Have you heard of Jordan Peterson? Until a few months ago I was clueless regarding Canadian psychologist at the University of Toronto. But since 2016, millions have watched his collection of You Tube lectures. 80% are young men between 20-34. And when he speaks in public, the great majority of his audiences are made up of men. Peterson himself was surprised at first. He soon realized he was speaking to deep concerns among younger men. David Brooks observed, “…He delivers stern, fatherly lectures to young men on how to be honorable, upright and self-disciplined – how to grow up and take responsibility for their own lives… 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.”
I realize that Peterson is not a Christian. He has been deeply influenced by Jungian psychology. His language can be pretty salty at times. And he sees the Bible as more myth than the Word of God. So, taking in Peterson’s thoughts or observations is a little like eating fish. You have to take the meat and spit out the bones. Nonetheless, I am very interested in Peterson, because of the response he has gotten from young men.
David French has noted, “Jordan Peterson’s popularity is a sign of the longing for understanding a distinctive male purpose and male way of living that is true to biology and psychology.” I agree with Dr. John Mark Reynolds, who puts it bluntly, “He [Peterson] is what young men need and the church is not giving: straight talk that is smart.” All truth is God’s truth, wherever it might be found. And as followers of Christ, “We can do nothing against the truth, but only for the truth” (II Cor. 13:8). Some want to disregard Peterson because he is not a biblical believer. As a follower of Christ, however, my burden is to help men in their spiritual journey. Could Peterson’s message help me relate more effectively to men? Below are a few of the themes in Peterson’s messages that make me think that it can:
First, be responsible. Responsibility is not a legalistic rod to beat men down, but rather an invitation to be honorable and self-disciplined. Peterson talks about carrying our burden. “Pick up the heaviest thing you can find and carry it.” He finds that men hunger for such a challenge. Being responsible is a manly attribute, not a source of crushing shame.
Second, find meaning and purpose. Peterson believes people have a hunger for principles and direction. Don’t buy into postmodern relativism and pessimism. Young men can make a difference. But they need to accept the burden of being responsible in order to move toward what is meaningful.
Third, carry a good dose of realism. Tim Lott says of Peterson’s worldview, “Life is tragic.” You are tiny and flawed and ignorant and weak and everything else is huge complex and overwhelming.” Yes, life is hard. Learn to lean into pain.
Fourth, free yourself from the grip of groupthink. “At some level Peterson is offering assertiveness training,” notes Brooks, “to men whom society is trying to turn into emasculated snowflakes.”
Fifth, remember that gender matters. Boys and young men need guidance and reassurance of their maleness. For this Peterson gets his most vocal feedback. Peterson maintains, “Boys’ interests tilt toward things,” while “girls’ interests tilt toward people.” “Men and women won’t sort themselves into the same categories, if you leave them alone. These interests are strongly influenced by biological factors.” Because of this, Peterson believes boys are suffering in the modern world.