Tara Burton’s piece on Jordan Peterson (no relation) in Religion News Service appeared just as I’ve started making my way through his YouTube series on the Bible (start here if you’re interested).
Burton covers some of the reasons why JP is in the news at the moment – the controversy inside Penguin Canada regarding the publication of his new book, his personal issues regarding addiction, and his popularity with a largely male right wing fan base.
I don’t have a huge amount of data points assembled on him yet, though as I get to know more about him, I am less interested in his status in the culture wars than I am in the way he points to the Bible as a profound source of meaning, even while refraining from making any theological truth claims for it.
I’m interested in how a professor of psychology can command the attention of packed theatres to talk about the bible and meaning, in a way that most preachers would give a limb to be able to do. Clearly there’s a bridge between his work and Christianity, a bridge that people seem to be finding on their own, as I don’t think JP’s expressed goal is to be an evangelist of anything except a commitment to meaning, truth and freedom as he understands it. As Peterson says in his first Bible video, “how do we live in the world properly” in a meaningful way that minimizes suffering and maximizes our good and the good of others is “the eternal question of human beings”.
Others have described Peterson as a modern version of a Stoic moralist. Does his brand of moralism appeal more to men than to women? Burton writes that Peterson’s “battle of good against evil pits brave truth-tellers such as himself against the insidious forces of the social-justice-industrial-complex, with his very person as both celebrity spokesperson and the commodity. His life is a fantasy of heroism for alienated young men encountering the fundamental brokenness of modern life, just as their feminist progressive counterparts are.”
There may well be some truth in this final sentence about Peterson’s appeal to younger men, something confirmed to me by friends and fellow clergy. I have at least one dear friend who credits JP with bringing him to Christian faith, for which I’m profoundly grateful. Paul Vanderklay, a Christian Reformed pastor with a substantial (for a pastor) YouTube following has done a lot of thinking about the connection between JP and faith, and has dialogued with a lot of younger men on this subject. He’s a good person to subscribe to on YT.
All of this to say that I’m deeply interested in JP within the parameters described above, and not that keen to get dragged into the culture wars. Is that possible? Watch this space.