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.