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Guest blog: John Woods on assessing Jordan Peterson

Is the approach of controversial Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson good news for believers, or not? John Woods assesses the author of 12 Rules For Life ...

Jordan Peterson is a Canadian psychologist, who has gained a reputation via YouTube as a mover and shaker amongst Millennials. He offers the tantalizing promise of order in a world of chaos. 

Millennials have observed their parents' generation with their dysfunctional relationships, addictions, broken promises and broken dreams. It is hardly surprising that something more solid is much more attractive. 

Yet the style and content of Peterson’s New Order has ruffled a few feathers amongst fellow academics and the more liberal media. The now infamous Channel 4 interview, with Cathy Newson, which has had 2.3m views online, in which Peterson gets a real grilling but eventually leaves the interviewer speechless due to encountering the logical fallacy of her line of reasoning is very revealing.  

It was a gladiatorial moment that pitted the assumptions of the liberal establishment (that does not quite get the fact that everyone else is not smart enough to agree with all their opinions), against an articulate, complex and well-informed advocate of life with a different moral base.

Does that mean that Jordan Peterson is to be hailed as the new champion, who will roll back the forces of secularism and establish a fresh respect for God and his will?

Well “yes” and “no”. Peterson is by turns encouragingly insightful and frustratingly Marmite-like abrasive. Peterson can be wordy and pedantic but is happy to engage with the biblical story, including some of the less popular bits but he does not appear to be an evangelical in all of his opinions.

Church leaders would need to be cautious before claiming Peterson as an ally, but his book does have something to teach us. There are many people who want to escape the chaos of the modern/postmodern experiment, people who crave some order in their lives. The problem is with the idea of “rules”; for some people, there is comfort in have clear lines to follow. Yet rules can keep us in a state of perpetual immaturity, limit our options and bind our consciences.

Biblical Christianity does provide shape for our obedience; following Jesus does have moral implications, we are supposed to be reflective, intentional and focused in our daily response to him.  These rules are not the ten commandments, some of them are to be taken more seriously than others but they are a good start in thinking about how to avoid the chaos, (so long as we eat the fish of Peterson’s wisdom, and spit out the bones of his wackier ideas).

Peterson’s 12 rules

Rule 1 Stand up straight with your shoulders back.

Rule 2 Treat yourself like you would someone you are responsible for helping.

Rule 3 Make friends with people who want the best for you.

Rule 4 Compare yourself with who you were yesterday, not with who someone else is today.

Rule 5 Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.

Rule 6 Set your house in perfect order before you criticise the world.

Rule 7 Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient).

Rule 8 Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie.

Rule 9 Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.

Rule 10 Be precise in your speech.

Rule 11 Do not bother children when they are skate-boarding.

Rule 12 Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.

12 Rules for Life – An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B Peterson is published by Allan Lane (£20, 409 pages ISBN 978 0 241 35163 5)

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