Thursday, April 5, 2018

Order from chaos

Christopher Kaczor, a Christian and professor of philosophy, writes that Jordan Peterson is "the most influential biblical interpreter in the world today." He also notes some of the things that Peterson—not a Christian—doesn't understand about Christianity. But Peterson's writings, he says, are "biblically saturated" and that he believes "that scripture is an unimaginably ancient and profound source of wisdom refined through the ages from the collective human imagination." From Kaczor's "Jordan Peterson on Adam and Eve":
.... Perhaps the most important stories shaping Peterson’s thought are those that are most controversial on the literal level: the first chapters of Genesis. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth in a chaotic and formless darkness. God says, “Let there be light.” On Peterson’s view, this truthful speech brings order out of the dark, formless chaos. Because they are made in the image of God, man and woman can also create order from chaos by the free choice of speaking and living the truth.

According to Peterson, the story of Adam and Eve contains enduring wisdom about the human condition. Why is the serpent in the garden? Chaos and order are omnipresent in human experience. Human life is unsustainable in pure chaos, but it is also stifled in pure order. The serpent represents the chaos in the otherwise orderly garden. Even if all the snakes could be banished from the garden, the snake of conflict between humans remains a possibility. And even if inter-human conflict could be eradicated, the snake within each person remains. Peterson’s view of the human person is shaped by Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s insight that “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart.” For this reason, Peterson notes, “A serpent, metaphorically speaking, will inevitably appear.” The lesson he draws is that it is better to make one’s children strong and competent than to attempt in vain to protect them from all snakes. To protect loved ones from all dangers is to make them like infants, depriving them of what could make them strong. ....

Once Adam and Eve eat the fruit, “the eyes of both [are] opened,” and they become self-conscious. They realize that they are naked, unprotected, and vulnerable. They realize how they can be hurt, how they will die, and how anyone like them is also vulnerable to death and suffering. With awareness of human vulnerability, the human choice of malevolence becomes possible. Mere animals also die, but they lack the self-consciousness to project their own mortality into the future. Mere animals kill, but the malevolence of Cain against Abel is a possibility only for humankind.

The self-consciousness of the human person is linked to the bigger brains of the human species. Bigger brains and relatively small female hips lead to the birth of helpless human children. Babies require intensive care if they are to survive. A birth mother always has a physical connection to her child and almost always has an intense bond to her baby. So the child’s vulnerability leads also to maternal vulnerability that facilitates male dominance.

Adam’s punishment of toil for bread is also linked to self-consciousness. He realizes that however much he has today, tomorrow will come. Given his self-consciousness projected into the future, Adam now has concern for tomorrow. So he must work. The fall prompts Adam and Eve to sacrifice, to delay gratification for a higher good. Peterson notes, “The successful among us delay gratification. The successful among us bargain with the future.” To sacrifice is to give up something good now for the sake of something better in the future. ....

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