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The following is an excerpt from the recent roundtable discussion on Exodus. You can watch the special on DailyWire+.
Episode time: 32:24
Discussion on Exodus 1:15-16
Jonathan Pageau: I want to propose that there might be a very important narrative reason why the midwives are Hebrew in this case. And I think it is a good lesson for us today, which is that the tyrant is empowering women to kill their men. That is what the tyrant is doing, and he is doing it in order to feminize the Hebrews.
Dennis Prager: That is a fascinating take.
Jordan Peterson: It is no wonder you get in trouble all the time.
Jonathan Pageau: I think that it is important. And the reason why they won’t do it is because they fear God. It is because they are able to see beyond the power that the Pharaoh is handing them at this moment. When we think that that could not happen in a people, it is like, look around you. We are seeing it happen before our very eyes.
Jordan Peterson: It also implies that it is in the best interest of the tyrant to dispense with those figures who might pose a threat to the tyrannies, and those would be tough men because they are the ones who keep the real tyrants at bay.
Dennis Prager (to Pageau): That is such an intelligent point. It reinforces your reaction to what I said: Maybe the text is purposefully ambiguous about whether or not they were Hebrews or Egyptians. And you have swayed me.
Jordan Peterson: I have seen that purposeful ambiguity in other texts.
Dennis Prager: So let me just say, I identify a bias in me and I am very – I hope – self-aware.
Jordan Peterson: Good. So the first learning episode has actually occurred.
Dennis Prager: Yes, exactly. The Torah goes out of its way – this is one of the fundamental beliefs of my life – to portray non-Jews positively and Jews negatively. It is one of the reasons I believe it is a divine author. If Jews had made up the Torah, they would have come across much more positively. They come across as awful, as a general rule.
Jordan Peterson: So it is anti-propaganda.
Dennis Prager: Anti-propaganda, certainly. Noah is a non-Jew. Of course, there were no Jews at that time. But Moses’s father-in-law, who is the great adviser to Moses, is a Midianite priest. The daughter of Pharaoh is a non-Jew; she saves Moses. It is just a consistent pattern, and I thought that the midwives were part of that pattern. As I say, God is ethics-centered, not ethnic-centered.
Os Guinness: And this is taken as the first civil disobedience, isn’t it?
Dennis Prager: That is right.
Os Guinness: It is the first example of someone standing against a crime against humanity.
Jordan Peterson: It implies that the relationship with God is actually what enables people to have the strength to stand up against the tyrant.
Os Guinness: If you think of the Nuremberg trials, they did not actually have a basis for what they were saying. There is no international law. They were reaching, and maybe intuitively they knew.
Jordan Peterson: Well, that is certainly what Solzhenitsyn thought about the Nuremberg trials. He believed that the fact that the Nazi atrocities were regarded as wrong, independent of cultural context, was a signal achievement of the 20th century because it reestablished not so much the existence of good, but definitely the existence of evil. And that was something I found unbelievably convincing because I thought, you have a real conundrum here: Was what the Nazis did evil or not? Because those are the alternatives. And if it was not, you can move ahead on that presumption. Or you can accept that it was evil in a transcendent sense – because that is what the Nuremberg trials were about – and then the terrible implication of that, in some sense, is that if evil genuinely exists, then its opposite genuinely exists because it is not going to exist without its opposite. As soon as you accept the reality of the evil of Auschwitz, you are in a metaphysical world because you have to simultaneously posit the existence of a transcendent good that is at least the opposite of that. Part of what I have been striving for, for 40 years I would say, is to identify what is the opposite of this spirit that produced Auschwitz. And some of it Solzhenitsyn detailed out so nicely. It is the spirit of truth. And Frankl, it is the spirit of meaning. I think you can make a strong case that it is the spirit of love, and it is some amalgam of those three things, and that does not exhaust it. It is the spirit of play and voluntary association and freedom – all things that are stressed in the biblical narrative.
Douglas Hedley: ‘Where there is no vision, a people perish,’ as in Proverbs, and I think there that is very important — this notion of contemplation. We will come to that in particularly chapter three, this sense of a vision of goodness as having an inspiring quality.
Jordan Peterson: And it is a vision too and not just a mere verbal conceptualization, which is why the artistic endeavor is so important and the architectural endeavor, because it is not merely propositional, that vision. One of the things I learned with my students and with my clinical clients – and I helped them do this – was to develop a literal vision for their life. If you could have what you wanted to arm you against the slings and arrows of fate or to at least defend you against it, in principle, if you could have what you needed and wanted, what would that look like? That is a kind of prayer; it is like, knock and the door will open and ask and you will receive. You could conceivably have what you wanted, but you have to specify what it is and you have to have a vision of it. Part of what the humanities education should do and the religious education, certainly, is to flesh out a vision of a mode of being and a mode of perception that would justify suffering – or maybe even more than justify it.
James Orr: Well, you could say, I suppose, that if theists are faced with the problem of evil, atheists are confronted with the problem of good – how to make sense of goodness, how to make sense of what it is that drives their moral indignation and their great social revolutions. I think one of the most terrifying moments in the Nuremberg trials was when the Nazis advanced the defense that this was simply victor’s justice, that they had not really broken any laws. They were scrupulous legislators after all.
Jordan Peterson: And following orders.
James Orr: That’s right. Western notions of justice found themselves staring into the abyss. How is it that we are going to make sense of our deep intuition that this is evil of an absolute kind? And I think this is one of the great – as a matter of historical fact – one of the most important motivating factors behind the emergence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of course, in 1948, and with it, the entire sort of rights-based regime of morality that is with us still, that has proliferated and expanded.
Jordan Peterson: So the problem on the atheist front is: On what basis can these things be claimed as self-evident? What’s the grounding for that? And the postmodern critique of that in some sense is that, well, all that nonsense talk about rights and freedoms is just instrumental camouflage hiding a more fundamental will to power and desire to oppress.
James Orr: The worry is that the only answer available, in a purely sort of secular framework, would be because this document tells us that this is wrong or this document tells us that this is right.
Jordan Peterson: So that becomes part of the social contract, in which case the problem emerges immediately again. That’s just an arbitrary social contract.
James Orr: The solution sort of replicates the very problem that it was trying to solve.
Dr. Jordan B. Peterson is a clinical psychologist and professor emeritus at the University of Toronto. From 1993 to 1998 he served as assistant and then associate professor of psychology at Harvard. He is the international bestselling author of Maps of Meaning, 12 Rules For Life, and Beyond Order. You can now listen to or watch his popular lectures on DailyWire+.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.