So who is that Jordan Peterson guy and why is he so popular with some people and so controversial for others?
Yes, after weeks of getting emails from people asking when I was going to write something about Peterson, the other day I took a look at a very God-haunted Washington Post Style piece that ran with this headline: "Jordan Peterson is on a crusade to toughen up young men. It’s landed him on our cultural divide." Now, readers can click here and check out the "Crossroads" podcast that digs into some of this.
The cultural divide is easy to spot and to explore. On one side you have people -- millions of them -- who follow Peterson's every move in the digital marketplace of ideas. Some see him as the next C.S. Lewis (or a perfect example of trends that Lewis opposed). Some see him as the new William F. Buckley.
Some like his calm, blunt take on political correctness -- including issues related to free speech, gender wars, etc. It' this old logic: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
On the other side there are those who use similar logic, only they assume that when someone endorses one thing or the other that Peterson has said, that then links the University of Toronto clinical psychologist to that cause, whatever that may be. For example, see this take at The Forward:
Jordan Peterson is a public intellectual adored by neo-Nazis, white supremacists and conspiracy theorists. The neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer called Peterson, a Canadian psychology professor-turned-self-help-guru, “The Savior of Western Civilization.” Paul Joseph Watson, a prominent conspiracy theorist for Infowars, has tweeted, “Jordan Peterson for Canadian Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, many who admire Peterson see him as a kind of anti-Donald Trump, a person who is making a case for a culturally conservative approach to life using logic, education and discipline as opposed to, well, America's Tweeter In Chief. Yes, others see Peterson as a new expression of Trump-era attacks on the left.
However, read this passage see if this sounds like logic that supports Trump:
Part of Peterson’s appeal is that he never appears in doubt. His thoughts are uttered as though they were the rule of law. He commands young men to grow up and take stock. Rule No. 1: “Stand up straight with your shoulders back.” He admonishes: “Don’t be dependent. At all. Ever. Period.” ...
Women can join the parade -- he believes his lecture audiences are about 40 percent female -- but his attention is on guys. If “men are pushed too hard to feminize,” he writes, “they will become more and more interested in harsh, fascist political ideology.” He argues that “the populist groundswell of support for Donald Trump in the U.S. is part of the same process.”
In other words, many men are so angry that they are being tempted to back Trump?
Of course, what interests me is Peterson's efforts to promote rules and laws to help people wrestle with the challenges of life, while rooting these absolutes in philosophy and critiques of religion, rather than the truth claims of ancient faiths.
If you want to grasp the Peterson phenomenon, you are -- #DUH -- going to need to spend some time watch YouTube videos.
Consider this take by the very Internet-friendly Catholic bishop of Hollywood:
Here is another Catholic take on the issue -- with a long sit-down interview between Peterson and the conservative Catholic media pro Patrick Coffin:
Trust me on this: There is an vast online army of people who are trying to figure out whether Peterson -- who abandoned ties to traditional religion as a young man -- is actually some kind of "closet" Catholic or conservative Anglican or whatever.
The fact that he has produced hours (and hours) of Internet material about the Bible only adds fuel to these religion-beat friendly debates.
Well, what happens when someone simply asks The Question?
On a related question -- one that I hear about all the time since I am an Eastern Orthodox layman -- there are people who believe that Peterson's religious views point to the ancient Christian East, as opposed to the Western world of Catholicism and Protestantism.
Once again, note Peterson's emphasis on the practical issues of daily life in the real, tough world we live in. Check this out:
Now, let me end with the point that I made at the beginning of my GetReligion post the other day. If Peterson is so dead-certain that some things are right and some things are wrong, then what is the foundation, the starting point, for these truths?
That reminded me (no surprise to long-time readers) of the arguments at the core of the famous James Davison Hunter book, "Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America."
Long, long ago -- when I was writing my 10th anniversary "On Religion" column -- I noted how that book really hit home for me, after years of experience as a journalist covering disputes over abortion, marriage, education, euthanasia, etc. Hunter was seeing the same thing, as an expert witness on church-state legal cases.
Read carefully and, while you're doing that, think about the debates and Peterson's iron-clad rules for life:
"I realized something there in that courtroom. We were witnessing a fundamental realignment in American religious pluralism," said James Davison Hunter of the University of Virginia. "Divisions that were deeply rooted in our civilization were disappearing, divisions that had for generations caused religious animosity, prejudice and even warfare. It was mind- blowing. The ground was moving."
The old dividing lines centered on issues such as the person of Jesus Christ, church tradition and the Protestant Reformation. But these new interfaith coalitions were fighting about something even more basic -- the nature of truth and moral authority.
Two years later, Hunter began writing "Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America," in which he declared that America now contains two basic world views, which he called "orthodox" and "progressive." The orthodox believe it's possible to follow transcendent, revealed truths. Progressives disagree and put their trust in personal experience, even if that requires them to "resymbolize historic faiths according to the prevailing assumptions of contemporary life."
Now sit up straight and enjoy the podcast.