There can’t be many clinical psychologists who become international celebrities, but Prof. Peterson is the exception. At time of writing he is in Australia on another tour talking to large audiences about his second book “12 Rules for Life.” As an index of his popularity, I understand that his lecture at the Sydney Opera House sold out in five minutes!
The man seems indefatigable… along with an intensive lecture tour, he conducts numerous interviews, and on 25 February 19 appeared on the ABC’s Q&A program. The final viewer question on that episode (iView file around 1:02:20) concerned God, and whether we can uphold belief in the dignity of mankind without belief in a personal God. The panel and its moderator managed to miss the point, and instead each panellist indicated his/her position on belief in a deity. Dr Peterson was the last to comment.
Now, Jordan Peterson is notable for not evading hard questions. In innumerable interviews he has expressed his opinion on a large variety of topics, and hasn’t been backward in revealing personal struggles with depression, etc. However, and strangely, the Q&A question, “Do you believe in God” prompted him to waffle and evade. This was all the more strange because Dr Peterson has had much to say about the Bible, religion and God — just check out his YouTube channel here. Why might this be?
Many, and especially younger, people are very keen on Jordan Peterson. People come up to him in the street and tell him how he has ‘saved their lives.’ His YouTube channel has 1.8M subscribers and rising. He is also popular among Christians. Former Deputy PM, John Anderson – a believer – has had Peterson on his ‘Conversations’ program three times now, most recently on 22 Feb.2019, after his Opera House gig. See here. Dr Peterson is strong on personal responsibility (“Clean up your d*** room!” — I’m reminded of Dr Jay Adams!) and many other themes familiar to biblical Christians. It’s not hard for believers to see him as an ally.
So why the reticence about belief in God? Here’s my opinion, for what it’s worth. Dr Peterson is a fan of the Swiss psychologist and spiritualist Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961). Jung believed in the existence of ‘archetypes’ – fundamental themes or beliefs common to all humanity, and transmitted through ‘racial memory.’ Such themes can remain unconscious in the mind, but still influence our thinking, expressed in religion, poetry and other ways.
Jordan Peterson believes in evolution and, as far as I can tell, regards humanity’s collective unconsciousness as being the product of millions of years of evolution. The archetypes have evolved as the human species transitioned from pre-human to human, and as consciousness appeared. In Peterson’s view, when the archetypes move from the unconscious mind to conscious expression, they generate myths and legends, and other effects that indirectly show their existence.
What about God? Listening to Peterson, it seems that ‘God’ is a synonym for ‘reality.’ And, I would guess, archetypal reality. Thus, the Biblical stories along with other mythical accounts are the outworking into consciousness of those archetypes. If you watch Dr Peterson’s lectures on “The Psychological Significance of the Biblical Stories: Genesis,” this becomes clear.
Therefore, I believe that Christians need to be very wary of Dr Peterson’s approach, and listen to/view him with great discernment. In essence, he psychologizes religion, including the Christian Faith. That is why, in my opinion, he was reticent to say whether he believes in God: to say “Yes” would have been misleading in that situation; but to say “No”could have alienated large numbers of (Christian) fans. While I don’t doubt his integrity, I suspect that while we may learn much from Dr Jordan Peterson, he is not far from being a ‘goat in sheep’s clothing.’ Caveat Emptor.