Upon releasing their book, Jordan Peterson, God, and Christianity: The Search for a Meaningful Life, Professor of Philosophy, Christopher Kaczor, and Associate Professor of Theological Ethics, Matthew Petrusek, quickly saw it rise to the top of the charts, landing #1 on Amazon in the “Catholicism” and “Religious Studies – Psychology” categories and #2 in the “Psychology and Religion” category.
The subject of their analysis is Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist with no formal training in biblical studies, who is touted as the most influential biblical interpreter in the world today. With an abundant readership and a YouTube series that garners tens of millions of views, Peterson incites positive sentiment from religious believers and committed atheists alike.
As experts in their unique fields, Kaczor and Petrusek are intrigued by the overlap of philosophy and theology in Peterson’s work and thought it would be beneficial to share their views with the community at large. In Jordan Peterson, God, and Christianity, the authors critically analyze Peterson’s YouTube series, “The Psychological Significance of the Biblical Stories,” and his book, 12 Rules for Life, situating his modern scholarship as a rediscovery of ancient modes of reading the Bible. Their argument makes a case for the Catholic intellectual tradition, which completes many of Peterson’s important ideas, and simultaneously advances Peterson’s work as a compelling model for how to engage a secular people largely skeptical of religion.
When asked about the diverse appeal to Peterson’s work, Petrusek champions the logic that centers his interdisciplinary approach. “He has been able to build this audience not only because of his extensive work in psychology but also—indeed, I would say, principally—because he has made a rationally cogent case for Biblical understandings of God, human nature, morality, and meaning in life.”
Rather than contributing to an exercise that seeks to define a concrete, literal interpretation of the text, Peterson focuses on the multiplicity of meaning found in scripture. He is interested in the psychological meaning, which Kaczor says is found in interpretations that help us to live well and meaningfully, bearing the suffering of life as best we can. “In this focus on action, what Peterson means by the psychological reading of the Bible is what someone like Augustine would call the moral reading of the Bible.”
Following Peterson’s prescription of approachability, Kaczor and Petrusek have created a portal for modern day readers to experience the oldest stories in human history through an informed lens that acknowledges religious tradition. The rapid response to their work suggests a communal desire for more inclusive scholarship that crosses boundaries of medium and discipline.