That’s what the dustjacket for Jordan Peterson’s 2018 bestseller 12 Rules For Life refers to him as. And if this really “is the voice of reason a generation has been longing to hear” better to be deaf.
I know. Here I go again. Too strident, stringent, acerbic, and indelicate. Peterson first came on my radar when another Confessional Lutheran pastor sent me a clip of what Peterson had to say about marriage. It’s what Bible and Church has always said about it, but coming from someone who doesn’t claim to be Christian, it was powerful in the ears of the unchurched. I asked that pastor if he had read any of his books. He said he had read parts but mainly accessed him on YouTube. I asked which one would he recommend I read. He said, 12 Rules for Life.
If James Dobson married Dr. Laura (Look her up.), they would produce Jordan Peterson. Like Dobson, he speaks to family issues. Like Dr. Laura he speaks of noble pagan law. And why is it that society puts forth Dobson who has one child, Dr. Laura who has one, and Peterson who has two as authorities on child-rearing? It took 3 before I vaguely knew enough to recommend anything to anyone, and before the Lord gave no more on this side of heaven, I had barely scratched the surface. Unless you’ve raised more than 2 kids, you shouldn’t be considered an authority on child-rearing.
I mentioned Jordon Peterson in Sunday Bible Class and most knew of him once again showing me how out of touch I am. The best anyone could say about him was that he “destroyed liberals” meaning their reasoning and logic. Only two people, both in their 50s, saw him for the danger I believe him to be.
In a nutshell, perhaps more like the size of a clamshell, here’s my problem. When I read the collected fiction of Argentinian writer Juan Louis Borges I couldn’t tell if I was reading accurate history, idyllic history, or pure fiction. I couldn’t tell when Borges is really in a story, just telling one as himself, or as a character. Often it seemed an admixture. With Peterson, I can’t tell when he speaking religion, psychology, or Christian. It’s an admixture, so that his conclusions can sound very Christian, very religious, but in reality they are just psychobabble that sounds profound.
Let me offset this with some of the good things that I think cause people to resonate to him. While not referencing homeschooling as I did in the 90s, Jordan says, “…peers are the primary source of socialization after the age of four” (135). With my kids, I taught them to refer to schools as ‘socialization centers.’ The best thing I can say about this book is that he does a remarkable job of showing how things like the Green movement, climate change crowd, and the population controllers lead to a hatred of humanity which at core is what every serial killer is (148). He points out how “the data” supports a traditional understanding of gender not the LGBTQ’s agenda (298). And he makes points about male and female that I made in my book 21 years before. “When softness and harmlessness become the only consciously acceptable virtues, then hardness and dominance will start to exert an unconscious fascination. Partly what this means for the future is that if men are pushed too hard to feminize, they will become more and more interested in harsh, fascist political ideology. Fight Club¸ perhaps the most fascist popular film made in recent years by Hollywood…provides a perfect example of such inevitable attraction. …And if you think tough men are dangerous, wait until you see what weak men are capable of” (330, 332).
I like this and I suspect things like this are what other Christians gravitate toward. The Reformed and Evangelicals are drawn by his 12 Rules because they are the Purpose Driven Life without Christian trappings. He calls Nietzsche, “the great nineteenth-century German philosopher” and says he “so brilliantly noted, ‘He whose life has a why [i.e. a purpose] can bear almost any how’” (63). But should the Christian be drawn to the guy who says of God “whatever and whoever He may be” (356). Should we think one who equates Christian faith with wishful thinking and speaks of being converted to the religion of evolution worthy of following? “I had outgrown the shallow Christianity of my youth by the time I could understand the fundamentals of Darwinian theory. After that, I could not distinguish the basic elements of Christian belief from wishful thinking” (196). Aside from his lack of Christianity, is the following deep wisdom to you? “A few years later, when I was having teenage trouble with my dad, my mom said, ‘If it was too good at home, you’d never leave’” ( 326).
More dangerous still, he operates with a doable Law which abnegates the need for the Gospel: “If you pay attention to what you do and say, you can learn to feel a state of internal division and weakness when you are misbehaving and misspeaking” (224) and change your behavior appropriately. And while he doesn’t say dreams are from the Spirit, he puts as much stock in them as the now besmirched Freud did: “I have learned to pay attention to dreams, not least because my training as a clinical psychologist. Dreams shed light on the dim places where reason itself has yet to voyage” (xxxii). Finally, doesn’t the following strike you as funky? Speaking of his friend Chris. “Maybe I picked up some change in scent that night, when death hung in the air. Chris had a very bitter odour. He showered frequently, but the towels and the sheets picked up the smell. It was impossible to get them clean. It was the product of a psyche and a body that did not operate harmoniously. A social worker I knew, who also knew Chris, told me of her familiarity with that odour. Everyone at her workplace knew of it, although they only discussed it in hushed tones. That called it the smell of the unemployable” ( 294).
I think Christians of all stripes are drawn to Peterson for the same reason my young kids were drawn in 1991 to Brooks and Dunn. In their song “Brand New Man” they sang, “I’ve been baptized.” The song is totally secular, not remotely Christian, and the baptism they spoke of was not ours. But my kids knew about Baptism and on the radio was someone saying that word. Likewise, Petersen, on secular college campuses uses Christian phrasing, references, and a worldview, but in reality it is not Christian. It is dangerous not to realize this.