Monday, April 26, 2021

Why Isn’t it Working?


From a discussion between Jordan Peterson and Bishop Robert Barron.

After Peterson described what to him was one of the more stunning aspects of his rocket ride, when live audiences would go completely quiet: when he would say to the audience, take responsibility; pick up the heaviest load you can carry.  From this, the following dialogue between Peterson and Barron ensued (fairly accurate transcription):

Barron: if you want to be a good priest, go out where people are suffering, in the depths of suffering.

Peterson: so, then what’s wrong with what you guys are doing?  Why isn’t it working?  What’s the problem?

Barron: it’s true that we’re not doing enough of that, and I do think we have succumbed too much with the modern thing, which is a pre-occupation with rights and freedom and my individuality.

Peterson: well, you see this so much in church activism right now, where the church seems to be replacing itself in some sense with social activism.  It’s like “we’ve got enough social activists.”

Peterson’s comments reminded me also of something Tom Holland said about the Anglican Church and its leadership: don’t give me another public service announcement about wearing masks and washing hands.  The British National Health Service is already doing plenty of that.  How about a good sermon on Original Sin or some such?

Barron then talked about the three tasks of the church: worship God, evangelize, serve the poor.  But divorcing the last one from the first two does evolve into social work.  I would say it devolves into something less, and worse.  If it was only social “work,” at least it would be the individual Christian doing the work.  It has, instead led to social activism.

Much of both Catholic and Protestant churches have devolved to this – social activism.  Meaning, advocating that the state takes up the cross that the individual Christian and the body of Christ should carry.  Some advocate for the state to feed the homeless, care for the widow, take money from some and give it to others.  This is not “serving the poor.”  Service requires personal action, not demanding that a surrogate is forced to act in your stead.

Others advocate for the state to bomb people in foreign countries.  I don’t even know what to make of this, beyond the victory of Scofield.

Peterson grew relevant for many reasons, not the least of which he demanded that individuals take up responsibility and quit chasing superficial “happiness.”  In other words, Peterson advocated that individuals take up other-regarding action: love.  This is the purpose for which man was made.


Churches that preach responsibility will likely lose some members.  They will gain others.  The numbers are irrelevant – or should be to pastors and priests serving God and not man.

The result will be a stronger church.  And the result of this will be a more stable society.  And the result of this will be the possibility of regaining some sense of liberty.

At the end of the discussion, Peterson commented: we need ritual, because the world is changing too fast.  And that’s another reason why the church shouldn’t try so hard to be relevant.

By relevant, he means fitting in to the modern sensibilities.  Be the church, not just another (poor) version of modern societal trend.


  1. Did Barron really say that perhaps modernism has not had the transformative effect upon the Church that all of those Jesuits and German bishops promised it would?

    Knock me over with a feather.

    1. A feather, perhaps, because of the obviousness of the truth; a crosier, because it comes as close to a criticism of the modern Church and the current pope as anything Barron has said. This is not his style; his "disagreements" with the more traditional of the Church are legion.