An Open Letter to Christian Readers of Jordan Peterson & Roger Scruton by James Bryson
This should be widely read. It is an astute connection of Peterson and Scruton with current religious, cultural and political issues. The only objectionable error is referring to them as ‘conservative,’ when they are both liberal in the classical sense. Other bits with which one might take issue are matters of opinion. The author’s take is as an orthodox Christian writing to Christians.
The analysis is also interesting because while Scruton and Peterson are both “defenders of the faith,” their defense is often unsatisfying to the orthodox, triggering to the Unitarian wing, and anathema to Liberation Theologists such as Pope Francis.
The orthodox generally focus on Peterson’s refusal to publicly avow Christ as Savior. The latter two groups object to his defense of Western civilization generally.
The orthodox critics make two mistakes here. One, if you want to interest the great unwashed in the possibility of salvation through Christ, how can you object to raising people’s curiosity about the meta-narrative of the idea? Two, if you wanted to preserve the West’s intellectual canon – which is heavily predicated on your faith and inextricable from it – why attack your obvious, and effective, allies? What’s to fear: Doctrinal impurity among those who would otherwise disdain to glance at your religion? Let them come to understand what you helped build before imposing a litmus test.
Feeding a hunger for meaning, demonstrating that people will spend dozens of hours deeply exploring the West’s foundational texts is a threat to those ‘Christians’ who take Christ as optional; to those who believe they can perfect mankind – given secular power. Not to you.
The author largely dismisses such criticism. He does, however, offer his own challenge to Scruton and Peterson:
I promised to say a word about where Scruton and Peterson might be pushed from an orthodox Christian point of view. They do not need advice from me, especially since it’s the authenticity of these men—that they are what they seem and mean what they say—that holds our attention. So I preface these criticisms by saying that I do not think for a minute that they should change who they are or radically alter the course of their arguments. Instead, I suggest that Scruton and Peterson should simply continue to become more deeply who they already are.
This brings me to something Peterson and Scruton have in common: the Kantian “as if.” Peterson says he acts “as if” God exists—that “he’s afraid” he might. This simply won’t do when it comes to God. The way to convince men of integrity and seriousness, like Peterson and Scruton, is to meet them where they are strongest and most convinced—that is, as moralists.
Neither would ever countenance the idea that you should treat your wife “as if” she were your wife—”as if” you had made a promise to love and cherish her until death do you part. Nor should you treat a friend merely “as if” he were your friend. Friendship and matrimony must be grounded in an indubitable reality, or else they are nothing at all. When put to the test, “as if” arrangements will show themselves to be mere fantasies projected onto the screen of unreality. One need only appeal to the pragmatist in Peterson to make the case: How well are marriages doing in our “as if” culture? How abundant is friendship, good will, and respect for the rule of law?
The whole thing falls apart if it’s not real; that is, if it’s not true. No amount of willing or acting “as if it’s true” will do. God must be the ground of all reality through Christ his Mediator—the eternal and incarnate Logos. There is no other way to see and accept the goodness of being that Scruton and Peterson defend. This is something we believe, but it is also possible to know it, just as it is possible to know ourselves even as we are known. This does not demand a leap of faith in an existentially absurd sense—it’s a deeply rational vision, both logically and intuitively, and it is one that we, Scruton, and Peterson already share. But we need to make ourselves continually aware of it. This is what we call the sacramental life.
This is interesting but, for me, unconvincing. “As if” doesn’t seem to me to indubitably apply equally to a wife and to God. One still calls for that willing suspension of disbelief. I also find “How well are marriages doing in our “as if” culture? How abundant is friendship, good will, and respect for the rule of law?,” circular, in context. Peterson and Scruton would certainly answer, “Not as well as they should be,” but that doesn’t prove anything. Nonetheless, it’s the best offering I’ve seen.