I wrote about Jordan Peterson in Psychological Avatar, in particular his understanding of God. Or “God,” as he might say. The question is whether there is a “God Who is There,” in Francis Schaeffer’s phrasing, or whether “God” is only a representation of ultimate human aspiration, an avatar for the ground-up Darwinian psychological development to which we are heir.
I’m not so much interested in the psyche of one person, Jordan Peterson, as I am in the phenomenon of his success. He’s thought to be countercultural, and he is that. He’s an antidote to the surreal and absurd far reaches of postmodernism unfolding before us. He makes sense to us dinosaurs who think truth is there to be discovered, and not something to be molded in the crucible of human strife.
But part of his success is that he is not, to put it mildly, dogmatically Christian. It is puzzling to many Christians that he’s not. If you’re a fan of the Babylon Bee, as I am, you might have seen this post, which nails it, though by satire. One can attempt, by following Peterson, to navigate between the Scylla of postmodern truthiness, and the Charybdis of obscurantist Christians.
Does it work? Let’s look at what makes God “God” in the imagining of Peterson’s non-Christian followers.
There’s this idea, articulated by Carl Jung before Peterson, and by others in the history of ideas, that the central Genesis story of the fall of man is about human consciousness. Human consciousness is a kind of self-awareness that goes beyond merely being aware of one’s existence. We have a stacked, or multi-dimensional, or layered self-awareness. If you prefer a mathematical analogy, you could think of human consciousness as being basic self-awareness to the third or perhaps fourth power.
Here’s what I mean. Basic awareness of one’s existence is raised to the second power, so to speak, or a second dimension is added, again so to speak, by the fact that we are not only aware of our own existence and of the existence of others, but we are aware of those others’ self-awareness, too. And to add a third dimension, we are aware of our own self-awareness as seen through others’ eyes; that is, our self-perception is formed in part by how we believe others perceive us.
You could over-simplify it a bit like this: I am not what I think I am; I am not what you think I am; I am what I think you think I am. This degree of self-awareness means that we are social creatures. We’re not social creatures purely as a result of the dictates of biological reproduction. We have a concept of collective consciousness. Our “vision” is not merely from the inside directed out. We have a perspective that is outside ourselves, and that gives us a sense of, among other things, what is acceptable and unacceptable in our social environment. This is how we can recognize the content and direction of culture; the zeitgeist or spirit of the age that informs our collective sense beyond brute power and individual desire.
Another Like Me
Pause for bibliographical footnote. The nature of human consciousness has puzzled philosophers and theologians and political theorists down through the ages. Consciousness is a favorite chew-toy of philosophy. The best book I’ve read on the subject is by David Bentley Hart, titled Experience of God/Being * Consciousness * Bliss. If you’re interested in something a little more down to earth, you might look into a novel by yours truly, Another Like Me.
Now back to regular programming. One of the many implications of this tri-layered feature of human consciousness is that it inescapably involves the third-person perspective. I am not merely self-aware, and I’m not merely aware of your awareness (a second-person perspective), but I’m aware of your awareness of my awareness (a third-person perspective). That third-person perspective can be turned in another direction than simply back at me. It’s a small step from considering your awareness of my awareness, to considering a general awareness of both mine and yours; a consciousness that is outside of both of us.
Avatar or God
Now Emile Durkheim and his acolytes since the late nineteenth century would say that this perspective in human consciousness, and its social and hence collectivist implications, explain the existence of religion: that the all-seeing-eye perspective of merely human consciousness is the source of the invention of gods. Religion, on this view, is a sociological phenomenon only. It is derived from and explained by this third-person feature of human consciousness.
Durkheim’s explanation of religion is broadly accepted, now, even among people who have never heard of him. It is handed to us by the zeitgeist: religion is a benign expression of our inevitable social consciousness. The all-seeing-eye is from the ground up, so to speak. It is a feature of our individual and collective consciousness, not an actual sentient awareness that is above and outside of humanity.
Or else it is, and it’s God. Take out a one-dollar bill and look at the back side of it. Our felt awareness of omniscience originates in the One who actually is omniscient, or else it is only imagined, being a product only of our multi-dimensional consciousness. If the former, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” not only in the body, but in the shared consciousness with God Himself, who places in our hearts an awareness that He is, such that we must suppress our intuition in order to deny Him. If the latter, God is merely “God,” an avatar of our complex evolved self-awareness.