Peterson and the sin against the Holy Ghost

That’s why the logos is the thing that’s at the top of the hierarchy. That’s how the hierarchy should be structured for everything else. You have a structure, and you think, what should the structure be subordinate to? The answer should be something like, the structure should be subordinate to the process that generates the structure, or the structure should be subordinate to the process that generates and maintains the structure. Obviously. How could it be any other way, unless the structure’s perfect? In which case you dispense with the thing that generates it and improves it, but then you’re a totalitarian. It’s like, hey, we got the answer. No. You don’t. People are still suffering, and they’re still dying. You don’t have the damn answer. Maybe you have an answer that means there isn’t quite as much suffering and dying as there could be, but there’s plenty of road to be travelled, yet. So it all makes perfect sense that all of this should be nested within this. I think of it as the highest order of moral striving. And then that also gives you a moral hierarchy. That’s the most important thing. You do that with attention and honest speech. That’s how you do that. You don’t sacrifice that to any of this, because if you do, then you’re hurting your soul.

There’s this idea in the New Testament that the sin against the Holy Ghost is the one sin that can’t be forgiven. No one knows what the hell that means. Maybe it doesn’t mean anything. But I think this is what it means: because this process generates all this, if you violate that process, then there’s no hope for you, because that’s the process by which you improve yourself and everything else, too. So if you decide you’re not going to engage in that, it’s like, well, there’s no fixing that. You’ve blown apart your relationship with the thing that does the fixing. (Jordan Peterson, Biblical Series VI: The Psychology of the Flood, 2017)

Emmet Fox gives a similar answer, 80 years earlier.

What is the sin against the Holy Ghost? The sin against the Holy Ghost is any action on your part which prevents the activity of the Holy Ghost from taking place in your soul; anything which shuts you off from the ever-fresh energizing action of God that is spiritual life itself. The penalty for this mistake is spiritual stagnation and, since the only remedy in such a case consists in the direct action of the Holy Spirit, and this mistake in itself tends to prevent that very action from taking place, a condition of vicious deadlock results. Now it is obvious that this condition must necessarily remain as long as the mistake is persisted in, and so, in this sense, the sin is unforgivable. The problem cannot be solved in any way until the victim is prepared to change his attitude. The symptoms of this malady are spiritual stagnation, and all-round failure to demonstrate [(i.e., concrete results of God’s actions in one’s life)], and these are only too often accompanied by much self-righteousness and spiritual pride. (Emmet Fox, The Sermon on the Mount, 1938)

Peterson’s answer is compatible with Fox’s, but Peterson’s is more abstract. It’s too abstract, and this is a general problem with Peterson’s Biblical exegesis. He gets lots of things right, and often draws connections between Biblical stories or motifs and very interesting psychological insights, but the basic framework he seems to be working in for much of his commentary is basically secular. This is not surprising for someone who works in a public Canadian university in the humanities, where among the faculties Christianity is largely considered obviously false or even anathema, or for someone who is trying to connect with people who are secular themselves. If the latter, that is good as a starting point, but the answers need to move to things that are more specifically Christian and spiritual, such as Fox’s take in this case, which as far as I can tell is getting more at what Jesus is talking about.

7 thoughts on “Peterson and the sin against the Holy Ghost

  1. Bruce Charlton

    ” his commentary is basically secular. ”

    But surely that’s because JP IS secular – at any rate he certainly doesn’t self identify as a Christian. It seems bizarre that he would engage in Christian exegesis when he denies the fundamental premises; but I suppose that’s what ‘Liberal’ theologians do all the time… But I personally would find it a waste of time, perhaps worse, to read Christian exegesis from a non-Christian.

  2. admin Post author

    I only have his public commentary, which as far as I can tell is a secularized (psychologized) version of Christianity – but the man himself? I think it’s reasonable to infer he is secular, but I don’t know. I have found his psychological commentary on Old Testament stories valuable, however, much like I find reading Joseph Campbell’s work interesting.

  3. Bruce Charlton

    I don’t see even the slightest mystery about whether JP is, or is not, a Christian!

    As a psychologist, well it’s merely a matter of taste. If Jung was first rate (originating creative genius), Campbell second rate (drawing upon Jung and other primary sources, and making original syntheses), then JP must be third rate (a scholar studying and presenting the work of others) – but JP might still be as good as anyone operating in mainstream public discourse.

  4. John Smith

    Very insightful, thanks for posting. That totally makes sense, could be wrong on this but it seems like a series of abstractions.

    Jesus shows us a specific example of the ideal process we imitate do to live our life.

    The Holy Ghost is one level of abstraction up, it is the process that drives each human to imitate Jesus (the ideal process).

    God is one level of abstraction up, he is the process that created humans, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost.

    Just my thoughts on this, not sure if they are correct.

  5. admin Post author

    @John Smith,

    The problem with Peterson’s interpretation is that the Holy Spirit isn’t an *abstraction*. The Holy Spirit is concrete. It’s not about an abstract intellectual process (although certainly those go along with understanding God), it’s about developing a relationship with God. Once you do so, the Holy Spirit will act in your life, including dramatic experiences like baptism by the Holy Spirit. Peterson is making a *category error* here in an attempt to secularize Christianity.

  6. Pingback: Jordan Peterson and Truth | Making Sense of Christianity

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