Paul Schratz - Life In The Schratz Lane

The complicated Jordan Peterson

Voices June 11, 2018

Jordan Peterson, left, is interviewed by broadcaster Patrick Coffin. Many Catholics and Christians don’t know what to make of Peterson, writes Paul Schratz. (YouTube screen image)

Over two days I attended a couple of separate talks where Dr. Jordan Peterson’s name came up.

In both cases the speaker was asked his opinion of Peterson, the University of Toronto psychologist who skyrocketed to fame by publicly opposing the university’s requirement to use non-gendered pronouns like “ze” and “zir” for students who demanded it.

Rather than conform, Peterson took to YouTube to explain why he had no intention of using English language aberrations demanded by someone else.

His videos became an Internet sensation, and he is now drawing millions of views as he tackles identity politics and explains why people need structure in life and “life without truth is hell.”

His classroom lectures are recorded and available for public viewing, and he’s a ubiquitous guest on talk shows and media large and small. He was part of a discussion on political correctness at this year’s Munk Debates in Toronto and his new book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos, has topped bestseller lists around the world since it was released in January. (If you’re hoping to borrow it from the library, get in line. The Vancouver Public Library currently has 487 holds on 62 copies of the book and 160 holds on 19 copies of the e-book).

His two shows at the Orpheum at the end of the month are already sold out and he’s returning to Vancouver in July as part of his Canada, U.S., U.K. speaking tour.

Peterson has clearly touched a nerve among people who are watching the direction western society is trending and asking themselves how much further it can go. For decades we’ve been told to accept the dismantling of our belief systems and conform to the latest thinking or movement, until that too is replaced by something even more au courant.

I’m sure many supporters don’t necessarily agree with everything he has to say but applaud someone who stands up to the relentless forces of political correctness.

Peterson’s message is grounded in Christian anthropology and history and a conservative approach to life. It’s only marginally religious, but Peterson recognizes the Bible is the foundational document for western civilization. Many perceive Peterson is still discerning the role of religion in his life, and he even has a popular online lecture series on the psychological significance of the Bible.

Many Catholics and Christians don’t know what to make of him. They’re concerned that he’s become something of a modern-day prophet, without the Gospel message. Bishop Robert Barron, best known for his Word on Fire YouTube ministries, likes what Peterson has to say, particularly his message for “the beleaguered young men in our society, who need a mentor to tell them to stand up straight and act like heroes.”

Bishop Barron does have one caveat, and it’s that caveat shared by a lot of people of faith. He feels Peterson has a “Gnosticizing tendency to read Biblical religion purely psychologically and philosophically and not at all historically.”

Despite the admonition, Bishop Barron recommends 12 Rules for Life, as do I, even though I haven’t read it yet. (I’m currently languishing at #120 on the VPL hold list).

We’ve had debate in the pages of The B.C. Catholic about whether Peterson’s popular wisdom is worth following or not. My feeling is what Peterson is doing is offering an abundance of common sense and positive messaging in a society that derides practicality and rationality. As Jesus says, he who is not against us is for us.

Peterson’s Gospel may not yet deliver the fullness of the Gospel, and he may be more of a “crypto-Christian,” as he’s been called, but he is an ally in the culture war, a breath of sanity in a world that often seems to have been cut free from its moorings.

Father Tom Rosica of Salt and Light Media is one of the speakers who was asked about Peterson. He said young people need structure. In fact they crave it, and while Peterson may be delivering religion through the lens of psychology, many young people are tuning in because he’s providing something the Church is not.

The other speaker was Dr. Andrew Kaethler, of Catholic Pacific College in Langley. He told a recent talk that we need to out-narrate the world … to tell a better story than the world is offering. The truth sometimes needs to be caught and not taught, and that’s what Peterson is doing.

Jordan Peterson is offering aspects of the truth to a world that had forgotten there was such a thing.