The Jordan Peterson phenomenon


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.

Bishop Robert Barron writes about him here:

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.

Patrick Coffin did a great job interviewing Peterson and if you haven’t heard of him, I recommend you start with this.

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.

De Ville writes, after trashing Peterson’s latest book:

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.

6 thoughts on “The Jordan Peterson phenomenon

  1. “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.”

    Amen and AMEN!


  2. Thanks for the warning about Deville’s review. Dr. JBP seems to be achieving much good at present, and Praise the Lord for that! I can only pray for his continued success, enlightenment, and growth in faith.


  3. In doing admissions interviews for my alma mater, I have encountered a couple really awkward situations that are the product of the modern age. Several years ago, I interviewed a girl whose mother, a medical doctor who didn’t want anything to do with having a man in her life, chose to be inseminated from a sperm bank and thus ensured that her daughter would never know a father’s love. And this year, for the first time, I had a “transgendered” applicant. This applicant was born a male but decided to have the surgery to transition to the external appearance of female. Ah, yes, the “Pop Christian” question is very relevant: “What would Jesus do?” The situation demands no reaction on my part, in spite of the shock of the moment, and that I treat each applicant with the dignity that he or she deserves as a human being, however dysfunctional he or she or his or her situation might be. I wrestled with the question of which pronouns to use in the interview report on the latter, and finally decided to use masculine pronouns for the pre-transition period and the feminine pronouns for the post-transition period.

    And if we are to be effective evangelists, we must do the same. Wagging a finger of condemnation in the face of a homosexual or “transgendered” individual is only going to close the door to conversation and put an end to any possibility of bringing such people to embrace our Lord.

    From the OP: 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.

    When the Socialists sought to take over Western Europe through the ballot box after World War II, they began by seizing control of three critical elements of society: (1) the educational establishment (primary and secondary schools, colleges, and universities), (2) the major media (both news and entertainment), and (3) the leadership of major labor unions, which “represent” (?) over 90% of the work force in most European countries. At that time, this gave them virtually complete control of the flow of information to the voters and thus the capacity, through selective “reporting,” to sway public opinion in favor of their candidates and thus to gain political power.

    Here in North America, the radical left dominates the same institutions.

    >> Most colleges and university campuses are dominated by left-leaning faculty and administrations, especially in the area of liberal arts. The situation in primary and secondary schools is a “two-fer” with left-leaning administrations and a national union that “represents” (?) the majority of teachers.

    >> The traditional news media — the major newspapers, the major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) and the major cable news channels (CNN, MSNBC) portray a synoptic view of the news, suppressing details and stories that don’t support the agenda of the radical left. These sources often deride news outlets that report the omitted details, such as secondary newspapers and Fox News, as being unsophisticated or biased.

    >> Televised entertainment also promotes the agenda of the left, with programs and movies that portray aberrant lifestyles as normative and that regularly portray conservatives as ignorant buffoons while portraying “liberals” as well-educated and intelligent (as exemplified by the portrayal of “Archie” and “Meathead” of the television sitcom All in the Family). There’s also a strong bias toward hiring cast members who express the views of the left publicly and entertainers who don’t are often cast aside by the promoters of pop culture.

    >> The leaders of major labor unions historically supported candidates who advocated in their interest without regard to party affiliation. The current leaders, however, staunchly support the leftist agenda even when it is detrimental to their unions’ members.

    So what’s different? I’ll speak to the situation here in the States. The situation in Canada probably is similar.

    >> 1. The major labor unions made the majority of their employers uncompetitive over the past several decades, so non-union competitors took over the marketplace. When many companies that employed union workers went out of business, the union jobs went away. As a result, union representation has gone from about 50% of the work force in the 1950’s to less than 10% today — and the only sector in which union representation has grown is among government employees. Thus, the influence of union leaders is much less.

    >> 2. Many union members also have come to recognize that the agenda supported by the leaders of their unions is detrimental to them, and thus are not voting in lockstep with the direction of their union leaders, further weakening the union leaders’ influence.

    >> 3. The alternative news media are succeeding in spite of their detractors, so the major media don’t have complete control over the dissemination of information.

    >> 4. The phenomenon of talk radio has emerged, and hosts who have attempted to promote the agenda of the radical left have “bombed” as callers have routinely exposed the holes in their positions while hosts who have more conservative viewpoints have generally succeeded. This programming also has become an important channel for dissemination of news and current events. It’s not uncommon for callers to these programs who witnessed events in the news to report significant details that were not present in the media accounts.

    >> 5. The Internet has created a forum where ordinary citizens can report and discuss information through blogs and discussion boards, also providing alternative channels for dissemination of information that the radical left cannot control.

    The bottom line here is that the historic playbook of the radical left is not as effective today as it was several decades ago — and that is frustrating to many. Some years ago, a homosexual individual who was avidly promoting the agenda of the radical left on a discussion board for Christians, grew so frustrated with the opposition to his agenda that he eventually posted the blunt admission that “This is war!” If so, we have no alternative but to deal with it on those terms.



  4. Pingback: SATVRDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

  5. So no one should give a negative book review, because that might bruise the delicate feelings of a “seeker”?

    No. Jordan Peterson is a big boy, and I’m sure he is willing to be treated like a big boy. Meanwhile, we live in a world in which people are desperately looking for direction and desperately looking for heroes. They need and deserve to be told the truth.


    • Yes, people absolutely need to be told the truth — but it does no good to use the truth as a club with which to bludgeon them. We need to discern the time, place, and circumstance so we can speak the truth in a manner in which others will hear it.

      And sometimes, we need to recognize that another individual might not be willing to hear the truth from us. Rather than try to speak it ourselves, we need to pray in humility for our Lord to send somebody from whom they can hear the truth into their lives. Here, the example of St. Monica is instructive: she tried to speak the truth to her son for twenty years, but he wanted nothing to do with it and eventually decided to set out for Rome — the den of iniquity of his day — in order to get away from her. St. Monica was thus left with no other option. And when he got to Milan, her son’s path crossed a gifted preacher, St. Ambrose, from who he could — and did — hear the truth. The result was his conversion, and he went on to become one of the greatest theological minds in the history of Christendom. Thus, we all know of St. Monica’s son — St. Augustine of Hippo.



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