October 11, 2022 Wayne Northey

Interaction With: Looking for advice on masculinity? Try St. Joseph rather than Jordan Peterson

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Oct 11, 2022

by Stephen G. Adubato | Opinion

Stephen G. Adubato studied moral theology at Seton Hall University and currently teaches religion in New Jersey. He also blogs at Cracks in Postmodernity on Patheos’ Catholic channel.

image above: Jordan Peterson, right, and conservative political commentator Charlie Kirk speak with attendees at the 2018 Young Women’s Leadership Summit hosted by Turning Point USA at the Hyatt Regency DFW Hotel in Dallas. Peterson’s videos appear on Kirk’s media site DailyWire+. (Wikimedia Commons/Gage Skidmore/CC BY-SA 2.0)

WN: The author’s final point comes as a challenge:

For young men who want to understand the fullness of Christian virtue, I’d recommend they instead [of learning from Jordan Peterson] pick up a copy of Pope Francis’ apostolic letter Patris corde (“With a Father’s Heart”) on the life of St. Joseph.

My friend Ron Dart has published a book on Jordan Peterson: Myth and Meaning in Jordan Peterson: A Christian Perspective. He has given many talks on him as well, and has published essays, for instance: Jordan Peterson and Transcending Tribalism.

Ron is considered by some students to be right wing; by others left wing. I like that in my friend. He walks a line, whose primary trajectory is following Jesus (who obliterates tribalism–and renders quaint/inconsequential “left” and “right” labels.)

His interest in Peterson arises from his students. You may wish to turn to Ron on Peterson next.

Finally, my wife Esther and I together facilitate a 15-week course on partner relationships where abuse has been an issue. We call it “Home Improvement,” and it vigorously eschews the blame game. You may read about our work with men, and Esther’s and others’ work with women, here: End Abuse Programs. Our goal in the men’s program is to provide insight into the nature of abuse, then tools and skills to step away from harmful behaviour patterns, and pursue healthier relationships with partners; and by extension all other relationships, such as with kids, business partners, bosses, employees, etc.

There is indeed talk about “toxic masculinity,” but only in the context of improving relationships–never in moralistic/political categories.

We acknowledge readily, as do the men taking the training seriously: Change for the good is hard work! It needs full-on constant commitment!

And men do and can change (for the better). Like Mark Twain in response to the question, does he believe in infant baptism? (Hell, I’ve seen it!), we say in response to the question, do we believe men can change?:

Hell, we’ve seen it! . . . Hell, we’ve even seen it in me!

excerpts:

In June, psychologist Jordan Peterson signed on with the Daily Wire, a self-proclaimed “right-of-center” multimedia site, for which he has already recorded a plethora of video content. One of his most watched DailyWire+ videos thus far is “Message to the Christian Churches.” The video was prompted by his growing Christian fanbase, as well as by his own spiritual quest.

Peterson’s video hardly grasps the essential “message” of Christianity, and runs the risk of reducing it to something that it is not.

Peterson’s psychological analyses of the Jungian archetypes found in the Bible largely ignore the text’s metaphysical and ethical truths. And yet his appeal to young men was part of the reason then Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron pointed to him as an example of how to engage the “nones” (religiously unaffiliated youth) to the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis in June 2019. Soon after, Barron appeared on Peterson’s podcast. Though many Catholics were skeptical about Barron engaging so closely with a figure who draws alt-right crowds, others commended him for opening the doors of the church to Peterson, who in the interview admitted he had a desire for faith and admired the Catholic Church.

I found myself caught somewhere between these two “sides.” To Barron’s credit, he never indicated that he intended to use Peterson’s work itself for evangelization purposes. Rather, he wanted to encourage Catholic pastors and educators to engage with his work — despite its ideological nature and lack of total congruence with a Catholic worldview — to understand the needs of young people, many of whom find Peterson’s videos attractive. And I agree that it’s much more effective to engage in a charitable dialogue with people whose ideologies don’t fully converge with the church’s teachings than to shout them down, downplay the convergences and tell them why they are in the wrong.

But if that’s the case, I always wondered why Barron never engaged with Peterson’s counterparts on the left, perhaps figures like U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, philosopher Slavoj Žižek, or professor and author Ibram X. Kendi, whose ideological left-wing rhetoric may not overlap perfectly with orthodox Catholic teaching, but does resonate strongly with many “nones” and does indeed converge with Catholic principles in several regards. Barron’s videos condemning poststructuralist thought, critical theory and “woke ideology” seem to run contrary to the evangelization method he has been using to engage with ideologues of Peterson’s stripe.

Peterson’s video message to “the Christian churches,” one of his first released after his partnership with Daily Wire, reflects some of the fruits of his dialogue with Barron. Already with more than 1.2 million views (surprisingly only half the amount as his “Message to Muslims“), the video displays Peterson sitting in what one might presume to be a house in the country, with bookshelves and a stack of wooden logs in the background — fitting his whole “chadded intellectual” persona. Peterson squints into the teleprompter, as the screen switches periodically between camera angles in an attempt to hold the audience’s attention for 11 long minutes of Peterson’s pontificating. He proceeds to meld his characteristic Canadian accent with what seems to be his attempt to emulate his boss Ben Shapiro’s biting, no-nonsense “wise guy” rhetorical style.

It seems to me that Peterson misunderstands what is most essential about Christianity. . . It is an encounter with a Person, an experience of God’s love in the flesh.

His tirade targets critics of toxic masculinity — nothing groundbreaking to those already familiar with Peterson’s videos — and praises “traditional” notions of masculinity that uphold heroic virtue, channeling instinctive aggression, and a stoic sense of duty to build up civilization and defend one’s family. He sprinkles his diatribe with Daily Wire-isms like: “Wake up, sunshine!” “… that old joker Derrida … ” “In the words of that mass murderer Karl Marx … ” Peterson’s overt ideological flair gives the video a performative edge that renders it almost amusingly entertaining, albeit in an ironic way.

He goes on to tell “the Christian churches” that they should be upholding such masculine ideals and should be actively attempting to attract young men, going as far as suggesting that they put up billboards that read “Young Men Welcome Here!”

He encourages them not to beat young men down for their “toxic” tendencies, but rather to sublimate them in a productive way by asking “more from them [and] remind[ing] them who they are … You’re churches, for god’s sake! Quit fighting for social justice, quit saving the bloody planet! Attend to some souls, that’s what you’re supposed to do, that’s your holy duty. Do it NOW … before it’s too late.”

You’re churches, for god’s sake! Quit fighting for social justice, quit saving the bloody planet! Attend to some souls, that’s what you’re supposed to do, that’s your holy duty. Do it NOW … before it’s too late.–Jordan Peterson

My primary concern has more to do with Peterson’s reactionary posturing, which clouds any of the redeemable qualities of his message, which is the same problem facing his colleagues at the Daily Wire such as [Ben] Shapiro, Candace Owens and Matt Walsh. Not only does their posturing make it difficult for people who disagree to engage with some of the valid points they may make, but its performative, extravagant flair makes it hard to take them seriously.

My other concern has to do with the integrity of his message from a Christian perspective. Petersons emphasis on the value of channeling more “instinctive” manifestations of cis-typical masculine biology and psychology, and on the moral importance of fidelity to one’s duties, is not necessarily “anti-Christian.” But these virtues in themselves are pagan if they never are transformed by the theological “Christian” virtues of faith, hope and charity.

My primary concern has more to do with Peterson’s reactionary posturing, which clouds any of the redeemable qualities of his message, which is the same problem facing his colleagues at the Daily Wire such as Shapiro, Candace Owens and Matt Walsh.

It seems to me that Peterson misunderstands what is most essential about Christianity. It is not merely a set of moral teachings, ideas or beliefs. It is not an ideology that upholds “traditional values.” It is an encounter with a Person, an experience of God’s love in the flesh. Surely Jesus himself (as well as the many male saints) embodied the natural masculine virtues that Peterson celebrates. But for Jesus, such virtues were not ends in themselves. Jesus didn’t die on the cross out of a sense of manly courage or duty, but out of desire to give himself to humanity out of love.

But let’s not kid ourselves. Peterson’s video hardly grasps the essential “message” of Christianity, and runs the risk of reducing it to something that it is not.

Please click on: Try St. Joseph rather than Jordan Peterson

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Wayne Northey

Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.

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