2. People need to hear voices of authority. As I argued in my recent post, when someone speaks with authority, people sit up and pay attention. Our society has tended to shrink back from authoritative words, as such words threaten people’s autonomy (‘who am I to tell you what to do, man?’). Speaking authoritatively seems to shame, judge, and make claims upon people, all of which are anathema to contemporary individualistic society. However, carefully spoken words of authority can be life-giving. They can give direction and meaning to people who are lost, hope to those in despair, light to those in darkness, and clarity to those in doubt. People desperately need to hear wise and loving words of authority from people who know what they are talking about, rather than being left without authority or harangued by leaders without the depth of character to speak the words they utter.
Peterson is, for a great many young men in particular, the father they never had. He is someone prepared to speak into their situation with a compassionate authority. His authority is not an attempt to control them or to secure his own power over them, but functions to direct them towards life. He isn’t wagging his finger at them, but is helping lost young people to find their way. People instinctively respond to such authority. Such a fatherly authority is rare in our society, but many people are longing for it. This is the sort of authority that pastors can exemplify and by which they can give life and health to the lives committed to their care.
3. People need both compassion and firmness. It is striking how, almost every time that Peterson starts talking about the struggles of young men, he tears up. This recent radio interview is a great example:
Peterson’s deep concern for the well-being of young men is transparently obvious. Where hardly anyone else seems to care for them, and they are constantly pathologized and stifled by the ascendant orthodoxies of the culture, Peterson is drawn out in compassion towards them. He observes that such young men in particular have been starved of compassion, encouragement, and support. There is a hunger there that the Church should be addressing.
However, Peterson’s compassion is not the flaccid empathy that pervades in our culture. He does not render young men a new victimhood class, feeding them a narrative of rights and ressentiment. Rather, he seeks to encourage struggling young people—to give them courage. He tells them that their effort matters; their rising to their full stature is something that the world needs. He helps them to establish their own agency and to find meaning in their labour.
People notice when others care about them and respond to them. However, far too often our empathy has left people weak and has allowed the weakness and dysfunctionality of wounded and stunted people to set the terms for the rest of society. Peterson represents a different approach: the compassionate authority of mature and wise persons can shepherd weak and lost persons towards strength, healthy selfhood, and meaning. Pastors can learn much from this.
Read the whole thing. Everything Roberts says about Jordan Peterson is true. I bought Peterson’s new book, and there’s really nothing new in what he says. It’s all in the way he says it. That is in no way a put-down of Peterson. To the contrary, we live in such dishonest, corrupt times that a man who is willing to speak truth with confidence and compassion can become a kind of hero to massive numbers of people (fatherless young men, especially) who have never heard that in their life.