After a long absence, bestselling author Jordan Peterson has climbed back from a brutal medication dependency triggered by a family health crisis. He returns to the stage by launching another book. His last book delivered twelve rules to order one’s life. His new work is titled Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life.
Those who expected something different will only find something more. More rules. These new rules are a bit more serious than the rather corny tenets (Rule 12: Pet a cat when you encounter one in the street) offered in his last book. There are also more references to the same secular, Freudian premises that straightjacketed the first twelve rules.
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More is not always better. Twelve rules should be enough for life. Ten would probably be ideal. Nonetheless, Dr. Peterson insists on hammering out twelve more rules.
In a Petersonesque way, the new book is a paradox since it leaves the reader wanting both more and less at the same time.
On the less side, this book gets bogged down in the author’s client case studies, personal reminiscences, archetypal stories, and pensive musings. Dr. Peterson tends to make simple things complicated with long, entangled sentences of complex concepts to the point the reader cries out, “Give me less!”
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With postmodern bona fides, he references and tries to find deep meaning in Harry Potter, the film Jaws, and the Avenger action figure Iron Man. If anything needs to be less, it is every attempt to make today’s shallow pop culture seem profound.
Finally, reading the renowned professor is also an exercise of wanting ever more. He might introduce a good point, but it will never go beyond his limited Jungian universe, ever-evolving in the cosmos of Being (with a capital B). The reader is always left wanting for something more beyond his meager secular fare. His prose asphyxiates with its lack of the supernatural perspective. The clinical psychologist never manages to break out of the ego and the id.
Wanting more, some readers look for a message embracing the gospel message and the life of grace. Many Christians are impressed by Dr. Peterson’s efforts to get young men to act responsibly. Thus, they try to read Christian lessons into his writing to satisfy their desire for more.
Indeed, many admirers so desire the author’s leap of faith that they have speculated that he might well be a closet Christian. However, such hopeful readers will again be disappointed. Little has changed from his last to his most recent book in matters of embracing Christ.
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That is not to say that Dr. Peterson ignores Christian references or mentions of God. He quotes Scriptures and uses biblical stories. However, these references are framed as mere stories. Christ is shockingly just another story figure among many gods—including ancient and bizarre Egyptian gods.
The author is not hostile to religion but sees it as a natural phenomenon. Thus, he believes that religion is a subjective experience with positive social and psychological effects upon individuals. However, life’s true meaning is discovered “by each individual alone—although in communication with others past and present.” His naturalistic vision of religion leads him to claim that “religious experiences can reliably be induced chemically, as well as through practices such as dancing, chanting, fasting, and meditating.”
Likewise, his explanation of morality consists of community-accepted rules of socialization and integration worked out over millions of years. His analysis of the Ten Commandments explains that the first one “speaks to the necessity of aiming at the highest possible unity”—but not toward loving and adoring “the Lord Thy God.”
Even evil is something of a construct. He says that “The Christian conception of the great figure of evil—Mephistopheles, Satan, Lucifer, the devil himself—is, for example, a profound imaginative personalization of that spirit [of evil].” Indeed, he further states that “Christ and Satan are elements of personified (deified?) eternity itself.”
That is the problem with Jordan Peterson. When there is nothing more than this naturalist outlook, then everything is reduced to less. Humanity is immediately deprived of recourse to God and the work of grace that would open up the universe of sanctity to fallen human nature.
Thus, the book becomes a mad scramble to find more natural and psychological explanations, solutions, and rules for the real mental problems that plague postmodern man. Instead of a fountain of wisdom, the tome becomes a jumble of self-help, counseling, and motivational literature.
At times, the book can have a Norman Vincent Peale, positive-thinking feel. The reader is invited to have “faith in yourself, your fellow man, and the structures of existence itself: the belief that there is enough to you to contend with existence and transform your life into the best it could be.” Rule two encourages the person to “Imagine who you could be, and then aim single-mindedly at that.”
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Rule ten deals with marriage, in which the psychologist stresses the need for spouses to negotiate when resolving problems. However, marriage is considered only as a natural relationship. There is no mention of its sacramental character.
Other parts contain some of that tough-love advice for which he is famous. Rule eleven encourages readers to avoid resentment, arrogance, and deceit. In a normal world, such common-sense pointers would be unnecessary. However, in an abnormal world, one can wonder if they can be implemented and sustained without long-forgotten premises about the meaning and purpose of life.
The noted professor’s rules for life fail to address eternal life. In all fairness to Dr. Peterson, he never promises anything beyond twelve more rules.
However, rules only make sense in the face of an end. The times demand a perspective oriented toward God, the supreme end and sublime Beauty “so ancient and so new” for which postmodern humanity hungers and seeks rest. Without the Faith and the Church to guide humanity to this end, existence is reduced, at best, to a rule book, full of more and more rules to order things mechanically to further existence.