How many of our readers are aware of the Jordan Peterson phenomenon?
He’s a University of Toronto psychology professor with an expertise in the psychology of totalitarianism who catapulted to fame for saying he would refuse to use the state-mandated artificial pronouns to refer to the explosion of new genders even if it meant breaking the human rights codes that now include protection for gender expression and gender identity. He said if he got fined, he would go to jail rather than pay it and if he was sent to jail, he would go on a hunger strike.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you don’t spend a lot of time on social media, for Peterson, a mild-mannered psychology professor from the University of Toronto, has emerged as one of the hottest personalities on the internet. He is followed by millions of people, especially young men. His lectures and presentations—cool, understated, brainy, and blunt—are avidly watched and commented upon. And his new book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, is a number one bestseller all over the world. Moreover, Peterson’s spirited and articulate opposition to the imposition of speech codes in his native Canada has made him a controversial political player, a hero of free speech to his supporters and a right-wing ideologue to his detractors. His interview with Cathy Newman of Channel 4 News, during which Peterson’s interlocutor revealed herself as a hopelessly biased social justice warrior, has, as of this writing, been viewed 7.5 million times.
I became interested in him because of his courageous and robust critique of the neo-Marxism masquerading as post-modernism that has overtaken academia and pretty much ruined the humanities as a discipline.
I heard him speak last year, back when he was just becoming known so a big venue and even bigger security details were not yet necessary. There is a sincerity to his search for truth and his willingness to stand up for it that’s highly appealing.
I remember thinking at the time that I wish there were more Catholics who could engage with him on an intellectual level and help him in his search.
Many serious Catholics appreciate Peterson and see him on a spiritual journey, a quest, for truth. As one of my friends put it to me the other day, Peterson has not come to the point of St. Anselm’s Credo ut intelligam— I believe in order that I might understand, but he still has to understand in order to believe. In the interview with Patrick Coffin, Peterson tells him it might take him another three years of thinking before he can determine if he can believe that Jesus Christ really did rise from the dead, and that the Resurrection is not merely a profoundly significant myth but one which also came true.
One of the criticisms Bishop Barron raises about Peterson is his use of the insights of Carl Jung.
In a word, I have the same concern about Peterson that I have about both Campbell and Jung, namely, the Gnosticizing tendency to read Biblical religion purely psychologically and philosophically and not at all historically. No Christian should be surprised that the Scriptures can be profitably read through psychological and philosophical lenses, but at the same time, every Christian has to accept the fact that the God of the Bible is not simply a principle or an abstraction, but rather a living God who acts in history. As I say, to lay this out thoroughly would require at least another article or two or twelve.
As someone who spend a lot of time searching for truth and not getting the Credo ut intelligam thing for a long time, I went through a Gnostic phase and read a lot of Jung and Jungians in the early part of my spiritual journey. I was even on an email listserve with a group of Jungians reading Genesis together back in the 1990s and that was really quite interesting.
I am also aware that when the teachings of Carl Jung hit a lot of convents in the 1970s, (and the Anglican world, for that matter), it became very alluring to start interpreting Christianity through a Jungian lens. This could become extremely destructive of any semblance of an orthodox Christian faith.
But if one is able to interpret Jung through an orthodox Christian lens, and remain aware of the potential pitfalls, Jung has some brilliant observations and it’s very understandable why he’s attractive to seekers. Been there. Is it hazardous? Definitely. But can it be viewed as a stage people go through, yes.
It has been my hope that people like Bishop Barron, Patrick Coffin, who have some familiarity with the Jungian ideas and themes, but also a strong Catholic faith, would engage with Peterson because he is genuinely seeking and, well, we know who the Way, the Truth and the Life is and He’s not a Jungian archetype, or rising dying vegetation king.
While I usually like Adam Deville’s contributions over at Catholic World Report, this is not how I would have wanted to be engaged when I was a seeker, temporarily enamoured with Jung, Swedenborg and other forms of Gnosticism back in the 1970s and 80s.
Peterson’s empty book, then, with it bogus Jungian theory and its monstrous pseudo-theology, is nothing more than an apologia for social Darwinism of the crudest, most class-bound, and least self-aware and self-critical sort, covered over with a pseudo-Christian layer of linoleum. In a just world, this book would never have been published, let alone become a best-seller. That many people may be and are deceived into thinking Peterson proffers sound theology, let alone anything else, means that catechists and preachers, and professors such as I, have far more work to do than we thought.
None of the Catholics I know who appreciate Jordan Peterson are arguing he offers sound theology! No, but somehow he is reaching people that those offering sound theology are unable to reach. Maybe if we with our sound theology can reach Peterson, maybe he would then help spread to to the thousands of young men who are totally lost and finding this sincere, searching man has something to say to them that we somehow can’t, at least not yet.