Imagine if C.S. Lewis had podcast his journey to faith, and millions of unbelievers had listened in. Imagine if the forces of secular universities, progressive politics and media had conspired to take him out before he could cross the line of faith and bring thousands with him.
A similar journey by a similarly brilliant academic is taking place right now. In the last month over a million and a half people have listened to his remarkable recent podcast discussing his wrestling with conscience, suffering, meaning, and is Jesus really the Son of God? And Marvel Comics has taken the lead to destroy him. Why Marvel Comics? Because he has a vast following among young men.
According to Marvel, Jordan Peterson, clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Harvard and now Toronto University, is more dangerous than a Nazi. More dangerous even than Hitler. Their newly released Marvel comic, written by progressive intellectual Ta-Nehisi Coates, casts Red Skull, the super Nazi who would go where Hitler wouldn’t dare, as quoting Peterson’s ideas as his own. Only Captain America could take down Red Skull and his Hail Hydra organization.
How exactly did Peterson earn the wrath of Marvel and Coates? Neither a conservative nor a Christian, he first appeared in the cultural spotlight in 2016 when he condemned Canada’s new laws forbidding discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (akin to the US Equality Act). He believes that requiring preferred pronouns for gender fluid people violates freedom of speech. Peterson has become a vocal critic of identity politics, gender fluidity and cultural Marxism. He believes young men today face a “crisis of masculinity.”
Much of his work calls on young people to resist the victim mentality so prevalent in identity politics and critical race theory and take responsibility to bring order and meaning into their lives. His best-selling book, 12 Rules for Life: An antidote for chaos, offers simple advice with profound intellectual justification and uber-practical applications: “Clean up your room.” “Stand up straight.”
The Stream reports,
In a 2018 interview with British GQ, Peterson was asked why people were so “hungry” for his message.
“They are hungry for a discussion of the relationship of responsibility and meaning,” Peterson responded. “We haven’t had that discussion in our culture for 50 years.”
“We’ve concentrated on rights and privileges and freedom and impulsive pleasure,” Peterson says. “Those are all useful in their place, but they’re shallow, and that’s not good. Because if people are moored shallowly, then storms wreck them. And storms come along.”
Exposing the absurdity of Marvel’s attacks on such traditional wisdom, legions of Peterson’s millions of YouTube fans and readers have peppered the web with memes plastering his quotes over images of Red Skull, responding to Marvel’s beat-down with wicked humor and delicious irony.
Peterson as villain or hero?
Just weeks before Marvel’s attack, in his podcast with Eastern Orthodox iconographer Jonathan Pageau, Peterson had puzzled over his role in today’s cultural mythology:
Pageau: You are the enemy…Because you attract so much attention you’re an easy target…You became identified almost mythologically as a character.
Peterson: It’s become very difficult to understand what character I am.
Marvel is trying its best to assign Peterson to its Red Skull character.
But if you listen to the rest of the podcast (above), which is so very much worth the time, you will hear just the opposite. You will hear a man who is beyond brilliant, but far from being beyond Hitler. Peterson is suffering, broken, and humbled. In 2019 his wife was diagnosed with a rare liver cancer. For the stress of his bedside vigil through her two surgeries and major complications he was prescribed benzodiazepine. Attempts to come off the drug resulted in a crashing withdrawal that lasted 18 months and almost killed him.
He is currently on leave of absence from Toronto University. He has suspended His clinical practice. He has been on the road for the last three years (first lecturing, then in hospitals), and every day he still experiences pain that is worse than the worst pain he ever experienced prior to his Benzo withdrawal. He feels like he is only at “5% of normal.” Which is still extraordinary, as evidenced by his just-released book, Beyond Order:Twelve More Rules for Life.
Myth and meaning
What you hear in this remarkable podcast is a seeker looking deeply into the gospels and Christ for meaning and hope in conversation with a profoundly thoughtful, compassionate Christian guide. Their discussion ranges broadly, often touching on the importance of myth. I could not help but listen to Peterson and think of C.S. Lewis’s late-night walk with J.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson at Oxford’s Magdalen College—the conversation that God used to bring him to faith twelve days later. Ah to have listened in as the Hound of Heaven was closing in on Lewis. Surely it must have sounded much like this podcast.
Lewis and Peterson both share a fascination with and deep understanding of myth, not simply as ancient fabrications or “priestly lying,” but as key to understanding transcendence and the meaning of life. Lewis defined myth as “a real unfocused gleam of divine truth on human imagination,” able to awaken us to awe and transcendence.
Woven into stories with heroes and villains, conflicts and quests, myths communicate the reality of good and evil, truth and beauty in a way that works on our desires—so that we long for what is good and are repelled by what is evil.
Myths cast a vision that there is something more to existence than our small stories and everyday tunnel vision. They give us a foretaste of our true spiritual home, a taste of holiness and glory. And they make us WANT it.
The great insight that Lord of the Rings author Tolkien pressed upon Lewis, and that he finally began to grasp on that Magdalen walk, was that Christ was the ultimate mythical hero and the gospels the ultimate myth of redemption and hope—with one crucial difference. It was a myth that was true. A myth that actually happened. Lewis crossed the line of faith on his way to the zoo days later and went on to enfold the true gospel myth into his own stories of Narnia.
So close to the Kingdom
As Peterson and Pageau discuss who Jesus really is, Peterson admits that in Christ, you have “an actual person who actually lived plus a myth.”
“The problem is, is I probably believe that,” Peterson says, his voice cracking with emotion, “but I’m amazed at my own belief, and I don’t understand it. Because I’ve seen…sometimes, the objective world and the narrative world touch.”
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
Peterson articulates his insights and questions with the breadth and depth of intellect on par with Lewis, combined with the power of raw honesty and emotion. Here are a few excerpts from the podcast:
Christ is at least a representation of the ideal man. Interestingly enough we all seem to have an ideal. Or that ideal has us. Right? That’s where it’s very interesting to consider the role of conscience. Because your conscience will call you out on your behavior. And so it seems to function as something that is independent. Or at least something you cannot fully control.
Because if you could control it, you would tell the pesky little bastard to go away or to pat you on the back continually, because there must be few things in life more pleasurable than being a fully committed narcissist. To really believe that everything you do is right and you are really a good person. I suppose that if you could wave a magic wand and re-arrange your mind so that it was constantly telling you that, you’d do it. But you don’t seem to be able to do that in relationship to your conscience.
It trips you up. And so it tells you when you’re not living up to your own ideal. And you don’t even know what the hell it is, but you certainly know when you transgress against it.
When people have asked me whether or not I believe in God I’ve answered in various ways, ‘No, but I’m terrified he might exist.’ Or ‘I act as if God exists,’ which I do my best to do that. But there’s a real stumbling block there because there’s no limit to what would happen if you acted as if God existed.
I believe that acting that out fully…I mean, maybe it’s not reasonable to say to believers, ‘You aren’t sufficiently transformed for me to believe that you believe in God.’ ‘You believe the Son of God exists and yet you act that way!’ [he references the sex scandals of catholic priests] Christians don’t manifest the, and I’m including myself in that description,” as he rolls his eyes at himself in disbelief, “ the transformational attitude to easily conclude that they believe.”
One theologian has discussed how the yoke of Christ is light and there is joy in it. But the fact that I’ve been living in constant pain makes the idea of joy seem cruel…I’ve reconciled myself to that by staying alive despite it. But there’s very little worship, but it doesn’t mean I’m not appreciative of what I have. Not only am I appreciative of what I have, but I do everything I can to remind myself of it all the time…We say grace at meals and it always centers on gratitude for the ridiculous volume of blessings that have been showered down upon us…But despite that I’m still struggling because I don’t know how to reconcile myself to constant pain. And I feel that it’s unjust. Which is half way to being resentful. Which is not a good outcome.
I am the most confused person I’ve ever met…and I’ve met a lot of confused people.
The impact on his audience is stunning
In the podcast comments one reader responded, This is potentially the deepest conversation I heave ever heard… and I have listened to it countless times.” Another wrote, “It’s a pretty incredible sight to behold God literally drawing someone in. You can tell Jordan doesn’t know what to make of it.”
What really amazes is how Peterson’s comments draw forth similar responses from his listeners, many who are a few steps behind or ahead of him. One writes,
My family is praying for you, Jordan. This is a bit personal, but believe it or not, I was a suicidal nihilist who held onto absolutely no hope for life before I stumbled across your videos by mere chance, thank God. I’ve experienced much trauma, particularly as a teen. After cutting off all of my friends and most of my family, I had planned to kill myself, so much so that it became all I could think about. Depression & resentment was unbearable to the point where i even stopped eating. Went down to nearly 100 pounds (i’m about 6 ft tall). No therapist or doctor could relate or help whatsoever & I was too furious & confused to listen to my parents, who were the only supportive people left in my life.
My pessimistic outlook on humanity absolutely pulverized me into microscopic dust, but hearing your lectures renewed my faith in Christ and in turn, gave me my life back. This is the first time i’ve even felt fragments of joy since I was a child and it slowly grows each day as my commitment to Christ grows stronger. God is using you to do miraculous things, as painful & confusing as that may be. I just want you to know that although it occurs to me you are aware that you’ve made a positive impact on many men’s lives, I believe the magnitude & even further potential that you have touched other’s lives far exceeds what you realize…and I think as long as you keep seeking truth in its entirety & absolution with a humble spirit, this will continue to manifest into thousands of seeds sprouting into abundant fruit over what I would have once deemed blighted grounds.
For the help you’ve given me alone, I am forever grateful. In times when you feel alone, please remember that you have an army of people supporting & praying for you every step of the way. Much love, brother & may peace forever be with you.
Amen. Prayers for Jordan Peterson.