Nazi. White supremacist. Sexist. Canadian. These are just a few of the things that Jordan Peterson, author of the best-selling book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, has been called. He is a psychology professor at the University of Toronto who first became well-known for his opposition to the forced use of gender-neutral pronouns, and has become an international celebrity.
His book was recently banned by booksellers in New Zealand after the attack on the Muslim mosque, blaming him for appealing to white supremacists. Peterson responded that such accusations are "self-serving" and false. His straightforward and logical presentations do not sit well with the radical left, which wants to dictate and force their ideologies onto the culture. Thus, referencing Peterson in a school speech competition has been known to get a student disqualified. He and they do not see things the same way.
What about God?
When asked if he believes in God, Peterson has answered, “I believe in acting as if God exists.” And when asked if he believes that Jesus died and rose from the dead, he said it would take more than 30 hours to answer that question. So, why should anyone, much less Catholics, listen to what he has to say?
Catholics believe in the importance of both faith and reason. Pope St. John Paul II said, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth.” In other words, without reason there cannot be true faith, and without faith, there cannot be true reason. And “there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason” (CCC 159).
When passing down of the Catholic faith from generation to generation, we often use faith as a starting point, and this leads to reason. What sets Jordan Peterson apart is that he starts with reason, which can support faith because faith supports reason. Genesis tells us we are made in the image and likeness of God. Peterson lays out a foundation of how to look at the human person as a whole, through reason, and thereby allows us to see the image of God reflected in each of us.
Peterson’s basic argument is that if we are to have meaning in our lives, we need to value that which is good. We need to sacrifice for it. He uses the concept of hierarchies. If we set the ultimate good (God) at the top of our hierarchy, that will order our lives in a way that gives us meaning. And the reason this gives us meaning is because we were made to do it. His end sounds familiar, but his means are not. He uses mythology, religion, literature, philosophy, biology and psychology to construct his argument to cover the whole human person. He calls us to a life of responsibility, honesty, and the constant pursuit of the ultimate good.
This is exactly the message our society needs to hear. It is taught in the Catholic and other Christian churches, but the problem is that so many people are not engaged in such religions. Instead, a twisted notion of freedom with no consequences and relativism surround us. Although Peterson’s message is badly needed, he is often portrayed by society as a tyrannical chauvinist, hell-bent on spreading racism in an attempt in order to turn people away from him.
As Catholics, he allows us to see the scientific reflection of God in us as well gives us the tools to understand how society is stripping us of our God given meaning and purpose in life. In this way, we are able to broaden our scope of conversation and reasoning with people of various or no religion. We can bypass the “because God said so” arguments, which are futile when speaking atheists. If we are able to argue with science and an understanding of human person, those who have reservations or hostility toward religion are much more likely to listen to us. In the end, we are using reason, which is in agreement with Church teaching.
Peterson does not have all the answers. He is not Christian, although he does argue for necessity of Christianity in a fascinating four-part discussion with atheist philosopher Sam Harris. His argument supports being made in the image and likeness of God but does not delve further into revelation nor really explain a loving and personal God.
If you are looking for a white supremacist, Nazi, or a deep theological journey into Revelation, then Jordan Peterson is not for you. If you are looking for a reason-based pathway to God, and thus faith, by examining truths of the human person, Peterson offers that. God cannot be scientifically proven. Reason alone cannot get you to God. It takes a leap of faith. What Peterson is able to do is give you enough truth where it seems reasonable to make that leap of faith.
Cole McKeown is married to Teresa, the father to a one-year-old boy with another one on the way in July. He works as a physical therapist in Sleepy Eye Minnesota.