Dear Dr. Peterson,
Let me start off by saying that I greatly appreciate you and the current impact you are having on society. You have caused many people to think about their presuppositions, to reject self-destructive life patterns, and, by no means least important, to generally reject socialist and totalitarian ideologies. And whenever this kind of re-evaluation takes place, it is without a doubt a very good thing.
As is the case with many of your fans, you were brought to my attention through your now famous Channel Four interview. To this day I find myself hitting the “replay” button on that YouTube video whenever I need to convince myself that, yes indeed, there is hope for Western Civilization.
It wasn’t long after listening to that masterpiece of debate technique that I downloaded the audio version of 12 Rules for Life, and also began to digest your biblical lectures on YouTube. These have inspired me to expand my literary knowledge (currently reading Dostoyevski…so…thanks for that…I guess) and to study areas of philosophy I probably would not have studied otherwise.
Now, before we go on, a little bit of where I am coming from. I am one of the “Christian Fundamentalists” to whom I have heard you refer several times in lectures and debates – usually in a way that is half academic dismissal, half back-handed compliment. And that’s not a complaint on my part. In a context where we are consistently treated with open disdain, smiling, half-complementary condescension is a noted improvement.
And unless I have severely misinterpreted your words, you were once one of us, or at least, you were raised in the same general North American Protestant context as was I. I’m pretty sure, from things you have said, that were I to turn on the Evangelical jargon, you would have no problem understanding me. I will not do that, for my own sake as much as for yours.
The first time I thought “I really wish I could sit down and talk with this guy” was as I listened to your exposition (there is really no better word) of the opening chapters of Genesis in “12 Rules”. I was driving with my family between the Brazilian cities of Belem and São Luís at the time, and my wife and sons had to put up with my verbal reactions to your thoughts for pretty much the entire six-hour trip. As I remember it (and some of my recollections may be mixed up with things I have heard you say since then, so, keep that in mind) your applications on order/chaos and sin/consequences were surprisingly good…better even than those drawn by some Fundamentalist preachers I have heard. As I listened and listened, I found myself thinking “I wonder what he is going to say when he gets to Genesis 3:15.” Of course I don’t need to tell you that this passage is a Messianic promise, and one that, in the heavily hyperlinked (your term) Scriptures, clearly refers to Christ.
And you skipped it.
Now, you may mention it in another place. Perhaps in one of your online Bible lectures – one which I have not yet listened to – you deal with that passage extensively. That may very well be the case. But its absence in “12 Rules” is, to me, indicative of the major flaw in your treatment of Scripture. Let me see if I can articulate it succinctly: you draw valuable surface insights, but consistently miss the essence. Or perhaps I would be better off going with the apostle Paul, one of the Biblical authors who, as you correctly point out, cares very little for being politically correct. He puts it this way: “Ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth”.
This, as I’m sure you know, is I Timothy 3:7. Which of course is preceded by I Timothy 3:1-6. Obviously. What is interesting about I Timothy 3:1-6 is that it pretty much describes the kind of person you are urging your readers not to be in “12 Rules”. “Don’t think only of yourself, don’t boast, be grateful, be honest, don’t live simply for pleasure, don’t creep into houses and lead away silly women”…all of these seem like they would make good section headings for “12 Rules” (that last one might be a little random, but let’s be honest, so is the thing about petting cats). So, we have a list of things that Jordan Peterson would agree are bad things, and then one thing that…well…pretty much describes Jordan Peterson.
I say it describes you, not just based on the fact that you skip Genesis 3:15 in “12 Rules”, but because I see the same pattern in pretty much everything you write. You draw excellent points, essential life lessons, and some pretty solid philosophy from the Bible, but when it comes the God of the Bible, you demure.
Another example? Fine…this recent tweet:
God is the mode of being you value the most as demonstrated or manifested in your presumption, perception and action.
— Jordan B Peterson (@jordanbpeterson) 26 de junho de 2018
Now, in at least one way, this is quite true. People make gods out of that which is valuable to them. It it should be noted that, in Scripture, these are called false gods, or idols, and they are always compared against the One True God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Trinity consisting of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. My impression, from this tweet and everything else I have heard and read, is that you would lump this God in with the other gods and say something to the effect of “Well, that is what the Christian Fundamentalists value as god. Now let’s talk about lobsters.” (sorry…couldn’t resist)
I would respectfully (and I do mean respectfully, with the knowledge that your mastery in many areas of study could run circles around my own) submit that you cannot have the timeless truths of the Bible without the God of the Bible. When they talk about God (which is pretty much always) the biblical authors were not speaking in metaphor. They were not speaking of some difficult to define metaphysical concept. Rather, they were speaking of an eternal, transcendent, spiritual Being who has revealed Himself in a very specific way, and to whom all of humanity is ultimately accountable. That’s what they mean when they say “God”.
And so it follows that what you are doing is helping people escape their earthly, temporal Hell (which, I will agree with you, is a very real Hell indeed), but in the process you send them happy, healthy, and blissfully unaware, into an equally real Hell, which is the eternal judgement of a Holy God. Because when Jesus talked about a place “where the worm doesn’t die and the fire doesn’t go out” He was not using spiritual language to talk about a physical reality. In fact, He was doing just the opposite – he was using the physical reality of a geographical place his hearers all knew about to explain the spiritual (not imaginary) reality of God’s eternal displeasure.
From time to time I am called on to counsel someone going through some life issue or another, and so I understand full well your pleasure at knowing someone has accepted your advice, and has in so doing improved their life, made better decisions, or developed healthy relationships. There is one relationship, however, which cannot be restored through reading “12 Rules”, and that is the estranged relationship of every rebellious human to their God. Now, you are probably way ahead of me here, but indulge me as I put it this way: The “archetypal hero” – as you call Jesus Christ – is certainly not less than that, but is also most certainly much more. All the “sacrifice motif” of the Old Testament is leading up to the Actual Sacrifice, which restores the Ultimate Relationship – that between Man and God.
I would like to close with an example that I hope might open your eyes to what I am talking about. At the very least it might cause you to think about it a bit more. The other day I listened to your discussion with atheist Matt Dillahunty. I was looking forward to it, wondering how your philosophy would play out against that of a man entirely committed to the non-existence of God. I don’t know if I was expecting it to be another Cathy Newman moment, but I was surely expecting you to hold your own.
And for much of the conversation I was disappointed. I did like the “I agree with the first part” line…that was great. But watching the debate was like watching two men grope around in the darkness. The difference being that one of them (the atheist) was groping in total darkness, while the other (you) was trying to stay partly in the dark and partly in the light. Now normally, one would think that the person who has at least a little light is better off than the person who has none at all. But this is not the case, as anybody who has driven at dusk knows.
It’s not that Mr. Dillahunty was right…far from it. He’s pretty much all hat and no cattle (as we used to say when I lived in the lower 48). But as I watched you try to argue for the potential existence of something that may or may not approximate a concept of God…possibly…maybe…it was clear that the person who was wholly convinced that there is no God held the advantage.
Now I’m not suggesting you become an atheist. I know that is not an option, because you yourself see the complete irrationality of that position. But I am urging you to take your Bible-based philosophy to its logical conclusion.
And when you do, well…welcome back to Fundamentalist Christianity. You can pick up your name tag and John MacArthur Study Bible in the lobby.