In Peterson we trust?

We are, it seems, still living in the Jordan Peterson moment, as every man and his dog chimes in with reaction, praise or criticism to Peterson, his 12 rules and what it all means.

One interesting note is how often people link the word ‘gospel’ with Peterson. On the one hand it’s an easy, lazy headline but it also strikes at the heart of what Peterson is doing. He is a herald, he is proclaiming a message. Everyone seems to be agreed on that; but as is our wont we are bitterly divided as to whether what he is preaching is good news or not.

In his article The gospel according to Jordan Peterson Richard Godwin writes,

I think there’s truth and urgency in his warning that the human soul has roots that descend all the way to hell and each of us needs to recognise this capacity for evil in ourselves and each other and work out what to do about it.

In The New Yorker piece Jordan Peterson’s Gospel of Masculinity Kalefeh Sanneh writes,

His central message is a thoroughgoing critique of modern liberal culture, which he views as suicidal in its eagerness to upend age-old verities. And he has learned to distill his wide-ranging theories into pithy sentences, including one that has become his de facto catchphrase, a possibly spurious quote that nevertheless captures his style and his substance: “Sort yourself out, bucko.”

Put those two claims side by side and we see that in some ways Peterson’s message is that there is chaos on the inside of the soul and in the culture. His solution is to ‘sort yourself out.’ I’m not sure that yet qualifies as either good or news.

Much of the focus is people trying to figure out why Peterson is of particular interest to young men. We live in a culture where ideas of what it means to be a man, are highly contested. Alistair Roberts writing about Jordan Peterson and the Evangelical Man says,

Peterson’s ethical vision is one that allows for true manly virtue, celebrating a self-mastered virility, in a society where virtue has typically been presented as feminizing and in which the idealized man is all too often a domesticated one.

In a longer explanation Alistair writes,

Peterson presents men’s responsibility as grace, not law. Responsibility, for Peterson, is a declaration of the possibility of meaningful and purposeful existence; we have been given the capacity to impact the world for the better and the world needs us to make that difference. Strong and responsible men are not burdened with the blame for the world’s problems or beaten down by a perfectionist standard to which they can never attain, but encouraged and assisted to do what they can to change things. Responsibility is held out as an invitation to rise up to honour, not as a source of crushing shame. This is a message that builds men up, rather than tearing them down: it isn’t until many men encounter someone like Jordan Peterson that they really how hungry they have been for such a message.

Here we have a better insight into why someone telling men to ‘sort themselves out’ is not being rejected but wholeheartedly embraced – because it is ‘an invitation to rise up to honour’. That is a powerful message even if the means by which he calls men to rise up may ultimately prove to be law and not grace.

Links to other posts on Peterson

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