Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Category: doing theology (Page 2 of 2)

Why I Love Jordan Peterson (But He’s Wrong)

Jordan Peterson and Jesus?

Many of my friends are fans of Jordan Peterson. They appreciate his pragmatic and inspiring call, particularly to men, to take responsibility for themselves, and become agents of good. “No matter how bad a situation is, you can make it worse.” This is a good mantra. He speaks passionately, to the point of being choked up. I appreciate his deep desire to speak the truth, and I love some of the archetypal inferences on human psychology that he’s been describing in his examination of Genesis in his current lecture series. But the examination of Biblical morality and human psychology cannot end with Genesis. In fact it ought not to even begin with Genesis. Properly, it begins with Jesus, who IS the Truth. Jesus is the Truth personally revealed. A commitment to Truth is a commitment to a living person. Following him requires daily meditation on who he is, who we are to him, and what he did in the first century as recorded in the New Testament.

What About the Prophets?

Jesus follows in a long line of Hebrew prophets who spoke out against the organization of human sinfulness in unjust power structures. He went around challenging these power structures and creating a new way of thinking and being which he announced as the Kingdom of God. I agree with much of Peterson’s examination of how sin began with Adam and Eve and self-consciousness, but Peterson overemphasizes the role of the individual in the shaping of society in my opinion. The individual speaking truth is his main hope as far as I can tell. I really do appreciate this perspective. When I was younger, heavily influenced by the elite Marxist intelligencia that Peterson thoroughly condemns, I was convinced that I ought to lead the revolution (hopefully nonviolently) in some way, shape or form; but I experienced a conversion. I was converted to a commitment to the Church. I chose a community of transformation over an ideological movement because I realized that no matter what the laws might say, real change is a matter of the human heart. Societal change would only occur with the transformation of millions if not billions of individual hearts, and God’s chosen means of that transformation was the Church—a community committed to the in-breaking Kingdom of God. In this regard I agree with Peterson, however, the heart that Jesus compels me to have is so heavy with compassion and grace for the poor and powerless–the outcast and the stranger–that I cannot help but sympathize and even mobilize with the social justice movements in our society that cry out with the voice of the Hebrew prophets and, dare I say, the voice of the Lord. Peterson would disagree with this conclusion.

These movements have many, many faults. Our participation at various levels with them requires our utmost creativity and resolve. We need daily discernment and much dialogue to effectively maintain our difference as Christ followers in the slough of bitter ideology that dominates the discourse and the practices of many (but certainly not all) who work for justice. I am still convinced, as I was when I was converted (now 15 years ago) from Marx’s revolution to Jesus’ revelation, that the best alternative for the world is the Church. We need to be committed to the reality that Jesus revealed and is revealing in himself. Our calling as the Church is to relate to each other and to our neighbors in a way that condemns and conquers the enmity of the world. This is third way thinking that prejudices peace and justice without using the weapons of the world—violence, coercion and hate. We are empowered to do this by a Holy Spirit who grows in each of us abundant love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Individuals Can’t Get all the Credit (and Blame)

Let us not be convinced by Peterson’s elevation of individual choice and truth as a means of salvation, as if preventing another Pol Pot or Stalin is the only thing we live for. I am not compelled by Peterson’s pragmatism. He assumes that history’s alternatives are limited to what governments and markets have done. The threat of human wickedness is not a new reality. The 20th century provided a horrifyingly powerful accelerant to the fire of human evil with the development of catastrophic technology, but it didn’t reveal a new facet of humanity; it magnified the old. It’s as old as Genesis (I think Peterson and I agree about this too–I love his common refrain in the Genesis lectures, “These people who wrote this [Genesis] were not dumb. They were bloody brilliant!”) But I do disagree that we should believe that individuals are powerful enough to do as much evil as we have done if they were not organized in a system greater than themselves. As early as the age of the prophets in Hebrew scripture, the trend of the rich to organize against the poor was decried justly, and with the authority of God. Our individual evils have the capacity to coalesce and metastasize in unpredictable ways. Individual self reflection is absolutely necessary, yes, but there is more to it than that.

I follow Walter Wink’s thinking in “The Powers that Be” (a good book- I recommend it to you). Wink suggests that societal injustice, though begun by individuals, develops to the point that it takes on a reality and even a will of its own. Wink attributes this to spiritual forces (which Peterson rarely acknowledges). But even if we consider social injustice strictly sociologically and historically, it is reasonable to conclude that the powers are now so complex and endemic that it is nigh on impossible to deconstruct them without years (maybe hundreds of years) of concerted effort by millions if not billions of individuals. Changing the laws will not achieve transformation. Just as changing the laws about discrimination against trans people in Canada will not necessarily make the lives of trans people in Canada better (which is the debate that has gotten Jordan Peterson famous).

I do not have much hope for this hundred year, billion person project, but I do have hope in creating an alternative society in the Church that lives a life in service and discipleship of Christ who goes to the least of these and will judge us by our service to them (Matthew 25). I think Jesus would likely hang out with trans people if he had his first advent in 21st century Canada instead of first century Palestine. I do not demand a grand narrative for why or how people of color, gay people, or trans people are so poorly treated and disproportionately disadvantaged in our society (even if some individuals aren’t and some individuals who are not part of a minority group are equally disadvantaged). I do, however, demand justice from my elected officials, and I will use the tiny power I have to join with the Hebrew prophets of old to speak for those who do not have as much voice as I do. This is not my primary task (that’s building the church which is a grand narrative that lasts into eternity with its Head, Jesus, the risen Christ), but it would be poor discipleship of my Master to not do what I can when I can as often as I can.

Circle of Hope is an Alternative

In Circle of Hope we can do more together as a collective if we can agree about our task—we live in the Truth, with the Truth, including others in the Truth through cells and Sunday meetings, facilitating a 24/7 community that is a viable alternative to the powers that be and the discord which dominates all sides of political discourse. Our mutuality as people of justice has been a distinguishing characteristic since we began. We have participated with many justice movements, but we have always maintained our particularly christocentric stance. We participate as “invasive separatists.” We agree with social justice movements as much as we actually agree with them. We recognize their need for transformation even as we join with them in solidarity. We are not corrupted by their ideologies, though this is a real danger if we don’t maintain a robust dialogue among us.

I love Jordan Peterson because he makes me think, but I am not going to follow him, and I recommend that my friends take his insights with the grains of salt I am suggesting. I love his Jungian analysis of human behavior and the Genesis stories, but I am disagreeing with his political advocacy more and more as I see him engaging with trans people around the C-16 Bill in Canada that passed in May of this year. Regarding his demeanor and some of what he has said, kindness is not weakness, and weakness is not as weak as Peterson thinks. As Christian-esque as he appears with his year-long meditation on Genesis and his frequent quotations form the Sermon on the Mount I wonder about his relationship with Truth, whose name is Jesus the Crucified. I hope, if he hasn’t already, that he can access a personal connection to the Truth himself, through his zealous commitment to personal truth that has made him famous and worthy of conversation on my blog.

You Have Enough – And Other Unpatriotic Sentiments

I recently learned that the location of our sharing garden in front of Circle of Hope at 3800 Marlton Pike in Pennsauken, NJ is where a war memorial once stood. In front of the fire house the patriotic firemen had installed a plaque to honor the war dead for the sacrifice on the altar of freedom. It was the “Highland Honor Roll” listing men from the area who died in World War II.  I love how we have superimposed sharing vegetables over top of that site. I don’t know what happened to the memorial but it never could have stayed on our property. Not because these men were dishonorable but because the cult of war is inherently anti-Christ.

Chris Hedges explained why very well in his 2002 ought-to-be-classic book, “War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning”,

“In the beginning war looks and feels like love. But unlike love it gives nothing in return but an ever-deepening dependence, like all narcotics, on the road to self-destruction. It does not affirm but places upon us greater and greater demands. It destroys the outside world until it is hard to live outside war’s grip. It takes a higher and higher dose to achieve any thrill. Finally, one ingests war only to remain numb.”

The US public is addicted to war and it’s underlying myth of redemptive violence because changing our minds would cost the legacy of the men of the Highland Honor Roll too much. We have written a story about them that requires the virtue of their death in service to our freedom as its primary moral. Whatever other meaning they may have made in their living pales in comparison to the death they gave. And there are enough of these little plaques all over the country to build a giant temple to the god of war who demands our allegiance like heroin demands an addict’s vein.

On the Fourth of July we are reminded to revere these lives for their participation in this addiction. I revere them for their belovedness and the tenderness that they demonstrated in their death. They remind us that no matter the reason war is about killing. They motivate me to find other ways to make the world a better place. Can we work just as hard at peace as the governments of the world do at war?

The sharing garden is an anti-war, pro-Christ sign of goodness in the world. We have enough to share just for sharing sake. We want to be known for saying “there is enough.” There is enough for you–there is enough for me–there is enough for everyone in the Kingdom of God. Jesus is the anti-demand, the anti-addiction, the anti-destruction because he is the invitation giver, the satisfaction provider, and the creation starter and finisher.

This ends up being incredibly unpatriotic because we have decided as a nation to make our addiction around a very fragile lie. If I say there is enough then we don’t need another fix. If I share instead of protect what’s mine I refuse participation in what defines us as a nation. Of course I’m not alone in sharing. I’m not alone in saying “there is enough.” Others may say this but I think the only sufficient underwriting for those claims is the promise of God’s Kingdom fully come. Because the world is complex. Many do not have enough. Our government is not poised to change its central myth and we will need to deal with that messy reality for now.

That’s why the sharing garden is just a sign–a symbol of our allegiance, and thus worthy of a pledge, or a fireworks show, or a memorial. Thankfully it points to a reality much more substantial than the meaning drawn from the veins of soldiers. The promise is real. When Jesus says “that’s enough.” It’s enough.

 

On Dying with Jesus

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”Philippians 3

It’s not exactly good advertising: COME DIE WITH JESUS!  That’s one reason people aren’t flocking into the Church these days.  We’re currently interested as a culture in mastering death; have you seen the trailer for Johnny Depp’s new movie?  It comes out April 17–just in time for Easter.  Who needs resurrection when you have Transcendence [link]?  My biggest fear about this movie is that it doesn’t seem too far fetched that we could some day map the electronic patterns of the brain, digitize it and have a consciousnesses that could live forever.  I pray that it is impossible, but I am not confident it is.

But this coming week at Circle of Hope and at many churches around the world is all about death, more specifically, Jesus’ death.  Let’s not reduce it to storytelling though.  Holy Week, the week we remember Jesus’ last days before his death, is not just about Jesus’ death, it’s about ours too.

At the beginning of Lent many of us marked ourselves with ashes under the evocation “Remember you are from dust and to dust you shall return.”  We’ve spent weeks remembering our frailty, recognizing our need, and longing for the Resurrection.  Lent is about finding the parts of us that need to die.  It’s a quarantine from business as usual designed to give us some perspective on ourselves and our condition.  We fast to create some artificial suffering that could help us “participate in his sufferings” as Paul writes in Philippians.  The fasting also reminds us of what we are doing.  It gives us small opportunities to turn to God in our need.

The practical “lynchpin” of Christian theology is that we are freed from caring if we die.  Eternity is an everyday necessity for those who follow Jesus.  Hopefully (and probably) we won’t all become martyrs but it is the fear of death, the most basic human fear, that leads to any number of theological and practical concessions.  When Paul says in Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” he does not mean that God will eliminate all who come against us, he means that our ultimate safety is secure.  We are called to lean into this ultimate security in order to avoid making personal and familial security paramount.  This conviction is the only way we can obey Jesus’ teachings on enemy love and peace making, but it is also pretty important in following Jesus in his special concern for the poor and not worrying about tomorrow, clothes and food.

We are saved from fear by Jesus’ promise of abundant and eternal life.  Personally, I have further uncovered the truth  that my basic human fear of death is integrally linked with my understanding of my own limitations and frailty.  To trust Jesus unto death allows me to trust him unto moments where I need to die to myself and the myths I make for myself about my own capacity.  This is taking up my cross and dying daily.  This is dying with Jesus.

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