Jordan Peterson explains his “religion”, emitting more waffles than IHOP

August 7, 2023 • 10:25 am

The other day, when Richard Dawkins answered two questions from Jordan Peterson, I noted this:

Whatever else there is to admire about Peterson, his affection for religion, which may be of the “Little People” variety (e.g., “I am no believer, but religion is essential for everyone else as a social glue”), is not only an acceptance of the unevidenced, but a false belief that superstition is necessary for a good society (viz. Scandinavia). It’s also patronizing.

But it may be that Peterson really believes in, say, Christianity. I’d love to sit him down and ask him questions about whether he believes in the Resurrection, heaven, and so on, but I’m 100% sure that his answers would be so tortuous that you wouldn’t get an intelligible answer.

Well, I think I was right, and the video below show it.  Here we see a weepy Peterson explaining his beliefs in an eight-minute video.  It starts with an epiphany he had while pondering a sculpture: this was a vision of the sky (actually “another dimension”) opening up and a force descending upon him.  That force filled him with an intense sense of “like being in heaven for some brief period of time” that transformed him. What was the transformation? It’s not clear, but it has something to do with promoting morality.

Here’s the tortuous part: he explains of his revelation that “it was if I was in the presence of something that was living, and I suppose it was an experience of God, if you want to put it that way.” He adds that he could have retained that “elevated state,” but would be unable to do so, for he simply couldn’t live in such a state of exaltation.  (Peterson doesn’t explain why.) He felt that “a gift had been offered the he was in no position to receive.”

Reflecting on this epiphany, he adds that “I don’t know what to think about that. . . I mean God only know what the world is really like, that’s for sure. . .and I’ve had a variety of very strange experiences that have convinced me that we know very little about anything.” He is ignoring all of science with such a statement. But perhaps he’s referring to the numinous, in which case first we have to know that the “anything” he’s talking about really exists.

Peterson then goes into Christ, noting that others have pointed out the similarity between mythological gods and Christ, but, he claims, Christ is different.  Why? Because there’s a “historical representation of his existence as well.” (He’s referring, of course, to the Bible, the only evidence of a living Christ person.) But he then backs away again and says that that the “historical evidence” can be doubted, but it doesn’t matter because “there’s still a historical story, so what you have in the figure of Christ is an actual person who actually lived, plus a myth, and in some sense Christ is the union of those two things.”

So here he says there are credible doubts about whether Christ actually lived, but then asserts that Christ reeally did live, so he’s already contradicting himself. About whether he believes this, he waffles again: “I probably believe that, but I’m amazed at my own belief and I don’t understand that. . . ” (here Peterson begins weeping).  His weepiness is caused by his sense that in Christ, the “objective world and the narrative world touch.”  I’m not sure what this “union synchronicity” means, except that the Jesus story (which, he says, “tells us how to act”) somehow resonates with his emotions.

In response to the question of whether he believes in God, Peterson proffers several answers he’s given, including ” No, but I’m afraid he probably exists” (whatever that means), “No, but I’m terrified that he might exist” and “I act as if God exists”. This is waffling of the highest order!

He goes on to add out that some believing Christians abuse children, and that lowers his opinion of Christianity because they haven’t addressed this problem with sufficient zeal.

What is curious about all this, beside the fact that he produces more waffles than IHOP, is that the religion he is flirting with is Christianity, only one among many religions.  And, in fact, there are other religions, for example Islam or Scientology, where there’s far more evidence for the existence of a real founder than there is for Christianity.

This kind of palaver—a hyper-emotional recitation of beliefs that can lure in some doubters but that doesn’t hang together—is why I am not a fan of Peterson. But does it matter whether he believes in God or not? One gets the strong sense from this video that if he doesn’t, he certainly believes in a Power Above Himself, and that power is very like Christianity.  Peterson is an influential person, and so when his minions hear this stuff, they’re more likely to become believers than atheists.

But this is what the Jews call pilpul: an intellectual attempt to reconcile competing positions, often characterized, as Wikipedia notes, as “casuistic hairsplitting.”

This video comes from the “Modern Wisdom” YouTube channel, which seems to exist to promote the lucubrations of Jordan Peterson and Tucker Carlson.

h/t: Jeff

51 thoughts on “Jordan Peterson explains his “religion”, emitting more waffles than IHOP

  1. “hyper-emotional”

    Or perhaps simply “emotional” but with reckless, uninhibited abandon.

    Robert Sapolsky’s writing got me to admit that a very large proportion of anyone’s moment-to-moment experience is driven by or is emotion (I’d have to re-read).

    That’s complex enough – but clearly, how emotion is regulated varies a great deal.

    “pilpul […] “casuistic hairsplitting” ” those are very expressive terms, very handy.

  2. I’ve been listening to this kind of nonsensical and tortuous gibberish all my life and what I find most annoying of all is how slippery these believers are. They bob. They weave. They divert. Their rhetoric (if you can call it that) is so slimy that one can never get hold of enough of it to falsify. It there really was any There there, they would be able to explain it clearly and succinctly. Do they really believe or are they trying to protect what they know is just fantasy? As usual, they are too slippery to tell.

    There is no There there.

    1. In contrast to the gibberish, imagine him speaking in syllogisms that could be parsed, and evaluated for validity and soundness. Hard to imagine, isn’t it?

  3. Jeez, I’m a guy who can get misty in a darkened movie theater or when reading a poignant book in private, but Peterson does more bawling in public than Jack Paar and Ed Muskie combined. 🙂

  4. The most disappointing aspect of the video is that Peterson would allow this narrative about a very personal–let’s call it “mystical”–experience be played over the sappy collage of people looking pseudo-sublime. Whether this was his idea or that of the producers of “Modern Wisdom” I don’t know, but it turned what could have been an at-least sincere witnessing of a transcendent experience into a nauseating freak show. Peterson has his irritating flaws, but he’s better than this.

    1. I agree with you for the most part. Where I disagree is that I don’t think Peterson is better than this.
      To riff on your main point: Ecstatic, blissful peak experiences–call them mystical, spiritual, transcendent, or cosmic–happen regularly among us humans. Indeed, one could say that having these experiences is one of the purposes of living. When we go searching for language to relate and explain these experiences is when we get into trouble. To immediately jump to “God” as an explanation is really a non-sequitur. That said, I’m with Sam Harris in advocating for more psychiatric research into these experiences.

    2. Whatever is better than this is usually still just pablum. Try to read excerpts from one of his massively successful books, like 12 Rules for Life. Whole paragraphs of “Huh??????” alternating with paragraphs of “So what?”

    3. The first time I heard this recording it was a straight-up Zoom interview so I’m pretty sure the freakshow is Modern Wisdom’s intervention.

  5. >I’m not sure what this “union synchronicity” means,

    He might have said “Jungian synchronicity”. I think I remember him talking about this concept before, and it seems to fit the context.

  6. including ” No, but I’m afraid he probably exists” (whatever that means), “No, but I’m terrified that he might exist” and “I act as if God exists”.

    Almost all who believe in divine existence are willing to assert it. I don’t think Peterson’s acting is very convincing.

    1. It reminds me of The Usual Suspects: “Keaton used to say that he didn’t believe in God, but he was scared of him. Well, I do believe in God, Agent Kujan. And the only thing that scares me…is Keyser Soze.”

  7. It starts with an epiphany he had while pondering a sculpture: this was a vision of the sky (actually “another dimension”) opening up and a force descending upon him. That force filled him with an intense sense of “like being in heaven for some brief period of time” that transformed him.

    Not to be crude or anything, but isn’t this more or less just a wet dream? OK, so it was maybe a little bit crude…

    1. How did Saint Theresa put it, little less crudely, but from the female point of view?

      He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it

      Yeah, right. Totally goddish thoughts there, not an iota of repressed sexuality.

  8. Why is it that the faithful can’t understand, and even actually feel, that all gods and the supernatural exist between their ears and nowhere else. GROG.

    1. I believe it is because there are certain existential questions where an answer of “just because” is not satisfactory. All questions of our existence relies on a degree of faith, whether that is a god(s) or science (big bang theory) at some point there is no answer. For example,you can keep exploring fundamental particles all you want, eventually the last particle has to “just exist”. To many, science provides them with no ” meaning” and pre determinism seems empty. Religion helps some fill this gap.

      1. I agree with you that existence can have no cause but positing god is a pretend solution and a dangerous one. It establishes an authority figure without any evidence that the authority exists or any way to know what it would want. Some religious people “know” that god loves all people equally. Some religious people “know” that god tolerates but doesn’t like gay people. Some religious people “know” that god hates gay people wants them stoned to death. Within a religious context all three of these views are equally valid. They are all equally backed up by unevidenced belief.

        I believe there is a logic that shows why existence can have no cause. The logic may be correct or it may not be, but following logic to the best of ones ability is not an act of faith. Recognizing the mystery of causelessness is not an act of faith. Pretending you have the solution to the mystery without anything but belief, that is an act of faith.

        1. Two points of contention. First, some would argue that your faith is in logic, a human construct. Second, while it is perfectly reasonable to ascribe stoning of gay individuals to religion, the action of stoning is not predicated on religious beliefs.

          1. Logic is built into the fabric of existence. If it weren’t this conversation would be impossible – life would be impossible. It is only our understanding of it and the semantics we use to discuss it that is of human construct. Our understanding of the underlying logic is always incomplete and can be erroneous. But our brains have evolved to create relatively accurate models of the underlying reality and its logic, otherwise we would be unable to navigate within reality.

            Who has, is or will be doing the stoning is irrelevant to my point. My point is that if you and I agree that god is the ultimate authority and you say god doesn’t want gays to be stoned and I say he does, there is exactly zero possibility of discerning who is right. Every single thing we “know” about what god wants comes to us through the spoken and written hearsay of other humans. Never mind that this hearsay is an absolute Rorschach mess of contradictions.

            If we want to discern who’s point of view is better we have no choice but to use reason. Religious belief has no meaningful bearing on that discernment.

            1. We will have to disagree on logic being necessary for life. Communication and logic at this level is exclusive to humans. There are plenty of living organisms with no evidence of logic in their population. If fact, there are plenty of people with no evidence of logic in their families.

              As for the rest, I don’t see how it is applicable to the original post. For whatever reason, some people want to see a meaning or reason for life and logic or science does not fulfill that need. Call it ignorance or nativity if you like, but some are comforted by the meaning religion provides. If you could provide an alternative that would satiate that need, maybe those individuals could be convinced.

              To be clear, this is not an argument for religion, just a possibility of why some believe and not acknowledge that “gods and the supernatural exist between their ears and nowhere else”.

  9. “. . . emitting more waffles than IHOP”

    Made me actually LOL. Which wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t had a mouthful of Bang energy drink. Gonna take me awhile to clean up the mess. I have got to remember that. Hilarious.

  10. I think Jordan Peterson is someone who wants to believe but is afraid to come out. His rational brain is his god.

  11. About a year ago, a Peterson video popped up on my feed and I watched it. I had never heard of the guy. He was talking about psychology and I just assumed he was a college professor lecturing to a class. I found him to be interesting and compelling. That didn’t last long. After watching another video or two, I realized that he was long on rhetorical skill but short on substance. Or, as the say in Texas, all hat and no cattle. Or, as my uncle used to say, a ten dollar haircut on a fifty-cent head. I can see how he gets away with it, though. He is very serious and self-confident and well prepared. A lot of people would watch his presentation and assume that he is very wise and so he must be right, even if they don’t really understand what he’s saying. He might not be a con-man, but he has a lot in common with one.

    1. Jordan Peterson used to be a frequent guest on TV Ontario’s excellent “The Agenda” program, which is kind of “current affairs”, but broader. Now he never appears—I assume he got too big for them. Initially my parents and I were impressed with him for the reasons you mention. It took a lot longer for me than it did for you to become disenchanted with Peterson, but become disenchanted I did. About the most charitable thing I can say about him now is that I find the man very puzzling.

  12. I’m unsure and frankly disappointed that so many give this many legitimacy by entertaining discussions with him. He spends way too much time, or at least did, thinking about how women are in the workplace and suggesting that maybe they should not be there and never entertaining the thought that perhaps men who can’t control themselves shouldn’t be there. He’s also obnoxious and tried to dominate discussions by constantly interrupting certain men and women.

  13. To me he feels like a very smart man who has become lost in a maze of ideas and feelings no longer attached to any underlying reality. The kind of maze one can wander in forever but never get anywhere. It very much reminded me of the ramblings of a smart, well spoken and schizophrenic friend I had long ago.

  14. He says a LOT of stuff, online for nearly a decade. SOME is good, makes sense, but there is an awful lot (and INCREASING amount) of nonsense. Witness various conspiracies, his vaccine issues, etc. There’s a long list.

    Here where he is of use: talking to lost young men. His “clean your room and if women all don’t like you that’s YOUR fault, lift your damn game!” is vastly superior to the alternative, say, that Andrew Tate fool: “If chicks don’t like you that’s THEIR fault, you be a meat brain like me and they’ll love you. Punch them. Your inceldom is the fault of feminists.” Young men needing guidance and role models could do worse than Peterson – they seem to be doing worse than Peterson.


    1. Unfortunately Peterson seems to be the plausibly deniable gateway to increasing radicalisation of young men. The algorithm notes who else people who watch Jordan Peterson and recommend their videos next or it notes that Peterson has appeared on Joe Rogan and notes who else has appeared on Rogan, like for instance Andrew Tate and recommends his videos.

  15. Peterson’s early and vigorous opposition to mandatory speech didnt last long. To give him the benefit of the doubt, I suspect that his wife and daughter’s serious illness threw him off kilter, especially followed by Peterson’s ingestion of some psychedelic drug. He shifted gears almost overnight, moving into the realm of Ask Mr. Peterson’s advice column for confused males. His best performance???Death and Breakfast…hilarious
    straight faced recounting of his meal in a rather soiled diner. He would be a great stand up comedian if he followed this path instead of his addled out of body experiences. Something happened to his mind somewhere but I dont know where. Also, his derogatory remarks about climate change activists and his devotion to Bjorn Lomborg,
    a charlatan masquerading as an energy expert, are not only weird but contradict his own cautions to people to be skeptical and critical of other peoples’ claims. I saw him snottily dismiss a young college student who asked a polite question about the environment. Apparently this topic has no attraction for him. He has deteriorated intellectually to a point where his ruminations have no real life value whatsoever. Could be drugs….or just mental disintegration.

    1. > Peterson’s early and vigorous opposition to mandatory speech didnt last long.

      Well, this trajectory is only too typical. I have lost count of self-appointed guardians of free speech who stop caring about that cause the moment they achieved prominence (usually they block all hostile comments).

    2. NOT drugs, Lorna, most assuredly. Plz don’t attribute anything whose cause is unknown or troublesome to your as “The druuuugs.” Particularly the psychedelics. They don’t – they CAN”T do what you suggest.

      1. I don’t know. The experience he describes sounds a lot like what some people experience while smoking DMT.

  16. Coffee? Alcohol? Medication? Lack of sleep? Difficulties with personal relationships? Too much time spent alone meditating? And so on…Peterson forgets he is – just like the rest of us – a human, a Homo sapiens, subject to a variety of emotions. He may very well believe that his experience is somehow deeply meaningful, and interpret it thus. Ditto Frances Collins with his 3-way frozen waterfall. Self-deluding waffle, and I fear it may very well influence some of the younger generation. Note ‘cool guy with tattoos’ and suitably melancholic music. This is proselytizing.

  17. Man… i just cant do peterson. He is so dramatic and SUCH a hypocrit. I once heard him say that we should respect young earth creationists because they believe what they believe for complex reasons, but then he goes on refusing to call a trans person by their prefered pronoun for the next several years. He also really gets basic statistical and biological things really wrong.

  18. Regarding Peterson’s religious experiences. In the secular study of Religion, it is said that there is no such thing as religious experience, only experience deemed such.

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