Jordan Peterson Chapter 6 Sermon Notes
Chapter Title: Set Your House In Perfect Order Before You Criticize The World
He is going to get to this piece of advice via the Columbine killers and a suicidal Tolstoy. Is life meaningless? His answer is to not go there and instead “Set your house in perfect order” by starting small and continuing to make your life contribute to the greater good at a greater and greater level.
Here are some quotes:
“But these murderous individuals had a problem with reality that existed at a religious depth. As one of the members of the Columbine duo wrote: ‘The human race isn’t worth fighting for, only worth killing. Give the Earth back to the animals. They deserve it infinitely more than we do. Nothing means anything anymore.’ People who think such things view Being itself as inequitable and harsh to the point of corruption, and human Being, in particular, as contemptible. They appoint themselves supreme adjudicators of reality and find it wanting. They are the ultimate critics. The deeply cynical writer continues: ‘If you recall your history, the Nazis came up with a “final solution” to the Jewish problem…Kill them all. Well, in case you haven’t figured it out, I say “KILL MANKIND.” No one should survive.’ For such individuals, the world of experience is insufficient and evil—so to hell with everything!”
“A great German play, Faust: A Tragedy, written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, addresses that issue. The play’s main character, a scholar named Heinrich Faust, trades his immortal soul to the devil, Mephistopheles. In return, he receives whatever he desires while still alive on Earth. In Goethe’s play, Mephistopheles is the eternal adversary of Being. He has a central, defining credo: ‘I am the spirit who negates and rightly so, for all that comes to be deserves to perish, wretchedly. It were better nothing would begin! Thus everything that your terms sin, destruction, evil represent—that is my proper element.’”
“Whenever we experience injustice, real or imagined; whenever we encounter tragedy or fall prey to the machinations of others; whenever we experience the horror and pain of our own apparently arbitrary limitations—the temptation to question Being and then to curse it rises foully from the darkness. Why must innocent people suffer so terribly? What kind of bloody, horrible planet is this, anyway?”
“In the final analysis, we do not appear to be the architects of our own fragility. Whose fault is it, then?”
“People who are very ill (or, worse, who have a sick child) will inevitably find themselves asking this question, whether they are religious believers or not. The same is true of someone who finds his shirtsleeve caught in the gears of a giant bureaucracy—who is suffering through a tax audit or fighting an interminable lawsuit or divorce. And it’s not only the obviously suffering who are tormented by the need to blame someone or something for the intolerable state of their Being. At the height of his fame, influence and creative power, for example, the towering Leo Tolstoy himself began to question the value of human existence. He reasoned in this way: ‘My position was terrible. I knew that I could find nothing in the way of rational knowledge except a denial of life; and in faith I could find nothing except a denial of reason, and this was even more impossible than a denial of life. According to rational knowledge, it followed that life is evil, and people know it. They do not have to live, yet they have lived and they do live, just as I myself had lived, even though I had known for a long time that life is meaningless and evil.’”
“Tolstoy wasn’t pessimistic enough. The stupidity of the joke being played on us does not merely motivate suicide. It motivates murder—mass murder, often followed by suicide. That is a far more effective existential protest. By June of 2016, unbelievable as it may seem there had been one thousand mass killings (defined as four or more people shot in a single incident, excluding the shooter) in the US in twelve hundred and sixty days. That’s one such event of five of every six days for more than three years. Everyone says, ‘We don’t understand.’ How can we still pretend that? Tolstoy understood, more than a century ago. The ancient authors of the biblical story of Cain and Abel understood, as well, more that twenty centuries ago. They described murder as the first act of post-Edenic history: and not just murder, but fratricidal murder—murder not only of someone innocent but of someone ideal and good, and murder done consciously to spite the creator of the universe. Today’s killers tell us the same thing, in their own words.”
“The name of the target changes, but the underlying psychology remains constant. Why? Why is there so much suffering and cruelty? Well, perhaps it really is God’s doing—or the fault of blind, pointless fate, if you are inclined to think that way. And there appears to be every reason to think that way. But, what happens if you do? Mass murderers believe that the suffering attendant upon existence justifies judgment and revenge, as the Columbine boys so clearly indicated: ‘I will sooner die than betray my own thoughts. Before I leave this worthless place, I will kill who ever I deem unfit for anything, especially life. If you pissed me off in the past, you will die if I see you. You might be able to piss off others, and have it eventually all blow over, but not me. I don’t forget people who wronged me.’”
“One of the most vengeful murderers of the twentieth century, the terrible Carl Panzram…Panzram’s response was (and this is what was so terrible) perfectly understandable. The details of his autobiography reveal that he was one of Tolstoy’s strong and logically consistent people. He was a powerful, consistent, fearless actor. He had the courage of his convictions. How could someone like him be expected to forgive and forget, given what had happened to him? Truly terrible things happen to people. It’s no wonder they’re out for revenge. Under such conditions vengeance seems a moral necessity. How can it be distinguished from the demand for justice? After the experience of terrible atrocity, isn’t forgiveness just cowardice, or lack of willpower? Such questions torment me. But people emerge from terrible pasts to do good, and not evil, although such an accomplishment can seem superhuman.”
“Instead of widening the tear in the cultural fabric she inherited, and transmitting it, she sewed it up. She rejected the sins of her forefathers. Such things can be done. ‘Distress, whether psychic, physical, or intellectual, need not at all produce nihilism (that is, the radical rejection of value, meaning and desirability). Such distress always permits a variety of interpretations.’ Nietzsche wrote those words. What he meant was this: people who experience evil may certainly desire to perpetuate it, to pay it forward. But it is also possible to learn good by experiencing evil.”
“Many, perhaps even most, of the adults who abuse children were abused themselves as children. However, the majority of people who were abused as children do not abuse their own children. This is a well-established fact, which can be demonstrated, simply, arithmetically, in this way: if one parent abused three children, and each of those children had three children, and so on, then there would be three abusers the first generation, nine the second, twenty-seven the third, eighty-one the fourth—and so on exponentially. After twenty generations, more than ten billion would have suffered childhood abuse: more people than currently inhabit the planet. But instead, abuse disappears across generations. People constrain its spread. That’s a testament to the genuine dominance of good over evil in the human heart.”
“The desire for vengeance, however justified, also bars the way to other productive thoughts.”
“Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn had every reason to question the structure of existence when he was imprisoned in a Soviet labor camp, in the middle of the terrible twentieth century. He had served as a soldier on the ill-prepared Russian front lines in the face of a Nazi invasion. He had been arrested, beaten and thrown into prison by his own people. Then he was struck by cancer. He could have become resentful and bitter.”
“But the great writer, the profound, spirited defender of truth, did not allow his mind to turn towards vengeance and destruction. He opened his eyes, instead. During his many trials, Solzhenitsyn encountered people wo comported themselves nobly, under horrific circumstances. He contemplated their behavior deeply. Then he asked himself the most difficult of question: had he personally contributed to the catastrophe of his life? If so, how? He remembered his unquestioning support of the Communist Party in his early years. He reconsidered his whole life. He had plenty of time in the camps. How had he missed the mark, in the past? How many times had he acted against his own conscience, engaging in actions that he knew to be wrong? How many times had he betrayed himself, and lied? Was there any way that the sins of his past could be rectified, atoned for, in the muddy hell of a Soviet gulag?”
“Solzhenitsyn pored over the details of his life, with a fine-toothed comb. He asked himself a second question, and a third. Can I stop making such mistakes, now? Can I repair the damage done by my past failures, now? He learned to watch and to listen. He found people he admired; who were honest, despite everything. He took himself apart, piece by piece, let what was unnecessary and harmful die, and resurrected himself. Then he wrote The Gulag Archipelago, a history of the Soviet prison camp system. It’s a forceful, terrible book, written with the overwhelming moral force of unvarnished truth. Its sheer outrage screamed unbearably across hundreds of pages. Banned (and for good reason) in the USSR, it was smuggled to the West in the 1950s, and burst upon the world. Solzhenitsyn’s writing utterly and finally demolished the intellectual credibility of communism, as ideology or society.”
“The Hebrews repent, at length, blaming their misfortune on their own failure to adhere to God’s word. They insist to themselves that they could have done better. They rebuild their state, and the cycle begins again. This is life. We build structures to live in. We build families, and states, and countries. We abstract the principles upon which those structures are founded and formulate systems of belief…But success makes us complacent. We forget to pay attention. We take what we have for granted. We turn a blind eye. We fail to notice things are changing, or that corruption is taking root. And everything falls apart. Is that the fault of reality—of God? Or do things fall apart because we have not paid sufficient attention?”
“If you are suffering—well, that’s the norm. People are limited and life is tragic. If your suffering is unbearable, however, and you are starting to become corrupted, here’s something to think about.”
So the dilemma is injustice and meaningless in life and how that knowledge can take away our will to live meaningful lives. He used the mechanics of Solzhenitsyn’s examination of his own life to bring a healing and then a heroic action. He doesn’t mention Solzhenitsyn’s Christian faith. So let’s look at his conclusion.
“Consider your circumstances. Start small. Have you taken full advantage of the opportunities offered to to you? Are you working hard on your career, or even your job. Or are you letting bitterness and resentment hold you back and drag you down? Have you made peace with your brother? Are you treating your spouse and your children with dignity and respect? Do you have habits that are destroying your health and well-being? Are you truly shouldering your responsibilities? Have you said what you need to say to your friends and family members? Are there things that you could do, that you know you could do, that would make things around you better? Have you cleaned up your life?”
“If the answer is no, here’s something to try: Start to stop doing what you know to be wrong. Start stopping today.”
“So, simply stop, when you apprehend, however dimly, that you should stop. Stop acting in that particular, despicable manner. Stop saying those things that make you weak and ashamed. Say only those things that make you strong. Do only those things that could speak of with honor.”
“Your experience will improve, as you stop distorting it with inauthentic actions. You will then begin to discover new, more subtle things that you are doing wrong. Stop doing those, too. After some months and years of diligent effort, your life will become simpler and less complicated. Your judgment will improve. You will untangle your past. You will become stronger and less bitter. You will move more confidently into the future. You will stop making your life unnecessarily difficult. You will then be left with the inevitable bare tragedies of life, but they will no longer be compounded with bitterness and deceit.”
“Maybe your anxiety, and hopelessness, and resentment, and anger—however murderous, initially—will recede. Perhaps your uncorrupted soul will then see its existence as a genuine good, as something to celebrate, even in the face of your own vulnerability. Perhaps you will become an ever-more-powerful force of peace and whatever is good.”
“Perhaps you will then see that if all people did this, in their own lives, the world might stop being an evil place. After that, with continued effort, perhaps it could even stop being a tragic place. Who knows what existence might be like if we all decided to strive for the best? Who knows what eternal heavens might be established by our spirits, purified by truth, aiming skyward, right here on the fallen Earth?”
“Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.”
I remember wrestling with the meaning of life without God and heavy doses of drugs. One of my conclusions came from watching my uncle repair a latch to a gate. The answer was not to find the answer but to keep yourself busy, so you did not have to wrestle with the meaning of life. Of course, staying productively busy requires self-discipline and focus. So get your act together so you can stay productively busy and help save the world from itself. I think that was the point of the chapter.
Text: 1 Cor 15:32 If, in the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me? If the dead do not rise, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!”
- The Examination
Peterson gave us Solzhenitsyn as an example to follow, minus his conversion. The idea was that as he wrestled with the “why’s” of life he examined himself and thus corrected and purified himself and because of that process strike a blow for justice with his writings.
How can anyone wrestle with the meaning of life and not at one point or another consider God? It seems that the towering intellects of Tolstoy and Nietzsche are able to easily rationalize God away; but I am not so sure the rest of humanity is able to so easily toss God out the boat. One of the building blocks that allowed modern man to rationalize away God was the theory of evolution. Even Peterson leans on it for his rationalization of “Being” without the reality of God. Evolution has proven to be quite the flimsy foundation to build anything on. Nietzsche’s statement: “God is dead” is always associated with the coming totalitarian blights on humanity that he predicted would follow God’s death by Christian thinkers as evidence as to what happens when God is dead to the human heart. Easy to point out that none of our mass killers are building their lives upon the foundation of biblical beliefs and faith in God.
The bible gives us two books where we see the example of Solzhenitsyn takes place: Job and Ecclesiastes.
Job is suffering. His suffering is compounded by his friends. They want to help him discover the sin that has led to his suffering. This is unfair. He has played by the rules and has worshipped God. Yet, he suffers. He is forced to go through an examination process.
Job 3:1-3 After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. 2 And Job spoke, and said: 3 “May the day perish on which I was born, And the night in which it was said, ‘A male child is conceived.’
It’s him or God: Job 10:1-2 “My soul loathes my life; I will give free course to my complaint,I will speak in the bitterness of my soul. 2 I will say to God, ‘Do not condemn me; Show me why You contend with me.
The conclusion of the matter: Job 38:1-4 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: 2 “Who is this who darkens counsel By words without knowledge? 3 Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me. 4 “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding.
My point is this: man has wrestled with God forever, even today. The big bang kind of loses its bang when put beside God who is. I know Tolstoy and Solzhenitsyn wrestled with God. In the dark moments of life they talked with God.
Solomon, just saying his name in association with the book of Ecclesiastes will cause the rationalist to shut out anything I might say. Anyways, if the rationalist can get past the author, he will see the great struggle of the soul.
Eccl 1:1-3 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. 2 “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher; “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” 3 What profit has a man from all his labor In which he toils under the sun?
Eccl 1:13-14 And I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven; this burdensome task God has given to the sons of man, by which they may be exercised. 14 I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind.
Eccl 2:2 I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with mirth; therefore enjoy pleasure”; but surely, this also was vanity.
Eccl 2:4-6 I made my works great, I built myself houses, and planted myself vineyards. 5 I made myself gardens and orchards, and I planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. 6 I made myself water pools from which to water the growing trees of the grove.
Eccl 2:10-11 Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, For my heart rejoiced in all my labor; And this was my reward from all my labor. 11 Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done And on the labor in which I had toiled; And indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind.There was no profit under the sun.
Eccl 2:24 Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This also, I saw, was from the hand of God.
He even used the lyrics from a 60’s song: Eccl 3:1 To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven:
Eccl 3:10-13 I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. 12 I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, 13 and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor — it is the gift of God.
Eccl 9:9 Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life which He has given you under the sun, all your days of vanity; for that is your portion in life, and in the labor which you perform under the sun.
Eccl 12:13-14 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all. 14 For God will bring every work into judgment Including every secret thing, Whether good or evil.
- So Did We answer the big “Why?”
Here are a few quotes from Solzhenitsyn in his Templeton Address in 1983.
And if I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire twentieth century, here too, I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: Men have forgotten God.
The failings of human consciousness, deprived of its divine dimension, have been a determining factor in all the major crimes of this century.
It was Dostoevsky, once again, who drew from the French Revolution and its seeming hatred of the Church the lesson that “revolution must necessarily begin with atheism.” That is absolutely true. But the world had never before known a godlessness as organized, militarized, and tenaciously malevolent as that practiced by Marxism. Within the philosophical system of Marx and Lenin, and at the heart of their psychology, hatred of God is the principal driving force, more fundamental than all their political and economic pretensions. Militant atheism is not merely incidental or marginal to Communist policy; it is not a side effect, but the central pivot.
It is here that we see the dawn of hope: for no matter how formidably Communism bristles with tanks and rockets, no matter what successes it attains in seizing the planet, it is doomed never to vanquish Christianity.
The West has yet to experience a Communist invasion; religion here remains free. But the West’s own historical evolution has been such that today it too is experiencing a drying up of religious consciousness. It too has witnessed racking schisms, bloody religious wars, and rancor, to say nothing of the tide of secularism that, from the late Middle Ages onward, has progressively inundated the West. This gradual sapping of strength from within is a threat to faith that is perhaps even more dangerous than any attempt to assault religion violently from without.
Our life consists not in the pursuit of material success but in the quest for worthy spiritual growth. Our entire earthly existence is but a transitional stage in the movement toward something higher, and we must not stumble and fall, nor must we linger fruitlessly on one rung of the ladder. Material laws alone do not explain our life or give it direction. The laws of physics and physiology will never reveal the indisputable manner in which the Creator constantly, day in and day out, participates in the life of each of us, unfailingly granting us the energy of existence; when this assistance leaves us, we die. And in the life of our entire planet, the Divine Spirit surely moves with no less force: this we must grasp in our dark and terrible hour.
III. Is there not a cause
I am probably getting ahead of where Jordan Peterson wants to take us in future chapters. I wanted to share the above quotes to show that Solzhenitsyn had discovered God in his wrestling. That discovery is what gave him the internal will to communicate to the world, not a better way of living, but a need to re-discover God.
David saw Goliath and said: “Is there not a cause?” Solzhenitsyn saw injustice and said: “Is there not a cause?”. They both pointed to God.
Solomon certainly paints a picture of the simple needs of life and how fulfilling those simple needs is all it takes; but he adds God into the picture.
Let’s sum up Peterson: repent, be converted and grow in grace. Why? Peterson: “the world might stop being an evil place”.
Et least we won’t be mass murderers.
The “why” is similar for Peterson and myself. He to influence this world in a good way; me to influence this world to know God through Jesus.
How far apart are we? Like the man said “Peterson is the gateway drug to salvation”.
Prov 29:18 Where there is no revelation (vision), the people cast off restraint;