Jordan Peterson on the Fundamentality of the Bible

Dr. Jordan Peterson, former tenured professor at the University of Toronto, author, and clinical psychologist joined podcast host Joe Rogan for a recent episode of his show. While the interview lasted over four hours long and they covered a myriad of topics, one of the most polarizing segments was Peterson’s thoughts on the Bible. Cale spent an episode of The Cale Clarke Show dissecting some of Peterson’s thoughts on the matter and explaining what he believes Peterson meant.

Cale made a disclaimer at the beginning of his analysis saying that Peterson is not a philosopher or theologian, but Cale believes he is searching for the truth; in other words, he is searching for Jesus. The reason he mentions this is because many were taken aback by Peterson’s comments on the Bible. As of Cale’s viewing, the clip had only been out for two days but had been viewed more than 2,000,000 times.

In an effort to break the segment down into understandable parts, Cale first played a clip of Peterson’s diagnosis of our cultural foundation. “If categories dissolve, especially fundamental ones, the culture is dissolving because the culture is a structure of category. That’s what it is. So, in fact, culture is a structure of category that we all share so we see things the same way. That’s why we can talk. I mean not exactly the same way, because then we’d have nothing to talk about, but roughly speaking, we have a bedrock of agreement. That’s the Bible, by the way.”

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Cale said that similar to Joe Rogan’s reaction, he was somewhat puzzled as to what Jordan Peterson meant. However, he made an attempt to interpret his words. He suggested that Peterson might have meant that in order to have meaningful conversations with one another, we need to have some underlying baseline of “meaning”. In other words, we have to stand on a shared ground to be able to discuss things because we have to have the same definition of the words we are saying.

A good example of where meaning has become so distorted is in the discussion of gender theory. For millennia, the words “man” and “woman” each had a singular meaning, and their use was never a question of nuance. Cale believes Peterson was explaining that the Bible was the foundation for that type of understanding in our culture.

In the next clip of Peterson’s interview, he talks extensively about the fact that the Bible was the first book and before that, there were scrolls and papyrus. As time went on, technology advanced, our textual aggregation methods became more consistent and efficient, and books became commonplace. Everybody could buy books, and everybody bought this book, the Bible. Some heard this discourse and began criticizing Peterson for his seeming stupidity. Taking his comments literally, the Bible was not in fact the first book, but Cale doesn’t think it was intended literally.

Instead, Cale thinks that Peterson was saying the Bible was the first book to be produced on a large scale following the invention of the printing press. And that’s true. After Johannes Gutenberg introduced Europe to mechanical printing, the first book printed for commercial distribution was the Gutenberg Bible. Of course there were books before the Bible, but there were but a few copies because everything was copied by hand. Cale reminded us of what type of man Dr. Peterson was: an intelligent one. “Jordan’s a pretty smart guy and he’s no dummy. So, I’m assuming that he does know about such things as say, the library of Alexandria in Egypt … I think he does know about these things.”

In the next clip, Peterson says that he was talking to his brother-in-law Jim Keller, who is a microprocessor engineer. In their conversation about the Bible, Keller said to Peterson, “‘You heard of the internet?’ I said, ‘Yeah Jim, I’ve heard of the internet.’ He said, ‘This (the Bible) is way more revolutionary than that.’ … And Jim said, ‘The meaning of words is coded in the relationship of the words to one another.’ And the post-modernists make that case, that all meaning is derived from the relationship between words. That’s wrong.” Peterson went on to explain that while the context of words is important, they’re missing the key exception of non-verbal communication. That has meaning without words.

Peterson used this preamble to enter his next train of thought which circles back to verify his original argument that culture’s foundation is in the Bible. He said, “The more ideas are dependent on a given idea, the more fundamental that idea is. That’s the definition of fundamental.” And then he discussed that idea in the context of books and the tiers they occupy based on how “fundamental” they are. What book has more other texts dependent on it than any other? What book has had the largest influence on Western culture? “And then you think about it as a hierarchy, with the Bible at its base. And that’s certainly the case.”

Listen to the full segment below:

Jordan Peterson, the Bible, and Meaning

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John Hanretty serves as a Digital Media Producer for Relevant Radio®. He is a graduate of the Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas. Besides being passionate about writing, his hobbies include drawing and digital design. You can read more of his daily articles at relevantradio.com and on the Relevant Radio® app.