Monday, November 29, 2021

An Excellent Conversation, Part II


Part one can be found here.

NB: I have been giving some thought as to just how “excellent” this conversation was; time and reflection have a way of filtering.  I think I am downgrading it to a very good conversation, but one lacking a couple of very important points – and, perhaps, the single most important point.  But I will come to all of this at the end, in the Epilogue of this post.

In this post, I continue with my review of a conversation held by Jordan Peterson to include Bishop Robert Baron, John Vervaeke, and Jonathan Pageau.  This portion of the dialogue begins here.  The first topic is the use of psychedelics, with Peterson asking, given the failure of the Church to attract people, what about it? 

Now, before continuing, a different conversation between Jonathan Pageau and two authors of a book about Peterson just posted a few days ago, and they discussed this topic of psychedelics.  The two men, Christopher Kaczor and Matthew Petrusek, are Catholic professors at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, and, also, Word on Fire fellows.  Word on Fire is the outreach of Bishop Baron.

The discussion regarding psychedelics begins here.  Pageau introduces it by noting that in the last few months, Peterson has been talking a lot about psychedelics.  Following are comments in response to this:

Psychedelics put feeling before love.  A proper ordering places love before feeling – if we properly love, we will develop proper feelings for that which we love.  It is the difference of experience in a passive way and an embodied experience.

“It’s cheating!” “You want the Resurrection without the Cross.” 

Pageau describes a discussion Peterson had with “a couple of mushroom guys.”  For two hours, they just talked about the experience.  After two hours, Peterson asked, “so what is it about?”  And one of the guys answered, “you realize that God doesn’t exist, and it’s just you.”

Pageau: Yeah, that’s it.  Solipsism.  The flip side of that ecstasy is despair, and the difference is paper thin.  You end up alone, and that’s terror.  Like the lowest level of Dante’s hell, each one frozen, alone, in ice.

Given that my experience with psychedelics is limited to listening to early Pink Floyd, Yes, and Sgt. Pepper’s, I won’t say much.  However, it sounds like religion for the atomized individual – an extension of libertarianism individualism taken to places for which it is not designed.

In any case, returning to the reaction in the subject video, neither Pageau or Baron reacted favorably on this topic.  Bishop Baron replies:

I would be more at home using the wisdom tradition, as you [Peterson] have been doing.  We have our problems, certainly.  Some of it came from the scandals, and some of it came from an exaggerated attempt to be relevant to society and dumb down our language to echo the culture.

How many times in church has dialogue been cut off – just believe, don’t ask questions.  It seems to me that this is the opposite of what the Apostle Paul did on Mars Hill, where he engaged the philosophers.  We are to be prepared to answer with reason regarding the hope we hold.  Continuing, Vervaeke offers:

I will ask my students: where do you go for information?  The internet.  Where do you go for knowledge?  The classroom, etc.  Where do you go for wisdom?  There is deafening silence.  And wisdom is not optional. 

And this ties back to the move toward nominalism.  The words; propositions.  Pageau (the opposite of a nominalist) offers:

We have had several centuries in Christianity to focus on proving the history.  But this wisdom tradition is all there – we just need to go back and get people to connect to these experiences.

Bishop Baron then owned that this was the case in the Catholic church and his young training, that the focus was on the words, on propositions.  And then, a real zinger from Pageau:

In the Orthodox Church, they say, if the sermon is more than fifteen minutes, it’s pride.  Keep your sermons as short as possible. 

Which pretty much counts every Protestant service I have attended.  (To be clear, I am not advocating Pageau’s view, but I understand the sentiment.)

Propositional understanding is fine, but it is to be participatory.  You enter into the church, you have a space structured as the ontological hierarchy of being, and then you see these images that are patterns and are revealing to you these mysteries that are beyond words. 

I have described my feelings in such a church before.  Just the space is worshipful, with Christ Pantocrator on the ceiling of the dome, and surrounded by the icons of a hundred saints and prophets, all joined by the parishioners – a real image of the Kingdom of God.  But, I keep in mind…there are many words in a liturgical service, and the words are rather important…even propositional.

There are these processions and singing and it is participatory.  And these different images connect together, and they connect inside you.  And you have difficulty explaining the insights that you get.

Exactly.  I do not say this is completely absent in a Protestant service, but it is not as powerful (although a classic hymn and a good pipe organ does work wonders).  The same thing can be said the other way; Protestant churches far outshine the Catholic and Orthodox in teaching Scripture; there is a place for both.  Bishop Baron then offers his experience:

And what did we do in our Catholic Churches?  At the same time, we were presenting the Bible in this flattened out, historical way, we were flattening out our churches, emptying out our churches of just that cosmic symbolism.  There was a terrible rationalism, and it dried us out in many ways.

I have much less experience in the Catholic Church, but I suspect that many Catholic “trads” would say that this is exactly what they had, and what is being taken away from them, even today.  Baron continues:

Young people are leaving the Church, some because of the scandals, most because we have dumbed it down.  Questions aren’t answered, it’s in conflict with science, etc.  At the same time that we dumbed it down, we uglified it. 

There follows a discussion about beauty.  It is the least threatening of the transcendentals for the atheists and “nones.”  It holds value, especially in a world that is so ugly. 

Vervaeke describes his project – not his, but one he says that many are working on:

I think the project is not to resurrect Neoplatonism or the neo-platonic structure.  I think the project, if we want to reach the “nones,” is to show them a reconciliation – a profound one.

He is speaking of a reconciliation between Neoplatonism and the scientific worldview, and he looks to Aquinas and Maximos as guides to revise Neoplatonism. 

We need a post-nominalist Neoplatonism, if I could put it that way.

Baron introduced the need to change the view that science and religion are in opposition.  And what can bring these together is philosophy as the rational path.  Vervaeke clarifies that the philosophy necessary is not an academic philosophy, but the philosophy that is a way of life. 

Peterson then follows up with his most complete statement in this conversation, and I offer the time stamp because it is worth hearing directly from him:

I titled my first book Maps of Meaning for a very specific reason.  This narrative structure is a map.  We need a map to traverse the world; it’s not optional.  Without a map, you are lost.  And to be lost is a terrible thing.

And there is rationality to develop a map – there better be, because otherwise it doesn’t get you to where you want to go.  You certainly want to get away from being lost. 

But science cannot get us there:

And science isn’t a map – it’s a description of the terrain.  Scientists impose the direction by following the dictates of their intuition of meaning.  But science itself doesn’t offer a map.

“Well, there’s no rationality outside of science!”  Well, let the irrational people design the map.  That’s what is happening, with the politicization of our culture. 

As “science” has discounted, criticized, and shoved aside philosophy and religion, well…the map-making is going to be done by someone.

Then the rationalists say, well if we weren’t religious, then everyone would be rational and the world would be a better place.  And I think, no – the religious would drop into the political.  And then you watch what happens – and we are watching what happens.

And by religious, I don’t take him to mean merely Fundamental Christians.  The kneeling for George Floyd, the creedal requirements of Cultural Marxism and post-modernism.  These religions have replaced Christianity, and these have defined our politics and our political divide.

There is no domain for the religious now, so tiny things become imbued with religious significance.  Don’t we need a map?  Can science provide the map? 


I have yet to hear a thoroughly critical, scientifically trained, deep philosopher make the case that science can provide the direction for ethical behavior.  And that’s the map – what’s good, where can we head.

As pointed out by many, every supposedly “scientific” argument for ethics relies on Christianity for its arguments.  See the Greco-Roman world prior to Christianity, and consider what was considered “ethical” at the time.  The ethics desired by scientists cannot be had without the Christianity that underlies these.  As Nietzsche offered, when one gives up the Christian faith one also loses the right to Christian morality.


From Vervaeke:

I take the meaning crisis very seriously, and covid has made it worse.  There is a lot of evidence for that.  I think it is a vain hope that everything is going to go back to the way it was.

To which the others agreed.  As do I.  We are first going to have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  What lies on the other side?  I don’t know, but we have no choice but to walk….

Unfortunately, none of them made the connection to the who, or what, or why behind the oversized and irrational reaction to covid.  In other words, the most significant single event designed to increase the meaning crisis, and the elephant was left alone in the room.


My response to a comment by A Texas Libertarian:

ATL, the more I have reflected on this conversation, the more I have considered what is lacking.

I am pleased with it for the reasons mentioned. But you are right - no mention of natural law - and this is where this conversation must go; it is the place where the atheists and Christians in this conversation are both aiming.

In this conversation, and it is the one place where he is more qualified than any of the other, I place the blame for a lack of making this point on Bishop Baron.  He brought up Aquinas several times, with others (even Pageau) favorably predisposed to Thomistic thought.  The issue of man’s purpose pours through every sentence of this discussion – yet what flows from a discussion of purpose but man’s highest value, the thing for which man was made? 

Further, I have reflected on Baron's definition of meaning: "a purposive pursuit of a value."

But Hitler had this, as did Stalin, as does Fauci. It is also the problem Peterson has. The issue isn't merely to aim at something meaningful; the first issue is…what is a proper value at which to aim. And the highest value is love (not in the simplistic sense, as you know) - other regarding action.

Beatitudo: other-regarding action. Love.  From this, one can derive natural law.  Aiming at this purpose, one finds meaning.  Any other value placed at the top of the hierarchy can be corrupted.  Not love; it cannot be so corrupted, as proper love breeds more love.  By proper love, I mean love bound by discipline, truth, responsibility, and self-governance.

I think for my next post, I will want to clarify some of this. Time has a way of filtering....

Hence, this epilogue….


  1. "See the Greco-Roman world prior to Christianity, and consider what was considered “ethical” at the time. The ethics desired by scientists cannot be had without the Christianity that underlies these. As Nietzsche offered, when one gives up the Christian faith one also loses the right to Christian morality."

    I wish Hoppe would chime in regarding this conundrum. He talks about significance of cultural norms in "real world libertarianism" but hasn't discuss how he himself deals with the prospect of being a "non-believer" in Christian terms with the reality of believing the Christian underpinnings of Western culture yields more "libertarian" outcomes.

    "But you are right - no mention of natural law - and this is where this conversation must go; it is the place where the atheists and Christians in this conversation are both aiming."

    See, ATL wants Hoppe to chime in too. :)

    1. I would love to have Hoppe's thoughts on this conversation between Peterson, Vervaeke, Pageau, and Barron, as well as Bionic's contributions to it. I don't really think the meaning crisis is his forte though. I think he is the vanguard of the most ethical and consistent political system which, I contend, would be best at allowing natural law to flourish and extinguish the meaning crisis.

      But I'm not sure if Hoppe has ever made this point. I think Hoppe is certainly capable of addressing these issues from logical, ethical, political, and sociological perspectives, but him being an agnostic (as far as I know), would make it difficult for him to swim at the depths of the meaning crisis, which ultimately reflects the God shaped hole both in modern society and in so many human hearts enthralled to it. His interest in the libertarian-ness Christendom and the political thought of the Catholic convert Carl Ludwig von Haller is very promising though. I sincerely hope that Hoppe finds a road to faith in Jesus Christ.

  2. "And then, a real zinger from Pageau:"

    I could tell Vanderclay was a bit miffed at this in his reaction video. I would say that the length doesn't matter but the content. I get his point though.

    I think it's related to the same point I had in critiquing this discussion and Peterson in general. Early on, Peterson spoke about his objective for getting these three guys together to discuss meaning and that was to have an "interesting conversation". Perhaps he meant this as an innocent and uncontroversial statement, but to me it was illuminating. An interesting conversation fills the seats and leads to success in this content-creator field that Peterson now dwells in, but does it arrive at the truth? I would say rarely, unless one's objective is here to begin with - even rarer when the gatekeepers of the majority of the 'seats' are opposed to the truth as is now so evident.

    This is why I discount a lot of what Peterson says, and why I hold in such high regard what you say Bionic. Your objective has been the truth this whole time. Interesting conversations abound in the pages of Bionic Mosquito, but this aspect of your mission was never the purpose; it was only an effect.

    Peterson's objective is as he stated, to have interesting conversations. He wants to be successful at filling seats. And he is and does. To the extent he gets close to the truth and gives a giant platform to those who do seek it (sort of like Buckley and his show 'Firing Line'), I applaud him. In this regard he's done more for liberty and Christianity than I have certainly. But I don't look to him as a leader nor will I put my trust in him if he thrusts himself into that role. I think he is at root a showman intellectual who will make a career at dancing around the truth without ever arriving at it.

    “The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” - G.K. Chesterton

    Will Peterson ever shut his mind on the meaning-bedrock of natural law? I highly doubt it.

    "In other words, the most significant single event designed to increase the meaning crisis, and the elephant was left alone in the room."

    That would have been getting too close to the truth. And the truth will often get you de-platformed by the gatekeepers. Not a good idea if your objective is to fill seats.

    1. ATL first, thank you for the kind words aimed toward me. You are right: I never had the intent of drawing an audience, yet I am quite pleased with the audience that has been attracted to this spot.

      As for Peterson, I pray he sees some light, but I feel that he will never allow himself to get there. To say out loud that you believe it was God who died on the cross and then He rose again three days later? Very hard to say for someone steeped in liberal (not even leftist) academia.

      Still, it was Baron that should have raised the topic of natural law - better this than spend countless minutes on psychedelics.

    2. Right, it was on the Bishop to broach this topic. But apparently psychedelics is something the 'church' is going to have to contend with, but to me it just seems silly. It is sort of analogous to the lowering of interest rates via fiat credit expansion. Interest rates are falling not because of a healthy growing economy with a decreasing time preference, but because of artificial increases in the supply of money. And this manipulation promotes an unhealthy and increasingly fragile economy with an increasing time preference.

      In the same way psychedelics offers a deeply religious or 'spiritual' experience without the discipline of advanced asceticism or proper religious guidance. It's an attempt at a short cut into religious maturity. And instead of this experience experience reflecting deep religious maturity, it generally seems to promote the opposite: hyper-individualism, materialism, and atheism.

      "To say out loud that you believe it was God who died on the cross and then He rose again three days later?"

      Ultimately it took humility for me to accomplish this when I came back to Christ. Or maybe it was a sort of abandoning of the faith in what humanity knows about existence from a scientific perspective. I suppose the two are related. It was a lot of other things too that led me back. The pursuit of the origins of liberty contributed certainly.

  3. "Pageau introduces it by noting that in the last few months, Peterson has been talking a lot about psychedelics."

    The use of psychedelics is basically mental masturbation. It's selfish inward looking. It's the search for experience with one's own subconscious. It's the search for feeling, not meaning. It's materialism replacing religion. It's the search for the nonexistent God within us who will authorize all of our deepest desires, instead of the existing God above and beyond which sets before us a difficult path of self-deprivation or other-regarding behavior - love.

    "By insisting specially on the immanence of God we get introspection, self-isolation, quietism, social indifference – Tibet. By insisting specially on the transcendence of God we get wonder, curiosity, moral and political adventure, righteous indignation – Christendom. Insisting that God is inside man, man is always inside himself. By insisting that God transcends man, man has transcended himself." - G.K. Chesterton

    1. VanderKlay does an interesting treatment on the psychedelic portion of this conversation. He gets to where I got, and what you have pointed out: it is all inside, atomistic hyper-individualism. It seems a natural place to land for one lost in a society designed to be devoid of meaning.

    2. I wonder what Peterson has to say about The Abolition of Man. I have just finished my second reading and I'm even more impressed with its wisdom. I'm only sorry I didn't read it at a younger age, but I thank you Bionic, for your many mentions which pointed me to this powerful book, although I may not have appreciated it as much then as I now do. Peg

    3. Abolition of Man is one for the ages for sure, and specifically the essay Men without Chests. I need to read it again soon.

  4. Psychedelics are just another form of "revelation." Which does not speak well for revelation in general, I'd say. There is no such thing as "revealed Truth." Believing that there is, is one of the most dangerous ideas there can be.

    1. Unknown,

      Dangerous to the would-be tyrants of this world and their cronies who would be delighted to perch atop a society fostered for generations to believe in only man's reason, with right and wrong reason deciphered only by those favored by Leviathan? Yes, I agree.

      Revelation (a law beyond man) is essential to good governance, but not all revelation is created equal as you so casually suggest. A fungi-induced psychedelic trip by a 38 year-old living in his mom's basement is not to be treated with equal validity to the words of the Old Testament prophets, the Gospels, the Epistles, or the Apocalypse.

      Only a law above man can hope to restrict the actions of men in power, and even then it is no guarantee, as can be seen in the history of Christendom. But the hell that was unleashed on the world when the reign of Christ was replaced with the reign of Reason in the West with the rise of nation-states should be instructive to all those who would blithely discount the word of God altogether.

      If revelation is to be discarded, what then is your solution to the meaning crisis and to the problem of tyranny?

    2. Unknown,

      You say there is no such thing as "revealed Truth." My question to you is this: How do you know? Obviously you believe this to be true, but how did you come to such a conclusion? Where is your proof? Your logic and reasoning?

      Perhaps, believing that there is no such thing as revealed Truth is one of the most dangerous ideas there can be.

      I recently posted a short article on my blog about this very subject. You can find it here: If you like, you can leave a comment.