Dangerous ideas at Google and the pain of Jordan Peterson

By Thomas V. Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Aug 09, 2017

In June, Stephanie Gray was invited to Google HQ and gave just about the best pro-life talk I’ve heard, “Abortion: From Controversy to Civility”. Gray uses the Socratic method, drawing out the traits people admire in those who inspire them, and then showing how the traits admired by her interlocutor in any given situation are totally contrary to abortion. What a surprise that liberal Silicon Valley would provide a venue for this point of view! Unfortunately, Google certainly does not have a clean record of allowing unpopular speech, having just fired an employee who wrote a memo questioning its diversity policy and arguing that women are biologically less likely to desire certain jobs than men.

The media almost universally misrepresented the contents of the memo. At The Atlantic, the always-fair Conor Friedersdorf comments: “I cannot remember the last time so many outlets and observers mischaracterized so many aspects of a text everyone possessed.” The mainstream press labeled it “anti-diversity” (it was the opposite) and claimed that the author said women are innately incapable of doing tech jobs (a very different claim than the one he actually made). And one outlet, Gizmodo, literally edited out the graphs and evidence when they posted the text of the memo.

But the idea than men and women’s personalities diverge on a biological level is uncontroversial in the fields of neuroscience and evolutionary psychology, as evidenced in this response from four scientists. While the Left’s war on science when it comes to sex and gender will continue apace, it’s heartening to see more and more legitimate academics, who would of course rather pursue their research and teaching without harassment and threats of termination, speaking out against the madness.

One such courageous professor is the University of Toronto’s Jordan B. Peterson, a personality psychologist who made waves last year when he refused to use any of the myriad transgender pronouns. His job was threatened by the university, though he ultimately prevailed.

Since then, Peterson has become something of a guru and father figure to many who are looking for an escape from postmodernist nihilism, particularly because rather than just communicating abstract ideas he (as a clinical psychologist) is always issuing a moral challenge to his audience: the challenge to act as though everything you do and say matters, instead of using nihilism to flee our terrible human responsibility, justifying “sloth and cynicism”. He proclaims the power of truth, and the damage that we do to our own psyche when we lie. He condemns pornography and using sex merely for pleasure. He even correctly describes the pathology of social justice warriors as “resentment for the burden of being”—what a Catholic might call acedia at its most destructive.

Dr. Peterson’s current lectures finding psychological and moral truths in Old Testament stories are intriguing at first glance, but unfortunately this man, who deeply admires Christianity and praises it above any other religion, seems himself to be stuck in postmodernism when it comes to belief: for him, belief is staking one’s life on something but not necessarily claiming it to be factually true.

Furthermore, as one commenter noted, Peterson “looks at the Bible through psychology rather than looking at psychology through the Bible.” While he does perceive some of the profound insights into human nature to be found in the Old Testament stories, he ultimately treats them as myths and the works of human genius, and when he has to come up with an interpretation of the divine elements, much of what he says is outright nonsense at worst or greatly reduces the truth at best. While these lectures seem to benefit secular people and atheists who otherwise would not take Scripture seriously at all, they could end up leading Christians away from the truth revealed in Holy Writ. It’s all a question of the direction in which one is heading.

His view of Jesus, the Logos, as what he terms a “hyper-reality” or perhaps a Jungian archetype to be imitated, poses another danger besides the eternal consequence of ultimately rejecting the real person of Christ. When he speaks on the human condition in the present era, one sometimes senses a terrible strain and tension, anger (though not resentment) and pain under Peterson’s words, as though he is trying to carry the weight of the world himself, imitating Christ as an archetype rather than participating in the sufferings of the indeed hyper-real but incarnate Savior Who has already carried, Who continues to carry all suffering on His shoulders.

All Christians know that we cannot bear the weight even of our own personal sins, but to attempt, concsciously or unconsciously, to bear the weight of the world’s is folly, and seems likely to result in a breakdown. In one video, labeled a New Year’s message to the world, a visibly exhausted Dr. Peterson broke down weeping as he described the direction the world was going and the terrible suffering, the next Gulag, that he foresaw in humanity’s future. This man has studied deeply the horrors inflicted by what he calls “ideological possession” in the 20th century, and seems scarred by what he has found in the human heart; when discussing man’s capacity for evil he is often on the verge of tears.

Because I deeply admire Jordan Peterson’s integrity, compassion and courage, and find many of his thoughts on the modern predicament profound, I pray daily that he will go beyond his beloved Jungian archetypes and finally take the leap of faith. When one flies so close to the Son, the only way not to be burnt and fall into the depths is to become one with Him.

Thomas V. Mirus is an administrative assistant and writer at CatholicCulture.org. A jazz pianist with a music degree, he often takes the lead in our commentary on the arts. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: mary_conces3421 - Aug. 17, 2017 7:12 AM ET USA

    I first found out about Jordan Peterson last fall from a link to LifeSite News last fall and thought, if this heroic man isn't a Catholic, he should be. I've followed many of his interviews, speeches, & classes since then & am praying regularly for him.

  • Posted by: Catholic in Seattle - Aug. 16, 2017 6:02 PM ET USA

    I generally agree with your assessment of Dr. Peterson's work, but I also believe he is articulating a large part of the truth (not the entire truth) in a way that is understandable to the modern mind--and, in large part, compatible with Catholic teaching. We can and should learn from him. To that end, our homeschool group has engaged him (among others) to speak at our fall conference--10-27-17 in Seattle. Check it out nwcatholicconference.com

  • Posted by: gary.brisebois1104 - Aug. 16, 2017 5:38 PM ET USA

    It sounds like he is making up what is lacking in the suffering of Christ. Which now that I mention it, reminds me of someone else.

  • Posted by: doceo4186 - Aug. 09, 2017 11:13 AM ET USA

    Thank you for letting me understand this side of the man. My son (fallen away Catholic) introduced me to Prof. Peterson. I have seen the seeds planted by him that have made my son take another look at religion. I will be praying for him.