University of Toronto professor of psychology and author Dr. Jordan Peterson recently appeared as a guest on The Patrick Coffin show. Although the interview was wide-ranging, covering numerous topics, one exchange between Coffin and Peterson stood out.
The back-and-forth began when Peterson said:
Is there something that can withstand that [tragedy and malevolence as the fundamental, defining preconditions for life]? The answer seems to be yes. It's like, there, that's an optimistic message, you know? And I think if you look at the story of the Christian Passion psychologically, you'd say, well, there's an idea there that voluntary acceptance of suffering produces a transformation or a sequence of transformations — that would be the dying and resurrecting God, that's symbolically speaking — and that that voluntary acceptance and transformation is sufficiently powerful to transcend tragedy and to keep malevolence at bay, and I think that's true. Now that's purely psychological. I think there's a metaphysic behind that, and that's where you start to move into religious territory. ...
I also do believe that there's something correct about the idea that spoken truth transforms the potential of being into habitable order. I believe that that's metaphysically true and literally true at the same time — but I don't have the conceptual wherewithal to really understand how that can be true, although I think it is true.
Later in the conversation, Coffin read a viewer question regarding Christ and the resurrection, and Peterson answered, using his previous remark as a jumping-off point:
COFFIN: Dr. Peterson, in light of your affirmation of the archetypal significance of the resurrection, you have expressed some ambivalence about its historical reality. J.R.R. Tolkien had long conversations in Oxford with C.S. Lewis in which Tolkien helped Lewis to understand that the story of Christ was the first archetypal myth that is not just true in a mythopoetic and psychological sense, but also true in the historical sense. That insight, helped by the grace of God, pushed Lewis over and he became a Christian. Where are you in this discernment process on the historical nature of Christ, and especially the resurrection?
PETERSON: I do believe that there are places where the mythological and the literal touch. I mentioned one of those earlier — the idea that spoken truth, logos, creates habitable order out of chaos. I think that is literally and metaphorically true. I don't think you can state the nature of being and the role that consciousness plays in it more accurately than that, and so it's metaphysically true, it's religiously true, and it's literally true all at the same time. And so there are times when that happens, and I don't know – see, this is the mystery to me, I would say. I understand what that means; I understand that there are times when the literal and the metaphysical or religious co-occur. ...
The way I've been conceptualizing it is [this]: it's as if the material reaches up towards the spiritual, and the spiritual reaches down towards the material, and now and then they touch. And that's a miracle when that happens — and I do think that happens.
With regards to the resurrection, apart from saying what I just said, I would say that I need to think about that for about three more years before I would even venture an answer beyond what I've already given because there's very much there that I don't understand as well as I need to understand. Part of the reason — I did a biblical series last year and I got through Genesis ... I want to spend the same amount of energy on the story of the Christian Passion as I have with those other lectures to investigate exactly this sort of thing because I know there's way more to that story that is available for analysis that I don't understand.
I understand what it means symbolically; I understand what the dying and resurrecting God means. It means something like — you pick up your cross; you voluntarily accept your suffering; you open yourself humbly to the correction of the world; parts of you continually die as a consequence — all the parts of you that need to be updated by exposure to truth and wisdom, and it's painful. You have to identify with the part of you that can be reborn continually through those micro deaths.
Okay, so that's the archetypal pattern. Well, the Christian claim is there’s something going on that transcends that mere archetypal pattern, or that manifested itself in reality ultimately once, you know. That was a claim that Carl Jung was actually quite, what would you say, sympathetic to, but I don't know enough about it to say anything more than what I've said psychologically. And so, I want to know more about it.
Here’s the full video (the pertinent portion begins that the 33:41 mark):
It’s a rare and precious thing for someone who isn’t religious to have such a desire to understand the workings of spirituality. Watching this exchange, one cannot help but wonder if Peterson will someday reach the same conclusions as C.S. Lewis did, as his pursuit of understanding seems to contain the same elements as the journey taken by the late author and theologian.