Anascholastic Institute

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A Menno Review of "12 Rules For Life" by Dr. Jordan B. Peterson

I write this review for two reasons. First, I loved the book. I did not agree with some of his major ideas, but his methodology and his advice were generally heart-warming. Therein lies the danger and the second reason for this review. I don’t, like some Mennonites, think that this book is toxic. The views on morality that Dr. Peterson presents are not necessarily new, they’re just presented in a popular  way. The Christian rebuttals are out there for the reading. I intend to merely make my comments and put an asterisk here and there.

To critique Dr. Jordan Peterson’s book, “12 Rules for Life” seems a bit like poking a bear with a stick. He is extremely good at what he does, and his triumph (generally) of reason over passion is almost mythical in the current climate. His ability to maintain his poise in debate has taken the internet by storm. The conservative right in the States love the man particularly because of his work on gender issues, etc.  Thus, at the entrance of his book, the right and the Mennonites ate it up (I don’t have actual data for that claim).

But regarding the book. Peterson proposes twelve rules for life dedicating a chapter to each. The book is filled with charming anecdotes. The story of Yitta Schwartz on page 112 will warm any Mennonite’s heart, while the various parenting testimonies create a “common struggle” bond. The book has decent readability. His writing choices clearly displays his education while at the same time betraying an earthy nature that makes it easier to read.  

The main thrust of his book, in my opinion, speaks on the carnal reasons for how and why people act the way they do. I loved it. Growing up, I think Mennonites tend to hear a great deal about the Spiritual but we are weak on the physical considerations. This book is a great antidote to that discrepancy.  

I grant that it does err on the side of the physical. Some of his claims will be familiar to those that have studied mainstream apologists. For example, while he marvels at the similarity between lobsters and humans (a fascinating chapter btw), he sees similarities between lobsters and humans as evidence of a similar evolution. However, a Christian will see the same thing as evidence of a similar creator.

It was quite satisfying to watch Dr. Peterson use the carnal in an attempt to arrive at the same general moral space as Christianity has. His methodologies to get there are drastically and sometimes dangerously different.  

The great caution of the book is his view on scripture and spirituality in general. He does write in the book that people claiming to be atheist generally aren’t, based on their actions (p.101). He points out that any kind of morality seems to indicate a Divine of some sort, though perhaps not in so many words. However, he views mankind through the prism of millions of years of evolutionary development. “Everything you value is a product of unimaginable lengthy developmental processes, personal, cultural and biological,”(p.101). Thus, everything developed over time, including morality. In his innumerable quotes from the Bible he references scripture as indicative of the development of morality alongside society. On the other hand, Christians would see society developing around a consistent basic morality that has always been there as it stems from God and God is eternal. In essence, Dr. Peterson seems to recognize that the general social benefits of Christianity are good, while at the same time combating the Christian presupposition.

Warning: the book contains PG-13 language and there is “artistic nudity” in some of the chapter title page drawings. The book is not an outright attack on Christianity by any means, but it does support a worldview that is incompatible with the Christian worldview. The greatest philosophical danger that I can perceive is that Dr. Peterson tries to offer moralistic reasoning without a moral core (that my feeble mind could perceive), a logic to replace the belief in Scripture as the Word of God. He seems to believe in the existence of morality but doesn’t mention a source for it.

Overall the book was filled with so much common sense as to leave me feeling giddy. It’s about time the secular world started tracking a bit towards the moral end, dangerous though its reasoning might be.  This is a book to read, if for no other reason that it represents a counter perspective that will need to be confronted (again) by Christians. Also, the stories are a good read.

by Ryan Yoder

Ryan Yoder