Tillich, not Peterson

The media has made much of a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Toronto who has been taken to task for the perceived conservatism of his ethic and political views. Jordan Peterson’s ideas are built in part on neurological, cognitive theory and in part on a Biblical and Christian message that has been recast in the Jungian mode, as far as I can see. I looked at the site where he advertises his lectures, but was immediately alarmed by the all too quick definitions with which he introduces the stories of Genesis. He sees something primordial in them, reads the gospel of John into them as a long tradition has done before him, and eliminates history. If history is an artificial catalogue of facts and events hanging on a chronological frame, indeed, why take that route, but as good scholars show (beginning with L’Hour 2015), Genesis 1 actually introduces the audience or readership to an open, dynamic history rather than to a mythic structure that helps submit generations to ever-renewed forms of exploitation by hearking back to an idealized past as the only possible future. That is, the author of the text of Genesis is eminently aware of the historical conditions of human existence and tries to formulate answers believed to be revealed or at least adumbrated by an ineffable divinity. In other words, for the author(s) of Genesis 1–11, history and theology are two sides of the same hand. I hope I’m in the spirit of Tillich in saying that. In The socialist decision, published in early 1933 when Hitler grabs power, Tillich writes that “Human life involves more than a mere development of what already is. Through the demand [of the other] humanity is directed to what ought to be.” The first three chapters of Genesis and more generally 1–11 are anti-mythic in that precise sense. Gen 1 is in prose, not verse like all other epics of creation. It opposes the golden repetitions of incantatory myths. It refuses to fix humans as servants of past, immutable greatness. It refuses to MAGA as it refuses fake glories. Rather than looking backward, it invites humans to create the timely order in which life can expand as being and consciousness of it.