Jordan Peterson conversing with Bishop Barron

I haven’t even yet finished listening to this recent conversation between Peterson and Barron that just went up a few days ago, and I already know it will be a gem to many here, as it doesn’t take them too long to get into scientific topics and how those have related to the Bible and young people of faith today.

Will enjoy checking back here for discussion after I have a chance to finish listening to it.

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This did not disappoint. Tomorrow, I’ll try to post a point or two they hit along the way.

I watched several minutes but Peterson rubs me the wrong way. Of course anyone can have a good idea once in a while. If you pick something out I’ll be happy to take it in and think it over. In addition to his aggressive style of discourse, his mannerisms put me off. I just googled to see what was up with him. Apparently he did develop a dependency on a drug that had been prescribed for a condition he suffered from. So that casts it in a different light. But I find his obvious tension and discomfort uncomfortable to witness even if he is blameless for it.

I skipped ahead around an hour and listened for a few minutes. Was not really feeling it at first but started to appreciate it more. I’ll have to see if I can find a podcast version. I know I won’t watch the 2 hour long video. Ive never heard of either of these people until today. I feel like I heard the one guys name before but could not place him. I am sure if I find a podcast version I’ll be able to stay interested enough to listen to most of it.

Yeah - Peterson isn’t for everybody; not by a long shot. My own family doesn’t have much use for libertarians (which he definitely is - though one of the ‘left-leaning’ ones until it comes to sexual identity I suppose). I think in this particular podcast he serves as a useful foil for Bishop Barron, who I have frequently linked to around here, so that might be why he looks familiar to you, @SkovandOfMitaze.

Standard wisdom is that Peterson has a large appeal to a sizeable portion of young white men (and though that is probably the vast majority of his enthusiasts, it is by no means entirely limited to whites, nor men.) So I can understand the reactions of many who will note that we’ve already got a culture saturated with white male angst - who needs any more? That may be fair enough, but I do like to keep my finger on the pulse of what attracts such a large portion of western young people around here today. So I’m not afraid of listening to what he says. And it’s instructive to hear Barron interact with somebody who, sympathetic as he may be, just doesn’t check all the religious boxes that Christians might wish.

There were many points of note, but I’ll throw out one or two here.

About 49 minutes in, Barron conjectures that modern western culture may be the first culture ever to try to “emancipate” itself from the conviction that there is something beyond us - beyond our control or intellectual reach, to which we must be accountable, or at least are obliged to respectfully take it into account as we live our lives. It might not have been “God” or anything like modern organized religion, but all prior cultures had at least harbored some notion of some “power” or “darkness” or “sacred unknown” … a ‘something beyond’ which would not be neglected as a consideration in their culture. Barron postulates (rightly I think) about the dire consequences of our modern eschewal of this notion.

This phrase (about 40 minutes in) of Barron’s also caught my attention: “It’s the love of God that lights up the fires of hell. God has us coming and going.”

Interesting to hear where Barron took that.


I definitely think it’s worth listening to. If I can’t find a podcast version, I’ll probably watch it eventually in segments.

You can turn video off in Youtube and just get the audio. That makes it more like a podcast experience.

My issue is that I don’t pay for YouTube and so the screen has to stay on which wipes out the battery. But someone said you can download the video and upload it in iTunes as audio only.

Plus realistically I’m probably never going to get around to it. I have about 1400 hours of podcasts lined up already tied into things. Ive not even listened to the last 3 episodes of BioLogos except the most recent stewardship one because it went to far outside of what I was already looking into.

I just got that far. I take that to mean that we are dependent creatures. Our technological prowess suggests otherwise but it isn’t about the toys and stuff we can fashion. Ultimately this clever part of ourselves will only ever find happiness by serving the part which is greater. So our way is lit with happiness in that pursuit but lit by anguish when we turn away.

Yeah - and remember that Barron is a quintessential Catholic (not that he doesn’t ever say stuff that ticks other Catholics off - he’s sometimes criticized too). And he gives fairly standard Christian answers as well (quotes C.S. Lewis a lot). I think both he and Peterson were just agreeing that if there is going to be a tyrant, you definitely prefer the tyrant that believes in something beyond themselves under which or to which some accountability will be had. A tyrant that doesn’t believe in anything higher (whether ‘God’ or something else) is a tyrant that will be entirely unhinged (…cruelty almost always follows…). Whereas a tyrant that at least believes there is something higher (since they refuse to be accountable to any other human agency) - at least has something that might serve as some constraint on their behavior. Atheists can (rightly I think) point out that this is still a bit of a straw man (history notwithstanding) of the atheistic position. An atheistic tyrant might still appeal to some cultural ideal or idea as a guiding principle to which they are ostensibly accountable. But I think Barron’s thesis/observation on this still carries a sting in that it is rare for anybody (who has a tyrannical nature, after all) to submit to a vague ‘ideal’ as a kind of judge above them. I think they fancy that they themselves have subsumed their alleged ‘ideals’ and now embody them. Which is historically followed by some of the very cruel tyranny of recent history.

It seems to me that what is greater is greater in kind and is nothing a person could or should aspire to. That is partially why I chafe at having God described as a parent or ruler. Those are roles we may take on but what is greater doesn’t think in those terms if what it does can be described as thinking at all. What is greater has no choice but to be what it is just as we have no choice but to be dependent. Not in everything of course. We exercise what is called free will but are powerless to ensure that what we desire will please once obtained. What is greater makes what we are possible but we mostly take for granted its many gifts, often mistakenly assuming them to be our own creations.

“Aspire to” is the polar opposite of “submit to”. In fact, Barron would say that it is the tyrants (or beings like Satan) that are aspiring to “be God”. To place oneself under or inexorably constrained by something beyond yourself is the healthier option they are promoting. Aspiration to put oneself as the “top dog” with nothing above you (or nothing above humanity) is when the trouble starts.

If we think of ourselves as having choice (which I do, but I don’t know if you think in those free-will terms or not), then surely anything greater than us must have choice too? I guess there is “greater than” in the sense of being merely “bigger” or “beyond us” (but nonetheless strictly material and nonsentient). But to me that wouldn’t really be greater since a thinking / choosing being seems the greater thing to me over all nonsentient stuff, no matter how awesome or complicated it is.

The greater being who exercises choice, and chose us by creating us would be the theistic take, of course.

I should’ve anticipated that reaction. It does seem like a demeaning thing to say about a being, but I don’t mean it like that. If it doesn’t have choice, it is because it isn’t needed. What I meant is that what is greater doesn’t choose to be greater. It isn’t ambitious in that way. That’s just its nature. In fact the thought that it is greater is really something perceived from our dependent point of view. That’s an important difference between it and humans seeking to be tyrants.

I don’t imagine it thinking as we do either, again for lack of need. But can you imagine God brain-storming, mulling things over, wondering, speculating, worrying or deliberating? Especially if you believe that what is more is omniscient then there would be little call for most of what passes for our mental life.

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Exactly, including ‘design’.

Yeah I can’t imagine anything like a human design process being reflected in the unfolding of the cosmos but then I’m not a Christian. How do you square the idea of no designer/creator with Christianity?

Well Christianity requires a creator, an instantiator but not a designer, a planner. As you say above, omniscience, to the degree that that is possible, knows instantaneously what needs doing and does it. Instantaneously. Knowing and doing are the same. Always. Forever. It doesn’t have to think in any changing way, which is just as well as it can’t: that would lead to an increase in complexity which is impossible. I don’t see how ‘design’, whatever that might be, fits in there. Like free will.

Indeed. Just as with the concept of ‘design’ the notions of ‘thinking’, ‘pondering’, ‘deliberating’ (with whom? …enter the necessity of the trinity), ‘worrying’ … all those are necessary anthropomorphisms for us if we are to speak of God at all in the Christian way. I agree with you that the reality of God will be far beyond any of our finite activities. Whatever we are given of all these capacities, it’s because God is more than all of those, not less. There must be something of active will in operation which implies choice of sorts. We have this sort of universe and not that.

But any specific theism aside, it seems that Barron and Peterson were lamenting the loss of any notion of something (even perhaps an impersonal something) beyond ourselves, because at least the imposed humility of that awareness might do something to temper a tyrant’s cruelest ambitions. But (unless I misread them in this) if we are to allow even such an impersonal thing such as Einstein’s ‘God’, it then also seems to me that the distinction between atheists and theists today would almost be rendered meaningless if we were to allow that “just anything unknown” could at all fill that space. But I am probably reading that into their speech. A straight-up Catholic like Barron will of course insist on a personal God and much more specificity beyond.

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All tyrants up to Stalin as an adult, then Hitler, Mao, Nixon were ‘believers’. It made no difference apart from worse to their tyranny. Our tyrant Churchill was able to make breathtakingly ruthless decisions regardless of residual ‘belief’. Henry VIII comes to mind. And a host of other devout tyrants who showed no humility whatsoever.

Good points.

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