Psychologist and professor at the University of Toronto Dr. Jordan Peterson’s book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, has taken off like a rocket. Dr. Peterson first came into the public eye during his opposition to Bill C-16, which makes misgendering someone in Canada a crime.
In my experience as a church going Christian, I’ve rarely heard a preacher cover the problem of evil and the more difficult questions of Christianity. The zeitgeist is filled with college educated millennial and internet access; the masses have better access to great thinkers: Plato, Aristotle, Frankl, Freud, Jung, and Nietzsche; are asking better questions, and challenging religion.
For whatever reason, preachers don’t seem to be answering these questions. Dr. Peterson’s lectures and messages have captured a largely male audience by discussing Biblical stories, lessons, values and often advocating for those values by supporting them with evolutionary psychology and neuroscience.
In “12 Rules” Dr. Peterson declares the “miracles” of Christianity: rule of law, sexual equality, “implicit worth” of every individual, ending slavery, state recognition of individual rights, declaration that doing evil hurts the person who does it just as much if not more than the their victims, and more. Despite declaring these “miracles”, Dr. Peterson isn’t a Christian or a Jew. He doesn’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus or in God as a being.
Jordan discloses what seems to be his life philosophy in “12 Rules”. When he was younger Peterson says he studied concentration camps and gulags, then decided it was evil to cause unnecessary pain and suffering and what is “diametrically opposed” to unnecessary pain and suffering must be good. “Consider that the alleviation of unnecessary pain and suffering is a good. To the best of my ability I will act in a manner that leads to the alleviation of unnecessary pain and suffering.” Unfortunately for Peterson, his axiom doesn’t hold up to criticism.
The axiom presupposes that “unnecessary pain and suffering” is evil without grounding it. “Unnecessary” toward what end? Who determines what “pain” is? “Suffering” by what standard? Peterson’s axiom relies on necessity, pain and suffering to be objective truths, which, they are far from. In the end this is another attempt to reverse engineer morality by starting at what one thinks to be evil, but it’s only an opinion.
This is the spirit of the Plato’s Euthyphro Dilemma & divine command theory: if God determines what is good, then God can make good, evil; there is no difference, therefore God can’t be good. If there is no difference between good and evil, they have equal worth. This is the philosophy of moral relativism and nihilism.
If Peterson can’t solve the Euthyphro Dilemma, what is Christianity’s answer?
Matthew 4:1-11 American Standard Version (ASV)
4 Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. 2 And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he afterward hungered. 3 And the tempter came and said unto him, If thou art the Son of God, command that these stones become bread. 4 But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. 5
Peterson from the middle of “12 Rules” Chapter 7
“Christ responds to the first temptation saying ‘one does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ What does that mean? It means even under conditions of extreme privation there are more important things than food.”
Peterson uses the story to illustrate sacrifice should be used to “pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)”, but he misses Christ’s answer, which, undermine’s Peterson’s axiom. Christ endures suffering unnecessarily because God is the grounding for existence and standards are set according to that grounding, including suffering.
Christ’s answer evokes the first chapter of Genesis when God speaks the universe into existence, the word of God is literally the grounding for life. Jesus’ answer also evokes the ten commandments, laws and covenants which were God’s words. He reiterates this position later in Matthew 6:33 “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. ” Jesus’ response to Satan is that God is the bases for all life, to follow God is to be alive, what good is bread to the dead.
Jesus in one sentence rebukes Plato and all atheist challenges, submits that God is the answer to Aristotle’s hypothesis that there is a being that is existence itself and inspired MLK to say:
“This universe hinges on moral foundations. (Yeah) There is something in this universe that justifies Carlyle in saying,
No lie can live forever.3
There is something in this universe that justifies William Cullen Bryant in saying,
Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again.4 (My Lord, Amen)
There is something in this universe that justifies James Russell Lowell in saying,
Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne.
With that scaffold sways the future. (Lord help him)
Behind the dim unknown stands God,
Within the shadow keeping watch above his own.5 (Amen)
There is something in this universe that justifies the biblical writer in saying,
You shall reap what you sow.6 (Amen)
This is a law-abiding universe. (Amen) This is a moral universe. It hinges on moral foundations. (Lord help him) If we are to make of this a better world, we’ve got to go back and rediscover that precious value that we’ve left behind. (Yes)
And then there is a second thing, a second principle that we’ve got to go back and rediscover. (Help him) And that is that all reality has spiritual control. In other words, we’ve got to go back and rediscover the principle that there is a God behind the process. “
Without God as a being as real as the screen you read this on, there is no objective truth or grounding for morality and ultimately all philosophies devolve to nihilism.
Just as the APA’s DSM V claims to be full of examples of mental disorders but has no definition for mental disorder, so Peterson claims evil is unnecessary pain and suffering but never defines “unnecessary”, “pain”, or “suffering”. His axiom falls to the same charge he levied against Sam Harris and the “neo-marxist postmodernists” Peterson opposes, “good” and “evil” are subject to whomever is defining the terms. Without God there are no objective definitions, the neo-marxist postmodernists are not only correct, but justified.
Who is Jordan Peterson then? He is the atheist Apostle Paul. Where Paul named the Unknown God, Logos, of the Stoics, who believed in the alleviation of suffering, as Peterson does; Peterson is un-naming Paul’s God and secularized Him as Logos.
There’s a lot to like about and learn from Dr. Peterson, but his philosophy falls short.