Thursday, October 20, 2022

The Answer to the Last “Why”

Jordan Peterson has had a string of excellent conversations recently.  I would say three in a row, in fact:

·       How to Combat Hedonism, with Dr. Peter Kreeft

·       The Language of Creation, with Matthieu Pageau (brother of Jonathan, equally as gifted but not nearly as public)

·       Julian Assange: Free Speech Martyr? Featuring Stella Assange

I will focus on only one of these, the conversation with Dr. Kreeft.  I will only focus on one because just this one will require several posts to cover.  Yes, you could listen to the podcast instead (I encourage it), but in this series of posts I will attempt to tie together some of their comments with threads that I have been explored in my writing.

For convenience, PK = Peter Kreeft; JP = Jordan Peterson.

PK: I love the old story about some peasants hauling stones on logs through the mud in a storm in order to build one of the great medieval cathedrals.  A visitor from another country asked one of the peasants, “what are you doing?”  And he was sweating and cursing and saying ‘I am trying to get this damn stone through this damn mud.”

And he asked another peasant – who was doing the same thing, but smiling – what he was doing.  And he said, “I am building a cathedral.”

There is significance to a task if you start at the end of the chain: what is the purpose?  Toward what am I aiming?  The first man had no purpose in his task; he did not see, or did not value, the end – the telos.  Apply this same lack of meaning to most aspects of life, as is the case for many in the West today, and you have a meaning crisis…which means a crisis brought on by a loss-of-meaning. A life without meaning – can you imagine a bigger waste of this gift of life that we have been given?

As for the second man…Peterson has often said (but not this time), and perhaps he was citing someone else: a man can suffer any how if he understands and values the why.  But we live in a world where there is no why:

Why are we here?

Because we’re here.

Roll the bones

-          Rush, Roll the Bones

This is all the materialist-atheist can offer – we’re here because we’re here.  “Because” is a child’s retort when asked “why” about something that would rather not be faced.  It is a reply as meaningless as the life it envisions.

No purpose, no design, nothing higher.  We are the result of random atoms smashing together randomly.  There are a small handful of individuals who are able to find meaning in such a life.  And of these almost all of them find a meaning toward evil, only a few find a meaning toward good.  But for most of humanity, a life without purpose offers no meaning.

Peterson understands this, although he also usually will just say “do something meaningful.”  Of course, Stalin and Hitler did do something meaningful…. But still Peterson continues to explore:

JP (asking rhetorically): What should be at the highest point?  Is it a description or is it a spirit?  Well, it has to be a spirit.  A description doesn’t provide a guide to perception and action. What human beings need at the highest place is something to emulate and act out and see through.

We have been given something to emulate that is even more valuable than a spirit – something more than the abstract form of the good.  We have been given the form of the good made manifest: Jesus Christ.  No matter the protestations of today’s atheists, Jesus represents the archetype for man.  But He offers (and is) so much more. This will be touched on in future posts.

Kreeft offers that the reason why many prefer abstractions (a description) – especially in academia but elsewhere – is because they are safe.  They won’t disappoint you the way a being or a spirit will.

PK: Nietzsche is the key thinker here, because he is the first, as far as I know, in the history of human thought to explicitly deny the will to truth.  Why truth?  Why not, rather, untruth?  This conflict tears the human heart apart more radically than anything I have ever encountered.

Read again the last sentence.  Isn’t this so, right now – today; hearts torn apart?  We are offered lies (untruth) at every turn, on every meaningful subject, by those who have leading roles in society – politicians, businessmen, academicians, and clergy.  We live in a society not built on rock – we have nothing firm on which to stand.  Or, in the words of Nietzsche’s madman:

Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing?

A meaning crisis.  Returning to the discussion:

PK: Therefore, postmodernism is a much greater danger than atheism.  Because the atheist can still have that will to truth whereas the postmodernist has lost it.

Arguing about objective truth at least recognizes the reality of objective truth.  When there is no such thing as objective truth (a man can be a woman is one example that comes to mind), there is no chance for meaning in life; a house built on the sand of subjective truth or “I have my truth” cannot stand.  All there is in life is dragging the stone through the mud…with no “why” behind it.

Then the topic moves to freedom:

JP: God says, let my people go.  But that isn’t the whole phrase.  He says, let my people go so they can serve me in the wilderness.  This is very different than just “let my people go,” which can be seen as a call to hedonistic freedom.

This speaks to so many things, one of which is that freedom is conditional and conditioned.  We are free to live according to our purpose, according to our design, according to…natural law ethics.  Absent this, freedom leads inevitably to hedonism…and nihilism.

I have had an extensive conversation with Roger, one that has helped me better understand and explain my thoughts about natural law, man’s purpose, etc.  The conversation begins here.  Read the thread and you will see my evolution.  The topic is a discussion of means and ends in the frame of natural law.

I used to write: our purpose, the reason for our being, is to love.  Through my conversation with Roger, my thought has changed, because another question remains.  Why are we to love?  Our purpose (or end, or telos) is deification, or theosis: to become Christ-like – a phrase that Protestants will be more comfortable with, I believe. 

The way St. Athanasius put it will sound controversial to many:

God became man that man might become God.

Now, a good Orthodox Christian would say that, unlike God, we will always remain in a state of becoming – in other words, we will never become God.  This as opposed to God, who is, and was and always will be…God.

Now, you might ask: why become Christ-like?  Why isn’t this “why” the next (or last “why”?  two answers, one for atheists, one for believers.  For atheists: Jesus is the archetype.  This has been true for two-thousand years and remains so today.  Write a better story: God sacrificed Himself / His son in order to save the world.  We weep when Iron Man snaps his finger in Endgame, ensuring the survival of the world while also ensuring his death.  Multiply that story by a few trillion.

For Christians…the answer is obvious, it is given.  We accept it as an objective truth.

So, to become “Christ-like” is our purpose, our end, our telos.  How do we do this – what is the means?  Jesus gave us the answer:

Matthew 22: 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Love is the means, not the end.


Roger asked me to provide my definition of natural law, to which I replied:

It's an interesting ask, given that I have written countless words on the topic. But it forces me to try to say something succinctly. I reserve the right to further refine this, but here is a starting point:

When a being acts in accord with its created purpose (or end, telos), and acts according to the means as intended by its creator, that being is living in accord with natural law.

In other words, natural law speaks to proper action in means and proper objective in ends.

In order for a being or thing to act in accord with natural law, one must understand the purpose of the being or the thing.

Roger closed with a question:

Are natural law and love synonymous or are they two separate operating principles working together toward the same goal--to rule and reign in the Name of God? As Christ did and does.

Natural law describes behavior, and the proper filter through which we pass our behavior is love.  I used to end it here, with the answer to the last “why” as love – why we do X is out of love. 

This is where my conversation with Roger has altered my understanding, because I used to leave it here.  There is another question that follows – another why.  Why do we love?  We love in order to become more Christ-like.  There is no “why” after this.

And this is why natural law ethics can never be fully understood or lived or sustained absent Christ and Christianity.


  1. Psychiatrist Victor Frankl wrote that man could survive any "how" as long as he had a why. He was referencing Jews who survived the concentration camps.

    1. Then this is where Peterson took it from. Thank you.

    2. What was Victor Frankl's "why?"

    3. "As we said before, any attempt to restore a man's inner strength in the camp had first to succeed in showing him some future goal. Nietzsche's words, "He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how", could be be the guiding motto for all psychotherapeutic and psychohygienic efforts regarding prisoners. Whenever there was an opportunity for it, one had to give them a why--an aim--for their lives, in order to strengthen them to bear the terrible how of their existence. Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost. The typical reply with which such a man rejected all encouraging arguments was, "I have noting to expect from life any more." What sort of answer can one give to that?"

      "What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that IT DID NOT REALLY MATTER WHAT WE EXPECTED FROM LIFE, BUT RATHER WHAT LIFE EXPECTED FROM US. [original italics] We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life--daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual." -- Viktor Frankl, 'Man's Search for Meaning'

      Without the "why" (telos, end, goal), there is no answer for the "how" (methods, actions). If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there.

    4. What life expected from us....


  2. All very good thoughts Bionic. Now let me offer another aspect to the discussion. I agree the goal is to be Christ-like. But there is another means that God gives us. He says "be holy for I am holy".

    I don't think the two are mutually exclusive, but they are things that may tug us in different directions. How can you love when you are holy? How can you be holy while loving someone? These aren't contradictions, but they do suggest that the goal is very narrow, maybe as narrow as the eye of a needle.

    1. If God is love and if God is holy, then how can you be holy without love? How can you love without being holy? Where is the dividing line between the two?

    2. RMB, I also am wondering the distinction. To be holy, one must love.

    3. Well, they are two different things aren't they? God is both and acts accordingly, but how does that look for a human? To be holy is to be set apart, completely unmixed with sin. So it shapes what love looks like. But does holiness require love in every circumstance? No.

    4. RMB, was Jesus (always holy) acting in love when he labeled Peter "Satan"? Was He acting in love when He turned over the money changer's table, or when He called the woman at the well a dog?

      None fit a superficial or man-made definition of love. But love toward what object, toward what end?

      Love cannot be separated from justice and mercy...but there is always justice.

    5. He wasn't loving Satan or the money changers' with those actions. Jesus words to the woman at the well were for the purpose of love, but I don't think I would say calling her a dog was in love. But all those actions were based on the love of what is true, good, and right. So love was involved in some way even if he wasn't treating the people with love at every point in the scenario. God Himself says He loved Jacob but hated Esau. Even that was done in love of His sovereign will.

      So I agree that the two concepts aren't independent from one another but they aren't always the same thing. Each one informs the other and directs the other.

  3. There is no God but Reality. To seek Him elsewhere is the action of "the Fall"

    1. But we can change our reality through our actions. Does this mean that we create God, become God?

      Please elaborate.

    2. You will notice I used a capital "R" for "Reality", I don't think anyone can change "Objective Reality", which changes anyone's and all "subjective reality". So, no it doesn't imply we create God or become God.

  4. Magnificent. I really enjoyed reading this.

    "Why do we love? We love in order to become more Christ-like. There is no “why” after this."

    I can't help but think that there is. Isn't the purpose of becoming more Christ-like through the expression of love in this world the attainment of life everlasting in His Kingdom in the next? To be not just like God but reunited with Him? Perhaps I am splitting hairs here. Would it be possible to be Christ-like and still not achieve His Kingdom? Will the final anti-Christ be Christ-like in order to amass a worldwide following?

    "And this is why natural law ethics can never be fully understood or lived or sustained absent Christ and Christianity."

    Exactly. 100.000%

    Here is my working definition of natural law:

    The natural law is our right road on this perilous earth full of wrong ones which is our surest and perhaps our only path to building our lives, families, vocations, communities, nations, and the Church up to the example of our 'imagesake': the One who created us and all things from nothing, the One who came to earth as a man and died on the Cross to redeem us, and the One who guides us still through undeserved miraculous Grace; developed and refined over millennia in the light of Divine Revelation, Sacred Tradition, and disciplined reason, tested in the crucible of history, and preserved in our hearts by our memories, words, and folkways against the wickedness and snares of the evil one, his principalities, and those enthralled to him; that we may thereby, against our fallen nature and the treacherous powers arrayed against us, find favor in His sight and everlasting life in His Kingdom beyond this world.

    1. ATL: "...the attainment of life everlasting in His Kingdom in the next? To be not just like God but reunited with Him?"

      I know that there is a distinction (this life, the next life), but I have come to understand that it is nowhere near as solid as I was taught in my materialist Protestant worldview.

      Matthew 16:28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

      In a well-endowed Orthodox Church, one will find icons of Christ Pantocrator at the top of the dome, with the Gospel writers, the Apostles, Peter and Paul, the Old Testament Patriarchs, the early Church fathers, and many other saints. This along with the parishioners. This has come to me to be a wonderful picture of the kingdom.

      Yes, death is a dividing line - but perhaps not as absolute as we might be led to believe.

    2. ATL, excellent work on the definition. I will only add (to bring it back to this blog): it is the only path to meaningful liberty on this earth.

    3. "nowhere near as solid as I was taught in my materialist Protestant worldview."
      I am struggling with this as well.
      For instance:
      "Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven."
      but also:
      "My kingdom is not of this world."

      "This has come to me to be a wonderful picture of the kingdom."
      I am happy you found beauty in this world with the Orthodox Church.

      And yes liberty is still very important to me too, and I have not changed my views, largely developed here in your community, that Christianity is a prerequisite for liberty.

    4. In contrast to the picture of the icons in the Orthodox church mentioned, I have been in a protestant church (only a cross, no other images or icons) with a verse above the stage - the second part of Romans 9:5: "Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen."

      God over all, forever. Pantocrator at the top of the dome is God over all the saints (icons and congregants); all saints, living and dead (the "forever" part).

      Nine words, or a hundred icons of saints with Christ Pantocrator above. Both say the same thing, in a different way.

  5. "There is another question that follows – another why. Why do we love? We love in order to become more Christ-like. There is no “why” after this."

    This may be true, or as ATL has mentioned, maybe not. Certainly, though, the question which begs to be asked is this. WHAT does it mean to be Christ-like? What, not why, are we becoming? This is the natural next step in our understanding.

    It does no good to speak in generalities here. Specifics are what matter. I will leave it there for now. At this point, I am trying to formulate an answer.

    Bionic, thank you for the nod. I appreciate it.

    1. Roger: "WHAT does it mean to be Christ-like?"

      To love (I say as a question). The difficult part: HOW to love? Which is one of the questions tearing apart the West and the Church.

    2. "We have been given something to emulate that is even more valuable than a spirit – something more than the abstract form of the good. We have been given the form of the good made manifest: Jesus Christ. No matter the protestations of today’s atheists, Jesus represents the archetype for man. But He offers (and is) so much more."

      If Jesus represents the archetype for man, then we must understand what that archetype is...and how to reach it. To be sure, natural law is the framework of operation and love is the method of operation, but what is the goal we are working toward?

      "Our purpose (or end, or telos) is deification...", or as St. Athanasius said, "God became man that man might become God."

      This sounds presumptuous at first and would be considered blasphemous by so many who live and die in a world of false humility, but if you consider it in the light of the truth that we are created in God's Image, then it is not so hard to swallow. To become God (Christ-like) is to exercise our ability and power over our own miniscule part of the universe, including ourselves, in such a manner that our efforts reflect His Glory to everyone, everywhere. This is accomplished through the parameters of natural law and love.

      But it goes further than that. Christ is not just the prime example of love toward others and obedience to The Law, but through His perfect adherence to those principles was elevated to the highest position in the Universe, ascending to and being seated on the Throne of Heaven at the right hand of God Himself, as the King of kings. Ultimately, being Christ-like boils down to one word--rule. Christ rules His universe. As His disciples and fellow heirs, we are to rule ours. He rules His universe and no one else can override that. If we emulate Him, then we also rule our own universe, following the example set (love) and within the boundaries defined (natural law). Of course, our rule is always under His jurisdiction and oversight. He is sovereign. We represent that sovereignty in our daily lives.

      This has huge implications for the concepts of human liberty and freedom. We are free (and required) in His Name to exercise our authority and power over our own domain. Since the offer of salvation and redemption is open to everyone, this means there is no one who is not capable of becoming Christ-like within their own personal world. We are not allowed to interfere in the freedom of others who are also exercising their own authority and power under His guidance. We are not allowed to rule them, instead they are expected to rule themselves. Conversely, this means that no one else has proper, legitimate authority to rule us, to order us to live in a manner to which we are opposed. This is radical libertarianism in a nutshell, with the condition that it must be accompanied by a complete submission to the rule of Christ. It carries none of the Randian atheism so many are fond of. The NAP (non-aggression principle) can thrive under such a worldview.

      Of course, this mindset and attitude eventually brings those who espouse and live it to the attention of the State which seeks to gain total control and only tolerates rivals to the point that it can destroy and eliminate them. More than anything else, this is the reason Rome persecuted and slaughtered so many early Christians and why the State is constantly at war with this concept. The people who understand it will not recognize any earthly ruler over themselves. They know that they serve a Higher Authority and do not allow any competing authority to interfere with that. They become Christ-like, imperfectly to be sure, but nevertheless self-controlled rulers.

      If this argument is correct, then professing Christians should be the freest persons this world can produce. Since they (and all others) are increasingly being forced into involuntary bondage to the dictates of the State, then either my argument is wrong OR they simply do not understand the power that being Christ-like confers on a person.

      But then, I have only just begun to grasp this myself.

    3. I think your argument is essentially correct, and the reasons actual Christianity does not reflect this are probably numerous. One is certainly that the majority of Christians do not understand this. A second is that all churches live in subjection to a state, and the state has no interest in allowing such an understanding to persist. As for the rest, maybe that will serve as inspiration for another Bionic Mosquito treatment, or perhaps already has been.

      "this means that no one else has proper, legitimate authority to rule us, to order us to live in a manner to which we are opposed."

      We have to be careful here. I do not think here you mean that no authority apart from God's should be tolerated, but those on the Right who are opposed to your conclusion will certainly paint your argument as such.

      Both the beginning and the end of Latin Christendom show quite clearly that the public state is a manifestation of anti-Christ. Pagan Rome tried to eradicate the early Christians in brutal fashion and the splintering of Christian authority due to the Reformation led to the rise of the modern state system of governance and the subjection of all Christian authorities to it.

    4. Roger, you raise another aspect of being Christ-like, in a way that ties it all the way back to a libertarian political order. And, as ATL notes, perhaps one very strong reason why the state cannot tolerate Christianity specifically - as no other religion (to my knowledge) offers us what is offered in and through Christ.

      I would only comment on the following: "...this means that no one else has proper, legitimate authority to rule us, to order us to live in a manner to which we are opposed."

      I might modify this to say no one has legitimate authority to rule us in violation of our natural rights (to person and property), but God has established legitimate authorities when limited to such a role.

      I will add further, as long as an individual wishes to live in and interact with "society," he will have to conform to some behaviors to which he might otherwise object. As I have mentioned often, a libertarian community will NOT appear libertarian to those outside of it. Think of Hans Hoppe''s covenant community - perfectly libertarian, yet has many left-libertarians in meltdown.

    5. "...this means that no one else has proper, legitimate authority to rule us, to order us to live in a manner to which we are opposed."

      Yeah, that came out a little cockeyed. Thank you, Bionic, ATL for the guidance.

  6. I found this "working definition" of natural law in an article on Lew Rockwell this morning. It really does not tell me anything more than I already understand.

    "...Natural Law, the working definition of which is: Universal, non-man-made, binding and immutable conditions that govern the consequences of behavior. Natural Law is a body of Universal Spiritual Laws which act as the governing dynamics of consciousness."