It appears that the mere mention of the name Jordan Peterson is enough to send some on the far-left end of the spectrum into irrational conniptions.
BY: George Dunlap. I have read Jordan Peterson’s book, 12 Rules For Life, and found it to be very enlightening. As Bishop Barron mentions below, ” in no way signaled a one-sided or uncritical endorsement of his teaching. Nevertheless, his emergence and his success are, I argued, indicators that we could get a serious message across to a wide audience. “ But I do agree what Peterson has to say is very worth while for our “Nones” in faith. We are raising a generation with out a spiritual compass. With a compass we all are lost in our faith and love to Jesus Christ our Lord and God.
Last week, I gave a presentation at the USCCB Spring Meeting in Baltimore. My topic was what I identified as the second greatest crisis facing the Church today—namely, the massive attrition of our own people, especially the young. I trust that the first—around which most of our discussions that week revolved—is obvious to everyone. Judging from the extremely positive reaction of my brother bishops and the lively conversation that followed my presentation, the talk was well received. I was also delighted it apparently prompted a spirited conversation on social media.
After laying out the rather dismal statistics regarding the “nones” or the religiously unaffiliated—50% of millennial Catholics now claim no religious identity, for every one person who joins our Church, six are leaving, etc.—I commenced to offer some reasons why so many are exiting. I told my brother bishops that these were not the fruit of idle speculation but rather of the many statistical and sociological studies that have been conducted regarding the phenomenon.
The number one reason—reiterated in survey after survey—is that young people are quitting the Church because they don’t believe in the teachings of classical Christianity. Moreover, the studies consistently maintain that this lack of belief is often because religion is seen as conflicting with science. Other factors, I continued, include the general secularism and moral relativism of the culture, the difficulty many young people have with the Church’s sexual teachings, and the supposed correlation between religion and violence.
Having presented these findings, I then shared what I take to be signs of hope. The first is that, among the unaffiliated, there are relatively few fierce atheists or determined opponents of religion. Most are indifferent to faith and have drifted rather than stormed away from the Church. A second indicator of hope is the massive presence of young people on social media platforms that trade in religious topics. I mentioned my own participation in a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), which yielded almost 12,000 comments and questions, making it the third most discussed exchange of its kind last year. Even though many, if not most, of those who joined in that conversation proposed challenging questions, or made skeptical observations, the undoubted interest in matters religious is something to build on.
Finally, I referenced what I called “the Jordan Peterson phenomenon.” I was drawing my brothers’ attention to the rather extraordinary fact that a mild-mannered, soft-spoken psychology professor, speaking of serious matters in a sober way, could attract tens of thousands to arenas and millions to his social media sites. I told my fellow bishops that most recently Peterson has been lecturing on the Bible, causing armies of people, especially young men, to take a fresh look at the Scriptures. I explicitly said that my reference to Peterson in no way signaled a one-sided or uncritical endorsement of his teaching. Nevertheless, his emergence and his success are, I argued, indicators that we could get a serious message across to a wide audience.
The reaction to my talk outside the walls of the bishops’ conference ballroom was, as I say, interesting. Most reacted very positively to my observations and suggestions, but some, on both the extreme left and the extreme right, took exception to what I said. On the starboard side of the spectrum, there were comments to the effect that I had underplayed the importance of the clerical sex abuse scandals. Well, no one has been more vehement in his denunciation of these outrages than I (see my recent Letter to a Suffering Church for the details), but judging from the available data, it’s simply not the case that the scandals are a major driver of disaffiliation. They indeed appear as a factor, but not a significant one, certainly in comparison with the causes I named above. I get the passion around this issue, but it shouldn’t prompt us to draw conclusions not supported by objective evidence.
But I was especially surprised, and more than a little amused, by the overheated response from some on the far-left end of the spectrum. It appears that the mere mention of the name Jordan Peterson is enough to send some into irrational conniptions. Though I had unambiguously stated that my reference to the Canadian was in no way meant as an endorsement of the entirety of his thought, some commentators and combox denizens characterized me as a Peterson disciple, an apologist for his program, a lackey.
One particularly hysterical observer had me “basing my apologetics” on Jordan Peterson! Oy vey. As I have made clear in my own articles and videos, Peterson reads the Bible through a Jungian, psychodynamic lens, and hence, by definition, does not read it adequately. It is not even evident that the Canadian believes in God in the accepted sense of the term. “Basing my apologetics” on him?! Give me a break.
What is particularly sad to me is that the commentariat, especially in regard to religion, has become so polarized and ideologically driven that the most elementary distinctions aren’t made and the most broad-brush analyses are commonplace. What makes it sadder still is that these distortions and projections stand in the way of addressing the vitally important issue under consideration. As left and right defend their respective ideological bailiwicks, the Church continues to hemorrhage young people. If we want to get serious about a problem that ought to concern everyone in the Church, it would be wise to attend to objectivities.
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About Bishop Robert Barron 156 Articles Bishop Robert Barron is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. He is the creator of the award winning documentary series, “Catholicism” and “Catholicism:The New Evangelization.” Learn more at www.WordonFire.org. PreviousEritrean Catholic Church denounces government seizure of health clinicsNextUS Supreme Court will soon decide ‘Peace Cross’ First Amendment caseContinue reading
This year marks the 40thanniversary of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s famous Harvard commencement address, “A World Split Apart.” Five months after he delivered it, Karol Wojtyła was elected pope. Both men, from Communist lands, gave warnings to the West. How was Solzhenitsyn’s diagnosis different? How has it stood up over time?
We are used to commencement addresses that are left-wing stand-up comedy. But Solzhenitsyn did not go to Harvard to tell jokes. He promised bitterness. “Truth eludes us,” he began, “if we do not concentrate with total attention on its pursuit. And even while it eludes us, the illusion still lingers of knowing it and leads to many misunderstandings. Also, truth is seldom pleasant; it is almost invariably bitter.”
Likewise, Solzhenitsyn rejected social self-righteousness. The horrors of Nazism and Communism had taught him sober self-knowledge: “There is nothing that so assists the awakening of omniscience within us as insistent thoughts about one’s own transgressions, errors, mistakes,” he wrote in The Gulag Archipelago. “I remember myself in my Captain’s shoulder boards and the forward march of my battery through East Prussia, enshrouded in fire, and I say: ‘So were we any better?’”
What would you have said was the main problem in the West in 1978? For Solzhenitsyn, “the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days is a decline in courage.” But before you think of Jordan Peterson, consider that he means not so much personal manliness but strength of will in public life: “The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party and of course in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society.”
Clearly, Solzhenitsyn judges societies based on the character traits that they form. He effectively runs through the cardinal virtues, arguing that our successes have led to moral decline. He decries the “welfare state,” by which he means, interestingly, not the habilitation of dependents by government, but a society devoted solely to material prosperity: “It has become possible to raise young people according to these ideals, leading them to physical splendor, happiness, possession of material goods, money and leisure, to an almost unlimited freedom of enjoyment.” So why should someone like that risk his life for any higher good?
Moderation suffers, too, because freedoms are exploited to the full without self-restraint. We enjoy much freedom for evil, he says, but freedom for good hardly exists, as those who want to accomplish good get tripped up on every side. “Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, motion pictures full of pornography, crime and horror.”
As for justice, it gets replaced by legalism: “Any conflict is solved according to the letter of the law and this is considered to be the supreme solution. . . .Nobody may mention that one could still not be entirely right, and urge self-restraint, a willingness to renounce such legal rights, sacrifice and selfless risk: it would sound simply absurd. One almost never sees voluntary self-restraint.”
The “culture of death” plays no role in the speech. But a criticism of abortion might, by friendly amendment, be placed here. We tend to think of the putative abortion right as “substantive due process,” the opposite of legalism. Someone who accepted Solzhenitsyn’s analysis, however, might say, “Of course it’s wrong and should be forbidden. It is claimed that it must be allowed only on a legalistic pretext, ‘what the constitution says.’ So let’s be clear and say: that is not its true basis at all.”
We can hardly believe it now, but it was true, that incipient “political correctness” then involved ignoring the evils of Communism: “There is a self-deluding interpretation of the contemporary world situation, which works as a sort of petrified armor around people’s minds. Human voices from seventeen countries of Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia cannot pierce it.” Without any censorship, he says, the media was marching in lockstep to preserve this viewpoint.
It is not that liberalism failed, but that it abandoned the medieval heritage that it had always required. Thus it failed to realize the synthesis of material and spiritual goods which was its original promise:
In American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted because man is God’s creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility. Such was the heritage of the preceding thousand years. Two hundred or even fifty years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual could be granted boundless freedom simply for the satisfaction of his instincts or whims.
Both the West and Communism reveal the failure of materialism. The path forward for the West, however, is not a reform, but something completely new. The only truths it is willing publicly to affirm are “ossified formulas of the Enlightenment,” a “social dogmatism” inadequate to the trials we must face. Solzhenitsyn seems to agree with Marx on one point: that liberalism is on an inevitable path to, first, radicalism, then socialism, then Communism. “Only voluntary, inspired self-restraint can raise man above the world stream of materialism,” but the West as currently constituted seems to lack the resources to do this.
“The world has approached a major turn in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will exact from us a spiritual upsurge, we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life where our physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle Ages, but, even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon as in the Modern era.”