An Open Letter to Jordan Peterson

  • Jordan Peterson, black and white
    Image credit Daniel Ehrenworth, used by permission

[Note: I have forayed into the world of Jordan Peterson think-pieces once before, here, but his work and the cultural phenomenon in his wake deserve more careful attention than a think-piece can capture. I hope to share more thoughts on it in this space. I encourage other Christians to engage him with the vigor, generosity and candor he deserves, between the Scylla of fawning admiration and the Charybdis of paranoid dismissal. Such opportunities and such men come perhaps once in a generation. Pass it by if you choose. It will be your loss. Herewith, my personal message to the man himself, Dr. Jordan B. Peterson.]

Dear Dr. Peterson,

I hope this letter finds you well. Many people would bristle at being told their names are remembered in prayer. I trust you are not one of them. So I trust it is some comfort to know that wherever your steps may turn, the prayers of righteous men follow after.

Once upon a time, there was a poet who knew too much. Perhaps, when you were a younger man, you would have recognized him as a kindred spirit. Like him, you found yourself “sitting on catastrophe’s knee…expecting Armageddon to come.” Like him, you woke from your dream in a sweat, with the knowledge of evil and good.

For you, it was Alexander Solzhenitsyn. For me, it was Whittaker Chambers. You sent me digging through my journals to find the entry where I analyzed my first encounter with Witness. I pick this out, in an 11-year-old’s labored, loopy cursive: “From it…I can draw several conclusions. One, man is involved in a terrible struggle in which he may either conquer, or be conquered, the struggle of his soul. There are only two options.”

Already, I had grasped what Terry Malloy puts far more succinctly: “Conscience. That stuff can drive you nuts.”

Today, inasmuch as I speak for the Church, I send you her best regards and honest thanks for those souls who once struggled beyond our reach. It’s a curious thing, how you have carried broken men to our doorstep. I don’t pretend to understand it. Yet here they are. And here you are. So, from one humanist to another: Hail, and well met. Will you not stay? The fire is warm, and we have much to discuss.

You have, as I think, something to offer us, some three decades in the making. Something you believe we might need more than we know. How does the story go? Tell me if I’ve got it right: First, there was Christianity. Then, there was empirical science. That was when the foundation began to shake. But we would not believe it. Upon this shifting rock we stood, we could do no other. For if it should crumble, what would become of the moral edifice constructed thereon?

But you come to praise Christianity, not to bury it. And you come to assure us that we need not fear. For though the foundation should crumble, you offer us a new vision, a new lens through which we might look and see that the edifice, improbably, stands.

I applaud the valiance of your labors. I acknowledge the spirit of good will in which this offer is made, even as I must decline it. Still, as Pascal put it, you make good men wish Christianity were true. That is no small thing.

You say you are a religious man, but you are also a man of science. As such, you ask what many men like yourself have asked before you: How shall the twain meet? How could the assertion that man ascended from primordial slime be anything but brute fact, you wonder?

I realize you move in circles where the word “creationist” cannot be uttered unless it drips contempt in the uttering. I realize I cannot blame you for thinking that Ken Ham is all “creationists,” and all “creationists” are Ken Ham. When once a word has been stolen, perhaps it is too late to steal it back. But let us, for a moment, be precise in our speech: If by “creationist” we mean “one who willingly entertains the possibility of a Creator” (however long He took about the matter) then you might be pleasantly surprised to meet a few real men of science who have pitched camp outside the echo chamber—men like James Tour, or Steve Meyer, or Douglas Axe. Perhaps you would discover some kindred spirits. Perhaps they know something you don’t know.

Meanwhile, we can begin at a closer point in space-time: the strange case of Jesus of Nazareth. On the fact of his existence (which you do lean to affirm), you once said there is “debate.” I suppose this is true, in the same sense that there is “debate” on the fact of the Holocaust. We have the man, all right. But what shall we do with him? And who do we say that he is?

You will recall that insistently mundane line in the middle of the creed, “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” The French doctor Paul Louis-Couchoud was known to say in snide fashion that “All the Creed is true, except under Pontius Pilate.” I must demur: While no line of the creed has lesser value, certainly none has greater.

Ecce homo. Who do you say that he is? You are an honest man, so you will tell me that you do not know. He is all we should be, and are not. He is the one to whom kings bow down in your dreams. Beyond this, who can say?

When he returned to Jerusalem after escaping from his enemies, knowing he was a marked man, they say you could have heard his doubting disciple rally the others in wry fashion: “Let us also go that we may die with him.” Let’s all pick up our crosses and walk up the God-damned hill then, for Christ’s sake.

And when the shepherd had returned to his scattered sheep, like that disciple you too could have protested when you heard it, not daring to hope, demanding the proof. They say you too could have seen it with your eyes, felt the spear wound with your hand. They say you too could have believed.

I challenge you to consider that the men who bore this record, this witness, were telling the truth—or at least, not lying. It may take three years, as you say. Perhaps that’s not so very long to an honest man, a man who likes a challenge. So seek on. Seek that place where the mind’s deepest understanding touches the heart’s deepest longing. Seek that place where faith and reason are parted no more, but walk hand in hand in the cool of the day.

Seek on. But understand what you are seeking. Once you have allowed the divine foot in the door, it is not so easy to bid the rest of the divine wait politely outside.

You ask, what do I mean by divine? And who am I to say you and the divine do not already have an understanding? True, you have no creed. But what good is a creed mouthed on Sunday and forgotten on Monday? What good is a word with no action suited to it? By this they will know you: That you live not by lies. That you keep your vows. That you rise and weep for the city, and when you have washed your face, you bear up under the heaviest load you can and journey on, a little farther up the hill.

Must Jesus bear the cross alone, and Jordan Peterson go free?

What more does God require? What more, indeed?

Only you can say what you mean by “God.” But I can tell you what I mean, and how I act: I act as if He loved me before the foundations of the world were laid. I act as if my sin has crucified Him. I act as if He loves me still.

Worship, for the only One worthy of it. Love, for Him and for that which He loves. Gratitude, manifested in obedience by word and deed. These things has my God required, who for us men and for our salvation came down from Heaven—infinite become finite, ineffable become empirical.

These things has He required, He who saw the crowd and saw five thousand lonely souls. He who looked at the rich man and loved him. He who told the Samaritan woman all she ever did. He who said to the paralyzed man, “Your sins are forgiven,” and to that same man, “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.”

Which is easier to say? Which is easier to say?

He that has ears to hear, let him hear the One who called Lazarus from the grave. Let him hear the One who mourned with those who mourned.

And the Word was made flesh. And the Word laughed. And the Word wept.

I see a man who lost two brothers too young. I see him clinging to his wife as they ease the second brother down, crying openly, “Carl’s gone! He’s gone, and I don’t know where he went!”

Where has Carl gone? Where have the boys of summer gone?

I see a man who lost four daughters in the ocean. I see him crossing the Atlantic to fetch home his wife, saved alone. I see him standing on the deck, passing over the place where the ship went down, words rising in his mind: “And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,/The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;/The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,/Even so, it is well with my soul.”

I see a man in Hell, the Hell of his nightly dreams, where he is dragged down screaming by demons. I see him awake and clutching the pen that will preserve a lucid moment: “When this poor, lisping, stamm’ring tongue/Lies silent in the grave/Then in a nobler, sweeter song/I’ll sing Thy power to save.”

I see a woman who sees more than I, though she is blind and nearly deaf, her face ravaged by a cancerous sore. I see her sit in dark solitude for twenty-five years, her only company those tired of living and scared of dying. I hear a visitor ask her what she thinks about, and I hear a clear answer, from a clear mind: “I think about my Jesus. He’s been awfully good to me, you know.”

And Jesus said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.”

There’s some utility in that.

Let us see one more shadow. Let us see the shy woman with a dog. You remember her, of course. Like one from whom men hide their face, she was despised, and they esteemed her not. You remember her: curvatus in se in body, but not in spirit. You weren’t the first person she had asked about whether she and her dog might take some wretched asylum inmate for a walk, beyond the gates of abandoned hope. You weren’t the right person to ask either. But you were all the same to her.

Perhaps there was something that whispered in your ear when you saw her, when you smelled her unwashed scent. Something or someone, taunting and tempting: “Look at her! Look at this woman who cannot look at you. What do you see?” Perhaps, from the depths of your immortal soul, you gave reply: “The image of Christ! What did you expect me to see?”

You remember her. You will never forget her. Neither will I.

At the end of your mourning, I wish for you a morning. I wish for you a sunrise fringed with fire, like the sunrise that broke upon an empty tomb, the grave clothes folded within, the woman weeping without. I wish for you the company of a strange gardener, with a strange accent, speaking a single, familiar word.

May you hear the Voice of this calling. May you feel the drawing of this Love, this Love that will not leave you, but prevents you everywhere.

The evening falls fast. Will you not stay?


Questions & Answers: Hearts and Bones and Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher public domain

Wikimedia Commons/public domain

Many have commented that 2016 was thicker than usual in celebrity deaths. But some of those deaths have felt crueler and more poignant than others. (I for one couldn’t care less whether Prince lived or died. Sue me.) The comparatively young death of Carrie Fisher has come as a particularly sad shock to cap the year off. Tributes from various friends and associates have poured in, all emphasizing her sharp wit, humor, and honesty. It’s struck me that Fisher’s distinct un-sappiness as a person has rendered this outpouring less syrupy than the usual “dead celebrity tributes” fare. She was a complicated personality with lots of hard edges and dark corners, and she spoke about those hard, dark parts of herself with disarming candor.

Some fans are just now learning that Carrie Fisher was married: once only, to rock legend Paul Simon of Simon & Garfunkel fame. Their stormy, whirlwind romance gets extensive treatment in Peter Ames Carlin’s new Simon bio Homeward Bound, from which some pertinent excerpts are provided here. It’s painfully sad reading. Carlin paints a vivid picture of two people who had extraordinary sympatico, yet were so deeply dysfunctional that neither one could handle the other’s pain. They shared a fierce intelligence and a melancholy bent that inevitably drew them together. There are stories of titanic fights between them that would dissolve all of a sudden because they began to laugh helplessly at each other and themselves.

However, there’s no denying that their marriage was spectacularly ill-advised. Fisher’s bipolar disorder and drug abuse weren’t things that could be pushed under the rug. They were an ever-present ball and chain. Coupled with Simon’s own ongoing depression, and topped off by a tragic miscarriage, they inexorably dragged the marriage down to its doom, a mere year later. Interestingly, it was Fisher, not Simon, who made the final decision to cut it short, no doubt believing it was best for both of them.

As is typical with such things, this wasn’t the end of the story. Simon and Fisher maintained an on-again, off-again relationship for a number of years thereafter, before Fisher once again decided to break it off for good.

Musically, some of Simon’s best work came out of this relationship, most famously the song “Graceland.” Fisher is the “she” who “comes back to tell me she’s gone, as if I didn’t know that, as if I didn’t know my own bed.” However, Simon wrote another song about their relationship that slipped through the cracks at the time: the title track for a flop project called Hearts and Bones, which has been revived as something of a cult classic in recent years. While the stature of “Graceland” is undeniable, and the track understandably more ear-catching, “Hearts and Bones” is, for my money, the deeper and more poignant lyric of the two. It traces “the arc of a love affair” between “one and one half wandering Jews” (Fisher was half-Jewish), from marriage to divorce. One might mistakenly think it was written in the wake of their separation, but eerily, it was actually written on the cusp of their marriage.

Continue reading “Questions & Answers: Hearts and Bones and Carrie Fisher”

Two Sisters Review… Dr. Strange (Part 2 of 2)

Doctor Strange poster

Little Sis and I pick up where we left off. We begin by discussing the film’s implicit pacifism, then really go at it over Marvel’s morality of magic and healing. We tackle the question of whether parallels can be drawn from Marvel world to our world, or to the world C. S. Lewis creates in Narnia. Finally, I wrap it up with a little discussion of new Harry Potter universe blockbuster Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, whose sympathetic portrayal of persecuted witches has been explicitly criticized by Catholic critic Steven Greydanus.

Enjoy! (And, as before, apologies for all the places where we say “Mordu” instead of “Mordo.” We forgot, okay?)

Continue reading “Two Sisters Review… Dr. Strange (Part 2 of 2)”

Two Sisters Review… Dr. Strange (Part 1 of 2)

Doctor Strange poster 2

Courtesy of Thanksgiving Break, Little Sis and I bring you our SPOILERIFIC deep dive into Dr. Strange. We discuss favorite moments and funny bits, as well as how the film handles mind/body dualism, death, and (of course!) magic. It got a little long, as LS observed towards the end, so I’ve broken it up into two parts. In Part II, we will discuss the film’s philosophy of suffering and hash out some differences of opinion on the last Easter Egg and whether we agree with its perspective on magical healing, while expanding on some compare and contrast with C. S. Lewis’s Magician’s Nephew. For now, enjoy Part I, and stay tuned! (Note: I apologize in advance for our erroneous and repeated reference to the character of Mordo as “Mordu.” As you might be able to tell, we’re not exactly die-hard comic book fans, we just watch the movies!)

Continue reading “Two Sisters Review… Dr. Strange (Part 1 of 2)”

2016: The Year White America Broke Bad

Image result for "jesse pinkman" images

[Note: I’ve had to delete some inflammatory comments on this post. I did so without apology and will continue to do so. However, in the course of one rant, a person did ask why I am making an analogy to a “horrific” show that “no Christian should be watching.” In response to this, I do offer the caveat that much of it is horrific, and I personally stopped watching after Season 1. I would recommend similar discernment in other Christian viewers. However, my attention was recently drawn to a specific couple of tragically poignant, well-written scenes from the show past the point at which I stopped watching, and this was why it happened to be on my mind at the time of the election.]

Half of America woke up yesterday morning feeling despair. The other half woke up feeling drunk elation.

I woke up feeling nothing.

A few of my friends are mourning Hillary Clinton’s national humiliation, but I cannot muster the sympathy to comfort them. I shed no tears for the fall of the Clinton dynasty. She got nothing. She lost. Good day, ma’am.

More of my friends are celebrating Donald Trump’s poll-defying, media-shaming win. Yet I cannot muster the enthusiasm to join them.

I read post-mortems dissecting the demographic breakdown. I surveyed bar graphs and maps showing in stark red and blue how the sleeping giant of underclass America had been roused to cast their ballots, like a wretched dog that’s been slapped across the nose one too many times. I read anecdotal reports of people physically bringing their mail-in ballots to the polls, just to be sure.

But amidst all the cheering, the weeping, the gnashing of teeth and quaking of stock markets, all I could think of was Jesse Pinkman’s wooden box.

Continue reading “2016: The Year White America Broke Bad”

Ben Zobrist and the Inflation of Christian Celebrity

Ben Zobrist, 2017
Wikimedia Commons/public domain

So here I was, grimly resigned to the fact that I should probably write something or other about the election but really wishing I could write about something else instead. Something timely that wasn’t soul-crushingly depressing, about which I could muster the time and energy to say something moderately original and intelligent.

Enter Ben Zobrist and the Chicago Cubs. I don’t care if you’re the nerdiest of nerds to walk the earth. I don’t care if you wander around with 15 pens in your pocket, or if you think the SuperBowl is a moderately important tennis tournament. If you were breathing air and had red American blood in your veins early last Thursday morning, you were in front of some screen, somewhere, just to see if they would really do it this time. Yes, you. You know who you are.

I’ll leave the gloriously sentimental victory songs to Chicago sports journalism’s finest. Meanwhile, I took great interest in another story that emerged this weekend about Ben Zobrist, the Cubs’ freshly minted MVP. While this was known before, many people are just now discovering that Zobrist is a devout evangelical Christian. (And just for those of you who do not have red American blood in your veins and therefore are oblivious as to what Zobrist’s contributions were this series, he scored multiple key runs, including a clutch RB in Game 7’s nail-biting 10th inning that paved the way for Cubs defense to shut it down.)

Now, I know what some of you may have thought when you first saw the headline: “Oh great, another celebrity who said something positive about Jesus once and is now being hyped as a CHRISTIAAAAAAAN celebrity because everyone happens to be talking about him right now.” I can understand why that thought might have crossed your mind. It crossed my mind as well, I confess, cynical kill-joy that I am. But I’m glad I didn’t stop at the headline, because it appears that I drastically underestimated Mr. Ben Zobrist.

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Guest Writing Roundup: The Stream, More Than One Lesson

I may have lapsed in updating this little space, but if you follow me on FaceBook, you know I have not been idle in writing. Here is a quick run-down of what I’ve been up to.

First, I shared some thoughts in the aftermath of Phyllis Schlafly’s death for The Stream, which you can read here. In particular, I fondly recall getting to meet her in person at the age of 10.

Secondly, Tyler Smith’s podcast More Than One Lesson is one of my favorite places to soak up good film criticism with a Christian slant. Not all his tastes correspond with mine, but I frequently glean interesting insights from him on the films I do like. Recently, he approached me and asked if I’d be interested in throwing my hat in the contributors’ ring for the More Than One Lesson website. My first piece debuted a new film editing project I worked on over the summer, combining a beautiful song called “One Thing of Beauty” with the film The Soloist. In the piece, I reflect on the significance of beauty and how both the song and the film reflect mankind’s search for it. Die-hard readers may recognize echoes of some thoughts I jotted down here a while back.

Finally, last week Tyler posted another piece of mine about a stunning new documentary film called A German Life, about the woman who served as the personal stenographer for Nazi war criminal Joseph Goebbels. It looks like a gripping work, and I can’t wait to see the whole thing myself. In this piece, I take a sober look at what we can learn from this woman’s actions and how we can show mercy towards her. Here’s the trailer:

That’s all for the moment! I hope to check in here from time to time despite yet another demanding year of coursework for my graduate degree. While I’ve been blessed with a lot of freelancing opportunities this year and will keep you posted on those, I’m sure I will continue to have many thoughts that don’t fit neatly anywhere else but here, in this little space where it all started.

LGBT Activists Have Left No Middle Ground in the Culture War (The Stream cross-post)

When progressive David Gushee sent out his warning to Christian higher ed that no bargains could be struck with the gay agenda, I couldn’t help noticing the ironic timing of the piece, because The Atlantic had just published something arguing exactly that. In my latest for The Stream, I analyze Professor Alan Noble’s proposition for a compromise and explain why its flimsiness cannot hold up under the coming onslaught that Gushee accurately predicts. Click here to read more.

Seven Things I Hate About the New Ben-Hur Movie

[Note: If you were genuinely moved by the new Ben-Hur movie, chances are good you’ll be offended by this post. I wish to offend no man needlessly, so if you fit this description, you’ve been warned.]

“Why do they need to re-make Ben-Hur?” My sister asked this question the other day. It’s a good question. I’ll let you decide the answer.

Me, I wasn’t even going to bother seeing if it was as bad as I’d heard. But then, I got this idea that I could sell a free-lance piece including some discussion of the Jesus scenes, which had been very hyped up in the movie’s marketing. Supposedly, this re-make was going to improve on the Heston classic by giving Jesus top billing. That seemed interesting, but then early reviews started coming in. If they were to be trusted, Ben-Hur 2016 Jesus was about as deep as Joel Osteen’s Twitter feed. But, understandably, I couldn’t get paid to write anything about it unless I could say I’d seen the movie.

So, I saw it, only to discover that this new and improved, ostensibly beefed-up Jesus was so over-hyped, every single scene of his had already been put on YouTube or mentioned in the two reviews I saw. There was literally nothing else there. Fortune-cookie Joel Osteen Jesus was it.

But hey, I thought, at least I can have a little fun panning the whole thing for my blog, and that will make me feel like my $6.50 wasn’t entirely wasted. So, herewith, seven things I hated about the new Ben-Hur movie.

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Why I Can’t Be Politically Correct Anymore (The Stream cross-post)

I’m back, with a vengeance! Well, actually, I’m just back with a new article, which the folks at The Stream are graciously hosting. In it, I discuss the ways in which Trump and Co. have hijacked the phrase “politically incorrect,” and I propose that as conservatives, we collectively put it to bed as a phrase that has lost its meaning. Click here to read it.