ‘o’ to the word.

Despite Peterson’s strenuous insistence that his definition of God is unique, he still wants you to know that someone’s God is, in fact, your God—a point he makes repeatedly in Maps of Meaning: “The fundamental tenets of the Judeo-Christian moral tradition continue to govern every aspect of the actual individual behavior and basic values of the typical Westerner.” When it comes to telling us where our morality comes from, Peterson’s equivocal, opaque language suddenly falls away and he leaves us in no doubt about what he’s trying to say. He’s making yet another simplistic, monocausal argument that ignores all the elements of our philosophical and cultural tradition that contradict it.

So what about the rationalist critiques of religion written by Enlightenment atheists like Hume and Spinoza? Or the withering attacks on Christianity by Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine? What about all the aspects of our Christian heritage that Peterson doesn’t emphasize, like the virulent anti-Semitism that infected the Third Reich, the scriptural warrants for slavery and genocide, and the savage religious wars that preceded the Enlightenment? Why has moral progress so often required our civilization to renounce the dogmas and dictates of the Judeo-Christian tradition Peterson reveres?

Peterson knows he doesn’t have to answer these questions because, despite all his declarations to the contrary, he isn’t bound by this tradition. In one breath, he tells the audience they live in a society that would collapse without the immovable foundation of Judeo-Christian values. In the next, he reminds them that his God is a modern God, unsullied by the barbarism of ancient texts and unencumbered by the immense weight of history. There’s just one problem: Jordan Peterson’s God is nobody else’s God.

Featured pic by Andy Ngo.

 

Matt Johnson has written for Stanford Social Innovation Review, Editor & Publisher, Splice Today, Forbes, and the Kansas City Star. He was formerly the opinion page editor at the Topeka Capital-Journal and, last year, the Kansas Press Association named his column and opinion page the best in the state. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjj89

If you liked this article please consider becoming a patron of Quillette
Listen to this article

320 Comments

    • Sandra Goth says

      I enjoyed reading the article and do not take issue with Jordon Peterson’s answer to the deep question of truth faith and God. I believe he is a random abstract thinker and is scrupulous about how he responds to questions. I understand the authors critique and frustration but find Peterson a man after my own heart except I am a Christian and my yes about faith and belief would be a resounding yes and maybe I need to be more cautious about the definition of the questioner.

      • Morgan says

        Revelation 16:13,14

        Read it, if you really are a Christian.

        • Scott says

          I had to reread Revelation a few times for a literature class a few years ago. My reaction progressed from disgust to utter astonishment at the poetry of Revelation. The only other writer who I have seen that can do what John does in Revelations is Shakespeare.

    • Morgan says

      You’re missing the point. If his religion is no one else’s, then his claim that HIS ‘version’ of Judeo-Christian tradition is the basis for Western Civilization is complete nonsense. Doesn’t that bother you?

    • saffronblaze & OleK

      Your aggressive denial of Matt Johnson’s decimation of JP’s god definitions is more dinosaurian philosophic flatulence, i.e., vacant. (Yeah, I can be aggressive too.) I grant that your take is consistent with survival per selected, relationship code, at least in the short term. More on that later.

      I like a lot of JP, especially regarding responsibility. I’ve learned from JP. The man is a stud. I’m not a liberal or conservative, & loathe that oversimplified detritus of code even if I understand its functionality in an evolutionary context, i.e., why it’s been selected as operable culture code.

      Here’s some of what I think JP is missing. And because it’s selected, fundamental relationship code conserved across myriad species, its influence is huge … because: “Initial conditions rule in complex systems.” Stewart Brand

      That code — Fitness > Truth — is well distilled by Donald Hoffman:
      “Fitness and truth are utterly different things.”
      “Evolution is quite clear, it’s fitness and not truth that gives you the points you need to win in the evolutionary game.”
      “Organisms that see the truth go extinct when they compete against organisms that don’t see any of the truth at all, literally none of the truth at all, and are just tuned to the fitness function.”
      “Perception is not about seeing truth; it’s about having kids.”

      Sub-codes of F>T: Me>U; Us>Them; Short term>Long Term

      Here are some horror apps selected in service of the fundamental F>T, repeatedly invoked, especially in survival-stressed environs. (recall that half the day is dark)

      Fitness App: Deception
      “Deception is a very deep feature of life. It occurs at all levels – from gene to cell to individual to group – and it seems, by any and all means, necessary.”

      “When I say that deception occurs at all levels of life, I mean that viruses practice it, as do bacteria, plants, insects, and a wide range of other animals. It is everywhere. Even within our genomes, deception flourishes as selfish genetic elements use deceptive molecular techniques to over-reproduce at the expense of other genes. Deception infects all the fundamental relationships in life: parasite and host, predator and prey, plant and animal, male and female, neighbor and neighbor, parent and offspring, and even the relationship of an organism to itself.” Robert Trivers – The Folly of Fools

      Fitness App: Bold Action
      “In general, the men of lower intelligence won out. Afraid of their own shortcomings and of the intelligence of their opponents, so that they would not lose out in reasoned argument or be taken by surprise by their quick-witted opponents, they boldly moved into action. Their enemies, on the contrary, contemptuous and confident in their ability to anticipate, thought there was no need to take by action what they could win by their brains.” Thucydides 460–395 BCE

      Fitness Apps: War & Genocide
      “Under pressure, any group of us can be as brutal as any of those we deplore: genocide by tribal animals is as natural as breathing…” James Lovelock

      “It should not be thought that war, often accompanied by genocide, is a cultural artifact of a few societies. Nor has it been an aberration of history, a result of the growing pains of our species’ maturation. Wars and genocide have been universal and eternal, respecting no particular time or culture.” E. O. Wilson – The Social Conquest of Earth

      Guess we should add nailing Jesus Christ to a cross as another example of F>T.

      K, long enough …

    • Christie says

      This quote from Peterson in 2016 during the gender neutral pronoun controversy “I’ve studied authoritarianism for a very long time – for 40 years – and they’re started by people’s attempts to control the ideological and linguistic territory. There’s no way I’m going to use words made up by people who are doing that – not a chance.” he told the BBC – But changing definitions to suit your insane ideas is ok? Peterson is blowhard who is given far too much credit.

      • Matthew says

        Christia-

        The difference to me is that he isn’t trying to control the linguistic territory so much as use it as he sees fit. He’s not trying to force anybody else to use his words in the way he wants them to, only insisting on using his those words as he sees fit and then have a dialogue with people who disagree with him. I mean, I don’t agree with a bunch of things Peterson says, but I still think he’s pretty consistent about this. He’s not acting in an authoritarian manner on this at all.

    • Beth says

      Mr Peterson is struggling spiritually. To much wordly education makes it hard to come to God by simple faith. I pray that he will find the truth – it will set him free at last.

He (God) thwarts the schemes of the crafty, so that their hands find no success. He catches  in their craftiness, and sweeps awaythe plans of the cunning. They encounter darkness by day and grope at noon as in the night.… Job 5:12-14

      Let no one deceive himself. If any of you thinks he is wise in this age, he should become a fool, so that he may become wise. For thewisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness.” 
And again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.”…
1 Corinthians 3:18-20

  1. OleK says

    This is funny. It’s trying to say that since Peterson doesn’t claim nor want to be a theologian, that his explanations or spurious or incomplete about God.

    So f-ing what! It’s not his job to be specific about God or his beliefs nor does anyone expect him to be.

    • Lawrence S says

      Ha! The blatant casuistry of Peterson seems to attract people who seem to have no issues with redefining words like “truth” or “God” when it suits them and when one points this out, we get this asinine retort that it is “not his job to be specific about God or his beliefs”. He uses words like “divine” in the ordinary sense when it suits him and prevaricates when asked a simple question like whether he believes that Jesus (literally) was the son of God (as commonly understood by millions of people who answer to the name of Christianity) who died and resurrected as claimed in the Bible. Such a question is a yes or no question – and shouldn’t be followed by “it depends on what you mean by…”

      As the author of this article put it: “Instead of doing his best to adhere to definitions of words like ‘God,’ ‘divine,’ and ‘religion’ that are likely to be understood and shared by his audience, Peterson endlessly repurposes them in ways that make it impossible to have a straightforward discussion.”

      To have any meaningful conversation between two human beings, we need to agree on the meaning of words that are used in common parlance. Changing the game of discourse by switching the definition of words isn’t intellectually profound or insightful – it merely serves to obfuscate and downright confusing. His rise to fame and lionising of the man by his fan-base is explicable by only one thing he did get right – he makes a lot of sense when he talks about gender, the problem with SJWs/political correctness and ideological far-left. Any other noise he makes beyond that is an egregious display of specious reasoning and intellectual dishonesty.

      • Matthew Norsa says

        Thought provoking.

        Peterson glossily remarks myriad spouts of etymologically driven psychobabble often. I appreciate his perspective but am still refraining from following any of the logos based beliefs paramount in the New Testament. While following a Jungian understanding of the bible I can appreciate much of the ideas and extract great meaning. If anything I believe Peterson simply wants to encourage thought and reading among the generations of phone zombies that down the line, if the current course of civilization and technology continues, might manifest in such a reality.

        That’s at least the value I understand from his teachings and lessons. While any modern psychologist could find several papers opposing equally reputable understandings and critiques of his ideas.

        E.g. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/12741492_Social_Cognitive_Theory_of_Gender_Development_and_Differentiation

        The paper I think counters many of Peterson’s view point with alternatives. Most notably the critique of evolutionary psychology that holds more plasticity to socio-structural demands as the paper explains.

        “People are producers as well as products of socialsystems.”

        This chicken and egg notion leads me to believe that the evolutionary sub-strata enabled in our biology has fallen pray to a fervent determinism among IDW idividuals.

        Just a thought.

        • Peter from Oz says

          ”Peterson glossily remarks myriad spouts of etymologically driven psychobabble often”
          That sentenceis nonsensical

          • John Dunton-Downer says

            It kinda looks like it was originally in German and put through Google Translate.

          • It clearly means he often says a variety of different things that sound unnecessarily complicated because he is using language in a way that most don’t anymore. Or some such.

      • And we get this asinine, dualistic, intellectually pin-headed derisive rhetoric claiming Peterson is intellectually dishonest. And he only gets “one thing right.” Pathetic. And I’m sure that it takes one to know one, probably as sure as some people are about their dualism. You seem more interested in semantics, passive-aggressively demanding concrete definitions of words, and black-and-white, “yes or no” answers to incredibly complex questions, which is typical of intellectual arrogance. There’s a lot more that we don’t know about matter, humanity, and the nature of thinking, than what we do. Peterson frequently admits that he doesn’t know everything, and that he’s still trying to figure it out. That’s called intellectually humility. My sense is that this article, and this response above, are typical a knee-jerk reactions to the fact that Peterson is disturbing some comfortable, and increasingly smug, world views. I might be wrong, but I seriously doubt it.

        • Did you get French Dressing for that word salad? Peter-San has to address God since he’s delving into moral issues. Like all atheists, he has to explain this to his deniers of Higher Powers. He fudges like a guy at a bath-house screwing his psuedointellectual tiny popsicle as deep as it will go by doing the old “God is a manifestation of primitive desires” schtick. I suppose eventually his inner hamster will get tired of the circular hamster wheel of recursive argument and take the inevitable psychoanalysis position of God as superego, and the Devil as the id.
          Utilitarianism dictates that morality is counterproductive. Killing opponents is easier than dealing with them any other way. Evolution cannot explain why murder would be outlawed. All power is force. Greater force can ignore the need for rules. It can easily make weaker opponents submit without explanation at all. Sure cooperation is superior. However, such things would never be agreed to by warlords and strongmen. Unless something stronger that didn’t die off FORCED IT ON THEM.

          • John Stewart says

            Game theory — two guys are being interviewed separately about their roles in a robbery — shows how first eye-for-an-eye morality develops quickly, but then how New Testament life and let live develops after that.

        • Steve says

          “I might be wrong, but I seriously doubt it.”

          You are not wrong. Those who consider themselves above religion are invariably beneath it.

          The author expresses views that I myself expressed regularly in coffee shops in my youth — as is the case with many of us who read Quillette. It can take decades for the contradictions — and ultimate incoherence — of reductive materialism to become manifest. Those who still inhabit such an impoverished view in their 50s or 60s… *sigh*. There are many things I admire about Sam Harris, however he is sharply limited to his areas of expertise (his commentary on religion and theology is puerile and ignorant).

          Peterson has indicated that he struggles with the theological. This is honest and indicative of a mind struggling to break the spell of postmodern oblivion. The postmodern at least represents an understandable philosophical reaction, whereas the antiquated “merely rational” beliefs of the author represents nothing but youthful naiveté (we hope) or intellectual ossification (shudder).

          As for Hume, et al, what would they have made of Gödel? Why does the author of this article not understand what Gödel has revealed, now and forever? We inhabit an “open ended” cosmos, and no amount of argument or rationalizing can ever fully limn reality, in principle.

          Peterson is a wonderful influence on our culture, but he cannot answer every question. Those who are curious with respect to theology — those ultimate aspects of reality which transcend yet embrace human reason — would be advised to read David Bentley Hart’s The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss. It is said that any atheist who is sufficiently intelligent and sufficiently honest cannot study that book and remain an atheist.

          • Apis Mellifera says

            I do not agree with Sam Harris’ theology being ignorant and puerile — he is simply a rationalist-reductionist who has tracked determinism down to the threshold of quantum mystery. And he is challenging people who take religious and mythic beliefs literally. I think that is an admirable effort and empirically justifiable. However, I think Sam’s ‘objective morality’ is a non-starter, as ultimately we all need to #believe in some non-reducible “God” to move forward. Peterson seems to be saying (at least sometimes) that gods are repositories or guardians of aphoristic morality. Sam talks about how “reducing suffering” is perhaps an empirically-derivable moral, but I disagree. I do not disagree that is is a good moral to have, but I think holding it as a moral requires an irrational faith, a belief along the lines of “I ultimately cannot justify with pure logic the holding of this belief (because what is the purpose of Life, all Life, and the Future) if everything is just a mess of ephemerally negentropic systems destined to disintegrate, so I have to believe in it because it seems meaningful and ‘good’ to do so…” We all have to believe in something, or else we are true atheists and nothing matters. In no way is Peterson, to my understanding, advocating or espousing a belief in some sort of actual, physical, man-like God à la Christian imagery.

          • John Stewart says

            We are definitely not alone, but whether that is because “we are all one” or whether each of us is much more “plugged in” than we think we are or whether there is a God in heaven, I don’t know.

          • AnonymousPrime says

            David Bentley Hart is a great Christian author for athiests – such as myself. He presents a very intellectual view of the religion without prostlyzing that engenders more empathy and understanding than your standard religious, supernatural mumbo jumbo. I found his book Athiest Delusions to be fascinating.

        • Daniel Jardien du Maurier says

          I appreciate the duality (humility followed by arrogance) of your concluding statement.

        • Blindspot Patrol says

          “Peterson frequently admits that he doesn’t know everything, and that he’s still trying to figure it out. That’s called intellectually humility.”

          “I might be wrong, but I seriously doubt it.”

          Irony? What’s that? Never heard of it. Must be just another ‘word’ that has a ‘definition’ according to us ‘passive-aggressives’, I guess.

        • Uzu says

          Haha yeah you are on point… I mean I might be wrong. But I doubt it 😂

        • A. Karhumaa says

          No, on the contrary, I think this is one of the best critiques of him, because it doesn’t taint JP with any of the usual bogeyman terms loved in the casual hit-job commentaries of the “left”, like that he is alt-right reactionary or even worse.

        • spookykook says

          couldn’t have said it better! People seem to think that the definitions to words such as ‘God’ and ‘Truth’ are as foundational as protons and electrons. It’s a close-minded way of thinking! Words are flexible, and a part of communication is exploring the way we use words and agree upon definitions. That doesn’t mean definitions are static though!

          Side note, how do we suppose to define the word ‘God’? It doesn’t make sense to me to reduce ‘God’ to a definition. Reducing God to a definition seems like a pretty easy way to say “what about all these things that aren’t included in your definition? See, God isn’t real.”

      • Samuel Skinner says

        I’m going to defend him here. God doesn’t have DNA. So if you ask someone is Christ was the son of God, you are actually going to have to define what you mean by that. You can’t get by with common understanding because common understanding is logically incoherent.

        • Steve says

          “God doesn’t have DNA”

          Not in the trivial sense. Obviously not. We aren’t children here.

          However God created everything, including DNA. It is “of God”.

          Trying to shoehorn into syllogistic logic (or any logical system) that which *by definition* transcends the merely rational is the ultimate category error.

      • Charlie says

        “It depends on what you mean by… [x]” is a powerful and under emphasized point. While you may interpret this as him being evasive, I think it is a powerful frame of mind which we should all be adopting to question the language we use.

        Simple yes and no answers to questions of this magnitude just do not suffice. It is a gross oversimplification of a complex topic that we collectively have not developed our vocabulary sufficiently to discuss without ambiguity. Words shape the way we think, and when we are reaching towards the boundaries of our understanding of some phenomenon, we must be very, very careful about our word selection so as not to needlessly confine the subject of our pursuit.

        Imagine trying to describe to a friend your favorite song of all time and how it makes you feel. Using words like “nostalgic, melancholy, wistful, etc..” fall short of describing the true feeling the music instills. What is nostalgic and melancholy to you is undoubtable different than what it means to someone else. This is the same with words like “truth”. Who’s truth? By what standard is something true? Is something true if it’s predictable and present throughout time? Is something true only if it’s been empirically tested?

        I totally understand why this feels like a frustrating evasion, but I believe he is doing the best that anyone can do in terms of describing this phenomenon. I believe it’s a bit of a cop out for people like Sam Harris to toss belief in a deity immediately into the garbage because there hasn’t been a scientific study confirming the existence of God. It’s easy to think that considering the history of theists using God as an explanation for all things unknown.

        However, having studied microbiology, geology, and geochemistry in grad school, I can tell you the first thing you learn is how much we don’t know. It’s wrong to hold science and scientists on a pedestal of truth, it’s all educated guesswork that we’re allowed to interpret as we will.

        Belief in a deity does not preclude belief in science. I also don’t believe that belief in a deity necessarily means you believe in some supernatural being in the sky. It’s more of a system of beliefs that you use as a scaffold for your life. The “truths” that led me to my belief are that knowing that taking care of yourself and others is a recipe for a happy, fulfilling life. Whereas giving into every little temptation and living hedonistically will result in dissatisfaction and sometimes misery.

        All in all, try to separate the idea of God from the “fantasy” and connect it instead to common human behaviors and life experience/satisfaction. A friend driving hours to pick you up when you’re in need could certainly be characterized as good, nice, helpful, a lifesaver, or even ultimately self serving (in the case they need a favor in the future), or you could view it as a blessing. One that came to you by being a good friend in the first place, being kind, loving, and supportive.

        • chowderhead says

          Yes, and the green I see isn’t the same as the green you see. Carrying your logic a bit further, one’s hedonism may lead to their happy, fulfilling life as since there hedonism isn’t your hedonism…

        • Daniel Jardien du Maurier says

          Yours is the most elegant and well reasoned comment I’ve thus far encountered…

        • So when it comes to God, he can have the most convoluted answer imaginable, but when it comes to the horrors of the 20th century? It’s simply the death of God. Convenient…I always felt this area was Peterson at his weakest. When he’s going up against SJWs and fighting for freedom of speech, he is clear, concise, and uses his words to have direct impact.

          • Merse says

            It‘s close to impossible to come to the conclusion that Peterson is claiming that all the horrors of the 20th century happened because of the „Death of God“, if you watched more than 20 minutes of his lectures. Tbh, this was the most dishonest part of an already pretty boring article (by Quilette standards).

      • John says

        This reply, Lawrence S, is the one I wish I could have written. Nothing I could try to add would make my understanding of the JP show any clearer

      • Iris says

        Possibly the same re his obvious gender bias. It isn’t really his fault he just has not experienced being female in Western society.

        • AMW says

          Sorry, what? What has that got to do with anything? if that is the level of your argument then surely you would be equally biased or limited in your understanding due to you not being a male in Western society.

          I really admire JP as well, but I agree (to some extent) that his views on the significance of specific interpretations of stories and the way he dismisses people who claim to be atheists while still holding moral values can seem too certain to do justice to him and sometimes put him at odds with other topics that play more to his strengths.

          The author points out that he is sometimes inconsistent in what he claims, which I admit appears to be a flaw with JP’s arguments (especially where he seems to confuse atheism with a lack of morals because as the author points out, many religious people behave appallingly), but I think even with his apparent contradictions while stumbling around for coherence, JP’s suggestion that we need (and create) structures in order to encourage values and behaviours that are for the benefit of ourselves and future generations above and beyond the conclusions we can draw from observable facts are probably closer to the truth than someone like Sam Harris, who claims that you can derive a useful value system (and therefore moral code) simply by extrapolating from observable facts and applying logic that would sustain “well being”.

          When JP is talking about “god” and “the divine” in the sense of a flawless embodiment of the ideal “hero” figure, it fits completely in with his other work and observations, but when he gets bogged down in other descriptions or draws parallels from specific biblical stories (for example), it does diminish his argument.

        • Susan says

          In which society is it preferable to be female?

      • Michiel says

        Can’t disagree. I’m a “fan” of Peterson but I think this critique is relevant (not all Peterson fans are blind followers or fanboys ;)) and justified. As an atheist, I still find some of his musings on religion to be interesting, but in the end I have to conclude that his conception of ‘god’ and religion is very far removed from that of the great religious, god-fearing masses of the world, which also makes his arguments for a greater, or re-valued role of (the concept of) god/religion in society rather problematic. If religion gets a greater influence again, it for sure won’t be Peterson’s version, but something quite a bit more literal (and therefore way more dangerous).

      • Steve says

        “To have any meaningful conversation between two human beings, we need to agree on the meaning of words that are used in common parlance.”

        The terms in question grapple with those aspects of reality which are by definition at the very edge of human comprehension. The deepest roots of reality obviously extend infinitely beyond human reach. That Peterson — or any intelligent, honest person — has difficulty pinning down the meaning of “God” or “divine” is about as surprising as the need for science to employ terminology such as “charmed” quarks.

        Reducing Christian ontology to the equivalent of a whodunnit reveals a mind unburdened by an awareness of the vertical axis of our existence.

      • That’s the whole point: Atheists want to adhere to a strawman definition of “truth”, “reurrection” and so forth, so that they can wholly and without bad conscience fully dispose of religion.

        Any thorough discussion actually begins with defining terms. So, no wonder that many discussions about religion actually spend most of the time arguing about terms. ;P

      • “To have any meaningful conversation between two human beings, we need to agree on the meaning of words that are used in common parlance.”

        Words like man and woman? Funny that that’s how Peterson shot to fame.

      • dirk says

        It is with myths so: they are very relevant, and often the common history of a people or nation, but it’s rather futile to put questions whether this or that is really true, or just fiction. Sometimes, fiction weighs heavier than naked truth. And Peterson knows this all too well, of course.

      • John Stewart says

        Could he be trying to redefine the meaning of religious words and theology? I have read that Kierkegaard and others were up to the same thing. And, of course, some of those same thinkers say that is what Jesus did — reinterpreted Judaism. Peterson doesn’t have enough wattage for such a role, I’m afraid.

    • You’re right, he doesn’t have to be specific about God and doesn’t owe anyone a cogent explanation of any of his positions.
      But if he would like to engage in fruitful discussions on the topic, then it would behoove him to do so.

  2. But, not addressing the point of Peterson’s understanding and still focusing on traditional definitions. People are complex and Christian people can still be evil and dangerous. God is only one of many words used over the millennia to refer to the fundamental human grappling with the forces or order and chaos Peterson describes.

  3. I’ve watched a good many of Peterson’s videos and a few of his lectures and what I’m always curious about is why he never spends more time speaking about Kierkegaard, who seems would be his best ally in such debates. I remember the debate between Christopher Hitchens and Frank Turek, where Hitchens ended with the statement that at no time did Turek ever just say that he believes in the divine through faith alone.

    Admittedly I have not read any of Kierkegaard’s works, they’re on my list, but I am curious if any of you have heard Peterson reference Kierkegaard more in other lectures and do you think Christian Existentialism would be a natural ally to what he is trying to do.

    • My guess is that he knows his endorsement of Nietzsche excludes his endorsement of Kierkegaard.

      For the most part, they are walking the same line but they diverge on their belief in the veracity and value of religion. Peterson gives a VERY idiosyncratic interpretation of Nietzsche that, through some opaque intellectual gymnastics, supports his theological proclivities, despite the fact Nietzsche was emphatically anti-religious.

      You’re right in that Peterson is more closely aligned with Kierkegaard with regards to his views of morality, but that is only because Nietzsche’s ethics were that of a genocidal psychopath. Kierkegaard was more focused on the individual transcending society whereas Nietzsche wanted a subclass of superhumans to mercilessly slaughter all the ordinary “bungled and botched” masses, while employing the weaker sex as slaves.

      How Peterson reconciles his views on ethics with the utterances of a genocidal madman is something that further needs to be addressed.

      And by the way, when Peterson cites Nietzsche as predicting the “deaths of tens of millions of people,” he (Nietzsche) was doing so with orgasmic relish.

      • The fact that yourself and Peterson disagree about what Nietzsche meant is an artifact of his aphoristic and non-systematic style. Nobody knows exactly what Nietzsche meant and he would have probably wanted it that way.

        • You could literally, yes literally, say that about any text in order to excuse anything the author wrote, including Mein Kampf.

          There is a reason that Hitler sent Nietzsche’s entire works to Mussolini for as a birthday gift. I invite you to read Nietzsche yourself rather than second hand and see what you think. But fare warning, you will encounter passages like the following:

          “I do not point to the evil and pain of existence with the finger of reproach, but rather entertain the hope that life may one day become more evil and more full of suffering than it has ever been.” (Will to Power)

          “That higher Party of Life which would take the greatest of all tasks into its hands, the higher breeding of humanity, **including the merciless extermination of everything degenerate and parasitical**, would make possible again that excess of life on earth from which the Dionysian state will grow again.”

          “Woman’s love involves injustice and blindness against everything that she does not love… Woman is not yet capable of friendship: women are still cats and birds. Or at best cows…” (Thus Spake Zarathustra)

          If you want to do the interpretational gymnastics to somehow see these passages as benign, like I said, you mine as well do the the same thing to Mein Kampf.

      • Nick says

        “Nietzsche wanted a subclass of superhumans to mercilessly slaughter” [citation needed]

        • “A doctrine is needed powerful enough to work as a breeding agent: strengthening the strong, paralyzing and destructive for the world-weary. The annihilation of the humbug called “morality.” . . . The annihilation of the decaying races. . . . Dominion over the earth as a means of producing a higher type.” —Will to Power

    • Austin says

      I’ve had this thought myself. I’ve never heard Peterson mention him, though it seems unlikely that he hasn’t read him considering his familiarity with existential ideas. I’ll take a leap of faith and assume that a reference to Kierkegaard can be found somewhere in Maps of Meaning I can’t be bothered to appreciate my empirical side and find out.

    • Kendall Burks says

      I’m quite familiar with Peterson and Kierkegaard, and I would agree that he would benefit from a thorough consideration of Kierkegaard’s perspective. He’s read some of Kierkegaard, but very little as far as I can tell. He quotes the same passage every time he references him, and his understanding seems to be fairly shallow. I don’t blame him necessarily. It’s not as if he hasn’t spent enough time reading in his life.

  4. Anthony Alder says

    Martin Buber wrote an excellent book “The Eclipse of God” on this topic.

  5. Andrew_W says

    I’ve long concluded that Peterson, being brought up with strong Christian beliefs, has simply been unable to abandon those core beliefs in the face of evidence that psychology is moving past a reliance on good and evil as explaining human behaviour. His heart and his head are conflicted, so we end up being offered these word salads in and attempt to avoid addressing the incommensurable.

    • Rico says

      That’s what I thought, too. He seems to make Rube Goldberg-type interpretations for stories in the bible that are pretty straight-forward. He sites non-scholastic websites as “proof”, when there are volumes of books by people like Bart Ehrman that explain these stories historically and succinctly.

      the story of Abraham and Issac is just about subjugation to god and faith. Peterson makes it out to be some deeper story when it isn’t.

      • Apis Mellifera says

        This may sound facetious, but saying that it “is just about subjugation to god and faith” begets the central question of ‘What is God?’ Why did this story, which is historically derivate of stories dating far, far earlier, end up apotheosized in the Bible? Is it fair to say that something as culturally significant as the Bible/its stories, and its pedigree of stories and allusions, do not bely something deeper, and that an explanation of them that stops at “this is just about god and faith” is sufficient?

        Peterson, in my eyes, as I am reading throuhg Maps of Meaning, is trying to explain not only what god is, but why god is. The latter serves as a good template for answering the former. Why do we believe. Why do we tell stories…

        ‘Religios is a belief in god’ almost sounds like a tautology if you do not try to define precisely what each element in that phrase is. Relgion, belief, god….. defining these might be the keystone of Peterson’s theological projects.

  6. If you have ever had a mystical experience of ‘God’ than you know it’s impossible to describe. As words become more abstract people’s meanings of them differ more. The Buddhists realize this and say ‘God is Nothing’ – because in silence and in the absence of definition you are closer than if you had ever attempted to define it. In that sense God is more of an experience (or absence of experience) than a concept.

    • Apis Mellifera says

      Peterson, I think, tries to explain how others explain these shared mystical experiences. Ritual, Drama, Narrative, Myth… Through word and (dramatized/ritualized) action and then stories.

  7. StrangerTides says

    Best piece I have read on Quillette in weeks. Thanks for wading through Peterson’s nonsense and exposing its incoherence. I sincerely hope Harris stops associating with this character sooner rather than later.

    • ” I sincerely hope Harris stops associating with this character sooner rather than later.”

      How bigoted of you! Hardly in the spirit universal peace, love and brotherhood is it?

      • StrangerTides says

        Point taken, perhaps I was a bit harsh. And I don’t want to come across as attacking the man himself.

        However, I strongly believe that ideas should be criticized when criticism is warranted. Harris has made an honest attempt to agree on terminology in order to understand what exactly Peterson is saying. As eloquently pointed out by Johnson in this article, Peterson’s answer to this is to keep shifting the meaning of his words. In order to achieve universal peace, love, and brotherhood, we must strive to understand each other, and that includes making our best effort to be understood as well.

        • “And I don’t want to come across as attacking the man himself.” You did just that.

          • StrangerTides says

            Okay, well you can see how this is a difficult thing to do politely, but I’ll try to do better. 😉
            It’s totally fine for Peterson to state his positions, and I’m not saying people should be disrespectful of him. But I am saying that his arguments fall flat for me, and this article does a nice job explaining why. And while there is some value in Sam Harris being willing to publicly and civilly disagree, I think it’s run its course now; the two have little in common and there’s no good reason to associate them.

        • Turkmenbashy says

          No, you were appropriately harsh. Peterson has made a few interesting points on different topics, but all too often does what this article describes: Responds to direct questions with what my high school English teacher called, ‘bafflegab’. He has a high I.Q., to be sure, but that’s only a measure of his processing ability… the software is what’s important. If you used a supercomputer to run Atari E.T., the output will still be garbage.

          What really disappoints me is that the time he’s spending with Peterson is time he isn’t spending with interesting people from various disciplines. It’s so rare that he gets a clunker of a guest on his podcast, so it’s unfortunate seeing him continually going back to the biggest clunker of them all.

    • derek says

      I think Harris is finding the challenge to his ideas useful. It helps him formulate them better and more completely.

      Maybe he should shun the unbeliever. Far safer that way.

      You do realize that you slipped into one of the more cultish patterns of thought that characterizes religious belief and practice. You really ought to polish up your secularism.

    • James says

      Well said. I was there in London and exactly the same thought dawned on me. Harris is orders of magnitude smarter than this showman. Peterson is smoke and mirrors… fancy suits and flowery rhetoric; a little bit like a politician or, rather more fittingly, a snake oil salesman.

      • Apis Mellifera says

        The fact that Sam is constantly going back to discuss with Peterson, and they appear to have an increasingly convivial and mutually-respectful relationship, signals to me that Sam doesn’t consider himself to be orders of magnitude smarter than Peterson, or that he is a snake oil salesman.

    • Brendan Hennigan says

      A very dismissive contribution. I wonder are you familiar with Peterson’s work at all.To dismiss his work as nonsense is also to look down your nose at his hordes of followers.
      I note you fail to offer your proper name. Why is that?

    • Jay says

      Exactly what I thought. And not harsh at all. Peterson is just another Deepak Chopra. At least you can laugh at Chopra. With Peterson you just wonder what a dishonest person he is.

  8. Awesome analysis. You seem to have only made it through chapter 1 of maps of meaning. Also, read Jung. Answer to Job is a good place to start.

    • “You seem to have only made it through chapter 1 of maps of meaning. Also, read Jung.”

      Nice and condescending, eh?

      • Gray says

        Yea, I shouldn’t have said only… well played. I’m kinda a jerk and use sarcasm too much. Thank you for calling me out

      • But a basic understanding of Jung is essential to make sense of Peterson’s ambiguity. Jung himself wrote, “Whatever you say, make it clear that I have no dogma, I’m open and haven’t got things fixed.” Jungian theory has been trashed by many because of of its apparent appeal to belief, but Jung knew from Nietzsche that “God is dead” but the gods are not, at least in the domain of the “collective unconscious” archetypes.

        I personally ignore Peterson’s religious and alt-right fans; they think the boats he rocks are their those of their despised Other. Like reading the bible, some believers pick and choose those passages from Peterson that they think validate their biases, and are further warmed by the reaction of the identity politics crowd against Peterson’s public persona. Don’t be fooled; Peterson is making some valuable contributions to our discourse.

        Both Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson are worth listening to, but maybe not together!

        • @ duluthswede

          That wasn’t the point of my comment. Rather the patronising manner of the original commenter towards the author. There was no need for it.

  9. Vlot49 says

    Saying that the explanation of fascism or communism or the pervasive modern nihilism that Peterson grounds on theism vs atheism is univariate of monocausal reveals a complete misunderstanding of religion and reason by part of the author of the article.

    • Il. Meyer says

      @Vlot49 Perhaps and unlikely.

      It all makes sense, however, if one views it from the perspective of levels of developmental understanding. One can only understand something from the cognitive/experiential level one is at. So, clearly, there are going to be multiple interpretations of what religion (and God) actually mean. Does that mean that some interpretations are ‘better’ than others? No. More inclusive? Absolutely.

  10. “There’s just one problem: Jordan Peterson’s God is nobody else’s God.” It’s exactly as I’d hoped…..why does the article propose (intentionally or not) that this conclusion is cause for concern?….it’s not, but instead, the best conclusion one can hope for.

    • Il. Meyer says

      You nailed it perfectly. That’s why this article is just unhelpful. And the editors here need to be much more critical in what they accept.

    • Michiel says

      Well it’s cause for concern because Peterson also argues for a re-valuation of the role of belief/god/religion in society. However if that would happen, we would have realistically conclude that whatever belief system is resurgent, is won’t be Peterson’s mystical and ultimately inoffensive version of Christianity, but probably something quite a bit more literal (and possibly dangerous).

  11. Christian Romney says

    That’s a lot of ink spilled to call Peterson’s ramblings bullshit. When words can be re-mapped so as to rebrand atheists as theists of a sort, it becomes impossible to have a meaningful conversation.

  12. “Nietzsche’s theory can’t account for the fact that fascism co-existed with Catholicism everywhere from Spain and Portugal to Italy, Croatia, and Slovakia (where the despot who ran the country was actually a Roman Catholic priest, Jozef Tiso).“

    Ok, so this is the old guilty by association argument. Because Catholics could be Nazis at the same time, Catholicism is perfectly compatible with the worst atrocities of the Nazis. Of course maybe the author is ignorant of the fact that Catholic Church leaders were faced with an impossible choice between a communism, which was dedicated to the eradication of the church, and Nazism, which was not an existential threat to the church. Given these choices, the church decided it would be best to ‘co-exist’ with the regime that was not goin to burn it to the ground.

    In his preconceived determination to impugn religion, or at least make a false equivalence, the author fails to argue convincingly that the atheistic character of the 20th century communist utopias was not at least partially to blame for the murderous outcomes.

    • @ AA

      “Given these choices, the church decided it would be best to ‘co-exist’ with the regime that was not goin to burn it to the ground. ”

      So how is this: “the old guilty by association argument” if the church is actively signing accords with Hitler? Pope Pius XI’s concordat gave at least some legitimacy to Hitler’s regime. This was a poor and rather immoral move. Having said that, Catholic Church’s dealings were not as simple as all that. Many Catholics opposed Hitler. And Hitler himself many times moved against the Catholics – despite the accord. But the point remains: the Church certainly did not do enough to distance itself and oppose Hitler.

      • Northern Observer says

        Who are you to make that judgement? It’s ridiculous. It’s like saying the Sassanid Persian Empire didn’t do enough to top the rise of Arabian Empire.
        The Church did what it could to survive the massacre of Europe and mitigate the atrocity as best it could.
        Very easy to criticize from our 2018 living rooms.

        • @ Northern Observer

          “Who are you to make that judgement?”

          I am me, of course. Didn’t you know?

          “It’s ridiculous.”

          Why? Anyone is allowed to make judgement. One argues over the merits and not over the fact a judgement is made at all.

          “It’s like saying the Sassanid Persian Empire didn’t do enough to top the rise of Arabian Empire.”

          No it isn’t. One Empire gave way to another. Sassnid’s obviously tried everything to stay in power. The Church is NOT an Empire. And opposing Hitler would not have wiped it out. And might even have done some good. No wonder Europe has abandoned the old faith in droves.

          “The Church did what it could to survive the massacre of Europe”

          Popppycock! The church has often behaved appallingly in front of such murderous regimes. It is very guilty and has a lot of blood on its hands.

          “Very easy to criticize from our 2018 living rooms.”

          Of course it is. Just because it is “easy” – does not invalidate the criticism.

      • And Luther’s writings on the Jews were used to bring the Lutheran Church in line. William Shirer writes about in “Rise and Fall…”

        I never assume Popes, Reformers, The State Church and it’s politics have anything at all to do with Christianity except as people using it to control others, historically. With that said, I like the idea of people discussing and thinking about God way outside the typical box. So, I appreciate that about Peterson even though I disagree with some of his assertions.

        Ironically, “defining God” has been an interesting exercise in some Theology circles since Islam has become more popular in the West. It’s been a bit of a dust up clash in some Christian circles on whether Yahweh and Allah are the same -just understood differently. Frankly, I find it all rather healthy. Much more healthy than SJW witch hunts.

  13. X. Citoyen says

    No doubt it would be easier to refute Peterson if he gave a straightforward definition like “old man with a long white beard, sits a lot” at least to the extent that refutation is possible in such cases. But the fact that Peterson doesn’t make it easy for you doesn’t imply that he’s making it hard on purpose. Lots of things are hard. Take the foundations of mathematics. Being a Platonist, I know that numbers are really real. What do I mean by that? I mean really real realities.

    Obscure you say? Well, how about a bigger fish than me on something solid like physics. According to Wikipedia, Richard Feynman suggested the following very nuanced definition about the foundations:

    “People say to me, ‘Are you looking for the ultimate laws of physics?’ No, I’m not … If it turns out there is a simple ultimate law which explains everything, so be it – that would be very nice to discover. If it turns out it’s like an onion with millions of layers … then that’s the way it is. But either way there’s Nature and she’s going to come out the way She is. So therefore when we go to investigate we shouldn’t predecide what it is we’re looking for only to find out more about it.”

    How do you like them highly scientific definitional apples?

    As for Nietzsche’s prediction, he was mostly right. In the wake of the death of God, supermen did arise to found new civilizations, causing much death and destruction. Two separate but similar groups of supermen arose, in fact, both aiming to raze all that had come before, ushering in a new millennium. Nietzsche was only wrong on their success. It’s worth noting too that he hoped they would resurrect Greek consciousness, but that didn’t pan out either.

    The rest looks as though your chopping him into the usual grist suited for usual Anglo-American atheist mill. That might be fair to Peterson–it’s hard for me to say. But the grist isn’t very realistic.

    • Albert Einstein, “You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.”

      So, your argument is this: “Peterson hold a complex view and he doesn’t have to explain it. Moreover, just because you don’t understand it doesn’t mean is position isn’t well constructed.”

      So, by this logic, you have no metric by which you can judge bad ideas from good ones. One can just string a bunch of multi-syllabic words together and call it “complex” and the burden is on the listener to try and make sense of it.

      If you want to play that game, go ahead. But just fyi, you’ll have no ground to stand on when the postmodernists come after you with their nonsensical jargon about “privilege matrixes” and “intersectional hierarchies.”

      You might want to say, “I don’t understand what you mean by performative gender.” And they’ll reply, “It’s complex and nuanced so we don’t have to explain it.” And what will you reply then?

      As for the babble about Nietzsche and supermen and civilizations . . . I don’t know what you’re on man, but can I have some? Speaking of meaningless strings of words, Jesus.

      • @Graham Drope — There is a difference between a “completed” theory that is prescriptive of how the world should be and an incomplete descriptive attempt to explain how things seem to be.There is also a difference between a hypothetical imperative and a categorical imperative. Imperatives and theories may seem unrelated, but it is heading off the next logical thought that is obvious from the idea of descriptive theories and how Peterson uses them.

        Rejecting Peterson to me feels like rejecting cancer research because it hasn’t found a “cure” yet. Things are incomplete and meaningful with Peterson.

        The idea of anyone actually being “right” in these kinds of discussions is beside the point. J.S. Mill is a good source of understanding why being vague is fine as long as the time is taken (eventually) to drill into what the meaning of words are in a discussion like this.

        Peterson isn’t playing a “game” in the sense that you are saying above. It isn’t about being right. It is about dealing with all of the evidence on the table and being weary of those who can confidently say “I looked at the evidence, and I have a solution.”

        • As to your first point, sorry but I can’t figure out what it is. All I can see is a series of tautologies strung together without any meaning:

          I’ll grant you that there’s a difference between prescriptive and descriptive theories. I’ll also grant you that there’s a difference between Kant’s hypothetical and categorical imperatives. I will also grant you that there’s a difference between blue and green. I don’t see how the latter distinction is any more relevant than the former two.

          And to use the cancer research analogy, suppose some researchers want to get funding. They go to apply for a grant but the donors can’t understand what exactly the researchers are planning to research and what exactly they are planning to do with the funding. The donors complain that the proposal is incomplete. They reply, “Our proposal may be incomplete but it is meaningful!” Do you think this is a sufficient reason to fund their research. Would you?

          We are not talking about art here. Of course in art there is value in abstract language and a lack of concreteness. Here, however, these are faults not virtues. We are talking about ethics and how to properly orient oneself in the world. This requires a certain level of clear elucidation so that the ideas may be evaluated according to some reasonable metric. Otherwise, anybody could say anything that “sounds” meaningful and it could just be accepted prima facie without any further examination. Peterson critiques postmodernists for doing exactly this, then turns around and performs the same obscurantism himself. Most likely owing to the fact that he is enamoured with existentialists like Nietzsche and mystics like Dostoevsky. Both of whom have disdain for reason and clear, logically formulated ideas.

          As for JSM, I suggest you read him and compare the articulation of his ideas compared to Peterson when he is being obscure. They simply aren’t comparable at all.

          • @Graham Drope — The postmodernists that you are talking about in your first post are making prescriptive statements. Peterson is being descriptive. Any prescriptive properties from Peterson come from hypothetical imperatives. I see the postmodernists as making categorical imperatives (through pure logic) that they have not earned through those methods.

            We are not talking about science. This is theology and philosophy with some psychology thrown in to tie things together. Using your reasoning, from my perspective you can just throw out all of theology or philosophy since the results are taking so long. Maybe the mice have wasted their time and money? (Maybe too obscure, but I am thinking of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.)

            This is what I was referring to with Mill, but was too lazy to find the quote from On Liberty.

            JS Mill, Chapter 2 of On Liberty: “Wrong opinions and practices gradually yield to fact and argument: but facts and arguments, to produce any effect on the mind, must be brought before it. Very few facts are able to tell their own story, without comments to bring out their meaning. The whole strength and value, then, of human judgment, depending on the one property, that it can be set right when it is wrong, reliance can be placed on it only when the means of setting it right are kept constantly at hand.”

            If there is someone arguing for the things Peterson is but more lucidly, I am very interested in knowing who that person is. I am reading Jung, Campbell, and Neumann on these same topics. I consider Peterson to be arguing something subtly different. Defining God isn’t a part of Peterson’s argument for how he sees the world. It is a part of how Sam Harris plans to tear that argument down, though. The problem is that Christian biblical scholars disagree on the definition of god, God, gods, and other associated concepts. It would take multiple hours to explain the concepts, and you can never quite get there.

            These aren’t simple concepts that we have the language to explain. I don’t consider Jung, Nietzsche, or Kant to be easy reading. I consider Peterson to be more clear than any of those authors (except maybe Nietzsche, depending on what work I am reading.) Maybe I am wrong with my interpretations. I can say that Peterson’s concept of God is more lucid and useful to me than any concept of God before. It isn’t complete. No concept of God is complete and coherent, though, that I have found.

          • Sorry, but can you clarify your understanding of the prescriptive/descriptive distinction? I don’t think you grasp it quite fully. Or perhaps offer some examples of what you mean? I still don’t understand what you are talking about. Postmodernists absolutely do make descriptive claims? And Peterson absolutely does make prescriptive claims (“12 Rules for Life”–the hint is in the title), but I do not see what this has to do with Kant’s categorical imperative. And to which formulation are you even referring to? There are two formulations and several interpretations.

            And I also don’t see how my reasoning would suggest that all philosophy should be discarded? Due to some sort of time restraint? I would like to know what this has to do with my criticism of Peterson’s obscurity.

            And explain to me how Mill is being obscure in that passage? I’m also not sure what that has to do with anything.

            Just because an idea is complex or abstract doesn’t mean that it is unexplainable. Sit any theoretical physicist down and they will be able to explain complex phenomena a myriad of different ways without ever having to cop out with “It’s too complex to explain”. Or, consider the metaphysics branch of philosophy. Concepts in metaphysics as complex as anything, yet a metaphysical philosopher who could not explain his position thoroughly or worse yet, complain that his idea is too complex to explain, would be dismissed with extreme prejudice.

            Well if you want to bring up Harris, why doesn’t Peterson drill Harris down on his definition of consciousness? Consciousness is undoubtedly no more difficult to define than God. Yet, if Peterson were to inquire into Harris’ concept of consciousness, Harris would be able to both provide a succinct definition in one sentence, or go on for hours providing one clear explanation after another.

            Obscurantism does not entail sophistication, rather the contrary is the case. If there is anything one learns from studying philosophy scrupulously, it is that.

            Moreover, if you study language, you will learn that definitions, like Peterson’s use of God, are meaningless unless they are bound to concrete concepts. If your definition of God is some mystic element out in the ether, what work is that word even doing? It means nothing. Why even use it? And then to cop out with some excuse like “well I act as if God exists” is not acceptable. Those kind of cop-outs aren’t tolerated in academia and unfortunately for Peterson, he is being called out on it.

          • @Graham Drope Descriptive means you are describing. Peterson describes and then gives a prescription in the form of a hypothetical imperative. It begins with “if.” He doesn’t tell you the world is one way and then derive the ought.

            I am saying you either reject Jordan Peterson as valid (which is obviously absurd) or you are rejecting philosophical discussions where you disagree with one side.

            Mill is not being obscure. He is saying to have the conversation.

            The concept of God is a personal one. Asking Peterson how he conceives God is as important as asking Harris his morning routine. It’s not pertinent to the discussion at hand.

            You are asking a different question than me. The world is not a concrete thing. You cannot use reason alone. Not only does it fail but it is impossible.

            Peterson isn’t doing a cop out. It is valid to say that acting as if God exists is better than acting as if God doesn’t exist. Focusing on if God exists is the wrong unit of analysis for Peterson. The question is what happens if everyone knows he doesn’t exist. Harris seems to see the same problem, as he is trying to fix the problems that are occurring with people because of the death of God. They are doing the same thing. Peterson is describing the world and then giving people a way to believe in the possibility of God. Harris is denying God and then giving them a way to live.

            The definition of God only matters if you want to see Harris skip the argument entirely and do an end around.

          • The descriptive/ prescriptive distinction in is as follows: A descriptive theory aims to explain how and why people behave the way they do. It is an attempt to account for the world “is”. One example of a descriptive theory is Psychological Egoism. This theory maintains that people act in such a way as to only ever benefit themselves. According to PE, everyone acts for selfish motives even if the act prima facie seems altruistic. For instance, if one donates to charity, according to PE, one only does so for the “good feeling” one gets from doing it, not from the altruistic desire to help others. A prescriptive theory, on the other hand, attempts to provide a basis for how the world *should be*, or how people “should act”. Most moral theories fall under this category. Utilitarians generally hold that people “should” act in such a way as to bring about the greatest happiness. They do not, however, make a descriptive claim in that they believe this is how people should actually act.

            From what I understand, Peterson’s philosophy consists of both descriptive and prescriptive claims that are tied together rather loosely. His descriptive claims seem to primarily hinge on his belief that there are fundamental psychological *phenomena that underlay all other psychological processes that seem to only be borne out in ancient myths. I use the asterisk with phenomena because Peterson often uses other vague terms like “axioms” or “substrate” “truths”, which, much like his use God, are so generic that it is difficult to understand what he means. My argument is that I don’t think he does know what he means. He is attempting to bridge a gap between existential philosophy and science that simply isn’t tenable. Thus, he uses vague, generic terms like “God,” “axioms,” “substrate,” “truths” etc. as terms as a sort of blanket of vagueness to cover the fundamental disconnect between his philosophical and scientific claims.

            Harris, through dialectic inquiry, is merely lifting trying to lift up that blanket of vague terms to see exactly what the connection is between Peterson’s philosophical and scientific claims. And diversions like “I act as if God exists” really does nothing to help him because one could easily just reply, “Actually, you act as if God doesn’t exist.” (Which, actually, would be much, much closer to the truth since Peterson doesn’t seem to endorse prayer or other religious practices. Rather, apart from his work, he seems to act and live in such a way that resembles a non-believer.) But how do we determine who is right? Only by dialectical investigation can each position be borne out and evaluated. Otherwise, you would just get ping-pong like gainsaying which does not get anyone closer to the truth.

            Harris never once “skipped” an argument, that maneuver lies solely at the feet of Peterson, who does so repeatedly. And if you want to claim Harris is just being a “dick,” which would be a fair enough criticism to make, consider the pointed assertions Peterson has made about atheists: “Atheists are really atheists” being one example.

            The only argument that one could make for the “need for God” would be some sort of linguistic necessity. As in, people just need something to call God, no matter what that something is. This is a pretty weak position, and I would side with Freud in that religion is primarily a way for people to cope with the thought of death. To this point, Peterson is also equivocal. He doesn’t clearly state whether he believes in heaven or the afterlife, though he uses the former term metaphorically all too frequently.

          • @Graham Drope Why do you think people needing something to call God is a weak position? People need something to aspire to. An ideal. Otherwise we risk casting our self in the role of God, or at least a god.

            I haven’t seen these discussions released yet, but have read Peterson’s blog.

            https://jordanbpeterson.com/philosophy/facts-from-values-not-without-an-intermediary-notes-on-the-sam-harris-discussions-part-ii/

            If Harris has replied in a similar way, I have not seen it. I am familiar with his arguments, but don’t understand how he can cogently respond to Peterson’s best laid arguments.

            You seem to be dismissing Peterson’s arguments out of hands and then insulting people to boot. This article getting hung up on Peterson’s definition of God feels like attempting to dismiss Christianity because two Catholics have different liturgy. It doesn’t hurt Peterson’s argument at all. I think the question for Harris is more if it can build his argument.

            Peterson answering Harris would help Harris build his argument against Peterson in specific. It doesn’t help address the argument in general.

            As for the descriptive and prescriptive distinction, there is a nuanced position where you stay in the descriptive and then ending in a hypothetical.

            “80% of people who do this end up with a broken bone. If you don’t want to risk a broken bone, this should be considered.”

            Versus

            “Don’t do that thing because you will break a bone.”

            I find one useful and one generally useless. It isn’t a philosophical distinction as much as a semantic one. I think it is important though, because one allows you to form your own conclusion from your own reasoning and another is authoritative but not properly formulated.

            Hopefully that makes sense. I am getting the hang of interacting with people on these subjects.

      • X. Citoyen says

        Did Einstein’s grandma understand his papers? How about his 150-page layman’s explanation of relativity? I don’t know, but I do know a lot of undergraduates who didn’t. I also know at least one grandma—not to mention many book reviewers—who didn’t understand Stephen Hawking’s Brief History of Time. Is Hawking full of it too? It’s either that or the grandma-gets-it criterion is an unreliable one. I pick the latter.

        I didn’t say Peterson doesn’t have to explain himself, though I don’t believe anyone has a moral obligation to and no one has a legal obligation to explain his beliefs about God to anyone, let alone to provide versions of his beliefs intelligible to hypothetical grandmas.

        I said that making different statements about God doesn’t prove he’s inconsistent or dissimulating. On the contrary, Peterson’s many statements about God are consistent with his Jungian archetypes theory. If the “hero has a thousand faces,” surely God can have half a dozen. It would be more surprising if he said God only had one. If his theory is wrong, therefore, it’s not because he doesn’t provide a univocal grandma-friendly definition of an archetype.

        As for epistemic metrics, I think mine hold more water than yours, if only because the grandma-gets-it criterion leads to the very antinomy that concerns you. If you explain Godel’s first proof to grandma, for example, and she says you’re full of it, what’s your response to her recalcitrance other than “It’s more nuanced and complicated than that, Granny”? Obscurantism can be feigned as easily and effectively as it can be done.

        I prefer a more rigorous approach. I wouldn’t call privilege matrixes and intersectional hierarchies “nonsensical jargon,” for example, because the intensions are clear enough. I’d ask about the extensions. Then I’d probably point out that the facts don’t fit the model. Quite often, though not always, an empirical verification of an empirical claim is, as every atheist’s favourite John Lennon songs says, “easy if you try.”

        It’s also pretty easy to babble about Nietzsche because Nietzsche babbles a lot. But all the words I used come from Nietzsche, and they happen to have extensions in recent history: Supermen (= Ubermensch = Hitler, Lenin, Moa, Pol Pot, etc.) did try to found new civilizations shortly after Nietzsche announced the death of God, and they did kill a lot of people in the process. It’s the history of the twentieth century in a nutshell. If you claim there’s still a mystery here, I’m going to have to assume you’re playing your recalcitrant grandma’s game.

        Speaking of not playing games, I think this is what the author’s complaint comes down to: Peterson won’t define God as an empirical entity, so the author can’t demand evidence that Peterson doesn’t have. To his credit, the author stopped short of accusing Peterson of unseemly motives, even if the insinuation was fairly strongly telegraphed.

        • Christopher Hitchens,
          “A point, like a joke, is a terrible thing to miss.”

          Your demonstrable lacking of any sense of irony is most disturbing. And Einstein and Hawkings’ theories have reshaped our understanding of physics and space and have been proven accurate after being tested mathematically literally thousands of times. My point was the ideas are incredibly complex, yet they can be explained. As with any metaphysical problem such as contingent versus necessary identity (Kripke, Gibbard). The thrust of my point is that fully developed and meaningful concepts, no matter how complex, can and should be explained. If they can’t, then they simply don’t meet academic requirements. And citing book reviews of Hawkings’ book, merely indicates that you haven’t read it. You won’t find one sentence in it that is as obscure as Peterson’s explanation of God.

          Sorry but to defend a position on the basis of the arguments that support that position doesn’t constitute an argument, it’s what we call “circular”. You claim that Peterson is “consistent” because his inconsistency over his interpretation of “God” is consistent with Jungian archetypes. But Peterson is deriving his interpretation of God from Jung’s theory to begin with, so how is this not circular reasoning?

          And, again, the fact that you don’t understand irony is rather offputting. However, it explains a lot. I also don’t think you understand what “proof” means. Hint: it means “poof”, “proved”, “proven”. Mathematical proofs are mathematically true, whether they can be understood by a person taken at random is irrelevant. They are proofs! Not a good example to use on your part.

          What a said literally was nonsensical jargon . . . I made it up. And the fact that you think you can make any sense of nonsense really puts you in your own Carollian world. Also, again, your lack of irony would make your “supermen” Hitler, Lenin, Mao and even Pol Pot cringe.

          As for Nietzsche’s predictions, I have read a lot of Nietzsche and I never saw him reference any of those individuals. But of course, his predictions were “metaphorical”, as Peterson would argue. I’ve looked up several claims that Peterson had made with regards to Nietzsche and the Bible. His interpretations are often so dislocated from the actual text, if one were to use the same methodology, one could walk into a cookbook store and come out professing the ancient wisdom of Tuna Casserole.

          Nietzsche’s predictions amount to this = bad things will happen. What a genius! Of course, no one else caught up in the militaristic and nationalistic milieu of the latter 19th century made similar predictions and statements. Or wait . . .

          And what the hell is an “empirical entity”? I think you may have read too much Peterson, half of the phrases you use are either self-contradicting, tautologous or nonsensical.

          The author’s criticism is valid and justified.

          • X. Citoyen says

            Ah, yeah, your jokes were very funny. I was so awed by your comic genius I pretended not to catch on. Am I less “disturbing” and “off-putting” to you now that I acknowledged your biting wit? I ask because my character seemed to be the abiding concern in your last post—more so than the Peterson or defending yourself.

            Still, I wonder about your grasp of irony. In the response to Peter from Oz, you said your Einstein quotation was a joke, not an appeal to authority for your grandma criterion; then you turned around and appealed to authority to assert your grandma criterion: “Ask any expert in any serious field and they will tell you the same thing.” That’s irony. In this context, however, I should probably explain: You excoriated me for not getting your joke about Einstein, and then you admitted to Peter that it’s a serious criticism of Peterson after all. And it gets richer.

            This next irony is a little more brutal than the first one, I’m afraid. You asserted that I must not have read Hawking (not “Hawkings”). A non sequitur, to be sure, and I assume the point was to insinuate that I, unlike you, is an ignoramus about physics.

            This is never a good tactic when you’re liable to throw a stone through your own glass house in the same paragraph: “And Einstein and Hawkings’ [sic] theories…have been proven accurate after being tested mathematically literally thousands of times.” How do I put this in a way your grandma would understand? Very simply, it turns out: Physical theories are not proven by “mathematical testing,” but by experiments and observations. Einstein’s was proven (partly) by the 1919 solar eclipse, and none of Hawking’s theories have been proven yet—that’s why he never won a Nobel Prize. And you had go make it more cringe-inducing by tagging on that “literally thousands of times” hyperbole.

            I could go on to other points, I suppose, but it seems to me that the rest of your claims have been sucked into the back hole created when your gasbaggery when supernova.

            I note, in closing, that standpoint counts in irony. I find the irony funny (and Peter of Oz might too) because you’ve been so downright belligerent and condescending. But I suspect it will be harder for you to laugh about.

          • Good Lord! Ladies and gentlemen, I may have just discovered the most humorless individual to have ever drawn mortal breath!

            First, my guess is that somewhere in your dwelling there may be a dictionary that has accrued a good amount of dust from lack of use. I suggest you recover it, wipe off the dust jacket, then look up “non-sequitur” and see if it means what you think it means. I’ll give you a hint, it does not mean “typo”, which is the only thing you can accuse me of. I meant *Hawking’s not *Hawkings’. There is an “s” because it is possessive. You might want to look up how that works as well. After you’ve finished, you can then look up the idiom “throwing rocks in a glass house” and see if that also means what you think it means.

            Second, I never implied you were an ignoramus with respect to physics, those are your words. I was merely criticizing you for citing a book that you seem to not have read; a point you don’t seem to be disputing.

            Third, Jesus, Marie and Joseph, do I really have to explain how irony works? It is a sad thing indeed that someone with such an adoration for figurative language can’t seem to “get it” when it comes to irony. I’ll explain.

            “Grandma” in this context is not to be taken absolutely literally. It’s not like one could say, “Ha, Albert, I have proved you wrong. I have just spoken with my comatose grandmother and she couldn’t understand a word of your theory! You must be mistaken!” That is absurd. Rather, he is making a figurative point. He is saying that if one really understands something, one should be able to explain simply enough that it could be reasonably assumed that a hypothetical older woman (or man, gender is irrelevant) would be able to grasp it. To put it even simpler: If you can explain it, you understand it. If you can’t, you don’t.

            In this way, Einstein is both making a joke (grandmother is not meant to be taken absolutely literally) and a point. All of this agrees with everything I have said.

            Fourth, I also don’t think you understand how astrophysics works, either. They create models and wait to see if the evidence supports those models. But regardless, what would the thrust of this point be? Are you claiming that Einstein and Hawking haven’t contributed significantly to physics? Um, okay? Even if I were to grant you that, what would your point then be? . . . ? You couldn’t have chosen something less relevant to the thrust of my argument to take issue with.

            Lastly, I don’t believe I ever crossed the territory into ad hominem, as you just did so humorlessly. Perhaps you should leave the subtlety of humor to those who are better equipped in the field. And perhaps I have been belligerent and condescending. But how boring would life be if one didn’t dabble in such qualities on occasion?

        • Turkmenbashy says

          @Graham Drope

          Good Christ, your comments were refreshing to read here. An oasis of rationality in a desert of nonsense.

      • Peter from Oz says

        Has it crossed your mind that Einstein was wrong and can’t be used as an authority on this point?
        Nevertheless, there is a lot in what you say.

        • It’s an ironic quote, not an appeal to authority. And no it hasn’t really crossed my mind. Ask any expert in any serious field and they will tell you the same thing. If one has a clear concept then one should be able to explain it. The only disciplines to which this very basic standard doesn’t apply are the subjects under the umbrella of post-modernism or critical theory. Of which, ironically, Peterson is the most critical. This is why his position is so god damn perplexing and frustrating.

          • Dirk says

            @Graham I’d like to also concur on the balm of encountering your comments within this place

      • kartheek kadaru says

        Albert Einstein, “You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.”
        That’s why nobody really understand what Einstein has said.

        • Yeah, that whole “special relativity” thing hasn’t had any impact on physics at all. The only reason he’s famous is for his wacky hair . . .

  14. David Turnbull says

    ” Instead of doing his best to adhere to definitions of words like ‘God,’ ‘divine,’ and ‘religion’ that are likely to be understood and shared by his audience ”

    and there is where everything that follows goes off the rails.

    • Il. Meyer says

      @David Turnbull Yup. And where I stopped reading.

    • I would love to know what the author thinks most of Peterson’s audiences’ definition of these words are. It is a mighty presumptuous statement to make. Certainly his audiences’ definitions are nuanced and varied and probably not agreed upon with any significant degree of precision Having said that, I don’t believe that the majority of ppl who listen to him are listening bc of his opinions on religion, God, and the devine. I think most of his listeners are far more interested in his opinion on topics that can be discussed with more precision and certainty than the concept of “God”

  15. George Wohlford says

    In my opinion, Peterson has been quite clear on the matter. His refusal to answer the question “Do you believe in God” with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ is quite easy to understand, if you are looking in the right places. I would point the interested reader to two sources for reference.

    1. The end of his interview with S. Pinker. https://jordanbpeterson.com/podcasts/podcast-episode/episode-49/) and

    2. https://jordanbpeterson.com/podcasts/podcast-episode/53-susan-blackmore/

    At the end of his interview with Pinker, Peterson shows his hand I believe. To paraphrase, he asks Pinker if the enlightenment was perhaps made possible because of the expansion of Judeo-Christian religious values, to which (if memory serves me well) Pinker admits may be a likely possibility. For me, this was the “ah ha!” moment that allowed me to fuse Peterson’s sometimes seemingly discordant views. Peterson clearly doesn’t reject science and he also clearly doesn’t reject religion and he doesn’t need to nor want to. To answer the god question with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ (regardless if given the chance to expand), would allow easy categorization. This would then lead the conversation down a path where those asking would not need to contend with Peterson’s definitions. His unwillingness to give a direct answer forces those posing the question to define the parameters for themselves, to which, they are often ill equipped to do.

    Q: Why do you need to categorize Peterson’s religious views? A: So you can make assumptions to break down his arguments.

    To Johnson (author), if you read this, I was much as you appear to be in this piece, until I had the realization that Peterson believes the enlightenment and all of its fruits would not have been possible if not for the spread of Judeo-Chrisitianity. His works, I believe, are an attempt to understand why that is true. For me, this realization came with hearing the last few questions Peterson had for Pinker.

    Of note, if you follow Peterson on twitter you may see that he has become a big supporter of Pinkers work in his book enlightenment now.

    For some of the other ideas selectively touched on in this article, by way of selectively smattering quotes and questions posed but left unanswered, please see the debate Peterson has with Susan Blackmore. I think he explains himself well there.

    George Wohlford, PharmD

    • AC Harper says

      I agree that the debate with Susan Blackmore was illuminating.

      I quite like Peterson’s argument that you should sort yourself out first before you try to sort out the world. That you should live the way you would like others to live. But where Peterson becomes opaque (more healer than philosopher?) is when he lauds religious texts and narratives as sources of wisdom. There is certainly wisdom to be found in such places but he avoids saying whether it descends ‘from above’ or just captures cultural myths of the time. He also avoids the 90% of crap in such sources (Sturgeon’s Law).

      He appears to dislike atheists because they deny the value of religious wisdoms – leading to death and destruction. Yet he is apparently unwilling to acknowledge the good that atheists do by demolishing religious anti-wisdoms, promoting life and creativity.

      YMMV of course.

    • OleK says

      George, thanks for mentioning those two podcasts. I largely agree here.

      I see this whole article as some spurious straw manning. Peterson’s whole biblical series is A viewpoint, and as he says “from a Psychological perspective”. Shall we as the ESPN Sportscenter hosts their views on chemistry or the environment, Steven Pinker’s views on historical painting techniques, or Sam Harris’s views on Baroque performance? Sure, they may have SOME spurious knowledge, but no one will hold them as experts nor seek them out nor really care much.

    • OleK says

      I guess to get to the point more, while those podcasts demonstrate that Peterson HAS become much clearer than the OP claims, Peterson doesn’t need to be nor does anyone really care. It simply doesn’t matter.

    • Lydia says

      “Q: Why do you need to categorize Peterson’s religious views? A: So you can make assumptions to break down his arguments.”

      I think you have nailed it.

  16. I figure his God is the phenomenological experience built up in the mind of each being when their thinking is bouncing back and forth between left-brain/right-brain or order and chaos. It’s a bootstrapped divinity which relies on haven taken-in a sufficiently broad amount of experience and traditional knowledge into the chaotic substance of the right-brain and the openness to change that let’s the meaning lurking there come out to be interpreted rationally by the left. Eventually the “truth” begins compounding and identifying it’s likeness in the world through experience, providing a divine connection and light upon things.

    Before I learned of Peterson I was thinking of it in the terms of Bayes’ Theorem. Your left-brain has all your priors which slowly need to be adjusted by new data which is slowly, slowly worked upon by the right-brain. What can happen, though, is some sort of cascade/avalanche of “chaos” from the right-brain which overwhelms your capacity for rational thought. That’s when you need to sort it out and begin burning off all that you find which needs to be put aside. Just given the nature of our culture, if you have any religious upbringing than that sort of language will inevitably crop up in your mind, especially when the world begins “telling you things” through the pattern recognition of raw sensory data, as though you were interpreting the meaning of art.

    So this process of getting overwhelmed with chaos, rationally sorting through it and building order, and finding truths resonating through your raw sensory experience of the world end up providing an unmistakable phenomenological connection with “God” whose nature is just as he spells it out, basically.

    To internalize and maintain a fixed logical or rational conception of the world at large, and remain closed-off to perceiving some communal truth which chaos/order-straddling people can, with open hearts, talk about and discuss reasonably with each other in spite of differences of opinion is then to be doing the metaphorical devil’s work. Rationality can fall into that trap if it stays too logical and doesn’t account for human experience in it’s full potentialities as expressed by the more tribal, magical thinking which better operates in the realm of myth.

  17. derek says

    So where do the horrors of communism come from, and why does it look the same no matter where it is implemented? Fascism in Spain, Germany and Italy looked quite different.

    The justifications for abortion comes from a secular understanding. Remember that secular societies don’t reproduce, an evolutionary failure that we are living through.

    Atheism and morality should be held in the same disdain as religion and morality. At least the writings of the judeo christian heritage hold religious institutions as almost universally awful and falling short many times catastrophically. Just read the old testament prophets and the Gospels. You will find vigorous condemnations of the religious institutions of the time.

    The oddest thing i ever heard was Dawkins giving a talk, broadcast by the Ideas program on CBC. A decade ago about. What was amazing is how the structure, cadence, even many of the arguments, and the self righteous certitude of the audience of the faithful resembled a southern Baptist talk before a congregation. I was shocked.

    I doubt anyone agrees with everything Peterson says, including Peterson himself. But he forces you to get out of your dogmatic and rigid thought patterns. This article was an expression of frustration on how slippery Peterson is. How dare he not fit in the tiny little boxes that I’ve defined as reality or how reality should be represented. Maybe in fact that by the time secularists and atheists come to a complete understanding of how people work and by hard mistakes paid in blood they will come to a very similar place as the religious traditions. As long as we don’t do ourselves in before then. We almost didn’t survive the last century. The religious archetypes describe every bad and good idea that was tried or experienced. Is it necessary to learn them again?

    • Samuel Skinner says

      “So where do the horrors of communism come from, and why does it look the same no matter where it is implemented? Fascism in Spain, Germany and Italy looked quite different.”

      Because communism is a tactic to seize power. This is a problem once it has power (since individuals continue to compete for power) and people die until you have communism replaced by more conservative and legitist beliefs.

      Spain wasn’t fascist (The Falangists were a faction of the Nationalists; they took horrific casualties during the war). Mussolini was a limited ruler (who eventually was fired by the king) who had children (so he cared about the future) and had limited aims. Hitler was an absolute ruler who was the head of a political cult, had no children and intended to fundamentally transform Germany position in the world during his lifetime.

      “Atheism and morality should be held in the same disdain as religion and morality.”

      Both are category errors. Religion is the transmission system for morality. You can only coordinate people if you tell them it is important to think about the long term future, focus on exact meanings and reward others who are engaging in these tasks.

      • derek says

        >Religion is the transmission system for morality.

        I disagree. It is evidence of our desire to find or impose meaning on what we experience. Like any structure of thought it can be taken advantage of to control people, to dominate over them. And it always has been used to provide a story, which become justification for what you want to do. Almost any power structures, kingdom, gang, realm has its priesthood, someone to put together a story that explains it all.

        The nazis had a story of a glorious escape from oppression leading to greatness. If it sounds familiar it is. The Communists have a similar one. So do the jews, and the Christian Church, Venezuela, the African Americans, etc. The story in healthy societies is counteracted with other religious stories that prevent the national story from becoming all consuming.

        I lived in the final few years of the Catholic Church primacy in Quebec, and saw these structures used to oppress, but it disappeared with the exposure to other stories that were far more satisfying and productive.

        The stories are powerful because they work. The religious strictures on morality worked because people stayed alive and someone was around to look after the children. The strictures on apostasy worked because coherent and stable groups survived.

        Believe me, the failure of the churches in Germany to prevent that catastrophe has shown them to be useless and not worth preserving. They exist in large part today due to government money in that country. Another set of stories has taken its place, which again is under severe challenge because it is failing.

        Atheism is a story like the rest, based on what is currently known. It’s power of preservation is not apparent, and we see secular societies unable to deal with more vigorous stories. Which means that it likely will end up as all the other failed stories that are an academic interest only.

  18. I think your summary of a lot of Peterson’s beliefs and debating tactics are very accurate and well explained. You clearly seem to understand his way of thinking and build a good steel man of it. But towards the end, I feel like you don’t actually attack that steel man properly.

    In one paragraph you talk about Nazism. “Call this ideological abomination whatever you want, but it certainly wasn’t atheism.” But as you strongly established, Peterson’s definition of atheism is “a rejection of morality and meaning”, which manifests as this Lucifierian pride. You recite that “This pride is totalitarian assumption of omniscience—is adoption of God’s place by ‘reason’”. So then by Peterson’s definition, Nazis were atheists.

    This is a reassertion of Nietzsche’s claim, which is that abandoning the underlying set of axiomatic presuppositions upon which Judeo-Christianity is predicated results in a need to incorporate some form of totalitarian certainty in its place (apparently it was one of his 3 predictions). Contrary to what you seem to claim, there’s no reason that this certainty can’t be built out of a complex amalgamation of catholic dogmatism and mysticism. In fact, the divorcing of Christianity from its original values is exactly what Nietzsche criticises.

    You make the same criticism when you pose the question “Why has moral progress so often required our civilization to renounce the dogmas and dictates of the Judeo-Christian tradition Peterson reveres?” These are the elements that Nietzsche renounced, and are not what Peterson reveres. Peterson reveres the axiomatic presuppositions upon which Christianity was originally predicated.

    For that reason I don’t think Peterson is at all “left with the fact that the most heinous crimes of the twentieth century were committed by people for whom God was still very much alive.” God wasn’t alive. He was dead, by Nietzsche and Peterson’s definition.

  19. Ebere says

    The first part of it was objective. The second part of it exposed the ideological inclinations of the author
    The author addresses a fair point: Peterson’s definition of God is opaque and it makes it easy for him to dodge in the presence of athiests
    But, the author then goes on to make interesting side claims that he didn’t defend
    He made bold claims about apologists and other statements he didn’t defend.
    E.g

    “But this is just the same *false dichotomy*—a society is either God-fearing or murderous (a dichotomy Peterson extends to individuals)—that apologists have been repeating for decades.”

    At which point did the author explain why it’s a false dichotomy? That word “false” is a loaded word, and how can he expect us to accept his evaluation as correct when he doesn’t himself substantiate them?
    And notice how the author changes the bar:

    He first accused Peterson of making a false dichotomy, and he then goes on to invoke a strawman.

    “Nietzsche’s theory can’t account for the fact that fascism co-existed with Catholicism everywhere from Spain and …”

    Did Peterson ever claim that Christian societies cannot cope with fascist elements?

    How does Peterson claiming that a society without Judeo-Christian values descends into chaos, imply that fascist elements cannot co-exist in such societies?

    This argument is a non-sequitor.

    Peterson was taking things to the far extreme and comparing their effects. Peterson claimed that a society with a deep appreciation for Judeo-Christian values would be far less likely to descend into chaos than a society without any belief in God. No where does Peterson say that elements of both cannot exist, and so the author pointing this fact out, has not really addressed the issue.

    In fact, the author shot himself on the foot by admitting that Peterson himself says that it is a good thing that the rationalists challenged and weakened the stance of religious authorities, so what exactly does this writer have a problem with?
    See how the author commits the same Crime he’s accusing Peterson of in this paragraph:

    So what about the rationalist critiques of religion written by Enlightenment atheists like Hume and Spinoza? Or the withering attacks on Christianity by Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine? What about all the aspects of our Christian heritage that Peterson doesn’t emphasize, like the virulent anti-Semitism that infected the Third Reich, the scriptural warrants for slavery and genocide, and the savage religious wars that preceded the Enlightenment? Why has moral progress so often required our civilization to renounce the dogmas and dictates of the Judeo-Christian tradition Peterson reveres?
    The author edits his definition of Christianity to make it look like anti-Semitism, Savage religious wars, etc, are supported by Christianity.

    He still makes the same point about pple criticizing Christianity as a sort of evidence to show that Peterson was wrong. This is frankly ridiculous.

    The best part of the article is the first part. From the middle to the end, the author wages a subtle war on Christianity by using the same tactics he claims Peterson uses; he redefines Christianity at will to suit his contention that Christianity is as bad as atheism

  20. Mark says

    Ask the man what he believes. Don’t guess. Don’t speculate.He links to enough articles in Quillette that I’m sure Claire could simply ask him.

    Don’t quote a book he released in 1999 that it took him 15 years to write. His opinion may have changed during the last 30+ years.

    Sloppy article.

    • Adolph says

      Sam did ask him. Jordan answered. Have heard Jordan say the same kind of thing in many such discussions.

      The translation of what Jordan says into plain English is: NO, I do not believe in god.

      Problem is. We get nowhere, with or without the question.

      • Andrew_W says

        “The translation of what Jordan says into plain English is: NO, I do not believe in god.”
        If that is what Peterson believes he would say “NO, I do not believe in god.”
        It’s bad form to put words into other peoples mouths, as Cathy Newman demonstrated.

  21. Unrepentant says

    Matt,
    Your article is very interesting, and I always like reading a healthy criticism. My main problem with it is your clear intent to make this an atheism vs religion issue, when it doesn’t need to be. In fact, an odd phenomenon of Peterson’s rise is the appearance of people you could refer to as Christian Atheists. These people are clear Atheists, but are very drawn to the judeo-christian metaphorical universe of western civilization that Peterson paints, and think it worth while to make changes to the way they live their lives towards those archetypes, while remaining confident atheists.

    I have always interpreted Peterson as making statements about God or Hell or whatnot in a very universal manner. If you are very religious, his statements about God work. If you are very anti-religious even, his statements about God still work in the metaphorical sense. I don’t think anything he has ever said has to do with being against atheism, but instead more against post-modernists throwing the baby out with the bathwater when dismissing to totality of western culture in pursuit of leftist Utopian ideas.

    When he speaks of the catastrophes in the 19th century, his critiques are of the ill formed philosophies of Marxism and french socialist philosophers, not of atheism. You are interpreting the phrase “Gods death” to assume Peterson means the the rise of Atheism.I dont think I have ever heard Peterson explicitly say atheism is bad, or that it is the cause of all of the 20th century’s tragedy. Of course, if you could cite where he does, rather than inferring it, I would appreciate it. Otherwise I think much of this article is arguing against a straw-man Peterson that is anti-atheist, when such a Jordan Peterson doesn’t exist.

    • Andrew_W says

      “I dont think I have ever heard Peterson explicitly say atheism is bad, or that it is the cause of all of the 20th century’s tragedy. Of course, if you could cite where he does, rather than inferring it, I would appreciate it.”

      In my link above Peterson is asked what a genuine atheist would be like, he replys that “he’d be like Raskolnikov from Crime And Punishment”. I think it’s fair to say that the character Raskolnikov has many of the traits we associate with sociopaths.

      • Stu Mac says

        Except that Raskolnikov, unlike a sociopath, was deeply effected by the actions he took in putting his little theory into practice. He was tormented and eventually redeemed.

        • Andrew_W says

          In Peterson’s interpretation of Raskolnikov, Raskolnikov was acting like a genuine atheist in plotting his crime, afterwards when he was tormented by his conscience, that was the equivalent of God talking to him, he was no longer a genuine atheist, Peterson sees the atheist with a conscience as acting like a believer in God and not a genuine atheist.

  22. Michael says

    Sam Harris says “the God of the Bible does not (literally) exist,” defining his atheism (and by extension, his notoriety and philosophical foundation) on this very obvious and rather trite assertion. Does anybody really think this is a meaningful and profound message? Is it really so important and enlightened to understand that Noah never boarded pairs of animals on an ark to survive the flood?

    Peterson is asserting that the Bible was developed according to a pre-scientific tradition of knowledge, wherein the accumulation of wisdom about people and their nature was conceptualized in narrative form and eventually written down. “God,” thus, should be understood as metaphor. A metaphor for what? Hmmmm . . . something deeply profound . . . why else would these (wise) people of the past have conceptualized it as “God”?

    The author of this article, like Sam Harris, is annoyed because Peterson doesn’t define this transcendental concept in cut-and-dried terms that can be broken down and analyzed in the same manner as would an automobile transmission or an episode of Dragnet. In short, Peterson is attempting to stretch our understanding of reality; Harris and his advocate here want to close and confine existence as though it were on a petri dish in a laboratory, while touting their moral and intellectual superiority over all those lunatics who supposedly don’t understand that the Bible is not literally true.

    Is that all this is about, really? Convincing the world that the Bible is not literally true?

    Quite a noble and brilliant crusade!.

    • Unrepentant says

      Michael: this article does seam almost retro doesn’t it? It rehashes many arguments from the “New Atheist Movement” that was what, 12+ years ago at this point? I see Peterson as one philosopher of many contributing towards a more complete understanding of the Human Condition (I dont exclude Harrison by the way, the man is good for healthy debate, and is right about a great many things)

      • Clayton Luke says

        I think I might share your understanding of Jordan Peterson, but I wonder whether I am getting him right. To a large degree I see Peterson making exactly the same argument as Sam Harris, except it is a more sophisticated higher resolution thesis as to why human beings might act to reduce suffering and use a tool such as the concept of God. Both Harris and Peterson are at some point required to make their argument circular or “lift itself up by its bootstraps.” Harris is not troubled by this but Peterson has a much harder time seeing where he is doing it, but it is so obvious throughout Peterson’s writing that he is appealing to Judaeo-Christian ethics to support the value of evolved narratives eventuating in Judaeo-Christian ethics. The truth of the argument (I think) is that the universe (“that which selects”) has created humans in such a way that minimizing suffering at this point in our history probably sounds like a good idea to any given person (and they can reliably be expected to act upon that ethic given the right circumstances). The only real reason for this is: that is the way it is and if it wasn’t that way we would be something other than what we are and we might not be around. Good enough for me. There is nothing to say that this characteristic might not be our undoing at some point in the future or that it will never change. The daylight that exists between Harris and Peterson (if there is any) is in the way Peterson wants to define “exits” or “truth”. I’m with Harris on that one (although I accept that a “meme” or idea can appear to have a life of its own and appear to “possess” an individual or species and to understand this is important).

        So Peterson loses me at “Act as if God exists.”, because to me God does not exist and acting as if the universe is a way that it is not sounds dangerous. I’d rather act as if the idea of God is a useful tool and has clearly shaped our history and our very being. The author is right to challenge Peterson to be precise when he talks about God and not to leave himself open to misinterpretation. I think Matt got the ambiguity exactly right.

  23. You touched on it in the article, but after reading Maps of Meaning, I think that for Peterson to give a satisfying answer to the question of “What is God?”, he must commit to his cosmology which portrays the world the as eternal unknown and the eternal process which transforms the unknown into the known, which Peterson calls the Logos. If I had to summarize in one sentence what I think Peterson means by God, I would say God is the process which transforms the unknown into the known. From that one axiomatic statement flows all of Maps of Meaning and the rest of Peterson’s work. He dances around that and articulates it in many, many different ways, but as far as I know he has never committed to stating his cosmology/philosophy succinctly in this manner.

    • SmileyHappy says

      Actually, Peterson references Taoism in his book ’12 Rules’ – I find that his position corresponds quite closely with with the initial chapters of the Tao Te Ching (“The Way and its Power”) which is similar to your description.

      • He has said before that he would like to do a lecture (maybe even series of lectures) on the Tao Te Ching in the style of his biblical lectures. He is definitely familiar with the Tao Te Ching, and offers up this line in Maps of Meaning drawing parallels between the Tao and other concepts/gods:

        “Tao, from the Eastern perspective, is the pattern of behavior that mediates between [chaos and order, or unknown unexplored territory and known explored territory] (analogous to En-lil, Marduk, and the Logos) – that constantly generates, and regenerates, the ‘universe.'”

    • David Lloyd says

      Thanks for that rsanchez1990, I think you’ve clarified his position accurately.

      I became a committed atheist in my twenties, after growing up in a very Christian home. Peterson has done a great job in reawakening a more open-minded approach to these deeper questions of meaning.

      I keep thinking back to Erwin Schrödingers book ‘what is life’. It argued that life is a peculiar example of machines that create physical order out of chaos. It feels to me like Peterson’s Logos-as-God concept is a parallel to that, where we each have the capability to create a better state of mental and social order from the chaos of the society where we originate.

      This is the message Peterson brings forth in his incomplete biblical series too, the evolution of ever-more refined and civilised society as the Bible progresses.

  24. Adolph says

    The translation of what Jordan says into plain English is: NO, I do not believe in god.

    Problem is. We get nowhere, with or without the question.

  25. Rory says

    After many years of meditation, a Buddhist monk runs up to his master.

    ” Master, I get it. That rock is in my head .”

    Master replies “You must have a very big head to fit a rock that size.”

    Or, to quote Yolandi Visser:

    “If you haven’t got it by now, yo, you’re never gonna get it.”

  26. Noah Liguori says

    A detailed article and I was glad to see him eventually bring it back around to the question of ” what is Peterson’s belief of God”. I don’t think that Peterson is entirely speaking of God in such abstractions as to be talking another language from the masses so to speak. I do agree though that speaking in more meaningful and definitive terms would bring greater insight. The fact is that the world today does tend, by and large and to varying degrees, to see God in some form of depersonalization. Atheism; Budhism, hinduism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, New Age, New Thought movement, Pluralists, Deism etc has an image of a God or god that is far off, able to be manipulated to some degree, and where the practitioner has some level of detachment from their stated diety. Where their view of God is largely mancenric. In this case then man can come up with subjective views of what is sacred and spiritual, what is in fact right or wrong. That in and of itself is quite abstract and non definitive. The current climate of having a lack of absolutes grows in direct correlation with a more and more subjective and abstract view of God; morality, love, mercy, justice, and other such foundational concepts.To say that God is defined by “Good” or “bad” behavior is in itself a totally man centered and devoid of definition, begging subjectivity.
    My view is that Peterson is having an existential crisis, where there is this huge conflict between what he sees as the consequences of a modern world that is reaping the results of doing away with a more concrete and relational view of God as a person in the Judaic Christian view, where there is a law giver and absolutes, and instead a mass of conflicting ideas of what is moral and right based on the premise that man is inherently good. This is is where Peterson is trying to find answers as a psychologist that can only really be found by a theologian. That said someone’s suggestion of Kierekgaard is a good one, as he had the mind of a philosopher, theologian and some psychology in one.
    The fact is that we have mistaken science as a source of conflict with God rather than a process for observing the works of God, and keeping ourselves in perspective in the process. Let’s take Peterson’s sensible approach to this latest insanity that somehow our gender is determined by a subjective experience that we are having. This is a good example of how science does not support this, a biblical narrative does not support this, and yet what does support It? A subjective, man(ok person!)cenric, no absolutist perspective. This is rising up in sinc with secular humanism. Even many mainstream religions have very little to say on these things, yet the biblical compilations, 66 texts over 1500 plus yrs, speak of the complexities of the human psyche; the meaning of suffering, purpose of the world, defining wisdom and the mind, defining the meaning of male and female, the nature and character of God, defining what good character is, defining the nature of mankind ( yeah person kind), defining true power, revealing eternity, justice, law and order, authority, covenant, marriage, relationships, business and commerce, sexuality, spirituality, friendship, faith, trust, the miraculous, other dimensions, time and space, and many other things that speak of order not chaos. I think Jordan sees some elements of this, as do many responding to his message, because we are seeing that there is something wrong with this society that has turned from that narrative.

    • AC Harper says

      It’s curious that Peterson attracts some criticism for being opaque about whether or not he believes in God and Richard Dawkins attracts some criticism for using too simple an understanding of what God is. But as soon as anybody tries to formulate a definition of the god they are discussing everybody else steps back. It’s almost as if god is off limits.

  27. Rob says

    People are acting as though Peterson is the first person to talk about God in psychological terms rather than supernatural. Read the Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell. Or watch his interviews with Bill Moyer – they’re on Netflix.

    It really is astonishing a) how little of what Peterson says is original, and b) how often both his fans and detractors betray their ignorance of his influences.

  28. Tony says

    The writer just doesn’t get it. That is OK though, it’s not for everybody. Should have made a better effort to research the materials he was using to support his deeply mistaken premise, a little more thoroughly though. He would have realized that they really support JP’s words and not his misguided ones. Also making the amateur argument that southern preachers promoted slavery because of Christianity…. well it’s too childish to even waste time explaining it to the author. Do better next time.

  29. Ocean Creature says

    I find it utterly fascinating, when articles like this are written, how much the authors demand infallible cogency and clarity from someone like Dr. Peterson. What is far more important is the process. Peterson lets us watch how a mind studies, gathers, questions, and wonders as it wrestles with the basic questions of existence. The point is to watch and learn, not to watch and adopt. If we merely adopt, then we are not doing our own wrestling and taking our own journey to each arrive at a philosophy of life that allows for each of our flourishing. Every person on earth has to work out their own salvation. It’s our most important task. Peterson does it with an incredible openness, fearlessness, and the humility to wait years for the synthesis to yield answers that are meaningful to him. Watch and learn the process! That’s the point. Then bow down before your own, reasoned, honest conclusions and be transformed!

  30. Chester Draws says

    In Peterson’s 12 rules, which of them depends on believing in God?

    No-one is perfect. Most of us,are pretty vague on what we believe in. We are contradictory, and what we believe changes anyway.

    I strongly distrust those that know *exactly* what they believe in, because that is where the zealots are — the ones that will punish people for thinking the wrong things. The great holocausts and holodomors are not caused by people like Peterson, precisely because they don’t have that certainty that their opponent is wrong.

    That Peterson is a bit vague on God is a good thing in my opinion. Especially as what he is advising is how humans should *behave*, not what they should believe.

  31. martti_s says

    Finally somebody sticks to what Peterson is saying and leaves his person alone.
    What I (as an atheist with religious experiences) see in Peterson is the real and basic problem of most of the human beings: We do not make sense. We know things but we feel about them in such a way that what we rationally know does not really matter. We want the reality to change according to our wishes and when it doesn’t we pretend it does.

    I think I saw this in Peterson when he was facing Sam Harris. There are big emotions there that respect no rules. My interpretation is that Peterson ‘feels’ God and ‘knows’ he exists in the way people think they know things even though they don’t. This is a feeling thing.

    • dirk says

      I don’t agree Martti,he doesn’t feel God, he thinks/imagines/constructs God, just like Spinoza and Einstein and a few other intellectuals.

      • martti_s says

        What is your way of ‘knowing’ this or is it just a hunch*

        • martti_s says

          God and money have a lot of things in common.
          They seem to create themselves, appear out of nowhere and disappear without leaving a trace. They are everywhere and nowhere, baby.
          They take the side of the strong, the one who knows what he wants and who Believes. They both punish those who do not accept their power and in their rage, they have no mercy. You lose everything, your health, your family, your life. They both have a long memory, their hatred goes to the sons and the daughters…you are a have-not, so is your offspring.
          They both have a heaven to offer, one had a better bid, having it here on Earth while the other wants you to die first.

          What is the single most important thing they have in common?
          Without us, they would not exist.

        • dirk says

          It is something what I feel and understand after reading and ruminating him. Of course, I can be mistaken.

  32. SmileyHappy says

    “In other words, his idea of God is too vague and expansive to be useful: He might as well just add an ‘o’ to the word.”

    So, let’s roll with the Peterson idea.

    1. God is a vague, expansive goodness.

    2. The human mind struggles to accept the unknowable/indefinable aspects of it, and creates religion to try and decipher/understand it.

    3. Religions then claim understanding of the mystery – this shared story unifies disparate tribes/societies/countries/etc.

    4. Different societies meet, stories are compared. Religions are forced to differentiate from each and each claims ownership “ours is the true God”, leading to division and the persecution of wars, Nazis, etc.

    5. “Vague, expansive goodness” remains patiently waiting in the background while humans commit atrocities over who is right.

    Or:

    1. God is a vague, expansive goodness.

    2. Modern scientific man struggles to accept such vagaries, so creates scientific method to try and understand the unknown.

    3. Scientific method de-mystifies many previously unexplained phenomena – unifies disparate tribes/societies on the basis that God cannot be real as it cannot be proven.

    4. Scientists and Believers compare stories. Each unwilling to defer to other, leading to division and persecution of (religious/culture) wars.

    5. “Vague, expansive goodness” remains patiently waiting in the background while humans commit atrocities over who is right.

    Being unknown, there is no defined boundary and no opposite. That in itself, is useful for contemplation.

  33. Andrew Schultz says

    Alright, I want to hear why I’m wrong here, because I found that article to be a little bit vague in it’s intentions.

    Peterson earned a whole bunch of attention over the Cathy Newman “So what you’re saying is” interview. It received attention for 2 reasons, one that Peterson’s argument was detailed, but also the insistence of Cathy to literally reword, summarise and alter the conclusion, to varying degrees. I think it’s very fair to say that Peterson is refusing to engage when it comes to defining “God”, I think that’s completely valid and I think leaving terms open like that whilst choosing to use it contextually should be critiqued. I don’t see how this author isn’t pulling a different version of “So what you’re saying is”:

    “He’s making yet another simplistic, monocausal argument that ignores all the elements of our philosophical and cultural tradition that contradict it.”

    This article is half commentary on the author and half commentary of the argument. The problem I’m left with is that the criticism of Peterson’s arguing method are valid, but the criticisms of Peterson’s point aren’t really explored enough for anyone to have a better understanding of how this affects it. Or to what extent does the problem established in the other half of this article affects Peterson’s point. What if we just accepted Peterson’s view as fundamentally religious, does that alter the argument made through his work?

    So I think I like that the article establishes a problem, but I don’t really know what to do form there with it? I don’t think people need a whole lot of justification to reject Peterson’s point, I’m hoping to hear the problem fleshed out.

    • OleK says

      Nice response. Still…I don’t see any “problem” at all. Peterson is not nor claims to be a religious leader/theologian/pastor/etc.

      The title says “The peculiar opacity of JBP’s Religious Views”. Sure. But SO WHAT?!?

  34. Paul says

    Mr Matt Johnson… please define atheism for me, also please explain exactly why the virulent anti-Semitism that infected the Third Reich occurred. What? You say you cannot define atheism or the anti-semitism? Oh dear.

  35. ZmemornsaL says

    But Spinoza was a pantheist if I am not mistaken.

    I reject the “pop” atheist atheism/theism dichotomy, for the two standpoints are easily reconciled if you employ a little syncretism. Everyone knows that Brahma is an anthropomorphic representation of the self-created reality of the universe, and that “he” most likely does not exist — just as no Vaishnavist *really* believes in Vishnu, and no Shaivist *really* believes in Shiva; and just as The LORD of the Abrahamic religious ideologies is a more abstract but just as conceptually concrete version of the same thing — and these constructions are actually useful to the individual who serves them and maintains them, as the embodiment or personification of his or her understanding of things like virtue and perfection. I think that that is what Peterson is trying to say.

    But Matt — that’s a hell of a long way saying that nonconventional forms of theism are not a thing.

  36. dirk says

    Peterson’s crusades agaist atheism perfectly fit in with his general conservative, hierarchical archetype construct of world and society. God as a Judeo-Christian consciousness, thus a Western God, but what about Islam? Shintoism? Hinduism?
    I really miss some muslim commenters here on this blog. Because, I wonder how they see and live their faith, a faith of submission, of following heavenly rules, also fierce against any form of atheism (christianity is bad, but much better than atheism),
    a very personal God (like in Christianity), a God for the masses, the nation, but a God that does not fit in well with Petersons highly intellectual God idea. Does every culture (or person? no, because = collective) has its own archetypical God and Faith?

  37. rodt3 says

    @OleK If his whole rationale is that you cant be good without a belief in God, then he should have at least have a basic definition of God. He is worse than L.Ron Hubbard with Scientology. As ridiculous as the Scientology faith is it actually takes things on a rational path. Jordan just truly makes no sense on any level. He is disingenuous as a academic. A complete word mangler and if your whole gambit is about god and spirit then maybe know about that

    • OleK says

      1) Worse than L. Ron Hubbard? LOL! Sure trying to Godwin there! No, he DOESN’T have to have a basic definition in God nor does most of his audience need him to. Sure, many in his audience WANT him to (speaking of his supporters, although his critics want him for their own malicious reasons).

      2) well no, his “whole gambit” is NOT about god and spirit…but it is a big component.

      I don’t see any “problem” at all. Peterson is not nor claims to be a religious leader/theologian/pastor/etc.

      The title says “The peculiar opacity of JBP’s Religious Views”. Sure. But SO F-ING WHAT?!?

  38. John AD says

    Good article. Peterson should be held to account for his florid waffling. Pinned down, interrupted, forced to clarify, interrupted on that clarification when needed, and so on.

    Harris’s first podcast with him serves as a definitive example of the problem with Peterson’s ungrounded fancy.

  39. Justin says

    I don’t think Peterson is doing anything much different than what any of the bible authors have done. Biblical language for God or what/who God is is 100% metaphorical. The bible has hundreds of different metaphors or images to describe God and the author of this article (much like Sam Harris and the many atheists and intellectuals getting huffy and puffy about Peterson’s ‘evasiveness’) are unable to distinguish between their own preconceived and fundamentalist inspired straw men of ‘God’ and religion from the depth and breadth of religious complexity over millennia. I would challenge the author to identify a single, uniform, non-metaphorical description of God direct from the Judaeo-Christian bible. If you cannot understand the reason for this distinction then you will likely never understand why he does it.

  40. dirk says

    I note her many commenters asking for proper definitions of atheism, theism, God and religion. I fear, a legacy of the old analytical school of Wittgenstein and others, where all meaningful talk and science stops where definitions fail. Alas, in metaphysics (meaningless, in the eyes of analytics) looking for sharp, or even half baked definitions is like hunting down the famous Snark of Lewis Carroll.

  41. Ed Szumowski says

    This is a thoughtful and incisive criticism of JBP and I suspect that, reading it, he’d feel sincerely challenged.

    I think the author did well in his representation of many positions put forward by JBP. But he could have been more generous and noted how often Peterson says he uses his writings and public speaking events to figure out what he’s thinking. Something about articulation allows for real-time critique and evaluation. Not to give JBP a pass on these important questions, I’d like to hear them answered. He seems to be engaged in an honest quest.

    Whether “the good” is coincident with these beliefs or these beliefs are coincident with “the good” may be the underlying question for him to confront.

  42. The great Andrew Klavan says Peterson is about where he, Klavan, was in his thinking on Christianity about five years before he converted.

  43. If memory serves, theological controversies and the associated struggles of religion and sect primarily reflect differences over the meaning of God, or the relationship between God and man. Obviously, from the standpoint of atheist polemics, it is important to maintain ignorance of such nuances, and to oversimplify and overgeneralize about the contents of such traditions, especially when you are talking about midwits like Dawkins critiquing geniuses like Aquinas. The results have to be something like junior high school Soviet lectures on capitalism.

    On the other hand, if you look at Aquinas’s “argument” from degrees, that the reality of a hierarchy of goods entails a supreme good, which is designated “God”, it think it is compatible with Jordan’s framework (and philosophically descended from Platonism). Under such a framework, what a person treats as the supreme good becomes their God, and something like atheism is incoherent or dishonest. Obviously, the modern tendency to relativism is an attempt to dissolve the objectivity of relative judgments, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and the like, and the naturalist tradition of rejecting formal and final causes is a useful metaphysical move to discount the possibility of such a move. [One would have to see that “proofs” of the existence of God are not, in fact, “proofs” but definitions of a concept. . . and “refutations” simply an attempt to impose grammatical rules to prohibit the use of such phrases.]

    The only problem occurs when we are asked to denounce fascism as a bad thing, when it is clear that interwar fascism in Europe can only be the random aggregation of skin bags in a mindless and undirected historical process, just like capitalism and communism. Or we could ask, since the mind and intentionality are illusions, what is the point of arguments to change the mind? Why would one act to alter an illusion?

    [If one takes Dionysius the Aeropagite’s writings in the Mystical Theology seriously, then one understands that the concept of God is the concept of an undefinable concept, and therefore atheism misses its mark, as God is only impossible if everything is definable, and everything is only definable if self-reference is barred, and that can only be done by excising the “personhood” (first, second and third) from the grammar, such that “I am that I am” can no longer be uttered.]

    • Samuel Skinner says

      We already have a name for the supreme good from which all other goods are dependent upon- survival.

      You’ll note this precludes ‘transcendent’ values since in the long run survival depends on the death of competitors. This means universalism is false and universalist methods (like attempting to generate rules that apply to all humans) will create false answers.

      Or, to put it bluntly, the Old Testament was correct and the long run is a return to genocide, ethnic strife and religious war.

      • Hasn’t humanity advanced through the creation of increasingly larger networks of social cooperation? Isn’t it a lot easier to survive (leaving aside who/what) in cooperation with others? Doesn’t this mean there may be alternatives to genocide? [I concede war, religious war and ethnic strife are inevitable.]

        While on the biological level, I am confident that our transcendental intuitions probably serve some pro-survival value, I suspect a man chases a woman because he is consumed with desire for the beautiful, not because he reasons that it will increase his share of the gene pool. I don’t see that ‘transcendent’ values conflict with survival value–isn’t transcendence itself the ultimate–spiritual–form of survival?

    • Samuel Skinner says

      “Hasn’t humanity advanced through the creation of increasingly larger networks of social cooperation? ”

      No. Modern technology is almost entirely a creation of Hajnals. Science and engineering advancement are actually the result of incredibly small numbers of people- think tens of thousands. Pre-modern technology was also the result of a small number of people; in many cases we have the names of the exact individual responsible for a given innovation.

      If you are referring to countries, again that isn’t true. China has consistently been one of the largest countries on the planet and was ruled by a small elite. For example the Ming dynasty had a population of 150 million, half a million degree holders and between 2,000-4,000 first class degree holders.

      Larger social networks are mostly used to mobilize for war against other societies with large social networks. You can conquer America by getting a bunch of Spanish men on a boat. To get men to charge into machine gun fire you need the apparatus of the modern state to relentlessly propagandize, control, reward and punish.

      “Isn’t it a lot easier to survive (leaving aside who/what) in cooperation with others?”

      No. There are two areas of competition. The first is resources; for populations in a Malthusian trap (which may be the long term trend for humanity) this is zero sum. It is currently not a major issue since advancement should be able to outpace demand for the next couple centuries as long as civilization doesn’t rip itself apart.

      The second is fertile females. This is zero-sum. It is easier to survive by cooperating with others to get access to fertile females… but this generally means you are not cooperating with a 3rd party (who you are stabbing).

      “Doesn’t this mean there may be alternatives to genocide?”

      No. In the long run populations speciate if the level of gene flows between them are sufficiently low.

      “I suspect a man chases a woman because he is consumed with desire for the beautiful, not because he reasons that it will increase his share of the gene pool.”

      People in the past where open about the need to have access to women in order to secure heirs. It is unlikely that there has been a massive change in human psychology; more likely people are competing to show how much they are ‘above’ crude animals instincts.

      ” I don’t see that ‘transcendent’ values conflict with survival value–isn’t transcendence itself the ultimate–spiritual–form of survival?”

      That only works if there are people who are playing the game of life AND on your side who are around to repeat your message. Ask the Zorocrastians who that turned out.

      • Thank you Mr. Skinner. I think this is the first time in my life I have ever felt like an optimist!

  44. Karl Kr. says

    Add an ‘o’ to the word? So, it’s “Godo” now?

    Nah, this is strawmanning at its finest. Obviously we use opaque and vague and ‘elastic’ language in the process of trying to figure out what something is.This is how communication works. But the author of this article “kills” communication with his critique, because he is not even trying to understand what is meant by the words Peterson is using.

  45. Simon says

    I don’t think its fair to say Peterson’s God is nobody else’s. Peterson’s God is based on an interpretation of world mythology and scripture. Interpretations, like theories, can be better or worse based on their explanatory power (and their elegance). Another way to think of explanatory power is how many pieces of the puzzle fit together. The more pieces, the better the interpretation or theory. I’m not sure if you’ve watched Peterson’s Bible lectures, but his interpretation makes a massive number of puzzle pieces fit together, from evolutionary biology, to psychology, to phenomenology, and beyond.

    I’d also like to mention that just because gravity wasn’t properly explained until Newton it doesn’t mean people before him didn’t understand what was going on. Similarly just because Peterson has a more sophisticated approach to God, it doesn’t mean that he’s talking about something different than people before him.

    I think the Religion vs Organized Religion distinction is important to keep in mind. Peterson is usually talking about the substructure of religious belief or experience, whereas people typically think of Christianity or Islam which is different.

  46. Danny says

    But nobody’s God is anyone else’s God? Is this really news to people?

  47. Unless I’m mistaken, Jordan Peterson’s rejection of people’s self-definition of atheist is based on his definition of God.
    So, doesn’t he need to dismiss other people’s definitions of God in order to reject their claim that they lack that belief?

  48. Good piece. However… There’s always a “but”, right?

    Well, what Matt is (and many others are) missing, is that Peterson is framed within pragmatism. He’s an existentialist, and if one doesn’t place oneself in that mindset and uses those tools, it is very hard to pin down what he’s trying to say. That said, I am not a pragmatist, but I can relate to what he’s trying to say, i.e. a continuation of the work of James, Peirce, et.al.

    I’d love to read more of Matt using those tools, because right now this reads, sometimes, as a very well argued but “Fedora-type” critique.

  49. M. Pepall says

    “Credo in un solo deo…” .
    As a Catholic I rather enjoy Peterson’s circumlocutions on Divinity and what happens when we lose faith.

    It makes complete sense to me his statement that all art and poetry share in the Divine. The world was made Divine and we imperfect beings run around in it. But we share in the Divine and get glimpses…

    A review of Leibnitz would be useful and fun for everyone, even atheists.

    I enjoyed this article very much.

  50. Karen Wong says

    Peterson says collectivism and identity politics were the cause of the catastrophes of the 20th century.

  51. Rod says

    Sounds like JP defines God quite simply as The Good. Anything Good (Christopher Hitchens etc genuinely motivated by compassion for the human condition, trying to make the world a better place) is following God/Good, despite their protestations of atheism. Anything not Good (Nazism etc) is following the Devil/Bad.

    Overly simplistic, of course, but I’d say that’s a solid take-away, at least.

    • I find it a bit ironic that despite all the cries of “JP doesn’t talk about ‘God’ in the traditional sense”, in many ways JP’s ideas are similar to Plato/Hellenistic notions of the Good as the end of (well-ordered) desire, and of course, the theological equation of the Good with the personhood of God in the early Christian and Jewish traditions (for example, Origin and Philo).

      What is missing from JP, and I suppose worthy of note is that the Good came out of Greek philosophy, while the personal God came out of the idea of Revealed Scripture–namely a Being who speaks and reveals his Will to his People. Classical monotheism was a synthesis of a written scriptural tradition on a skeleton of Greco-Roman philosophy/metaphysics.

      Of course JP has to duck the personal God issue, because identifying God as a particular person cannot be disconnected from identifying God with a particular written tradition, and thereby having to express a personal commitment to a particular faith tradition.

      But as far as atheism/theism polemics, JP’s lack of faith is irrelevant, because the “proofs/disproofs” of the existence of God stuff is all related to philosophical debates about Greek philosophy and the cogency of Platonic and Aristotelian metaphysics (even if generally the debaters don’t understand this fact or have any facility with the concepts they are supposedly rejecting). . . questions I personal find more interesting than whether we can prove God exists or not. [Actually, Godel furnished a logically valid proof of the existence of God, but then an atheist can always reject the premises ad infinitum so what is the point? I find philosophical belief in the existence of money more difficult than the existence of God.]

      • As a further note, what is interesting about the emergence of traditional monotheism is that you have a fusion of a philosophical tradition, presumably subject to universal debate and conjecture, with a specific and particular cultural product, the scripture, giving rise to a social identity which contained both universal and specific and particular elements.

        Modern philosophy has served to sever the link between a (perhaps) arbitrary and specific cultural corpus and a universal philosophy, in many ways forcing people into some kind of universalist philosophical scheme denuded of place and time and language and culture, or into some kind of hermetically sealed fundamentalist project based on particularism and a purely communally interior dialogue (if dialogue is permitted at all). Some of us believe that the medieval expression of merger of faith and reason may be a healthier ground than what amounts to a false dichotomy of universal rationalism versus fundamentalism that we find in today’s time. This does not, of course, means we can just “go back” to the Medieval understanding of things, we have to move forward, but there is a fundamental critique of modern philosophy in all this rumination.

        I think JP’s discussion, while maybe imperfect, may be a step in a fruitful direction.

  52. Why or how could Peterson define God more than he has already, as a book full of abstractions? Do we really need or expect a concrete definition? A bearded guy in the sky? That is for immature minds at Sunday School.

    Dr. Peterson is too smart to fall for Harris’ trap. If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill them. They who define God with certainty and by extension the prophet & the rules with unerring certainty is a danger to all & leads to terror. As we are seeing.

  53. The author wholly fails to understand one of the most fundamental insights of Nietzsche, which profoundly influences Peterson’s thinking, namely that whether one self-identifies or not as a Christian is irrelevant as to whether or not one is ‘Christian’ in one’s outlook. Anyone who grows up in a culture profoundly shaped by Christianity is culturally Christian whether they like it or not!

    One does not merely declare oneself ‘not a Christian’ and thereby unravel oneself from “the whole of our European morality”.

    To quote Nietzsche from the opening of Book 5 of ‘The Gay Science’: “The greatest recent event- that “God is dead” – that the belief in the Christian god has become unbelievable, is already beginning to cast its first shadows over Europe…But in the main one may say: the event itself is far too great, too distant, too remote from the multitude’s capacity for comprehension even for the tidings of it to be thought as having ‘arrived’ as yet”.

    Hume, Spinoza, Jefferson and Paine may have polemicised about Christian epistemology, but they were incapable of renouncing their Christian worldviews. True atheism didn’t really arrive until totalitarianism in the 20th century showed it’s absolute renunciation of the sanctity of the individual, and had great success in re-inventing a religion-like worldview based on loyalty to their respective revolutionary regimes. And as Peterson rightly eviscerates, what terrible and denuded ‘religions’ they were. For him, whatever was ‘glimpsed’ by St Paul and which gave birth to European Christian culture which sanctified the individual human being, is a transcendent view worth fighting to rediscover. Certainly it is not ‘institutional Christianity’ in the old sense, that can never be recovered, and the author seems naively to be protesting Peterson for not advocating it.

  54. martti_s says

    A human being can only define God as a measure of himself.
    What I mean is: Let’s imagine that there is a Creator who in one week created all the stuff we see hanging around in space, galaxies, black holes, red shift, all that stuff. And then the Biosphere, the molecules that it needs to convert photons to chemical energy to get the plants and the animals going…sex…and finally, as his Thesis, the Human Being, supposed to be his image.
    Now, let’s remember that weeks only came about once you had the planet Earth orbiting the sun and somebody (a human being) did the math.

    This entity is supposed to be everywhere and know everything and still it/He shares human frailties like rage and jealousy? And he SPEAKS? Why? How? does he breathe and use his vocal cords? Where are they? He gets mad if his Will is not respected…isn’t getting mad a bit childish? Why doesn’t he just make a human being in such a way that his will is respected or WTH is going on here? He makes in incomplete creature he knows will fail his tests and then he punishes his creature instead of making a better one.

    A cruel game he is playing.
    Something that the people in Middle East would come up with. Never making sense, never making peace, always looking for a reason to kill.

    This is not a deity, this is a caricature of a Middle Eastern human being.

    What if Peterson has realized this and only agrees to talk about how he experiences God.
    That’s fair and square. The thing in itself is too big for words, our concepts do not reach the greatness of such an entity. It is like God is an infinite piece of dough and we are nothing but cookie cutters repeating our form in whatever we touch.

    I do not think he’d take my analysis seriously.

    • Your point is noted, but monotheism isn’t just a Semitic thing. You find plenty of theistic strands in Indian philosophy, prior to Islam or any evidence of significant interaction with Christianity. One example:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vaishnavism

      • dirk says

        Monotheism very much has to do with whether there is a chance of realising a real, enduring empire, with only one king/emperor and one rule. This happened first in the Egypt of about 1000 yrs before Chr. The idea was too early, though, because it would take another few 100 yrs before it really settled down. Now, we have the Human Rights Bill and the U.N., so no more need for monotheism

    • I like Meister Eckhart’s definition of God, ” a distinct indistinction and an indistinct distinction”, essentially, God is the principle of Identity, differentiating all things into distinct identities, but simultaneously supplying unity to the world: distinct from all things in being the only “being” indistinct from all things, and by virtue of this unique and distinct indistinction, indistinctly distinct.

      In this way, the law of noncontradiction becomes a symbol of God’s activity, and the atheist is the one who affirms “A = not A”.

      • dirk says

        I like these definitions of God,KD, precisely because they are not definitions at all, but pure poetry and mysticism.

    • dirk says

      All great religions started in the deserts of the Middle East Martti, a very lonely, isolated , depressing and cruel (uptil these days) ambience. Never, ever, a religion sprouted in a city, or in a civilized nation. Because, because…….. that’s not what it is all about in religions. I think, you should spend some time in a desert (like I did), and not just only in a northern city or suburb, at least, if you want to understand the basics (and very few people really want that, I can assure you, I fear, even Peterson is too much offside, and too much a modern citizen).

      • I don’t know if Christianity meets your definition of “Great Religion”, but it started in the heart of the Roman Empire, and spread primarily among the Gentiles.

        • dirk says

          It started on a mountain in the desert of Galilea, and the story of Jesus life inspired Paul, Tertullianus, Origenes and other early church fathers to build a church organisation on top of it. Without that desert inspiration, no new religion (in a cave near Mecca, in case of Mohammed, his wife had to bring him his food and clean laundry, otherwise he would never have succeeded in preaching his new religion).

  55. jsolbakken says

    “Although some Nazis were hostile to Christianity, it’s not as if German soldiers, members of the SS, and other Nazi elites repudiated Christianity en masse—on the contrary, many of them continued to take their faith very seriously.”

    I have an answer for this particularly stupid and ignorant and truly asinine and psychotic and deliberately misleading and dishonest statement:

    “Provide things honest in the sight of all men. ”

    The morality of Christianity was not invented by Christianity. The morals of Christianity are not
    idiosyncratic to Christianity. The Law of Christianity is the Law of Love, but the Love Christ commanded is not idiosyncratic to Christianity.

    Only a deliberately dishonest shitty shit brain would try to make it sound like the morals of Christianity were behind the murder and theft and evil doing and busybody tyranny of the fucking Nazis. The morals of Christianity are based on the morals of any decent and honest human being.

    One thing that is idiosyncratic to Christianity is the idea that the individual and his individual soul are spiritually important. Individuals always cared about themselves, but without the idea that they and their soul were of any transcendent significance in terms of the rest of the universe.

    I Peter 4:
    14 If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.
    15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters.

    Romans 12:
    14 Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.
    15 Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.
    16 Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.
    17 Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.
    18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.
    19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
    20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.
    21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

  56. The author could have benefited from an engagement with Carl Jung’s work. Religious symbolism is the language of the unconscious. We know this because symbols are how we communicate what cannot be parsed rationally. The idea that one can rationally prove and dissect the nature of God is itself the result of an archetypal possession – the Western assumption that all breaks down according to reason is at the root of this demystification of God. It is not interesting to engage the topic this way, because it is inherently one of the most subtle and unknowable things in existence. We default to symbols because the subject evades rational understanding. And then how do we know the subject, God, exists at all? Because of the psychological power and resonance of these symbols across time. That is what an archetype is. There is no way to disprove an archetype other than to say they don’t appear on fMRI scans. The reason why Sam Harris and others don’t understand archetypes is because they favor neuroscience over symbolism. But in the way we actually live, every day, our stories and symbols construct a world we can actually live in, and how can that be a lie? It’s our Darwinian adaptation to being. If that’s a lie, then so are our faculties such as reason, and then it’s entirely circular to begin with.

  57. Quiddam says

    He abandoned truth a long time ago, especially the principle of non-contradiction. So he can say on one hand that God is chaos, but at the same time make a book about overcoming chaos (make some sort of superman that brushes his teeth). Actually, if you see it like this, he is making sense. Nazis and Bolcheviks abandoned chaos, which is the basis of the free Market, and what he calls Judeo-Christian enlightenment values and the sovereign Individual. Lucifer of course is what gives order, so reason is often used for that. It explains also his own communication style, which is chaotic. Morality is to embrace chaos and fight dragons (order), and get money and sex. Of course, lying is also part of chaos, the archetype of the trickster, so it is fine to say one thing and then deny it, or play with word definitions. His whole enterprise is to re-appropriate words, and recast them into another sense, just like Nietzsche did. Take “good”, put it on its head, and voila, a transmutation of values. That is also why all post-moderns like him as well, so he is in that tradition.

    Now, the real question is if he actually want people to kill themselves out of despair, as Nietzsche wanted them to do. That is why he wrote his books in the first place, to entice people to do this. So either Peterson is a victim or an apostle, I am not sure which is which.

  58. We need civilisation, and if civilisation turns out to be a particular kind of consensual hallucination, then so be it. What’s important is we all turn towards it and take an interest in it. If it stays mysterious, and our debate never comes to a conclusion, that’s good. More works of art, less materialism and anomie, more reasons to get out of bed. JBP has opened up the basement of civilisation for a mass of people to explore. More power to him, and to the holy and secular Western mysteries.

  59. The more I listen to Peterson’s speeches, the less I think of him. His misuse of words like “God” is a prime example of his attempt at mystery that he hopes will bind audience members to him. It might work for some but not for me. If he wants to define something God-like but not God, he needs to coin a new phrase.

  60. The essay should be titled “An Atheist with an Axe to Grind Sets Up a Straw Man and Runs Wild.”

    • Morgan says

      All Peterson does is set up straw-men of Marxism and Post-modernism (despite being post-modern, and loving Nietzsche the post-modern influencer). He talks about everything like it’s Stalin’s totalitarianism. He talks about how communism will “make everyone poor” despite Jesus Christ actually wanting people to give up all their possession and be poor. He’s a charlatan, and to use religious metaphors, a false prophet.

      • dirk says

        So a charlatan, Morgan?, well, then he is in good companionship, also Lacan and Derrida have been called charlatans, by scholars, and I fear many other famous philosophers have been mentioned so, and with good reason (as seen by their opponents of course).

      • Cheester says

        Jesus wanted people to voluntarily give up their possessions for the good of others, not be forced to surrender their private property under the inefficient, murderous tyranny of communism. Secondly, the Bible has no issue with material prosperity.

        “He talks about everything like it’s Stalin’s totalitarianism.”

        Look up how abolish-ICE activists just terrorized a charity food truck into closing down in Portland, or how Antifa behaved at Berkeley, or how the left regularly doxes people they disagree with. If that sort of mob intimidation and violence isn’t part of the road to totalitarianism, what is?

        You have a brain. Put it to use, rather than sound like a complete idiot by using your sloppily invented version of Jesus Christ to rationalize brutal dictatorships.

        • Dirk says

          @Cheester Jesus had no opinion on communism you cretin. It didn’t exist when he was talking about the meek you muppet. The Bible makes positive and negative references to material wealth like it does with almost all things you twit. Be as selective as you want you wassock. You are engaging in the same breathless hyperbole as Jordan you jackaninny. One protest that got out of hand does not turn the US into Stalin’s Russia you rube. If mob intimidation and violence occurring was on the path to totalitarianism we’d already be a good way down the road to a white nationalist one wouldn’t we you witterer? That was rhetorical, your premises were flawed you fool. I think we all don’t remember Stalin’s inevitable rise to power after the foodcart in St Petersburg was tipped over and he had the Politburo release the home address and Amazon username of a guy who was only ever concerned about ethics in games journalism, you Jake Paul.

          And to your last point. You should know that Ad Hominem attacks are wrong, they mean that you are wrong and that makes me right. I also said it first so I have won.

  61. Andrew_W says

    I’ve seen a lot of people describe their views on the existence of God: atheists, agnostics and theists of many types, Peterson is the only one whose views I’d describe as an incomprehensible word salad.

  62. Coolius Caesar says

    Wow, the author clearly has a poor understanding of both Christianity and Nazism given the beyond ludicrous claims made here. I could write an entire essay on why the author is wrong but i’ll keep it simple: 1) William Shirer’s book “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” is worth a read concerning the brutal treatment of Christian’s and Churches by the Nazis. If Christianity and Nazi could co-exist as suggested why did the Nazis replace the Bible with Mein Kamp? 2) Diedrich Bonhoeffer. He was a Lutheran Pastor executed for opposing Hitler. That doesn’t seem too Christian of those Nazis…

  63. andrea2018 says

    I prefer Peterson to Harris. Partly because he does admit to ‘not knowing’ for sure about God. Isn’t agnosticism a valid position, which is what he essentially is?

    I can see how he uses religious language at times but he comes across as someone searching for meaning and truth whereas Harris comes across as someone who just knows what’s what and that’s it. Well good for him but I think more of us share Peterson’s uncertainty over metaphysical matters.

    • Andrew_W says

      “Isn’t agnosticism a valid position,” of course it is, but can you find any instance of Peterson describing himself as an agnostic?

      • andrea2018 says

        not overtly but I think he acknowledges he is not sure if there is or isn’t a God, which is the agnostic position.

    • Gordon Smith says

      I like them both though Peterson’s style resonates more with my personality. If Harris went to therapy he would use Cognitive Behaviour Treatment and Peterson would use a Jungian analyst. The point is not to make it a competition but rejoice that these conversations are happening and respectful dialogue is coming back into vogue. Ten years ago both Harris and Peterson would have been destroyed by the MSM with no recourse. The MSM is no longer the gatekeeper and we now are experiencing the democracy of ideas and information as opposed to the filtered drip we once had. Thank God – or praise enlightenment 🙂

  64. Jorge Espinha says

    I’m an atheist, I’m not an agnostic, I’m an atheist. I love Jordan Peterson, I really like to hear him think. I share most of the objections of the authors. But I think one of the best ways to spend one’s time is to listen to Peterson. Regarding religion, I think even atheists miss the point very often when pointing the finger at god. No, the problem isn’t the idea of god, it’s religion that is the problem, dogma is the problem. Fascism, Communism, Murderous feuds between Christian sects , are all religions. As is regressive leftism today, with their holy inquisition the SJW, their sins, their need to public confessions and public shaming. When humans are committed to a perfect idea, it doesn’t matter if they follow Marx or Mohamed, the result is the same.

    • Michael Overlake says

      Thank you, Jorge. You capture essential Peterson in your post. Very accurate and very to the point. I find the Peterson phenomenon striking. I also enjoy listening to him. I see that he is able to make presentable millennia of human wisdom to his hordes of listeners. It is instructive to find so many (especially) young men are this needy for a man to tell them simple-but-profound truths in Peterson’s confident voice. Our society has starved them of sureties and that is a sin, as Peterson would say.

      I am not an atheist nor an agnostic. But I find you exactly on point to condemn religion and dogma, religious or not, rightist or leftist. It is not good for the mind or soul, is it, to become a totalistic, all-knowing ideologue? I made that mistake once, decades ago, and it took a thorough life disaster to shake me awake. I still look back to that time with shame. So we learn.

  65. Another negative piece on Jordan Peterson here at Quillette.com. That’s OK, no one is above criticism. Peterson has enough defenders here that I’ve no need to go toe to toe, point by point to shore up my admiration of the man.

    It seems to me that we have one thoughtful intellectual among the Sam Harris’, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins types who can stand up and defend the Judeo/Christianity from the charge of insanity for looking to deep religious thought for meaning. Peterson does that in a credible manner weather he’s theologically perfect or not. He’s not selling theology, but perhaps a bit of wisdom.

    If he gets a few things wrong or glosses over some salient point it doesn’t negate the positive thrust of his messages – he’s not a snake-oil salesman or some-kind of pretender.

    • Andrew_W says

      What is the “thrust of his messages”? To me the only message on God and religion of his that is clear is his claim that if you’re a genuine atheist you must be a bad person, and that if you profess to be an atheist but are not a bad person you cannot be a genuine atheist.
      That line of logic is about as conceited and self serving of a stubbornly held preconception as any I’ve ever heard.

      • dirk says

        I don’t think it is as conceited and illogical as it seems Andrew. I see it like this: Peterson follows the lines of Dostojefski, Voltaire and others who have little trust in individual ethics, society for them is a web of achetypes, and threads that connect us with the transcendental, the consciousness above us, the imprinted ethics. This is not especially humanistic or liberal, and also not very American, more Russian (Dugin, Dostojefski), but I can imagine it works(though, I am not an adherent of the web, but know it exists, and may work for some, or maybe many)

  66. Michael Overlake says

    Serious question, am I missing something?

    I’ve gone through a fair amount of Jordan Peterson’s work via YouTube, have whipped through “12 Rules,” and am in the 3rd chapter of “Maps of Meaning.’ He is consistent, in overwrought detail, that modern means of objective examination are entirely insufficient to comprehend the purely subjective, meaning-laden, total and immersive world view of the ancient mind. Nor does he argue that reason is ever sufficient for the project of implementing a primordial, subjective morality in one’s life. I’m sure he would doubt it possible. He remains indifferent, in this regard, to demands for objectivity–those demands are in a different language where no translation apparently exists.

    This, to him, is no criticism of empiricism any more than saying a hammer can never serve as a screwdriver. Where empiricism–where science–rewards, he enthusiastically deploys it. But he is Jungian, mythic, archetypical at the core.

    Peterson is (surprisingly, I think) effective exactly because he is tugging on those primordial, entirely pre-Enlightenment vestiges of ancient morality previously hidden in his more faithful readers/viewers.

    To the point of the article, by my reading and viewing, Peterson appears to comprehend God as mythic manifestation of millions of years of human brain development, always immanent, never transcendent. I may disagree. That’s OK with me. Jordan Peterson is a surprising phenomenon, an “event” worth reflecting upon. In plain view of his critics and detractors, he is quietly, resolutely reworking the life goals of millions of listeners and readers, many of them young and to this point aimless. In our time, that is something to behold.

    Who knows that this turns to good or ill? Perhaps, inadvertently, he is mapping hordes of future totalitarians. But sniping over his scholarship or lack of verbal exactitude seems really to miss the point.

  67. P N says

    I’m inclined to counter this with a little grain of salt, a little Sed Contra: To wit, David Berlinski in The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions” (2009):

    “In 2007, a number of scientists gathered in a conference entitled “Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason, and Survival” in order to attack religious thought and congratulate one another on their fearlessness in so doing.

    “The physicist Steven Weinberg delivered an address. As one of the authors of the theory of electro-weak unification, the work for which he was awarded a Nobel Prize, he is a figure of great stature. “Religion,” he affirmed, “is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. BUT FOR GOOD PEOPLE TO DO EVIL THINGS, THAT TAKES RELIGION.” (caps added).

    “In speaking thus, Weinberg was warmly applauded, not one member of his audience asking the question one might have thought pertinent:

    “Just who has imposed on the suffering human race poison gas, barbed wire, high explosives, experiments in eugenics, the formula for Zyklon B, heavy artillery, pseudo-scientific justifications for mass murder, cluster bombs, attack submarines, napalm, intercontinental ballistic missiles, military space platforms, and nuclear weapons?

    “If memory serves, it was not the Vatican.”

  68. P N says

    pp. 19-20 of “The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions” (2009) by David Berlinski – from the chapter DOUBLE-ENTRY BOOKKEEPING:

    “For scientists persuaded that there is no God, there is no finer pleasure than recounting the history of religious brutality and persecution. Sam Harris is in this regard especially enthusiastic, The End of Faith recounting in lurid but lingering detail the methods of torture used in the Spanish Inquisition. If readers require pertinent information concerning the strappado, or other instruments of doctrinal persuasion, they may turn to his pages. There is no need to argue the point. A great deal of human suffering has been caused by religious fanaticism. If the Inquisition no longer has the power to compel our indignation, the Moslem world often seems quite prepared to carry the burden of exuberant depravity in its place.

    Nonetheless, there is this awkward fact: The twentieth century was not an age of faith, and it was awful. Lenin, Stalin, Hider, Mao, and Pol Pot will never be counted among the religious leaders of mankind.

    Nor can anyone argue that the horrors of the twentieth century were unanticipated. Although they came as a shock, they did not come as a surprise. In The Brothers Karamazov, Ivan Karamazov exclaims that if God does not exist, then everything is permitted. Throughout the nineteenth century, as religious conviction seeped out of the institutions of Western culture, poets and philosophers had the uneasy feeling that its withdrawal might signal the ascension of great evil in the world.

    In this they were right.

    What gives Karamazov’s warning – for that is what it is – its power is just that it has become part of a most up-to-date hypothetical syllogism:

    The first premise:

    IF GOD DOES NOT EXIST, THEN EVERYTHING IS PERMITTED.

    And the second:

    IF SCIENCE IS TRUE, THEN GOD DOES NOT EXIST.

    The conclusion:

    IF SCIENCE IS TRUE, THEN EVERYTHING IS PERMITTED.

    Whereupon there is a return to a much older, vastly more somber vision of life and its constraints, one that serves to endow the phrase bestial indulgence with something more by way of content than popularly imagined.

    END OF QUOTE

    • dirk says

      Maybe , P.N., because Dostoyefski knew the Russian soul so good, he could feel what would happen if God (as an ethical brake on the wrongs of human behaviour, suppression and crimes on a large, structural scale). He himself, like Peterson, struggled with the modern enlightened, atheist ideas of his time, but saw the apocalyptic, possible consequences (as did Voltaire). Without God, he feared, the bear gets loose! Marx saw religion as the opiates of society!! Dostoyefski: much more than only a masterly psychological romancier. A visionary !(like Peterson??)

      • Dirk says

        Hey, a different Dirk. That aside. That’s a pretty low opinion of humanity that Peterson et al is expressing. You need to lie to yourself about the existence of a God continuously in order to provide yourself any moral underpinnings because you do not have the ability to get there by yourself. And yet some people do most definitely claim that they have been capable of doing so and can show their working. And the response to that is, you have a moral code so you have to have got there by lying to yourself because humanity isn’t capable of this. Of course, his actual response is a non-response to the existence of God so he does get away with leaving it in a superposition of lying/not lying. For myself, I don’t see the struggle. I see the effort in establishing a big picture logically consistent viewpoint of the world which still contains morality. I see the nuance of morality which will always be quibbled over regardless of whether you believe it is god given or can be derived

        • The reality is that man in general needs a master. He can either find one in Heaven, or he can get one (Stalin, Hitler, Mao) on Earth.

  69. Pretty good critical analysis. I think this piece has a a few things overstated, though. For example, there wasn’t much–if any–Christianity in Hitler, and the Nazis had to purge, subordinate, and reshape “Christianity” into something like a myth of the German race to allow the churches to exist at all. And Peterson’s use of Nietzsche really does give a fairly clear idea of what it might mean to be in a condition in which God is dead–and what the extreme ramifications of that might be.

    The real issue here, though. is that Peterson doesn’t want to produce a single concept or conceptual explication of “God.” He offers many ways of thinking toward that, most of them psychological, but he tries to prevent any kind of reductionism, any kind of limiting of the transcendent to a particular conception. For many serious people of faith, that is a good intuition and an important kind of restraint.

    There’s a little bit of that ancient psychologist Augustine in Peterson. Confessions opens with a reflection on the impossibility of cognizing God. In another work, Augustine doubts whether God can even be loved directly–instead, he says, God can be loved by loving love. That might sound evasive, but it’s serious.

  70. The author is trying to reduce Peterson’s worldview with a focused conception of god. A definition of god that is divisive. Peterson’s conception of god can be embraced by atheists, agnostics, buddhists, jews, christians etc etc…. he doesn’t even rule out islam. Just a little sidetracked by the warrior prophet thingy….

    • Andrew_W says

      “Peterson’s conception of god can be embraced by atheists . . ”

      That seems unlikely to me, As I read Peterson he argues that the ethics of modern civilization is built of Judeo-Christian values, most atheists I know would say that it’s foremost based on human nature, which is a product of the biological evolution of a social species of primates. I’ve never heard Peterson say anything suggesting that his concept of God has a foundation in human evolution based behavioral instincts, rather Peterson has made it clear that without the guidance of values set by God, people would be uncivilized, in his mind true atheists would “be like Raskolnikov from Crime And Punishment”.

      But when Peterson comes out and says “The Gods Mankind has are actually the genetics that govern our behavior” then I think many of the atheists like Dawkins and Harris would be able to “embrace” Peterson’s version of God.

  71. John says

    You think Peterson’s views of religion are opaque because he refrains from defining God?
    In that case perhaps you could explain the origins of the big bang, or consciousness to us all Mr Johnson. Oh, and keep it simple, no “sprawling book-length collection of abstractions” please. Nothing “elastic or subjective”.

    Can you not supply your own straw men as the new atheists do – you actually expect Peterson to supply you with transparent straw men? You think this peculiar? Do we all have to get down on all fours into your warm little materialists box, where you can touch all the walls with your omniscient Reason?
    When you derive your meaning, your “oughts” from your “is”s, do you employ the same arm waving as Mr Harris? Explain how your shadows exist without something to cast them.
    Terrible eh, to go two hours on the meaning of the word “truth”, I imagine you could cover that in 10 minutes Matt? Guess the philosophers have been pissing around for the last 2000 years over that one then eh?

    Peterson “blames the greatest moral cataclysms of the twentieth century on atheism.”
    That might be because atheism was the stated worldview of all the socialist tyrannies of that Century,just as atheist North Korea today is the most dangerous place in the world to profess Christianity. (ps, have a look at which way the refugees travel across the 38th Parallel between atheist North Korea and the 25% Christian South Korea). The GDP differences are also interesting.

    “the fact that the most heinous crimes of the twentieth century were committed by people for whom God was still very much alive.” This is simple pig ignorance!!!! UNBELIEVABLE!!!!!! God alive for Pol Pot? Nope, for Stalin, Nope, for Lenin, nope, for the Eastern European dictators? Nope. Atheism nearly plunged this whole world into a nuclear conflagration!!!!!!!!! When were you born Matt, 2001?
    You clearly have not even the most rudimentary grasp of the events of the 20th Century! Ever heard of the gulag archipelago Matt? Solzhenitsyn estimated some 60 million slaves of the atheist state died there.( but what would he know he was there).
    “Although some Nazis were hostile to Christianity”, yeah, Nazi’s like Adolph Hitler.
    “How does Peterson accommodate these facts?” Hitler telling untruths for political advantage? Never!
    Speer wrote that Hitler would say: “You see, it’s been our misfortune to have the wrong religion. Why didn’t we have the religion of the Japanese, who regard sacrifice for the fatherland as the highest good? The Mohammedan religion too would have been much more compatible to us than Christianity. Why did it have to be Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness?” (channeling that old Christian Nietzsche there)

    So far, I think Petersons’ honest grappling with these ideas far surpasses the 13 year old adolescent’s straw men the new atheists take such delight in ripping apart.
    Oh, just one more thing, Christians never say atheists are immoral, this is just another squalid little straw men that comes from the cloth ears atheists seem to have. Christians maintain that without a transcendent reality, any moral system is ultimately no more than whatever the strong can impose on the weak.
    ps. “religion” doesn’t mean, the stupid shit other people believe, but that sane, neutral rational people like me don’t, it means (Concise Oxford Dictionary) “1. particular system of faith and worship”.
    Faith is what you believe is the truth – (stuff like, the universe emerged spontaneously in an unimaginably low entropic state from nothing for no known reason.)
    Worship is a strange word to atheists, but it’s what all atheist socialist leaders expect from their followers, states like atheist North Korea where people are expected to genuflect before the statues of their Mangod. (the Mangods that were ubiquitous in all the atheist regimes of the twentieth Century.)

    • Samuel Skinner says

      North Korea isn’t atheist; they have a national religion- Chondoism.

      Odd that you compare North Korea to South Korea. North Korea is many things, but it more closely resembles traditional religious societies. South Korea by contrast has a total fertility rate of 1.23. In a couple generations there will be no more South Koreans.

      Solzhenitsyn is an opportunist, not a good source. You are better off quoting the Soviet achieves. Gulag death tolls are also a bad metric: 1) The gulag bosses had an incentive to release sick prisoners to keep their rates low, 2) they include politicals and non-politicals, 3) about half the deaths are from the war years. You are better off comparing starvation from collectivization famines and executions of ‘enemies of the people’.

      Hitler was hostile to Christianity in the same sense that Duerte (president of the Phillipines) is hostile to Christianity. Namely they think the priests are using the faith as a cudgel to undermine their goals.

      While Hitler believed the current incarnation of Christianity was week, I don’t think he believed that of the faith itself; he named his biggest military operation after the Emperor who lead the 3rd crusade after all.

      All moral systems are whatever the strong can impose on the weak. Moral systems involve getting people to do thinks they’d rather not do and you can only pull that off if you are strong and they are weak.

  72. Wow, loved reading all these comments and the article.

    It’s always interesting when listening to people get into in depth discussions on God, especially if it dances in the Christian sense, and never use new testament scripture as their mechanism of defense.

    I see a few comments referenced a few passages but ultimately, it will always be a less than complete conversation without the word of God present. How I wish we all knew scripture in the way we know Nietzsche, the way we know Jung, the way we know Peterson & Harris alike, etc.

    Scripture is in the end, the complete truth and full armor of God (Ephesians 6: 10-18). Scripture tells us that we need only scripture to explain Christ and to see God’s truth (the entire book of Isaiah is one of the best places to read and discover these passages). I don’t intend to say this about the Bible / scripture in a way to preach but in a way to say, hey, a big piece of Christianity is actually trusting in the Bible to do its job and always turning to it to find the best possible answer, the best possible solution, the best possible explanation. IF you’re a believer or interested in believing, scripture explains. It explains better than philosophy, theology, science, logic, etc. The best part about it is you can read it, try to understand it, accept it or reject it and move on.

    Thanks for all the good words, friends.

    • dirk says

      @WW: is Scripture something supernatural from above, like the Quran, or is it something selected by patriarchs and theologists from the write-ups of Mathew and colleagues, settled down as rhe cannon of a biography of Jesus’ life and preaching? If the first, no need whatsovever of discussions on it, because human reasoning and testimony is way beyond a Godly Truth, of course.

  73. Morgan says

    The comedy of Peterson is that the Christian religion is already based on the idea of the death of God. Jesus Christ, who WAS God (the father and I are one), died on the cross. He also completely misunderstands the Scripture, but I won’t get into that. If you want someone with more than half a brain yet similar (and better) views, just read Chesterton. Lots of truth in there, and none of the post-modern bullshit Peterson both employs and supposedly criticizes.

    • @Morgan

      Haha, touché.

      I’d caveat that Peterson does an okay job with old testament scripture for old testament scripture’s sake. However, he does not contend well with the new testament. To your point perhaps, it’s very hard to even profess the old testament correctly and succinctly with a Christ-centered look at the faith if you have not deeply sat with the new testament, of which refrains the old testament’s meaning entirely.

      On Christianity, however, it’s a little more based on the living God…resurrected, eternally defeating death. Jesus Christ, the risen king, IS God (present tense) because He is alive forever. Scripture is a “living” book because it is the word of God, breathed into life by way of the Holy Spirit….as Christians would contend.

      Love the Chesterton shout out…one of his best lines is a great wrapper to this whole conversation on God:

      “There is a road from the eye to the heart that does not go through the intellect.”

    • Michael Ritzker says

      Drop acid and see God. If you dare. Cowards all. You know nothing.

  74. Phille says

    “Catholicism doesn’t deserve all the blame here—many were Protestants as well”

    Just for the record: The nazis got most of their votes from the protestants. Their results among catholics were significantly worse.

    • Samuel Skinner says

      A probable explanation is the existence of Deutsche Zentrumspartei (German Center Party) and Bayerische Volkspartei (Bavarian People’s Party). They were both Catholic political parties of the right that got 15% of the vote. Presumably if they didn’t exist, Catholic voters would have gone to the NASDP and DNVP (since they probably weren’t joining the reds or social democrats).

  75. D.B. Cooper says

    his use of religious language and imagery has always been slippery.

    While I would like to be a bit more critical of Johnson’s (author) assessment of Peterson, I’m somewhat hesitant; since, I too believe Peterson has been reticence to provide a great deal of clarity on his religious views. It’s hard to fault Johnson for subscribing a less than charitable interpretation, when Peterson, himself, has consistently declined to provide much interpretation at all. Undoubtedly, the ambiguity has left Peterson open to misinterpretation – and possibly by design, which is unfortunate.

    Religious apologists have long sought to reconcile faith with science

    Might a corollary be: Secularist have long sought to reconcile faith with science? Let us not forget that atheism is, itself, a belief system, requiring its own tenets of faith.

    If you think atheism is, by definition, a rejection of morality and meaning, then nobody who lives an ethical and purposeful life can possibly be an atheist. In Peterson’s world, to the extent that someone is really an atheist, he is a malevolent agent of chaos. To the extent that someone is committed to the values that underpin Western civilization, he is not really an atheist.

    If as the author states, Peterson uses the words ‘religious’ and ‘moral’ interchangeably, I would posit that the rejection of religion is inherently corrosive to our belief in the utility and meaning of existence insofar as religious moral standards are objective in nature, not subjective/relative.

    The existence of an objective meaning, value, and purpose are themselves derived from an objective morality; which would necessarily have to be transcendent from man – external from his own warrant. In the absence of these, I may even go so far as to agree with Albert Camus: As an atheist, the only real question of philosophy is whether or not we should commit suicide.

    A strong claim for the human predicament, to be sure. But, I believe this is the basis for Peterson’s claim – or what I understand him to mean – that to the extent that someone is really an atheist, he is a malevolent agent of chaos.

    For Peterson (again, as I understand him) moral relativism is the fatal flaw in the atheistic worldview. It suffers from the problem of, “Who says?” Establishing an ethical framework requires deriving an is from an ought. The consequentialists may answer, as many do, that the moral act is the one that brings about the greatest good. But what is good? Who defines good? Who determines what standards another must follow and by what warrant?

    Ultimately, these standards are based on self-interests. But, again, whose self-interests? Mine? Yours? The majority’s? More often than not, ideas of “right” and “wrong,” “good” and “bad” are determined by present-day cultural norms and values, i.e., cultural relativism. But, if contemporary norms and values are the standards by the rightness or wrongness of an act is measured, where does that leave the moral reformer? Where does that leave the 16th Century American abolitionist? Was he/she immoral?

    Nietzsche’s theory can’t account for the fact that fascism co-existed with Catholicism everywhere from Spain and Portugal to Italy, Croatia, and Slovakia (where the despot who ran the country was actually a Roman Catholic priest, Jozef Tiso).

    Violating one’s objective moral standard does not suggest the absence of an objective moral standard. This is a non sequitur.

  76. Jamie says

    Great article Matt – I similarly challenge Peterson’s ‘peculiar opacity’ here (https://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2018/07/what-is-god-what-is-atheism.html):

    “…Hence, to believe in God means that one has chosen, consciously or unconsciously, a fundamental moral principle. One needs some form of axiomatic bedrock from which to delineate the good and the bad, right from wrong action. Peterson appears to believe the best name for this axiom is God.

    But is this a justifiable or even useful definition? Certainly it is useful for Peterson, as it allows him to argue that without God one can have no basis for moral action or judgment. Secular attempts to develop a morality are doomed to fail because they are either in fact religious, or amoral. According to Peterson’s definition, this holds true, but this truth is a mere tautology: without a basis for morality, there is no basis for morality.

    Peterson’s more specific challenge to Sam Harris’s secular moral framework presented in The Moral Landscape seems likewise a matter of wordplay.”

    and…:

    “Peterson is, of course, free to use whatever language he chooses. I would simply ask whether it is really useful to define concepts in this way. My impression is that much of what Peterson is trying to convey is lost with these definitions. The atheist or skeptic dismisses Peterson wholesale owing to the absurdity of his claim that they are in fact religious. Peterson’s followers scoff at the skeptics on account of their elementary understanding of religion. Meanwhile, the theistic believer can rest soundly in the conviction that God has been defended, with scholarly references to boot. Little ground is covered, and everyone comes out feeling just a little more cemented in their convictions.

    Surely this is not what we are hoping to result from such discussions. Yet, it is the inevitable consequence of using the complexity of a concept or issue as a means of evading the necessary task of precise and explicit definition.”

    • X. Citoyen says

      You claim Peterson is “using the complexity of a concept” (i.e., God) to evade precise definition. You can’t call it a tactic unless the concept is not complex. And why should the definition of God not be complex? You tell me. In a variation on this line, Harris is quoted as objecting that Peterson’s God is “not how most people…are using the word.” Funny he should make that complaint when one of the most commonly raised objections to him and his fellow travelers—including by atheists like John Gray and Terry Eagleton—is that they attack a cartoon God instead of the God of theologians. Come to that, everyday people have more complex ideas about God than “bearded sky man.”

      But let’s leave that aside and take the first of Peterson’s definitions (as quoted above): “God is how we imaginatively and collectively represent the existence and action of consciousness across time.” How is the statement imprecise and what criterion are you using? If you’re going to invoke Popperian falsifiability, as you did in the rest of your piece, the statement passes because it’s falsifiable. Personally, I prefer a more conventional (and Jung-free) version of this. With some nuance elided, it would read, “Human beings, everywhere and in the main, have conceived of themselves as inhabiting a cosmos (an ordered universe) with one or more order-makers; god is a generic word for the order-maker or makers of, in, or outside the cosmos.” Maybe everyone has always been full of it, a collective millennia-long mass delusion. But that’s not your complaint; yours is that it’s imprecise. I fail to see how or by what measure.

      Like the author of this piece, you seem to want Peterson to place himself in your theist-atheist dichotomy, which is, in your words: “Theism is the belief in a supernatural creator (God), typically in the image of monotheistic religions. Hence, an atheist…does not believe in the existence of such a God.” Some people walk right into this. But once you parse the meanings of the terms contained in it, you realize that you’ve accepted an inverted probatio diabolicum, where your options are (1) belief in a non-existent entity or (2) non-belief in a non-existent entity. Quels choix! You can hardly blame Peterson for avoiding this rhetorical trap.

      By the way, I’m not ascribing motives to you or the author in calling it a rhetorical trap—I don’t know your motives. The trap is a trap in virtue of its form and the meaning of its terms.

  77. Fluffy Buffalo says

    Thanks for this article. I’ve always had the impression that Peterson is extremely clear and right on the money with many of his topics, but when it comes to religion, his statements are usually muddled and contorted in a way that lets his cognitive dissonance ring through.
    Basically, he redefines God and Religion in order to make them both irrefutable and indispensable, but in the process the words lose any connection to how regular people interpret them.
    In one of his books, Sam Harris said about another theologian who engaged in similar games of abstraction and redefinition that he had no issue with “Tillich’s blameless parish of one”, but rather with the large crowds of people who believe crazy things in the name of religion as commonly practiced. It seems that Peterson has a similar sparsely populated parish.
    On the other hand, Peterson should not worry too much about the rare individual who meets his strict criteria for “atheist”, and rather look at the many people who call themselves atheist because they don’t believe in a traditional supernatural god and who nevertheless lead lives that are as moral and purpose-filled as you’d hope for.

  78. Jordan Flower says

    When Peterson responds with “it depends on what you mean by God”, I often picture myself having asked the question, and quipping back at him in a mocking tone, impersonating his voice, saying, “you bloody well know exactly what I mean, bucko.” Come on, Doc. People want to know if you think there is a man upstairs. Why can’t you just answer the question?

    His answer always feels ambiguous, and quite frankly, cowardly, given the evangelical environment I was raised in that taught you that if someone pointed a gun at you, asked if you believe in Jesus, and told you they’d shoot if you do, you damn well would take a bullet and pass on to glory. But the more I’ve delved into to JBP’s material, the more I began to realize that he would be more likely to take that bullet than a lot of the people I ever went to church with.

    The dissonance comes when we try to figure out what or who he would be taking that bullet for. Historic literal Jesus? Jesus of Nazareth, who lived a human life perfectly, was executed, buried, and then literally resurrected and then ascended to the literal location of heaven? OR, is it the *idea* of Christ? “Myth Jesus”. i.e. the “most developed” archetype/abstraction of the ultimate “meta good”, who voluntarily faced a “meta injustice/meta suffering” and overcame?

    Maybe he would do well to develop a more orthodox answer to the question of a literal living God, but I don’t really care what he *says*. Peterson always emphasizes that people’s beliefs manifest themselves in how they act, not what they say. As far as I can tell, he *acts* like he believes there’s a living God. And I think that’s kind of his whole point.

    At the end of the day, would he take that bullet for Jesus? For someone that’s essentially built his entire body of work around the holistic call to action that Christ exemplifies, (to get up off your ass, take responsibility, aim for something good, and face the suffering required to get it), I’d answer with an unequivocal yes. Whether or not it’s for literal Jesus or Myth Jesus doesn’t matter to me. The message he delivers doesn’t rely on that distinction anyway. For centuries, Christian missionaries have made it their goal to get swaths of converts, requiring them to simply speak forth that they believe in the living spiritual being of Jesus. Peterson, conversely, is presenting Christ in such a way that even atheists want to “stand up straight with their shoulders back” and *act* like Jesus. To a Christian, that’s pulling the cart before the horse. But a bunch of people taking responsibility for their lives and aiming for a higher good, regardless of what they speak with their mouths about the literal existence of a God, makes the world a little bit better. And that’s still a win in my book.

    If Peterson is doing anything, he’s showing us that what you say pales in comparison to how you act. So let’s stop trying to get him to say what he believes about God’s literal existence, and just watch what he does.

  79. Steve says

    The author expends a lot of effort dancing around the obvious: atheism cannot *in principle* provide a basis for morality as understood by Western civilization. Do you doubt this? Well then please use the space below to provide a consistent, comprehensible account of such as basis. You will revolutionize humanity here, today.

    • AC Harper says

      Many religions (also many philosophers and Jordan Peterson’s ideas) include the moral “Do as you would be done by”. Wikipedia has an interesting article on this titled “Golden Rule” which predates many religions. You can argue that this can be elaborated into many other aspects of morality.

      Since atheists can comprehend this wisdom and apply it there is no requirement for a religious *principle*.

      • Steve says

        “Do as you would be done by”

        Thanks for that suggestion.

        There is no possible reason to abide by such an injunction in a purely material universe. There is no reason whatsoever why it would be “wrong” for me to decide instead to simply eat others and rape their women. The cosmos is either meaningful (i.e., provides a basis upon which human morality can gain footing) or it is not (see Dostoevsky, et al).

        Advancing such maxims as a putative basis for morality because they allegedly pre-date this or that religion merely kicks the can down the road.

        • Dirk says

          It isn’t kicking the can though. One of Peterson’s arguments, although he has stated many things that do not all necessarily align on this issue, is that Judeo-Christian religion is the basis for Western morality. But we absolutely see examples of the golden rule which is a large part of Judeo-Christian morality within other cultures and pre-dating Judeo Christian values. Prior to Christianity did we not have morality? Have we led a more moral existence since its foundation because of the principles it has provided us? No to both of those. Religion does not provide the bedrock basis of morality. Without morality we would not have needed to invent religion, not the other way around. A purely material universe allows for morality minus religion for the reasons that Matt Dillahunty has said, for the reasons that Sam Harris has said. I would recommend you read the entirety of the humanist literature regarding the topic of morality for context on their viewpoints

        • AC Harper says

          “There is no possible reason to abide by such an injunction in a purely material universe. ” That’s an assertion which obviously fails by everyday observations. If you behave in a manner (cannibalism and rape, really?) that society disapproves of, society will punish you. That is why people tend to behave well. Plus as social animals we have empathy and a desire for security.

          Meaning is something we as individuals (and as part of societies) project upon ‘the cosmos’. Shared beliefs about acceptable behaviours make it a better place to live. No gods or cosmological meanings required.

      • Steve says

        “Since atheists can comprehend this wisdom and apply it there is no requirement for a religious *principle*.”

        Since I can do basic arithmetic there is no need for mathematical proofs.

      • @ AC Harper… Good point, the Golden Rule does predate Jesus. Jesus endorsed it. Moral behavior existed before Jesus, of course, and through his teaching and actions he codified it.

        • Dirk says

          @Craig Not following you on the cause and effect here. The Golden Rule codified into society predates Jesus but Jesus is responsible for codifying this into Western society because he endorsed it? Or because he created a codification for Christians to follow? Or are you making some form of special pleading. Prior to Judeo-Christian people may have acted morally, but they had no moral structure because they lacked the proper religious underpinning for moral behaviour to exist? I am always genuinely confused how people can make the claim that moral behaviour cannot exist without a higher power with which to use as a basis of reference. Even if that higher power is just a construct of the society itself or however Peterson wants to flavour his version of the divine/God/etc today

    • Samuel Skinner says

      Cooperate with those who cooperate, defect on those who defect. Moral principles are easy; it is the enforcement, transmission and education method that is hard and that religion monopolizes. It is not possible to make a working secular version; if you tell people that x is the best example of good and x is a real thing, people will copy what x is, not that which is good. Only by using the example of things that don’t exist can you avoid the tendency of the measure becoming the target.

  80. D Bruce says

    From this account Peterson sounds identical to Jung. There is no single definition of the God image – the fact that we have more than one major world religion shows that. Jung’s point – I think – was to keep us engaged with our god image, rather than to pin it down to one thing or other.
    Jung had witnessed his father’s failure to stay engaged with an outdated god image and sought throughout his career to chart paths out of such a position – and that required the willingness to abandon church doctrine.

  81. Ian says

    I don’t think the Peterson definition of God is that different from some traditional Catholic theologians like Anselm “That which nothing greater can be be conceived.” Although for Anselm that was more a starting point to something more specific.

    • I agree. Critics of Peterson–like the author of this article–usually don’t understand that there are two different approaches to religion:
      1) dogmatism
      2) spiritualism

      Peterson is clearly a religious Christian. He just isn’t very dogmatic (hence he doesn’t forcibly believe in the physical resurrection of the Christ); instead he’s spiritual.

      • dirk says

        He’s spiritual Geno, yes, but not in the classic (mystical or orthodox) way, because I miss the terms redemption, forgiveness and reconciliation, the hard core of the christian faith. Peterson, as I see it, is a selective deist, he picks out what is useful in his philosophy, and he has a whole array to choose out, because, the archetypes of that christian church are the result of the lifelong philosophies of 100s of scholars, over centuries, and many holy congregations (from Nicea, 325 a.Chr., onwards, another dozen or so). The dynamics of death and rebirth, the Trinity, the Virgin Mary, and so many others. But all that is of the centuries bygone, E.g.,I don’t feel like a sinner that needs forgiveness. So, very good that Peterson tries to adapt! Hirsi does something similar for the Islam.

        • redemption, forgiveness and reconciliation are exactly the terms that a dogmatic Christian would emphasize, because they believe in an afterlife in the classical sense.

          And every religion person cherry-picks from their faith according to their inclinations. Try to observe it from your close Christian relatives in the future. It’s certainly the case for my relatives. 😉

  82. Alex says

    This is probably the best critical article on Jordan Peterson that exists.

  83. “Yet that’s exactly what he has done with his assertion that atheism is to blame for the greatest engines of chaos and bloodshed in the twentieth century.”

    You’re getting that wrong. In fact, he attributes the atrocities committed by the fascists and communists to science, because it more and more challenged the mythological substrate of Western civilization.

    And once this religious substrate was “knocked out”, new leaders tried to build civilizations on *new values*, which led to catastrophe because building a new civilization from scratch is actually really, really hard.

    Therefore, Peterson suggests that continuing building on our Civilization–without completely knocking out its foundation, which is Judeo-Christian–is actually the safer approach. And I, as a scientist, fully agree.

    • Samuel Skinner says

      “You’re getting that wrong. In fact, he attributes the atrocities committed by the fascists and communists to science, because it more and more challenged the mythological substrate of Western civilization.”

      Then he is wrong. The only thing case of science threatening the mythological substrate is evolution by natural selection. Of course it also happens to provide reasons for much of the rules and tradition that exist. The fact people in charge decided to use it to tear down religion instead of as a bulwark is not inevitable.

      Much of the rest works fine if you take the bible non-literally (on the grounds the bible isn’t a science textbook but aims to teach people how to live) or is a mixed bag (the fact the universe has a definitive start where it is near impossible to comprehend how things worked before is much stronger then the previous arguments for God. God spinning the last celestial sphere isn’t as good as time is a property of universe and so we can’t coherently talk about how things were before it began).

      “And once this religious substrate was “knocked out”, new leaders tried to build civilizations on *new values*, which led to catastrophe because building a new civilization from scratch is actually really, really hard.”

      Not really- the ‘new values’ aren’t new. ‘Modern’ feminism dates to the 11th century. They just choose to get rid of cultural traditions that worked and replaced them with ones that didn’t. The reason is because people use lies to coordinate action to seize power over others. And a ‘new civilization’ has lots of power available for people to grab; thus is gets filled with lies and dysfunction until it collapses or someone gains power and kills all the competition.

      Really, the only thing new about our time period is science, technology and scale. All this has happened before and all this will probably happen again.

  84. My interest in Peterson comes all at once with my interest in the underpinnings of religious thought. And so I can perceive what the author is saying quite well. I am in the middle of his Maps of Meaning and I’m finding it very good, but also, like someone said as if it were German translated into English by a bot. Fortunately I have the audiobook and hearing Peterson helps distinguish his own emphasis.

    I have also just finished Aldous Huxley’s Perennial Philosophy, and I think it is a very useful companion to Maps of Meaning. That is because Huxley quotes mystics who describe their own interpretation of the religious experience. It is through this process of comparing and identifying similarities in the *process* of attaining enlightenment that one begins to grok what is meant by the divine. There are holy men. There are saints. Identifying them and learning what it is they have told to be ‘the way’ is how to understand. Anything else is reductive. So Peterson is on the right path to describing, but that path is an infinite circle asymptotic to divinity in self. It is a process that cannot be abstracted by parsing words and arguments. It’s like trying to grow muscle by listening to Arnold Schwarzenegger speak. You don’t describe God, you experience the divine by trying.

    Peterson’s understanding of cognition can be a useful scientific step that may serve to help avoid future missteps in describing the process of touching the divine. Peterson himself accounts for that in describing how abstraction of myths accelerates this understanding through culture. But he also accounts for the fragility of abstract narratives and how they can be collapsed by lies and misinterpretations. Ultimately it is the experience of the numinous that rights us. And what a kick to the head it can be to recognize this might be simulated by the right kinds of molecules.

    So the third leg of this mystic triangle is provided by Michael Pollan in his latest. But that tangent I won’t indulge. The bottom line is that God is within the self, and one disciplines ones thoughts and actions to achieve the divine. Neither God nor the self can be described, both are a kind of perfected being.

  85. Dirk says

    If you are going to shorthand “the idea of the effects upon our society throughout history of a fictional character who has the characteristics of the divine being referred to God in the Jewish and Christian traditions” with the word “God” and not explain when you are doing that; then also use the word “God” to mean ” the idea of one’s personal sense of a pinnacle of achievement that should be striven for but is ultimately unattainable” and not explain when you are doing that; and then also be unable to respond to the question “If no human mind existed to create the idea of God, would God still exist?” with any answer, and all of this happening in the same 2 hour conversation, you are a semantic charlatan.

    You are not unintelligent, but there is nothing but smoke and mirrors to any of your points. They do not hold up to actual scrutiny because you use definition play to keep any argument against your stated view at arms length instead of engaging. And the people who lose their sense of understanding of what you are saying along your labyrinthine path of definition are not smart enough to realise that you are not a smart person but a dangerous person. It’s either deliberate in which case you’re a sociopath who cares nothing about the well being of your audience and whatever path you’re leading them down. Or you’re an idiot and you think that redefining what is true including truth at any given moment is something fine to do.

    If you also think that moral relativism is bad but advocate for a definition of truth which allows you to alter the definition of moral, relativism, and everything contained within a moral code, I have no idea how you cannot see the utter hypocrisy within your statements. If the only way to correct my view of that hypocrisy is to go watch you give a lecture somewhere else where you say something different, I again go back to my point of you being a smoke and mirror charlatan who cannot stand up to scrutiny. I don’t expect perfection out of public speakers but if you allow yourself to redefine whatever you want on the fly then you are not using weasel words. You are a talking weasel.

    • AC Harper says

      @Dirk. That’s harsh (whether it is true or not). There are lots of people who convince themselves of all sorts of things and beliefs. The weakness and strength of the argument of “You don’t describe God, you experience the divine by trying.” is that it is entirely convincing to the experiencer and totally unconvincing to everybody else. And often the experiencer has no idea that their experience contains only meaning for themselves.

      I have come around to the idea that I can’t care about peoples’ beliefs, I care only about their behaviour.

      • Dirk says

        @AC Yeah. It was probably harsher than I intended. To be fair I’d just spent an afternoon listening to him have his way with definition, rail against post-modernism whilst fully exemplifying it, and listened to people attempting to explain what his morass of meaning was trying to say. I have watched his lectures, I have seen his debates, I am still to read his 12 rules. I do not think I will survive maps of meaning with an intact intrapsychic modality determinator. I am struggling to see anything but a charlatan developing a cult of personality. But yeah, probably should have been more charitable.

  86. Ari L says

    I though the article really missed the point. If in Peterson’s view, this article’s author is ‘religious’ (though this author would disagree with that designation) and if in this author’s view, Peterson is truly non religious but is rather an ordinary secular moralist, (which Peterson would disagree with) then, both the author and Peterson agree that they each exist within the same sphere and what one calls religion the other calls morals, or whatever. The difference then is just each person’s orientation to the same idea.

    So, the Author attempt to define or question Peterson’s religiosity by a definition of it that neither of them agrees with, is technical non-sense. Seeing that Peterson and this Author agree on morality and values (what Peterson calls ‘ religion’ and this author does not) the author should just accept Peterson’s definition and not challenge him simply on a definition.

    We can summarize the article as the author’s frustration at the enduring use of the word “God” and his semasiological preference for a substitute term that is peculiar to the author’s linguistic tastes.

  87. Andrew_W says

    Peterson has said “I act like I believe in God”, he’s also applied that answer to atheists – “you act like you believe in God”, and argues that a genuine atheist would lack moral principles.
    But most atheists would argue that those of the 10 Commandments that prohibit stealing, lying and killing your neighbor weren’t written by God, they were written into the genes of a social primate over millions of years, that God didn’t write those commandments, evolution did, the society we have today developed hand in hand with gene based morality.

    Peterson’s inability to express this simple point that many atheists accept as the foundation of morality is all the more puzzling given he’s enamored with lobsters and that our hierarchal social structures have their roots in their hierarchal social structures from hundreds of millions of years ago.

  88. Jordan Peterson’s god is most people’s god. The only people that have this fundamentalist interpretation of religion are atheist activists and religious fundamentalists. Thank good they are both so low in numbers as to be inconsequential anywhere other than social media.

    • Dirk says

      If every human being in the universe no longer existed by some peculiar cataclysm; if there was not a single human mind left to create a single concept or idea; would your God still exist? If you can answer that question, you don’t have the same God as Peterson because he was unable to. Peterson’s God is whatever he needs it to be for that conversation.

  89. The author misses the point. Peterson talks about what he talks about and everything else is religion/ religious, and not belief. He’s an existentialist-phenomenologist-darwinist. There is only your actions and he looks at those to explain the cosmos.

    Religious doctrine nor ritual nor adherence to religous motifs are ever the starting point to explain your belief or what God is.

    Beste Grüße

    Blackwell Japan Podcast

  90. What most of Peterson’s cult members don’t understand is that from the Jungian perspective the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli, who demanded the sacrifice of still beating human hearts, has just as much reality as a divine Jesus. As do Apollo, Isis, and the elephant headed Ganesha. Peterson fans are under the illusion that “god” is Christian.

    Furthermore, Jung and Jungians have been harshly critical of the one-sidedness and psychological inadequacies of the Christian mythos. Its overemphasis on the masculine, the spirit, and an idealistic perfectionism are damaging to psychological development. That’s why they have turned to pre-Christian (Greek) and extra-Christian (Hindu) mythologies to rescue the images that can heal the wounds inflicted by Christianity.

    Peterson’s overvaluing of Christianity reflects a serious lack of understanding of Jung’s ideas.

    Interestingly, many of the Christian thinkers who initially hailed Peterson’s attempts to revivify the Christian stories through the Jungian lens are now sounding the alarm that he is attempting to establish an atheist religion. They understand that Jung’s ideas lead directly to the neo-Paganism of the New Age movement. Jung was no friend of orthodox Christianity. That’s why he turned to the heretical Gnostics to elucidate the short-comings of Christianity.

    • Dirk says

      A Christian thinker should have issues with Peterson attempting to create an atheistic religion with his creed of whether or not the basis for their religion existing doesn’t matter. An atheist thinker should have issues with Peterson because he flirts with the apologetics idea that an atheist can even exist.

    • dirk says

      @Ed: a scholar I miss uptil now in this discussion is Sigmund Freud, especially in his difference on religion and the subconscious with Jung. Maybe, the God idea of Freud comes even closer to the one of Peterson than Jung’s. Freud also saw the value of religion as intertwined with our instincts and subconscious wishes (life after death, moral code). You are right in that over valueing of the Judeo Christian face of God. He has so many appearances in history, and geographically spoken. But for us Westerners, of course, it remains something basic. Like is the case with Quran for the Islam community.

  91. Fernando F. says

    I found Peterson’s reply to Sam’s question as Chopra esq. I quest when asked about Gawd, the first answer should be “which one” – and see how the conversation progresses from there.

  92. kartheek kadaru says

    whenever Peterson talks about atheist, he always take atheist as Raskolnilkov in crime and punishment.Atheist is the one who creates his own values disregarding any higher values. Peterson says that we are not good at creating our own values because we don’t have capacity to go through holistic perspective in every moral judgement we take. We can’t always act out moral judgements with rationalistic approach. The concept of god emerged in all old civilizations like our consciousness. I think what Peterson says God not in some mystical sense but evolved over time in biological sense.The moral values formed out of this concept are not based on rationality.After enlightenment era, we started to see everything from the prism of rationality, we filtered the previous generation wisdom through rationality.Which according to Peterson, we had to go through the havoc by nazism and stalinism. It doesn’t mean nothing good come out of rationality. In one of his interview he said that Darwin is more right than Newton, about understanding the world.Moral values can be evolved through time as the human cells evolve, but not in the sense of newtonian thinking. Even after ruthless defence against the concept of god, it survived because of its subjective nature and feeding our existential crisis. If you try to objectify god and see through rationality lens you win easily that’s what Atheists are doing all the time. Why don’t you go into the Peterson arena and beat him rather than asking his to come to your favourite zone.

    • Dirk says

      “Peterson says that we are not good at creating our own values because we don’t have capacity to go through holistic perspective in every moral judgement we take.”

      Exactly the point. To an atheist, god is man made, those values are created by man and Peterson is adding an entirely unnecessary step by declaring that it exists in any form, no matter how nebulous his terminology. The progression of from morality comes religion is reversed and he does not have good argumentation for this. I haven’t even seen him seriously address it, he has just been dismissive to the point of telling an avowed atheist that he is wrong about himself without knowing the first thing about the man. If he means something he should say it. You are yet another devotee saying “I think that what he is saying here is…” we have direct access to the source and he is unclear and slippery. That is what he is saying regardless of your specific interpretation.

  93. Allan H says

    Come on guys, get a grip on things. God (gods) exists as an idea(s) in the brain of man. For sure it exists there. Whether a deity etc. exists out side the brain almost doesn’t matter. It is the “idea” that animates man’s behavior. Let us start with what we know and work (scientifically) from there. Is the idea, being so universal, perhaps a product of evolution, did it have survival benefit, does it still have the the placebo effect of “hope”? Can you imagine once consciousness appeared, soldiering on despite all the adversity and uncertainty faced by early humans, without hope? Religion’s great gift was to experience hope.
    The 13 billion humans on this earth probably all have different personal conceptions of a god, when examined in detail. Our brains are for certain all different in detail, just as our faces and fingerprints are different.

    • Samuel Skinner says

      All ideas exist inside people’s minds; otherwise we couldn’t think them. What people are arguing about is if it corresponds to something in the external world and if so what?

      “Is the idea, being so universal, perhaps a product of evolution,”

      Sort of; I recommend theological incorrectness. Part of religious beliefs are evolutionary and hence universally shared; other parts are not due to evolution and are less sticky; found primarily in religious doctrine and must be constantly taught.

  94. Jan says

    The writer is pointing towards God and divinity with the criticism “give objective evidence or JPs points arent valid”. God and divinity as such, are purely subjective experiences. They will never be “proven” in an objective manner that will satisfy the materialists. Hopefully, even strict atheists can find something of value in what JP is saying. To throw everything the man says out the window seems like a waste. Instead, take what you like and leave the rest. I have a Buddhist friend who loves the practice but skips the bits about reincarnation, devas, etc.

  95. A guy goes up a mountain. He’s fed up with all the bitching and squabbling going on around him. We need some clear agreement on rules, but what? It’s not anarchy. They follow traditional behaviour that works to a point. He meditates – lets his mind wander over the disputes – particularly where they’ve been satisfactorily resolved. Eventually some patterns surface. He summarises his thoughts in ten basic rules and goes back. They all agree on the rules and things improve.

    Some time later, another guy has been brought up in a society nominally following those rules, but it’s become corrupted. Worse, they’re under the brutal subjugation of strangers. He wanders off into the desert. After letting the chaos in his mind reach a crisis then abate, he realises that what’s needed is a sincere commitment to truth and some love – not just towards kin but everyone. Perhaps a bit of it might rub off on those subjugating them.

    Should we let the past speak to us, or can we let go of it and try to start from scratch? Part of the answer to that question is how much of our social behaviour is innate. As an evolutionist, I first look at how evolution has likely dealt with the problem. Clearly, as mammals we necessarily have some social instincts. As one of many species that have survived despite inevitable mortal conflict over resources, even if only during hard times, we’ve evolved a concept of “other” towards whom we can push aside any qualms of being nice and kill or be killed.

    Constant war is debilitating for all, so we need a sense of our space and your space. Again, many species have developed that as innate. It seems innate in us too, but travel and urbanisation has made it more complex. We’ve developed patterns of behaviour that work towards survival – i.e. those that followed them survived – and followed them long before we codified them. Those societies that built institutions to felicitate their maintenance survived. Those that don’t, or let them deteriorate, or don’t adjust them cautiously to adapt, end up killing each other or just don’t bother to reproduce.

  96. Sam Sheppard says

    Great piece. And right on the money. I’m a fan of Peterson for many reasons. But he is often confusing when he mixes religion and evolutionary biology in the same sentence as if one is the extension of the other, without better clarifying what he means. I think that your very last point is THE point: his god is no one else’s god. I think that Peterson views everything from the perspective of Jungian psychology, and so God for him has a lot to do with his whole ‘central nervous system of the lobster’ example. He basically believes that the concept of god is imbedded in our nervous system, just as archetypes are as well. And so one can’t ever run away from it, or do away with it. But he cant use this definition of god in an argument with Harris because Harris’s definition of god is the ‘omnipotent omnipresent entity’ the people kill and die for- which is everyone else’s as well. Jeez I didn’t expect this comment to be so winded…

  97. Scotty says

    Matt, I don’t disagree with your characterisation and I think Lawrence S summed things up very well in his comment. What I do detect is that you tend to align with the “New Atheist” side of the religious debate. Might I direct you to this Medium article and encourage you to become familiar with NN Talebs view in this respect. They lack the Jungian (my interpretation) ‘wooliness’ of JBP’s mental riffing but converge to a similar place which deserves more contemplation from thinking people:

    https://medium.com/@gore.burnelli/how-nassim-taleb-changed-my-mind-about-religion-d832349c510

    Thanks for the article

    S

  98. Pingback: Will the Real Jordan Peterson Please Stand Up? – Philosophics

  99. Damn this is a good critique. How refreshing it is to read something almost entirely lacking ad-hominen attacks. Loved this.

  100. Jamesm9319 says

    Yes, some topics and questions are very hard to boil down to yes or no. But when you get a vague answer to something like “What do YOU believe about x?” then it seems disingenuous to not answer clearly because you are simply stating what your conceptions are. For example, “Do you believe Jesus Christ literally rose from the grave?” is a yes/no answer and if JP has ever thought of that question before would have had an answer (I don’t know if he was asked this specifically but the article mentioned something close to that.).

  101. Peterson makes a noise, which keeps his brand alive. Kind of Trumpish, that.

  102. John Fahey says

    This is a timely comment upon Jordan Peterson’s arguments about the nature of God and religion and about what people believe and do. However, I feel it has missed the point. In my reading of Maps of Meaning I did not find that Peterson found atheism to be a problem. What I noted was that he found an over reliance on reason to be the problem. This is a quite different argument and one not addressed in this piece.

    Indeed, in one part of his book, Peterson makes the valid point that the Devil’s rejection of God’s work lies in the Devil’s own excessive rationality, a rationality that makes it impossible for the Devil to accept the mystical or the unknown as being necessary in the universe. Peterson extends this to the Nazi’s and to the Communists by describing how, in their frame of reference, the murder of millions of people was a rational necessity and not just inherent madness. As a historian I abhor the description that Hitler or Stalin, their supporters and their nations were the victims of madness because it lets so many sinners of the hook in the face of their own vileness and evil. Neither Hitler, his henchmen or Stalin and his henchmen were insane, they were rational and, even more importantly, so were the populations of Germany and the USSR.

    As to religion, the Hitler regime stopped its programme of murdering invalids and the ill because of the resistance of the Catholic Church and other Christian sects. The attempt to link Christianity to the evils of Nazism by talking about Josef Tiso is weak. I would have started with Saint Paul and then moved down a long list to Tomas de Torquemada to Tiso. I would have added Calvin and Luther and many others to the list. Fascism is a state of mind, not a political or religious doctrine. That some religious succumb to this state of mind is no different to any other group in which members succumb to fascism. Even socialists become fascists when they become dictatorial.

    One element of truth uncovered in this piece is the observation that vociferous attacks on religion are in fact acts of religion. This can only be the case, because to attack religion requires positing an alternative way of living your life. That alternative way has to address the human need for spirituality and a moral code to live by. The act of positing such an alternative becomes an act of religion in and of itself.

    True atheism lies in a rigorous refusal to even acknowledge the existence of religious thought and action in any way. Few, if any, have ever accomplished that.

    Nowhere in Peterson’s writings have I found an attack on atheism. What I found was an attack on an over reliance on mere reason. This piece dost protest too much for my taste.

    • “Peterson makes the valid point that the Devil’s rejection of God’s work lies in the Devil’s own excessive rationality”

      Soooo Peterson’s point about a fictional character with fictional traits from an ancient mythology somehow proves rationality is bad? Surprise surprise! it just so happens the clever human animals who first created and then elaborated the myth made the myth’s kryptonite the enemy. Christianity has spent 2000 years evolving into a formidable tale capable of resisting fact and reason. It is a meme and nothing more. Because it has been useful for many human animals doesn’t make it true. Anyway, once I’ve rejected the world’s superstitions and nonetheless continue living a moral life, Peterson’s gobbledygook philosophy falls apart.

  103. Peter Aldrich says

    Jesus was the creator of Christianity. He claimed to be the son of God. Follow me, he said, “I am the way, the truth and the light”. What is so compelling about what he had to say that over a period of 2000 years his words still resonate? Are they rational, or scientific, logically specific? No, he uses parables to communicate. How opacque is that?
    In his book “The Closing of th American Mind”, Alan Bloom makes the following statement. “Moses, Jesus, Homer, Buddha: these are the creators, the men who formed horizons, the founders ofJewish, Christian, Greek, and Indian culture. It is not the truth of their thought that distinguished them, but its capacity to generate culture.”You can deconstruct this statement any way you want, but it’s as real as any scientific fact.
    Any conscious, honest, intelligent person understands that you don’t need science for humanity to exist or for history to continue or to establish a proof for the existence of God. This does not of course mean that science is not real, only that it logically follows that it does not supercede or extinguish what existed before its adaptation into our culture. Does the discovery of the seemingly impenetrable complexities and wonders of the micro and macro scale of the universe have any value, is it evolutionary? Of course. But does that mean science is moral or can generate morality?

  104. Truthseeker says

    Matt,

    I get the impression that you are someone standing on the shore looking trying to critique the navigation skills of someone who has decided to brave the very deep waters of the human psyche as they sail off into the distance.

    For instance …

    “And it’s why he blames the greatest moral cataclysms of the twentieth century on atheism.”

    No. He blames the greatest genocides of the 20th Century on collectivism and pathological ideologies that moved into the cultural vacuum created when the rational replaced the spiritual. Stalin and Mao may have professed atheism, but their real evil was in trying to destroy the western ethic of the supremacy of the individual over the collective. Jordan Peterson has made this very clear on a large number of occasions.

    I abhor dogma of all kinds, including religious dogma of all types, but such a cultural shift was always going to be seismic in its effects and that has been the case throughout history.

    Regards,
    Truthseeker.

    • Dirk says

      @Truthseeker He said that communist Russia was the result of secular policies, and then backtracked it to just being about atheism. I will give you that he has probably also said what you’ve said he said. That’s kinda the point. He says a lot of things. If you approach it from an extremely charitable viewpoint, he still says things that are contradictory. You can pick whatever you want out of his scattershot. It is less of a critique on the navigation skills of someone plumbing the deep depths of the human psyche and more a concern that he came back with the bends and seems to be advocating for others to do the same

  105. Friedrich says

    It strikes me that not only was Jesus right about the rich (Mathew 19:24), but the same might be said about intellectuals. Religion is indeed a complicated and obtuse subject, but faith is not. In an earlier verse (Mathew 19:14) He makes it clear what kind of mind attains the kingdom. Few men today are willing or able to humble themselves in that way and intellectuals, to their detriment, are usually not among them.

    • dirk says

      You are right Friedrich, Matthew 5:3, Blessed be the poor in spirit. So, not all those intellectuals, eggheads and schoolmasters.
      But the children, the simple minded, the ordinary people, and not the ones that comment here on Quillette!

  106. Pingback: radio bubb.la – 26/7 – radio bubb.la

  107. JEREMY COLE says

    Perhaps asking about his definition of God is the wrong question. We all know trying to catch that bird ends in a mouthful of feathers. What we can say objectively is that humans tend to orient themselves toward a conception of the divine and comport themselves according to a hierarchical value structure dictated by that conception. The better question here might be, where does that conception come from?

    The answer in Peterson’s case is that it comes from the shared, distilled knowledge gleaned by human beings through their exploration of existence in the world. That knowledge is encoded into a vast, ancient, distributed, multi-dimensional conceptual frame work. There is no singular conception, so its nature depends where in our conceptual framework you are looking and/or the type of “story substrate” that knowledge has been encoded upon (language, story, drama, myth, religion).

    This does not slot well into a dialectical framework but it does line up well with a framework like Taoism, in which something akin to the divine — the Tao — is eternal, yet the Tao that can be named is not the real Tao.

    Of course, we do try to articulate that sort of knowledge, and per Peterson, we do so through a series of greater and greater abstractions (see those story “substrates” above) but we know none of them captures “the truth”. These things function a bit like a metaphor — a heuristic that helps us to understand a thing, without being the thing itself. And, like a metaphor, these explanations can be strained or taken too far, and so we switch to another heuristic and another level of abstraction to continue our exploration. Is that being slippery with definitions or is it an examination of something that is shifting, multi-faceted and multi-dimensional?

    Consider the blind men of the African proverb attempting to describe the elephant, or Ahab, attempting to make a fast fish of his white whale. As Ishmael tells us, the whale (God) is unknowable in its entirety. It is larger than the ship and can not be hauled upon it for inspection, and even if it could be, it would be inspected out of its native element, flattened out and deformed on deck. The best the whalers can hope to do is dismember it and boil the leviathan down for oil to illuminate the world.

    This is not unlike our ancient stories — boiled down meta-narratives that tell us how to live in the world. None of these is God but taken together, they are perhaps a rough sketch or disaggregated conception of Him scattered across many dimensions. And perhaps that is a good depiction, because in the end He is, more or less, the result of an ancient an ongoing survey of the nature of our best possible form of existence in the world.

    • Truthseeker says

      @Jeremy Cole – This is probably the best comment on this article and a much better analysis of Jordan Peterson’s stated position than Matt’s rather superficial attempt at critiquing Jordan Peterson on the basis that his analysis is not simplistic.

  108. augustine says

    “… scriptural warrants for slavery and genocide…”

    Scriptural accounts, not warrants.

    “Why has moral progress so often required our civilization to renounce the dogmas and dictates of the Judeo-Christian tradition Peterson reveres?”

    Not moral, cultural.

  109. Iliya Kuryakin says

    In short, JP sees God as a psychological rather than a philosophical truth. Hardly surprising given he’s a clinical psychologist.

    I must take issue with this statement by Matt Johnson: “the most heinous crimes of the twentieth century were committed by people for whom God was still very much alive.” What? Stalin? Mao? Hitler despised Christianity and was really a convoluted pagan (he believed in the ‘the Volk’).

  110. Jason Cooper says

    I think trying to pin down, and hold, a concise definition of ‘God’, while criticizing someone who does not, but instead simply interprets ‘God’ as the collective of human experiences that, in many cultures throughout history, has blended into a soup of successful behaviours, treatments and transcendent (Eureka!) events IS a hypocritical application of a univariant analysis.
    There isn’t an English word for ‘zeitgeist’…so discussing ‘zeitgeist’ without using ‘zeitgeist’ becomes a series of amorphous descriptives despite the fact we may all intuit what is being spoken of.
    I think one must give credence to, and not ignore as the author does, Petersons most successful attempts to define the indefinite through the creation, perception and experience of ‘art’. Or is ‘art’ rational and invariable, produced and purposed by a primal drive for survival?
    I think it takes a certain amount of courage to rhetorically narrow in on conceptualizations through open discourse, and it seems to me to be a symptom of convenience culture that we’re unwilling to partake in the process, but oh so willing to criticize it for not wrapping the conclusions up in bundles we find attractive. If that looks familiar…just glance to the Left…they’ve plenty of pretty bundles…in fact, you’re in one.

  111. Sheri arnason says

    Where is Chistopher Hitchens when you need him??

  112. Were there no moral humans before Christianity or Judaism? Aren’t Judaism and Christianity themselves just derivations and composites of earlier mythology? And didn’t the Athenians know a limited kind of democracy 500 years before Christianity? Peterson is what the ancients would have called a “sophist,” i.e. despicable.

    • Rick Phillips says

      Luciano, If you had actually listened to any of Dr. Peterson’s biblical lectures you would know that his views on the origins of morality encompass and recognize the pre-Christian era. There is really no need to for your “sophistry” in this space.

  113. Gregory Bogosian says

    The translation of Spinoza that I studied must have differed from the one that this author used. In the first book of Ethics he makes it very clear that to him God and the Universe are identical. and the universe obviously exists. In other words, he was a pantheist. That being said, Peterson is not playing fair. “God” as goodness or meaning or value itself is defensible. “God” as the being that came to Abraham and promised to make him a great nation is defensible. But Peterson wants it both ways.

  114. Jonathan McKeown says

    Peterson is easy to criticise if that is what you want to do. Any pedant can do that (and there is a little pedant in all of us, myself included). In fact, everyone is – easy to criticise – if that is what you really want to do. And picking on Peterson’s willingness to attempt to talk about God in a meaningful way seems a bit cheap to me. Kierkegaard pointed out, that when talking about God one must not forget the ‘infinite qualitative difference’ of that we are talking about. When we talk about God we are talking about a being that is not itself determined by human definitions and concerns. But of course our definitions and concerns of/about God (whether positive or negative) do in certain respects determine our way of being as humans (religions and isms of all kinds are examples of this, as are individual beliefs). And I do believe that theological discussion is important for that very reason. Peterson does remind us that he is a psychologist and that his main area of expertise confines him (for the most part) to talk about God from that point of view and from that limited field of expertise. Jung took a similar phenomenological approach. He was criticised by sectors of the scientific community too for being so bold. But from a psychological point of view God is always there psychologically speaking (even if you understand yourself negatively in that respect, i.e., as an a-theist) so any integrated psychological account can’t truthfully avoid speaking of God. Peterson takes on a herculean task in doing so however. This puts him constantly in danger of hubris which I think he borders on at times. But on the whole remains within proper limits. Like all heroes he is championing some real and valid sentiments and perceptions and experiences and longings, he is the vocal champion of many who are less able to articulate (whether through fear or lack of proficiency, or opportunity) their views. There are many public speakers and intellectuals out there that people could be cheering for. The fact is that a remarkable number of people are cheering for Peterson and I think, for the most part, for good reasons. Some people are uncomfortable with that. Such people might find it illuminating to consider why it is (really) that it bothers them – that Peterson is popular. I didn’t like the basic attitude of this article.

  115. Frankly, you don’t have the intellectual metal or intelligence to criticize Peterson on this topic nor even engage with it in an honest way.

    You’re playing the tired game of subjecting consciousness and meaning to reductionism. You want to “define” god, so you can take your ruler out in the world and measure him. And after finding no object to measure you’ll gloat like a spoiled child that it doesn’t exist, putting us back in the same rudderless metaphysical space that Peterson is arguing against.

    He’s not playing your game.

    You’ve also missed the fact that there are more avenues to truth than your reductionist fact ruler. Peterson focuses on two:

    1) the subjective – the ability of individuals to characterize and understand meaning and purpose within their subjective world in order to better navigate objective reality. This isn’t mysterious to anyone who’s actually had a relationship. It’s the perspective of the “I” if you will.

    2) the intersubjective – the ability of individuals to arrive at shared meaning, values, and intersubjective understanding through conversation. This is culture. This is the ability to build cultural structure and conventions. The “we” if you will.

    You sir are playing the old Marxist reductionist trick of collapsing the “I” and the “We” into objective “it/its” and pretending you’ve got rid of messy subjectivity and by extension, god.

    It takes peculiar idiocy (along with a willingness to divorce from reality and live only in words) to pretend that human experience ends with definitions, rulers and the ticking of atoms.

    It’s the idiocy that is infecting western culture. The idiocy Peterson is arguing against. And it’s the idiocy you yourself are badly steeped in.

    Culture and personal perspectives exists, as does individual and shared views of meaning. We all know this, we all communicate this, and your inability to recognize this makes you a dishonest broker.

    Put down your dictionary and raise your game. Your consciousness will follow.

  116. Josh says

    For those concerned with Peterson’s use of the word “God”, it’s not even new. His use is similar to that of The United Church, and writer John Shelby Spong. It’s not some completely new abstraction.

  117. RDL says

    The irony of Jordan Peterson – a man I admire and respect – is how he became so internationally famous and respected. His employer – the university where he has tenure – came down on him for refusing to buy into this whole gender nonsense with its myriad pronouns. By persecuting him, the university made him famous. It backfired. He is not riding a wave of international respect.

    Bravo, Professor. We need more like you.

  118. Pingback: New Atheists’ Views Of Murder Prove Jordan Peterson Is Right – Full Magazine

  119. Another opaque definition from Terry Eagleton: God is…”the condition of possibility of any entity whatsoever, including ourselves. He is the answer to why there is something rather than nothing. God and the universe do not add up to two, any more than my envy and my left foot constitute a pair of objects.”

    The problem with atheistic thinking is its failure to delve into the deeper philosophy and theology of “God”. Honestly embracing the mystery of our conscious existence is a hallmark of this deeper mode of thinking.

    It’s not a question of man being capable of “good” without “God”. Reason, of course, is good, but limited. When an atheist admits the limits of rationality he finds himself at the foot of the hill with the believer. Neither one can prove or disprove, with his rational mind, the existence or non-existence of God. The atheist doesn’t have to outwardly acknowledge God, nor deny him either. This is largely why Peterson correctly points out that Harris is an agnostic, not an atheist. And every other atheist who is honest with themselves is the same.

  120. Pip says

    The reason JBP’s declared religious views are opaque is that he wishes to communicate with the widest possible audience. As soon as as he overloads the god he is talking about with specificity that is not shared by your god, you will likely declare him “wrong”, discount his arguments, and stop listening. Thus, by refusing to be more specific, he is paradoxically being more precise and careful in his speech, and more universal.

Comments are closed.