philosophy

How to cover Jordan Peterson, while avoiding truth-shaped holes in his 'secular' gospel

How to cover Jordan Peterson, while avoiding truth-shaped holes in his 'secular' gospel

At least once a week, I receive an email from a reader asking me -- as a columnist -- when I am going to write about Jordan Peterson.

You see, there are lots of folks who believe Peterson is, well, the next C.S. Lewis.

Then there are others who worry that Peterson's unique worldview -- secular philosophy, with no confessed ties to a religious tradition -- are exactly the kind of thing that Lewis warned about in our modern and now postmodern world. Lewis knew a lot about the lines between deism, theism and Christian faith.

Then there are those who, after careful parsing of several thousand Peterson remarks on YouTube about the Bible and truth, are convinced that there is a faith tradition in there somewhere, one that the bestselling author ("12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos") doesn't -- for some reason -- want to state openly.

However, if you study the Peterson phenomenon you are going to run into religion and, in particular, debates about whether truth is relative and evolving or transcendent and absolute. Yes, we are James Davison Hunter territory once again. What a surprise.

Anyway, the Washington Post recently published an oh-so-predictable feature about Peterson, with this headline: "Jordan Peterson is on a crusade to toughen up young men. It’s landed him on our cultural divide."

I have some good news and some bad news, for GetReligion readers who are interested in this topic.

The good news: There's a ton of material to read in this feature linked to the religion ghosts in his worldview and the issues that have made him so controversial.

The bad news: This long feature was not produced by the religion-desk team at the Post. It shows.

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Religious questions play no role in this boring Chronicle of Higher Education look at polyamory

Religious questions play no role in this boring Chronicle of Higher Education look at polyamory

One of the questions that your GetReligionistas hear from readers all the time is this: "What is the mainstream press?"

That isn't the precise wording, of course, since readers are usually asking about specific publications. They want to know if The Daily Beast is "mainstream," which is a question that we've been asking for years. They want to know if MSNBC and Fox News are "mainstream." The answer is "yes," but you have to know the difference between news shows and opinion shows.

It also helps to remember that these are strange times. These days, one is just as likely to see a hard-news story from Baptist Press (or the Catholic News Agency) that quotes several qualified, on-the-record sources on both sides of a debate about a hot-button social issue as you are to see that happen in, well, the New York Times. On most religious and social issues, the Times is mainstream -- but with a doctrinal point of view. Sort of like Baptist Press?

This brings me to an interesting feature that ran in a very, very establishment, mainstream publication -- The Chronicle of Higher Education. The doubledecker headline proclaims: " ‘I Have Multiple Loves’ -- Carrie Jenkins makes the philosophical case for polyamory."

Now, this long piece is called a "review," since it sort of focuses on this scholar's book "What Love Is: And What It Could Be." Yet anyone who has lived and worked in the world of higher education knows that, in the format of the Chronicle, this is actually a first-person, reported feature story about an important news topic. What is the topic, in this case? Which word is more important, "philosophical" or "polyamory"? Here is the overture:

Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins and I have plans to meet her boyfriend for lunch. But first we have to go home to walk the dog. Her husband, Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa, is out of town at a conference for the weekend, and earlier that morning Mezzo, their labradoodle mix, got skunked; Jenkins says Mezzo is still feeling shaky. Before I traveled to meet her in Vancouver last June, she told me on the phone that most "mono" people misunderstand the challenges of polyamory -- the practice of being openly involved romantically with more than one person at a time.
"People ask, ‘Tell me about the downsides,’ " Jenkins says. "They expect the answer to be that it’s so hard jealousy-wise. But the most common answer is timing and scheduling. I’m a fairly organized person, so I don’t find it super challenging."

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