Jordan Peterson. The “marmite” man with millions of followers. A prolific teacher, loved and hated in equal measure. First, I want to take a brief, faith-filled look at what this unavoidable public figure has to say about being human – in particular, my favourite topics: truth and the resurrection of Jesus.

Truth and the limits of the postmodern lens

To do that, I need to take you back to my university experience. One of the first modules on my literature course was about ways of reading”, the different ideas and lenses through which we can read a book. Some are helpful as we try to understand the world around us (others less so).

My favourite “-isms” were Post-colonialism and New Historicism. Looking through these lenses” helped me learn a bit about the historical and colonial baggage that comes with certain books, the ideas floating around at the time of writing. But there was one “-ism” that I never really came to terms with. The lens through which many of my friends look at the world: postmodernism.

After university, I found I appreciated Jordan Peterson’s definition of postmodernism and critique of the claims that rely on it. He argues that the central postmodernist claim – that there is an infinite number of ways to interpret the complex world we live in – is technically correct. But he points out that its secondary claim, no interpretation should be privileged above another”, is not true.

There may be an infinite number of ways to interpret the world around us, but not all of them are equal and valid.

This is because universal human problems (minimising suffering and death, the necessity of cooperating and competing with other people repeatedly over a lifetime, and the fact that humans have needs and wants that they aim to meet) are huge constraints on the number of interpretations of the world which are able to work in practice. So, not all interpretations are equal and valid.

In chapter eight of 12 Rules for Life, (entitled Tell the truth — or at least, don’t lie’), Peterson argues that being honest advances human flourishing and is good for human beings’ psychology, whereas lies are one of our greatest threats. This reminds me that it’s not unacademic to try to tell the truth – in fact, it’s essential.

I do love me a bit of critical thinking and asking tricky questions. I really try not to be complacent or take for granted what I’m told by people around me or the media. But even in my questioning, I still seek truth. After all, it seems like it was Pilate who first peered through the murky lens of post-modernism with the question what is truth?” before he abandoned Jesus, the Truth, to die (John 18:37 – 19:16)

I wonder how many times you have come up against arguments that stem from postmodernism when sharing the gospel? Is the gospel just my truth’, equally as valid as anyone else’s truth’? It’s a tricky argument to face, but we can gently challenge it when we hear it – because we all need to find an interpretation of the world which works well over a lifetime, in the face of suffering and death, helps us cooperate with others, and gives us the life purpose we need. Maybe we can ask our friends: can your truth’ do that for you?

Photo by Bruno van der Kraan on Unsplash
Bruno van der kraan v2 Hg Nz R Df II unsplash

Peterson on the resurrection

Second, Peterson’s questions on the need for the physical resurrection of Jesus have helped me to consider how we can share it better. In an interview with the American Bishop Robert Barron which went viral last year, Peterson said:

I can see the resurrection idea as a metaphor for the part of us that continues onward despite our failures, and constantly reconstitutes our spirit. It’s not something trivial… But then there’s the insistence on – in the church – of the bodily resurrection, which is… let’s call that a stumbling block to modern belief. No doubt about that – that’s something more than mere metaphor – and so you might ask, well why is it insisted upon?

…Why isn’t the proposition that you have a transcendent moral obligation to bear to operate for the good of all things, regardless of your suffering [insisted upon], hard line, no justification with the defeat of death necessitated? I’m not trying to make a fundamental critique of the idea of the resurrection because I know there are things that I don’t know…”

Peterson asks an interesting question here about whether we need the bodily resurrection in order to get on and pursue our duty to work for the good of all things. Instead, he wonders, might the resurrection simply be a psychological framework where the bad parts of us must die and the best parts continue, despite suffering, to make the world better, and so copying the example of Christ?

Humanity doesn’t simply need to modify its behaviour, but to atone for the wrongdoing that has driven a wedge between us and God.

Peterson asks whether teaching a psychological framework of good works, about copying Christ, but with no bodily resurrection, would still result in many people working harder and trying to make the world a better place. But this question misses the point of the church, by presupposing a denial of the central claim of Christianity – there is a God who wants to be in relationship with humanity, a heartbroken and betrayed Father, not just an example to copy.

Humanity doesn’t simply need to modify its behaviour, but to atone for the wrongdoing that has driven a wedge between us and God. If the church didn’t insist on the bodily resurrection of Jesus, there would be no point (as Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 15:18 – 19) because Christianity isn’t a good works religion, but a relationship – and the broken relationship between God and creation can’t be fixed by behaviour modification.

Listening to Jordan Peterson has helped me to think through what I believe about postmodernism and the resurrection, but I can see that there are limits to thinkfluencers such as Peterson, in that they can’t be relied on to guide our worldview and as Christians our posture in the world is to be very distinctive. For example, Peterson has tried to shock people with a recent tweet pronouncing a plus-sized” model on a magazine cover as not beautiful” – this is far away from the love, gentleness and respect we are called to show to others.

The greatest Think-fluencer

Some Christians might believe that if Jordan Peterson (and other celebrity influencers and think-fluencers’) became Christian evangelists, then they would be able to influence millions of their followers online to become Christian too.

But, that’s not necessarily the case.

In fact, the Holy Spirit doesn’t need celebrity influencers because He is already the greatest influencer and​‘think-fluencer’ of people’s hearts. And the great news is that He lives in us. We must never forget that God wants to use each and every one of us normal folk to spread the gospel. He is able to use the small platform that we all have in talking to friends and family and even strangers who we meet, to have a domino effect.

Image by Kiều Trường from Pixabay
Bird g611745818 1920

We have something to share that’s much better than a book of rules for life – Life itself. Better than an antidote to chaos”, in Jesus we have an antidote to the worst part about being human – the sin and brokenness of the human heart – so that we can experience the very best of being human: good, true and beautiful life and love in Jesus.

And that’s worth sharing – even when it inevitably makes us even more marmite-like than Jordan Peterson.


More from the Being Human project:

Why are we so obsessed with the multiverse?

Why are we so obsessed with the multiverse?

What do the latest trends in pop culture tell us about the deeper questions people are asking today?
How to be human in a cost of living crisis

How to be human in a cost of living crisis

Four ideas about how to support those disproportionately affected by rising prices