Dear Dr. Peterson,
I am a Catholic priest and have followed you for some time, watching many of your YouTube videos and reading your second book, ‘12 Rules For Life.’ I admire your honesty and courage in speaking the truth about Marxism’s errors regarding the human person. I have also seen and read you defense of religion’s role in society. I have even heard rumors of your growing closer to the faith.
However, in this open letter I wanted to address a central theme found in your book ’12 Rules For Life.’ If my understanding of your views is either off or outdated, I am happy to be corrected.
The topic is the source of man’s religious and moral experience and principles.
In several passages you respectfully – and eloquently – write about man’s religious traditions and moral axioms, such as your reflection on Genesis and the account of the Fall as depicting man’s brokenness. However, your underlying premise ultimately seems to be Jungian, which holds that these religious and moral truths are merely the fruit of untold ages of human reflection on our common life experiences [archetypal images rooted in unconscious archetypes][i][ii] – and nothing else.
Let me give an example that I believe replicates your understanding. ‘The Golden Rule’ of ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’ can be explained by countless people reflecting on their frustration of being treated poorly and eventually developing the antidote. That truth then becomes part of the culture and is gradually incorporated into cultural myths, religious stories, and moral precepts. However, in this philosophy, there is no divine reality connected to such truths and experiences. Its cause can be found in man alone.
My question is: What is it in man that predisposes him to ask such moral and religious questions?
I would briefly like to present two philosophical principles which undergird the Catholic understanding on this issue.
The first philosophical principle to consider is that being always precedes action. You must be something capable of a certain action before you can perform that action. So a bird can fly because it pertains to the nature of bird to do so. A man can think because it pertains to his nature to do so. Now a bird may not think, nor a man fly [unaided] since these actions do not pertain to their nature.
Therefore, our actions reflect our nature. Now I have heard you acknowledging and defending that man has a human nature [as it seems does Jung with his subconscious archetypes found in all men][iii]. So, what is it in man’s nature that leads him to almost universal spiritual and moral reflections? Why does every human culture have religion, morality, art, music, and the like? Atheists will even argue for some type of morality – which ultimately is a spiritual value.
More basic still, our very capacity to reason cannot be fully explained on a purely material level. One thing is for a pet to be conditioned into a certain behavior by rewards and punishments, another thing is abstraction and logical thought. Or to take another example, one thing is for a computer to follow an algorithm, another thing is to create the algorithm. Thought is on a qualitatively different plane from either instinct or calculation.
These spiritual actions in man point to a spiritual nature – or more precisely, a nature comprised of body and spirit. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 33 states,
‘The human person: With his openness to truth and beauty, his sense of moral goodness, his freedom and the voice of his conscience, with his longings for the infinite and for happiness, man questions himself about God’s existence. In all this he discerns signs of his spiritual soul. The soul, the “seed of eternity we bear in ourselves, irreducible to the merely material,” can have its origin only in God.’
That the soul ‘can have its origin only in God’ is rooted in the second philosophical principle under consideration: Lesser cannot give greater, or, you cannot give what you do not have. I cannot give someone a million dollars, because I do not have it. You cannot get plant life from inorganic material, like a rock, because the rock does not have something organic to give. Organic is more than inorganic. Similarly, you cannot get a human soul from mere material evolution since matter has nothing spiritual to give. Matter is less or on a lower plane than the spirit. Therefore, the human spirit must come from a spiritual source – it comes directly from God.[iv]
In conclusion, our spiritual actions point to a spiritual nature, which in turn requires a spiritual origin or God. Man considered solely in his material reality cannot be the entire explanation.
This letter has been but the briefest of reflections from a Catholic perspective on the subject of man’s religiosity and the existence of his soul, which in turn points to God. To do each argument justice would require more development. Nevertheless, I wanted to present briefly the Church’s argument on this topic.
Again, I want to thank you for all you have done in promoting a humanism which defends the individual with his or her moral and spiritual aspirations.
If you will accept them, I gladly offer my prayers for you, your mission, your family, and your ongoing spiritual journey.
Fr. John Bullock, LC
Thy Kingdom Come!
Also posted on Peterson's Reddit page: [Letter] : JordanPeterson (reddit.com)
[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jungian_archetypes [ii] References to archetypes in ’12 Rules For Life’ include: Mary as archetypal mother [p. 48], and Christ as the archetypal death … ‘To sacrifice ourselves to God [to the highest good if you like]’ [p. 58]; ‘Christ was the archetypal perfect man [p. 76], etc. [iii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jungian_archetypes [iv] Humani Generis. Pope Pius XII, August 12, 1950. Vatican. https://www.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_12081950_humani-generis.html