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



How Beauty opens doors

Fascinating piece from First Things on apologetics to the “nones” — the way to the heart does not lie with the stomach, even less with the mind, but the eye. With beauty.

It’s not easy to see why. Beauty remains a first order experience, and as such it is part of, an expression of the Mystery which surrounds us. This is the same mystery that Abraham Heschel pointed to with the “Ineffable” (see Man Is Not Alone). Whether Beauty, Goodness (another prominent category) or the Ineffable, the encounter always asks the question of accountability: why this? why this impact? what does it mean for me? We cannot escape. Accountability rests with the very notion of a metaphysic, an encompassing transcendent frame that even materialists possess. The very act of organizing our world experience involves the questions of meaning; we must construct a narrative to explain the world.


Robert Barron, “Evangelizing the Nones,” First Things, January 2018.


Mom goes missing

The always eloquent and gracious Matthew Lee Anderson takes on the question of why pro-life focuses so exclusively on the baby. At it’s core, it is something akin to a marvel at the promise of this life, a promise which we must then honor. As noted, he is nothing if not eloquent. It is a thing of wonder — wonder, which Abraham Heschel reminds us, is at the core of our approach to the world. And in its own hidden way it also informs our politics.

Within the pro-life outlook, the hiddenness of the fetus is a microcosm of our social relations. As Gracy Olmstead observed, the Women’s March on Washington’s proclamation that “defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us” perfectly distills the pro-lifer’s beliefs. “Defending the voiceless, the vulnerable, the marginalized, is priority number one,” Olmstead suggests

Yet this eloquence has a blindness: the mother goes under-addressed. If the embryo presents a society in all its tentativeness, the  social setting of the mother is no less important. She is not only the bearer, but an active agent, too.  Wonder cannot negate agency. Further, there remains the question of our relationship to our bodies an the control that I may or may not exert with  respect to my body.

These are not a counter to the essay so much as limning, an edging. There is yet more to be said. In that score, the term “pro-life” is an attempt to get a more fully-orbed sense of the issues, not only that of the embryo, but of the mother, her setting, and yes, her body. To stop at the baby is to leave the topic smaller.

God the Stranger?

John Suk bravely explores what a  post-theistic stance looks like.

the contemporary approach to the question of who God is and what God does that is most interesting is Richard Kearney’s, as described in his book, Anatheism: Returning to God after God. Kearney describes God using the metaphor of stranger.
 God is a stranger. God is so, in part, because the portrait of God that emerges in scripture is deeply coloured by a billowing sea of unknowing that the authors of scripture swim in.
 So God is a stranger. And this, for me, is what post-theism is all about—finding a way to accommodate not the tried and untrue God of the status-quo, but to find the stranger, who may even give life.

Suk is obviously moving into some deeply personal waters, a way of knowing but not knowing as it were. As with all pilgrims, the language must be his; it is not language that one disputes.

But this business about “God as stranger” did catch my ear as another pilgrim. Leaving behind the ordinary narratives of the status quo is unsettling to say the least, not least because one must surrender in order to find. In the midst of this seeking, perhaps some caution on the meme of God as stranger is in order.

First, there is the nature of that very word, “stranger.” Already at the outset we are in world of us and Him, Our Angel of the Jabbok so to speak. Sneaking into that concept is the hint of self, that I still get to define God, even if God is a stranger, or an empty place at my table. I’m still (subtly) in charge.

Of course, to say God is a stranger is also to say that God is a stranger in the world I experience, that the world can’t speak.

Is that really the case?

Abraham Heschel in Man is Not Alone starts with this world, and more specifically our sense of wonder. The world contains a surplus of meaning; things inevitably point to something other. And off in the corner of our eye, are these experiences of the indescribable, the ineffable. Wonder. This certainly is a  sunnier way of encountering the Unknown.

Another challenge to the stranger is  the idea of forgiveness/hope. How do we start over again, what we do “the day after”? As with the wonder that rises from the surplus of meaning in the world, is there a surplus of possibility for my life? For our life together? Can we do something different? The possibility of transformation is every bit as strange as that of the unknown God.

What I suspect Suk is reaching to is not an epistemological stance, nor an ethical one, but something more intimate. To speak of God as stranger is to whisper another, softer prayer, not that we may find, but that we may be found, and that being found  we may find ourselves beloved.

Getting Past Scientism

Philip Kitcher presents a fascinating essay on the limits of knowledge and our commonplace scientism, and with it a pleas for the humanities

Philip Kitcher: The Trouble With Scientism | The New Republic
To derive one’s notion of human knowledge from the most striking accomplishments of the natural sciences easily generates a conviction that other forms of inquiry simply do not measure up.

But there’s more too. If we approach all our science as finite beings with finite perspectives, what are the larger narratives we need if not to see the whole, then at least to touch on what is transcendent.  Abraham Heschel had a lot to say about that:

The greatest hindrance to knowledge is our adjustment to conventional notions, to mental clichés.

Standing eye to eye with being as being, we realize that we are able to look a the world with two faculties–with reason and with wonder. Through the first we try to explain or to adapt the world to our concepts, through the second we seek to adapt our minds to the world.

[p. 11, Man is Not Alone]