Tags

, , , , , , , ,

It’s fairly difficult to explain Jordan Peterson, a contemporary phenomenon of the moment, simply and succinctly. His thought is complex, and he evades normal categories. You can read Mere Orthodoxy’s take on him here.

Though Peterson makes many allusions to Scripture in 12 Rules for Life, he is not a religious man. He makes a case for a settled morality of a certain kind, but one that comes out of pure social and evolutionary processes. In other words, he is much more fond of pointing out the way societies developed moral standards than of positing that morality exists prior as a real thing.

Take, for example, this passage from 12 Rules for Life: 

Why not simply take everything you can get, whenever the opportunity arises? Why not determine to live in that manner? … Our ancestors worked out very sophisticated answers to such questions, but we still don’t understand them very well. This is because they are in large part implicit–manifest primarily in ritual and myth and, as of yet, incompletely articulated. We act them out and represent them in stories, but we’re not yet wise enough to formulate them explicitly. We’re still chimps in a troupe, or wolves in a pack. We know how to behave. We know who’s who, and why. We’ve learned that through experience. Our knowledge has been shaped by our interaction with others. We’ve established predictable routines and patterns of behavior–but we don’t really understand them, or know where they originated. They’ve evolved over great expanses of time. No one was formulating them explicitly (at least not in the dimmest reaches of the past), even though we’ve been telling each other how to act forever. One day, however, not so long ago, we woke up. We were already doing, but we started noticing what we were doing. [12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Canada: Random House Canada, 2018), 163.]

Many similar accounts from 12 Rules could be supplied. Suffice it to say, Peterson’s account for morality comes from below. It comes from human actions that are very old and therefore stable only for that reason.

The Christian and even theistic (or realist) accounting of morality is much more satisfying. It comes not from man who is plainly twisted and moral impotent, but from the mind and mouth of God himself. That we even have a desire for an ethical life cannot be explained from pure matter. It is impossible for a material to account for visions of morality that are not tethered to strict self-interest.

The very existence of a moral system begs for something beyond pure evolution. As David Bentley Hart puts it: “So, really, in the end the conscientious naturalist has no choice but to try to have it both ways: morality is a contingent product of brute amoral nature; morality is binding upon the conscience of any rational man or woman. Ask no further questions.” In other words, it strains credulity to the breaking point to hold to materialism and the reality of a human moral sense.

Hart continues: “The classical theistic perspective, if nothing else, does not burden one with so embarrassing a paradox. The question, in fact, is quite simple: the good is an eternal reality, a transcendental truth that is ultimately identical with the very essence of God. … Ethics, like knowledge, has a necessarily transcendental logic. Every deed performed for the sake of its moral goodness is an act of faith.”

And once more: “Try though the atheist might to ground the ethical in the purely practical, and the practical in a larger consideration of what benefits the species or the planet, the effort is ultimately nonsensical. Every act for the sake of the good is a subversion of the logic of materialism.” (See David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss [New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2013], 251-7).

So Jordan Peterson, despite his mysticism and references to God and religion, is ultimately inadequate. Hart is right. We have no sense of right and wrong without a notion of good, and we have no notion of good, but from God himself. There can be no morality or ethics without God.

Advertisements