New Generations & the Old Questions of Life

In a recent episode of the Jordan B Peterson Podcast, Peterson speaks with the Catholic Bishop, Robert Barron.

Barron described how Catholic priests of his generation, when in training, followed the thinking of Psychologist Carl Rogers. Rogers said that people are basically good and that unconditional love should be practiced by pastors and psychiatrists alike.

Rogers went through seminary himself, and ultimately concluded that the Devil is non-existent and that the way to effectively help people is to propogate unconditional love, not to warn them of so-called “evils.”

Both Barron and Peterson reject this. They say that many of Rogers’ ideas influenced them positively, but that the concept of unconditional love at all times and in all places, should be rejected on the grounds that people are actually capable of intense evil.

Peterson mentions Jean Jacques Rousseau and says that the French philosopher similarly faulted with his conclusion that people are basically good. Peterson describes that as a devaluation of people.

It could also be called a misestimation of people’s true nature: people are capable of extreme evil, and very malevolent actions (see, the 20th Century). To assume or portray otherwise is an inaccurate estimation of human nature.

This is related to what Bishop Barron describes as a misstep of the church in the last century or so: We have become incredibly anti-intellectual. I first heard this idea from Christian Wiman in his book My Bright Abyss. Since then I’ve been noticing it frequently.

In an inaugural address at Wheaton College (for a new center on campus) in 1980, Charles Malik sparked a similar conversation:

“I must be frank with you: the greatest danger confronting American evangelical Christianity is the danger of anti-intellectualism. The mind in its greatest and deepest reaches is not cared for enough…Who among evangelicals can stand up to the great secular scholars on their own terms of scholarship? Who among evangelical scholars is quoted as a normative source by the greatest secular authorities on history or philosophy or psychology or sociology or politics? …For the sake of greater effectiveness in witnessing to Jesus Christ, as well as for their own sakes, evangelicals cannot afford to keep on living on the periphery of responsible intellectual existence” (As quoted in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview by JP Moreland & William Lane Craig).

Pretty straight-forward and harsh criticism from a fellow “evangelical” thinker.

After quoting Malik’s speech, professors Moreland and Craig (see reference above) turn to church father and denominational founder John Wesley for wisdom on combatting anti-intellectualism. Wesley asks the following in his Address to the Clergy:

“Ought not a Minister to have, First, a good understanding, a clear apprehension, a sound judgement, and a capacity of reasoning with some closeness…Is not some acquaintance with what has been termed the second part of logic (metaphysics), if not so necessary as [logic itself], yet highly expedient? Should not a Minister be acquainted with at least the general grounds of natural philosophy?”

The same point is being made both by Malik and Wesley: Christian leaders, ministers, teachers, etc. should be held to a high intellectual standard (see also James 3:1 and Luke 12:48).

To a degree, the anti-intellectualism in the church world of today is understandable. After all, there was a long period of Western history in which the church contained virtually all the intellectualism, somewhat dogmatically. In the walls of the church for much of the pre-Reformation period, the services were spoken in Latin. The Bibles were translated only into Latin, from the original Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek. And it was very rare for a churchgoer to know Latin–it was taught to those who were in the service of the church and who therefore received higher education.

Martin Luther eventually fought back against Indulgences (prayers said by clergymen for the dead ancestors of paying congregation members), but how long was this practice in effect without question of its legitimacy? Pre-Reformation, very few were equipped, outside the church walls, to challenge the validity of such clerical abuses. Today, the Catholic Church has publicly thanked Martin Luther for his critiques.

So there were some major abuses of intellectualism by the church, but now the pendulum has swung too far the other way and there has been an over-correction. High intellectualism is still very necessary in religion, and in spiritual life. After all, these represent deep, deep matters of the heart and soul that cannot be described in simple terms.

We cannot afford to be bankrupt in our capacity to comprehend, or even elaborate on, the deep feelings and experiences we have. That gap is more easily (and time-effectively) drowned with alcohol, with drugs, with addictions of all kinds (including “good” ones like incessant exercising). These habits are easier to perpetuate than is doing the hard work of soul-searching.

In the podcast episode previously mentioned, Peterson elaborates on how the Christian doctrines and the Christian idea of how to live a good life, are actually incredibly empowering and can make a hero out of its adherents (for an epic hero’s moment, see Luke 22:39-44). That hero mentality, that aim, that high and lofty, high-responsibility-necessitating aim, can move one away from nihilism and toward solid life vision.

All this to say, we need a return to intellectualism. We need to listen to people like Jordan Peterson and Bishop Robert Barron. We need to read CS Lewis deeply and thoroughly, and explore the ideas of philosophers and church fathers of the past who talked deeply about these subjects—in order to unravel [some] of the complexities of this state of consciousness we find ourselves in.

As somewhat of an aside, it’s especially true of scientific-minded people, those genuinely looking for the true answers, at any cost–that there is no room in their thinking for propagandist strategies of tired evangelism. There are no simple answers to the most complex problems of life. People have been searching for these answers since before history was recorded. And we’re still searching, rightfully, to avoid more of the ever-more-common trend of recent generations described by Bishop Barron:

“We were given a very childish view…and when life hit certain people, religion had nothing for them.”

Photo by Guillaume Meurice on Pexels.com

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