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Jordan Peterson is the mild-mannered Canadian professor of clinical psychology who was flung into the limelight of controversy after he stood up against neo-Marxist compelled speech laws in Canada in late 2016. The professional political hitmen of the left descended upon him and thought they had an easy kill. Little did they know that they had stumbled on an intellectual giant.
Through the leftist efforts to “assassinate” his character, they alerted millions of people across the world of his existence. Now he is a YouTube star and his latest book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos has become the biggest Canadian bestseller of all time.
The Great Uniter
The usual suspects formulaically call him “divisive”, “hateful” and “racist.” The opposite is the case. He has managed the impossible feat of uniting people across genders, races, religions, and politics.
Most notably, he has created a new wave of interest in Christianity. Atheists are flocking to his lectures to hear about the psychological significance of the biblical stories, and Christians – including pastors and theologians – are doing the same to learn about the evolutionary underpinnings of morality and divinity.
The Bible Rebooted
Christianity has been losing ground to materialism for a long time. The question has always been how much will be left after the wave of science has washed over religion. Many – certainly so-called progressives – feel that there will be nothing left.
Peterson has shown that there is more to the Bible stories than meets the eyes. A story that is told and retold for thousands of years can only survive if it touches something common and ancient in all humans.
The Discovery of the Future
At some point in the distant past humans discovered that by giving up something in the present, they could gain something better in the future. According to Peterson, the future is the greatest discovery in human history.
However, there is a great tension between our animalistic perceptual self and our abstract conceptual understanding. To our bodies, the future doesn’t exist. There is only now. Therefore, even if we understand on an abstract level that we will benefit in the long run, it involves actions that our flesh experiences as sacrifice.
This tension between the flesh, which lives in the present, and the spirit, which is oriented towards the future, is the theme of the archetypal hero story.
The Divine made Flesh
The story of Christ is strange but enlightening. It begins with Jesus as God – the Word – made flesh. Even at the outset, this is an intriguing premise: the embodiment of an eternal divine truth.
As we have already seen, there is a tension between the body and the spirit. Fitting something eternal into a finite body involves a conflict that is experienced as a corporal sacrifice. The passion of Christ is the heroic overcoming of the obstacles of the present in achieving salvation in the future.
Pick up your cross, and carry it
In the Passion, Christ must voluntarily accept the burden of carrying his cross. He does so with a future goal in mind. He is trying to achieve salvation by taking on the responsibility of living in the world.
However, to do so is painful, and to succeed, part of his present self needs to die so that his future self can benefit.
Ultimately, the Passion is a triumphant story. Christ emerges victorious, having overcome his challenges. The moral of the story is: take on voluntarily as big a burden of responsibility that you can carry. If you do that, you will be rewarded with the experience of meaning, the feeling of purpose to your life.
A Popular Message
In this nihilistic era of short-term hedonism and materialism, Peterson’s retelling of the Biblical stories is finding a huge audience. What is even more interesting is that a growing number of people attracted to his lectures identify themselves as left-leaning. As such, he could be having a greater long-term effect on the political landscape than the usual political debate. The result could very well be a resurgence of a renewed Christianity in the West.