Man of the Hour

26brooksWeb-superJumbo-2This is nothing like the attention Paul VanderKlay pays, but the man of the cultural moment certainly seems to be Jordan Peterson. As some one outside the moment (and basically wanting to remain that way), I found Patrick Mitchell’s review of Peterson useful. Not surprisingly, David Brooks connects some of the dots.

Parents, universities and the elders of society have utterly failed to give many young men realistic and demanding practical wisdom on how to live. Peterson has filled the gap.

What strikes me as particularly relevant to the age is the insistence on fundamental truths about humanity, not just about our gender tendencies, but our seeking meaning as a necessary condition of our life — that’s a variant of Abraham Heschel’s approach, that we possess the moral duty to explain the wonder, the ineffable we encounter. Both Brooks and Mitchell highlight the realist, the tragic sense of life, this too, coming as an echo of Reinhold Niebuhr.

Ours is a conservative age, if not a reactionary one, and in that framework Peterson provides the essentialist and ethical voice necessary for its navigation, a voice with strong appeals to conservatives. The same voice, its fundamental humanism also offers the alternative to the tawdriness of expression and sloppy ideas that marks so much of the conservative ruling class.

Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules
The Jordan Peterson Moment
photo: Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star, via Getty Images


Mything the Stranger

Jonathan Storment has an interesting start of discussion at the Jesus Creed on “The Myth of Inclusion,” that beguiling path of hospitality that certainly seems to be a desired good for Christians. Shouldn’t we be including everyone?

 In the Gospel of John, there is a difference between those who are inside the life of Jesus and those who aren’t. And it turns out the way isn’t for everyone.

Which gives us heartburn, right? This kind of stuff honestly does keep me up at night.  All of us know the pain of being excluded and how demoralizing and dehumanizing being on the outside of something can be.  But do we have any real alternative?

The question of inclusion or non-inclusion shares the same abstract framework as the old “saved/not-saved” and so naturally we stumble into a sort of fine-sifting, a “scholasticism” as an old friend once put it.

Rather, it seems we are bumping into the very scandal of particularity, both of my neighbor and of myself. Inclusion then has its limits because I have my limits, so any attempt at inclusion is partial, or perhaps sacramental: it is a sign of God’s Reign.

The abstract idea of inclusion feeds on a sort of perfectionism, that we can embody properly God’s work. It sees the “telos” of Matt 5 as within our grasp — we get to be perfect, too. But, of course, we cannot.

The question is not abstractly how to be inclusive, but practical, the one on my doorstep, the one that sees and says, “here, let me help you with that.”

The Eugenic Future

Ross Douthat certainly opened a discussion with his column on eugenics, advances in testing, and abortion. Ed Kilgore is scathing, meanwhile Rod Dreher sees the threat and points to a (conservative) cultural solution. Scott McKnight simply lets it fall. I respond

While Douthat wants to see this through the grid of abortion, the more critical view would be to see this as an instance of economic choice. The decision on which children to have, how to engineer them presently looks as if it will be made as a market decision. How successful we can be in keeping genomic information out of the hands of parents remains to be seen. Spiritually, this turn to the self seems to be a far greater danger than the issue of abortion per se. Indeed, once the knowledge is easily available (and for now, thank heavens, it’s not), the decision about fetal life will not be one that can be prohibited, either because of private medicine or the availability of pro-choice jurisdictions. And that in turn only underscores that the issue at hand is deeply cultural in nature.

After all, we are far more likely to introduce a eugenics regime through the market than by some liberal cabal (per Douthat). The enemy is inside us, in our own culture.

Developing and supporting an alternate culture is “conservative” I suppose, however that should not be confused with the merely political. The task is deeply cultural, and one that cannot be settled simply by a reactionary turn, a pulling back. We need a healthy, organic, nurturing culture. Yeah, it’s going to take work.

Atonement theories

Scott McKnight at Jesus Creed posts a video that purports to contrast Protestant/evangelical theories of atonement (aka substitutionary atonement) and those of the Orthodox Church. That, naturallty set off some other thoughts.

Differences such as they are, perhaps turn on two questions, the first being that of the nature of human alienation and in particular whether it possesses metaphysical status. Or should alienation be seen only as a flaw in our self-understanding? Just how perverse am I?

And the second,  how do we understand God’s action relative to this alienation. Is it moral, a standing along side (parakletos) that woos the human? Or does the alienation require some reweaving of Creation? (That is, does alienation have a metaphysical reality beyond the subjective?) Is God to be understood as so self-contained that we only deal with this One by extension (as seems to be the direction of apophatic spirituality), or do we understand this One engaging, Self-identifying with the human? Rather than an arising by shedding, the latter sees a Divine reaching toward.

In a word, why isn’t my alienation or the enormities of this Age the final word?

The strength of the Western understanding lies in its treatment of this alienation as something deadly serious and something inescapable. It is also something dealt with by God’s action. The intimacy and fellowship so ably spoken about in the video is a fruit, a consequence of this action. The end of alienation, the answer to the enormities of mass, industrial death, lies in God’s action of taking that alienation into God’s own life.

And at a practical level, that strikes me as the difference; while the Anselmic doctrine formally addresses a metaphysical status that very question of human status and change imagines different ordering of this world. The double view of Righteous demands and Restored fellowship underscores the seriousness of Creation and makes possible a politics that is more than the mere exercise of Power. In a time drenched with depravity this possibility can seem tenuous at best.  It can be and always has been a path a walked by faith.