Dr. Jordan Peterson, professor, clinical psychologist, and author of 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, has renewed interest in religion, urging atheists and Christians to a fresh consideration of ancient religious myths and archetypes. This upsets the rational, modernistic worldview in several important ways. For example, a typical atheist often divides the world into fact and fiction, reason and superstition, the knowable and the unknowable. He places rationality solidly in the camp of reality and the knowable, while religion falls into the basket of superstition and the unknowable.
However, Peterson shows that this delineation is incorrect. When understood correctly, religion exists in the twilight zone between fact and fiction. In that ambiguous region, narratives can become generative. They can create truth.
Creating Truth from Fiction
Consider the following example used by Peterson: A woman in Canada called around to invite people to conferences. She promised great venues, fantastic speakers, and a vast audience. When she talked to potential attendees, nothing was in place. Was she lying? By the time people turned up at her conferences, all her promises had been kept. They were, to some degree, self-fulfilling narratives: They became true because she presented them as such.
Another example was first noted by the economist John Maynard Keynes: The economy is, to some extent, fueled by what he called “the animal spirits” – optimism or pessimism about the future. These emotions could, in turn, become self-fulfilling prophecies. President Donald Trump has fully understood the power of the twilight zone between fact and fiction, and the ongoing boom in the American economy is likely due in large part to the optimism he has generated.
Peterson, of course, applies this reasoning to religion. He notes that most stories are merely fiction, but that some survive the test of time, conveying what he deems to be eternal truths. Indeed, maybe that is the very nature of prophecy. Although they cannot easily be validated factually, they stubbornly persist, conveying timeless wisdom to new generations.
Tools of Persuasion
While the conservatives of today may be interested in the old stories of the Bible, the element of storytelling has been ceded to the left. So much of academia, Hollywood, and the media are far left, and their stories are powerful tools of manipulation.
By repeating it, they believe it will somehow become truth.
In one sense, they are not doing anything different from the prophets and scribes of ancient times or the Canadian woman who organized conferences before they were set up. They tell you a story and expect it to become true.
One example is the claim that diversity is a strength. It’s historically inaccurate, as often the opposite is the case. But by repeating it, they believe it will somehow become truth.
Another example is the story that “sex is a social construct,” promoted by many academics in the social sciences. The storytellers want you to believe that gender, race, and various modes of behavior are not related to facts but are merely narratives passed on by culture. Tell a different story and reality will change, transforming biological issues into moral problems, which can more easily be fixed by shaming.
A third example concerns stories of the patriarchy and white privilege. They don’t exist, but repeatedly saying that they do conjures into existence an explanation for observed differences in income and crime.
It’s not just all fantasy. The leftist magicians collect some facts to back up their claims. There are studies showing that children with low IQs who are told that they are smart tend to do better in school than kids who are given their honest IQ score.
However, the generative zone between fact and fiction is narrow. You can’t just wish away reality. Leftists fall prey to their magical abilities to generate truths and extend them into the realm where facts are unquestionable, and stories are ineffectual.
Like Lucifer, who believed he could replace God, or Icarus, who thought he could fly close to the sun, or the Norse god of light, Balder, who considered himself invulnerable, hubris inevitably leads to a downfall. Ironically, there are eternal myths about the dangers of over-confidence in generative truths. As such, the wizards on the left could benefit from reading the wisdom of the ancient stories rather than seeking to replace them to change the world.