“A Jungian gnosticism that is essentially Pelagian at key points.”
That was my claim in “part one” of this series on the Christianity of the now-famous Jordan B. Peterson.
(If you missed part one, go back and read it (here) before continuing.)
I should begin, however, by admitting that I have already changed my mind about one aspect of my prior post. I said there that Peterson’s version of Christianity is “strange”—and I even used that word within my title.
I now regret that word choice.
Because, in some ways, it is the lack of “strangeness” within Peterson’s theology that makes it different from my own.
Historic Christianity is, after all, quite odd by human standards.
We assert belief in an unseen, all-powerful, and all-loving God despite a world awash with evil. We affirm the inspiration of Scripture despite the many oddities contained therein. We believe in a “Trinity” and in a Christ who is fully human and fully divine.
Thus, most heresies can be seen as attempts to resolve the strangeness of the faith, so that it reconciles more easily with whatever form of human “reason” now in fashion.
But while I recant my “strange” word-choice—I maintain the part about the “Jungian gnosticism” with a dash of old Pelagius.
Now to explain those terms.
Unlike his mentor, Freud, who dismissed all religion as an “illusion” based on “wish-fulfillment” (I want a strong and loving dad, so: “Accio Heavenly Father!”)—Karl Jung took seriously the utility of religious “myths” and archetypes.
So too Peterson.
Yet an important point in both Jung and Peterson is how quickly they divorce the biblical material from history, even as they homogenize it with all other pagan myths.
Hence, when Peterson talks about Genesis (or Jesus in John 1), he ends up concluding that the Babylonian Enuma Elish tells us pretty much the same thing—and in more interesting fashion.
After all, the Babylonian account is way-more Quentin Tarantino.
For Peterson, Marduk seems as good as YHWH, who makes great wonders out of chaos.
There is some validity to the comparison, since every first-year OT student learns the similarities between the Enuma Elish and Genesis. (Even as they also learn the massive differences!)
The problem, however, is that neither Peterson nor Jung need their sacred texts to be historically rooted in any sense. They merely need the “knowledge” (gnosis) to gleaned from a psychoanalyzed decoding of them.
Having read your tale, I too will go into The Unknown and make great wonders out of chaos, like when people try to force me to use “Ze” and “Zur” as pronouns.
(While one may agree on the pronoun point, the way of reading Scripture is deeply flawed.)
In both Peterson and the gnostics, “salvation” comes not through a flesh-and-blood person, but by the knowledge to gained from an intellectual guru who alone can decipher Scripture’s hidden meanings.
As Irenaeus long ago argued (c. 180 AD), that’s a bunch of hooey.
Now for the link to old Pelagius.
“WITH A DASH OF OLD PELAGIUS”
In its particulars, Peterson’s version Christianity is of course quite different from that of the 4th c. Pelagius (thus I don’t want to “lump” them incautiously). Even so, a commonality exists in the downplaying of the necessity for supernatural grace.
Such grace is, I must admit, a very strange thing—but one cannot have Christianity without it.
For Pelagius, Christ-given forgiveness was not required for salvation, since what humans really need is to “buck up” and live responsible lives as Scripture commands us.
In other words, “Stand up straight with your shoulders back” (Rule 1); “Tell the truth” (Rule 8); “Set your house in perfect order… ” (Rule 6)—each from 12 Rules for Life.
None of this is bad advice, mind you. And if it prevents even one resentful young Incel from shooting up a middle school, we will all be grateful.
Yet as Charlie Clark notes (here), Peterson’s whole self-improvement project is driven by a form of macho pride, and a conspicuous absence of the sine qua non of Christianity—“grace.”
So what does Peterson think you should do?
You should act like a dominant, alpha lobster and assert yourself: “Quit drooping and hunching around. Speak your mind. Put your desires forward, as if you had a right to them—at least the same right as others.” As a man, you’ve won the game of life when you present yourself as “a successful lobster, and the most desirable females line up and vie for your attention.”
While such testosterone-laden preaching may produce external changes, it also has a cost.
As Clark concludes:
Peterson is, in fact, precisely the character that [C. S.] Lewis describes in Mere Christianity, one of those teachers who,
“appeal to a boy’s Pride, or, as they call it, his self-respect, to make him behave decently: many a man has overcome cowardice, or lust, or ill-temper by learning to think that they are beneath his dignity—that is, by Pride.”
Just as theological and social conservatives have too often compromised with sub-Christian political movements to prop up the illusion of a Christian nation, they would now put their hope in Peterson—at best, a good pagan—to teach their sons morals.
This is an enthusiasm born of desperation.
But to make his Pelagian error is to put our faith in ourselves rather than in Christ.
The righteousness that Jordan Peterson preaches is self-righteousness and it is not saving. The Pride it nurtures will prove spiritually fatal. The church owes young men better guidance than this.
My broader view of Peterson is more positive (See “part one“).
After all, we need not agree with someone entirely in order to learn from them. So let’s give our “sons” some credit for being able to separate the good from bad. Peterson has many noble points.
Still, at the end of the day, I must acknowledge that my brand of Christianity is far stranger than his. It holds that Scripture gives us not just disembodied ideas on how to “make order out of chaos” but a re-embodied Jew who is, himself, the hope of the world.
And it contends, quite strangely, that we require far more than Stoic admonitions on how to be good, “upright Lobsters.”
We need more than “good advice”; we need good news.