Faith, Action, Intent, Outcome

An investigation of the nature of faith & belief stemming from the JBP Podcast S2.E15





 

“I have been asked many times by many people if I believe in God. I don’t like this question. I generally respond by stating that I act as if God exists, but that’s not sufficiently true. Who could do that? Who could conduct themselves with the moral exactitude and care necessary of someone who would dare to make that claim? Either claim?”

– Dr. Jordan B. Peterson –

 
 

“So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am!”

– Romans 7:21-24 –

 
 


After being asked countless times about whether or not he believes in God, Dr. Peterson addressed the subject during one of his 12 Rules for Life talks that took place in Australia.

Dr. Peterson (understandably) dislikes the question for a couple of reasons. First of all, it is a very personal question being asked in the public sphere.

Secondly, it’s a bit of a peculiar question: there are plenty of examples of “faithful” people who flagrantly ignore their own teachings. Thus, it is difficult to infer someone’s level of faith from their utterances. Why ask the question?

Thirdly, , Dr. Peterson observed that it isn’t obvious that there are any universal laws about “fairness” or “human dignity”. Skills, resources, and opportunities are distributed disproportionately amongst the population.

Finally, human beings are capable of breathtakingly evil acts; Nanking, the Holodomor, and the Holocaust all feature prominently in his lectures. What shall be said of the victims of such atrocities? Were they treated with universal dignity?

Thus, the nature of faith is difficult to describe. It’s not what we say we believe. Dr. Peterson’s suggestion is that we act out our beliefs in the world, however this has led to some difficult linguistic territory for him, which I believe can be resolved using Biblical scripture and some of Dr. Peterson’s own advice.

In sum, my suggestion is that faith can be illustrated both theologically and practically as a “turning towards God”; a fundamental (chosen) orientation that transcends action and outcome.

 
 

“Choose to turn towards your partner”

 

Analysis of lecture w/ approximate timestamps




The Socratic Daemon

At the beginning of the lecture, Dr. Peterson spends some time on a very interesting topic: the Socratic Daemon. Essentially, this is what Socrates described as an inner voice that only told him what not to do.

Dr. Peterson reported being able to empathize with Socrates, and discussed briefly his own experience with such a phenomenon. Importantly, he also mentioned that most dying people regret the things they didn’t do, and briefly discussed his line of thinking on consciousness: that which confronts potential itself.


10:00ish – 16:00ish

A universe with dignity

One of the things that sparked Dr. Peterson’s discussion on this night had to do with a Catholic man who asked him about his belief in God. Dr. Peterson seemed to be bemused at the man’s assertion that a theistic belief system was the only one that gave the universe “dignity”.


18:00 – 19:00

Are humans inherently valuable?

Dr. Peterson spent quite a bit of time discussing the other panelist’s (disappointing) answers to the question of Faith. Specifically, one of the things he took issue with was their utopian-minded concept of inherent value in human beings.

Accurately, he noted that human beings are capable (if not inclined towards) chaos and atrocities. Furthermore, people themselves don’t feel valuable all the time, especially when they’re depressed, especially when they’ve faced significant setbacks. Furthermore, he noted that wealth, skills, and accomplishments seem to be naturally distributed unevenly, and observed that human concepts of fairness usually fail to line up with nature’s laws.

Also, he noted that there seems to be some kind of psychological “obligation to assume there is something of intrinsic worth about you”.


20:00 – 27:00

Why does the question bother Dr. Peterson?

  • It is a very personal question being asked in the public sphere.
  • What do you mean by “believe”?

Dr. Peterson notes, importantly, that it is very difficult to pin down the true nature of faith: “Is what you believe what you say, or what you act out?”

He also makes the claim (which I will later dispute) that beliefs must be acted out in the world in order to be beliefs: “What effect does [your belief] have on your behavior? Are you all in on your beliefs?”

Scripture that Dr. Peterson References:

  • Matthew 7:21 – “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
  • Mark 10:21-22 – “Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
  • Mark 9:24 – “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”



1:07:00ish

 

“I have been asked many times by many people if I believe in God. I don’t like this question. I generally respond by stating that I act as if God exists, but that’s not sufficiently true. Who could do that? Who could conduct themselves with the moral exactitude and care necessary of someone who would dare to make that claim? Either claim?”

– Dr. Jordan B. Peterson –

 

As Dr. Peterson observed during his talk, it is difficult to infer someone’s level of faith from their utterances and actions. For example, take a couple involved in a heated conversation. Perhaps they’re on the verge of breaking up, and some very deep issues are being discussed for the first time. Both of them will stumble and say the wrong thing.

What makes these types of conversations possible? In a word, faith. In four words, faith in the relationship.

Fundamentally, both partners are leaning in and having frankly honest conversations because they believe that life with the other person would be better than life without them.

When you talk with religious people about matters of faith, they often mention a “relationship with God”. From my own experience, the same principles hold. People who have faith actively seek God throughout their lives – whatever that means to them in their idiosyncratic context.

In late 2018, Dr. Peterson was given a significant amount of screen time on Dr. Oz’s talk show. During one of the segments, he offered relationship advice to a couple on the brink of divorce:

“There’s lots of things that are positive about your relationship that are obvious right away… you both appear to actually want this to work.”

Themes in Scripture

The Orienting Mechanism

There seems to be evidence in Scripture that faith acts as an orienting mechanism (thus supporting a “turning-toward” view of faith). This is some of it:

  • Deuteronomy 5:32 – “So be careful to do what the LORD your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left.”
  • Job 17:5 – “If anyone denounces their friends for reward, the eyes of their children will fail.”
  • Job 28:28 – “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.”
  • Matthew 7:7 – “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

Justification

In the eyes of the law, you are innocent until proven guilty of a crime. This is all well and good, but once you become a criminal you are treated like one by the system for the rest of your life.

In the Christian worldview, the starting point for humanity is being “dead to sin” (Romans 6:11-14), however by faith in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a state of grace can be achieved relative to God that could not be obtained relative to the law. The Christian term for this state of grace, roughly speaking, is called justification.

“In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.”