Monday, November 21, 2022

I Am Responsible

This is the fifth and final post in this series, reviewing the conversation between Jordan Peterson (JP) and Peter Kreeft (PK): How to Combat Hedonism.  The last part of their conversation flowed through several different topics.

Kreeft explains what he saw when he compared Islam to the Christianity as lived in the West:

PK: It seems to me that when I look at Christianity in Western culture, Europe and North America, I see a kind of nice spinelessness; an absence of courage.

A man can be a woman?  Sure, we can ignore God’s plan for His creation.  Corruption in our institutions?  Romans 13 tells us to obey.  Diversity, Inclusion, Equity?  Rainbow flag, we are on the team.  Take the Lord’s name in vain?  Freedom of religion and free speech.

All spineless positions taken by spineless Christians.

PK: For all its mistakes and faults and violence and fundamentalism, at least Islam is a heroic faith. 

Rainbow flags or blaspheming the Lord’s name don’t go over very well in most Muslim countries.

[Addendum]: I wrote this post several days ago, but published today.  To highlight the reality of the above statement, Teams Abandon Rainbow Armbands For World Cup Matches After FIFA Threat:

In the latest World Cup Qatar 2022 controversy, FIFA has brought the hammer down on efforts of some teams and players from the West to highlight LGBT rights in the ultra-conservative Muslim host country of Qatar.

In total at least seven teams had planned to wear them during play despite the host country deeming homosexuality as illegal and against the moral teachings of Islam.

Not anymore.  Game officials will issue a yellow card to any player displaying such a symbol. 

It remains that in Qatar homosexual acts can be punished with severe sentences, up to and including the death penalty.

Of course, nothing in Christianity allows for this.  But, somehow (and we know why) it is Christianity that is the enemy ion the (non) enlightened West.

Returning to the Peterson, Kreeft discussion (and the content of the original post):

PK: [Islam] tends to be a bit too hard – spiny without flesh, but we are flesh without a spine.  I think we should exchange some of our pop-psychologists for some of their fiery mullahs – so we get a spine and they get some flesh.

Jesus had spine and flesh, but this required both the divine and human.  That doesn’t fly with Muslims; therefore, they do not have the possibility of gaining flesh as they reject God in the flesh.  While Christians embrace the divine and the human, they too often leave out the spine part – which comes to the next part of the conversation.

They discuss God ruling with two hands – one hand of mercy, the other of judgement (Peterson’s word, although I prefer the word “justice”). 

JP: In the west, we are making the case that the cardinal moral virtue is mercy and forgiveness, and forgetting completely about the fact that another cardinal virtue is judgement. 

After a discussion of several examples of the dysfunctionality when mercy and forgiveness are not balanced by judgement (justice), Kreeft offers:

PK: So, what has to be done then is to somehow combine this justice (Kreeft uses the proper word) and this mercy, this toughness and this tenderness, this patriarchal and matriarchal.  And isn’t the Christian answer to that precisely the crucifixion? Here is justice and mercy united.

And it is united in God.  God’s justice and God’s mercy are both on display, fully and maximally.  There is no higher possibility; there is no better story.  Many lessor stories have tried, none have worked.  Iron Man snapped his finger and gave his life to save the universe, but he wasn’t God sacrificing Himself / His Son – yes, Iron Man did sacrifice, but not the biggest possible sacrifice.

Peterson then talks about artificial intelligence and something he understands from Elon Musk, wanting the benefits of AI to be placed in the hands of individual people and not conglomerates like google.

JP: If a huge conglomerate like google gets its hands on artificial intelligence first, this will turn them into something approximating the world most imaginably effective dictator.

Fascism turned upside down, with the corporations making the rules for the state.  In any case, why wouldn’t the “individual” with the best imagination become the most imaginably effective dictator?  AI communism, like the communism before, will still end up in the hands of the most corrupt.

Whether corporations or individuals, unless the ethic changes, the result will be the same:

PK: If their only notion of good and evil is human happiness, that they want above all to limit human suffering and to conquer nature then this is not going to succeed until they conquer death by genetic engineering.

And bring on death for those considered useless, a cancer to the planet, etc.  There are about 200 people or families worth $10 billion.  How many serfs do they really need to provide themselves with all of the luxuries of life?

They then move on to other topics:

JP: You are an admirer of non-Christian philosophers.  Why do you find the non-Christian philosophers useful, and how do you view that utility in light of your explicit Christianity?

A very relevant question for me, as I am in the same boat.

PK: Christ has a human nature as well as a divine nature.  His divine nature is unique; His human nature is opposite of unique.  In understanding human nature, you understand one of the natures of Christ.  And if Socrates or Plato or Buddha or Lao Tzu can give you profound insights into universal human nature, then as a Christian I would say that is a very Christian mission that he has accomplished.

Or Mike Portnoy or Neil Peart or Ayn Rand or Murray Rothbard…etc.  I know, my list is not as distinguished as his.  In any case, all men search for God, knowingly or unknowingly.  They need not see or even believe the entire picture to see parts of the picture; they need not be infallible in their thoughts in order to provide valuable insights.

Peterson offers Solzhenitsyn, who said that everyone who was willing to lie to get along was a key actor in the totalitarian system.  Without that willingness for everyone to lie at their own individual level of being, the totalitarian regime could not prevail.

PK, citing “a number of Russian Orthodox mystics”: If you go home this afternoon and do one deed of genuine sacrificial charity to your neighbor, the result will be that hundreds of years from now someone on the other side of the world that you never dreamed of will have enough grace to overcome his trials; and if not, not.

We know this to be true.  Think of those in history that have affected you and your family, some hundreds of years ago, some thousands.  Some for good, some for ill.  Some in the next town, some halfway around the world.

Kreeft offers the quote from Schindler’s list: he who saves one life saves the world.

JP: Dostoyevsky says something like that too: we are not only responsible each of us for everything we do but responsible for everything that everyone else does.

Now, I know the gag reflex this causes.  It used to be the same for me.  But I have come to understand that such energy flows – for good or ill.  There are spirits, one Holy, the others not.  They work through humans, and what the humans do makes a difference…for good or ill.

PK: Well, that’s the universal spiritual gravity.  Whenever you touch humanity at one point, everything trembles.

This is what I mean about spirit – not in the zeitgeist sort of way, but in the Holy Spirit and principalities and powers sort of way.  The battle is Biblical.  And what each one of us does matters, in ways we often cannot even understand.


PK: Since light is stronger than darkness and since good is stronger than evil, even in the most desperate human being there is always that principle working: no matter what is going to happen in the future, they can overcome it.  There is always hope – while there is life there is hope.

Hope doesn’t work by magic.  Yes, God works miracles.  These often are worked through His saints (in the broadest, Protestant, sense of the word)!

I am responsible when anyone, anywhere

Reaches out for help,

I want my hand to be there!

-          Shattered Fortress, Dream Theater (Mike Portnoy)


  1. It is at such intersections that humanity suffers it biggest problems but also finds the answers. Justice/mercy, God's sovereignty/man's responsibility, objectivism/subjectivism, universal/particular.

    When one side is forgotten or the wrong side is over emphasized humanity suffers. You have to hold all these things in tension and in the moment decide which concept should lead.

    In terms of justice, I think the church is following secular elite definitions. There is plenty of justice talk and work going on but it is all about the counterfeit version. The genuine version can be understood through studying natural law.

  2. Every day Bible Gateway sends me a reading from C.S. Lewis. It is a delight to confront Lewis's reflections upon theology, but also upon practice, especially prayer and forgiveness. I am also indebted to Fr. Martin Thornton, also an Anglican. Amid other subjects, he has much to say about "the remnant", those faithful few whose virtue becomes for the many, in imitation of Our Lord, a vehicle for vicarious redemption. Monica's prayers, no doubt, greatly contributed to her son Augustine's redemption. The faithful older women attending early daily Mass, few though they might be, provide spiritual assistance for those with better things to do. What disappointed me most, in the days of the "pandemic" was not the lack of intellectual dissent from Academia (I rather expected such). It was the lack of a spine on the part of the bishops and other leaders of the institutional Church. I have said this oft and again. But I am encouraged when members of the laity, and of the clergy, showed spunk, acted as members of the "remnant". As Elijah learned from his Lord, even in the worst of times, there are always souls who have not bent the knee to Baal. May they flourish!

    1. "Monica's prayers, no doubt, greatly contributed to her son Augustine's redemption."

      A wonderful example demonstrating how the actions of one person (Monica) impacted millions many centuries later (and continuing).

  3. "Fascism turned upside down, with the corporations making the rules for the state"

    I've been reading Samuel Francis' "Beautiful Losers" the past few weeks. It's a great book. In a few of the essays he talks about Burnham's concept of the 'Managerial Revolution' and how it was a movement not just in government but also in business. Small business, privately owned, and entrepreneurial enterprise transitioned into publicly owned, global corporations with more and more interconnection with the state. An existing traditionalist and bourgeois elite (classical liberal) was replaced by a new progressive managerial elite. I'm not a huge fan of Burnham, but maybe there is some value in looking at it this way.

    Francis also talks about how this movement was not isolated to within the economic and political spheres of life, but also necessarily infected the social, cultural, and religious spheres. And this has a lot to do with the acceleration of hedonism in the Western world.

    "The dynamic of managerial capitalism involves the continuing erosion of the social and cultural fabric through mass consumption and hedonism, social mobility, and dislocation that it promotes and through the obsolescence of hard private property, under the control of individual and family ownership, that corporate and collective property and governmental regulation encourage. The managerial state obtains its raison d'etre from continuing intervention, activism, and social engineering, as became clear in the War on Poverty, the civil rights revolution, and the Great Society programs. The intellectuals, technocrats, and professional verbalists of the managerial intelligentsia and communications elite... are committed by their material interests and their ideological predispositions to the design and implementation of continuing social change, the rejection and destruction of the bourgeois constraints on their functions and power, and the defense and extension of the apparatus of the managerial system." - Samuel Francis, from "Neoconservatism and the Managerial Revolution"

    I think understanding 1) where this mass hedonism came from, 2) how it was accomplished, 3) whose interests where served, and 4) why no effective opposition was mounted against it is essential to understanding how to deal with the question now.

  4. "we are not only responsible each of us for everything we do but responsible for everything that everyone else does."

    Our actions certainly have consequences that we don't anticipate and may never even realize, and we have a duty to try and right the wrongs we see around us, but from this sentence Dostoyevsky appears to be rejecting personal responsibility. If everyone is responsible for everything that happens, no one is responsible for anything. It's like that famous expression "an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind."

    No, no it doesn't! There are billions of innocent people in this world (at least by earthly standards) who would see just fine out of both eyes if this rule were universally and explicitly adhered to.

    I am not responsible for African slavery, the Holocaust, the Holodomor, the Rape of Nanking, China's Cultural Revolution, the Cambodian Genocide, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the firebombing of Dresden and Hamburg, the Armenian Genocide, the displacement of Native Americans, or that white guy who called you the N-word, etc

    I know Peterson would not say that I am, but it logically follows from the quote he mentioned that I would be. From what I know about Peterson, I would say that he is rather convinced that we are all capable of committing atrocity, because we all have a nonzero amount of evil within us, and if we go along with the evil around us, by lying, not speaking out against it, following orders, etc., we are complicit with it. I could agree with this. Maybe the evil is not within us exactly, but we are susceptible to its siren song.

    1. "Maybe the evil is not within us exactly, but we are susceptible to its siren song"

      But then there is this.

      "...the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either--but right through every human heart--and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there unuprooted small corner of evil." --Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

    2. ATL, admittedly this is a tough line - and certainly cannot be applied to our history (although in the US this is exactly what is being attempted by laying blame on all whites alive today for the sins committed centuries ago).

      With that said, I take it more as a concept that might move a person to think and act differently. Perhaps conceptually similar to the motivation that a belief in heaven and hell might offer (not comparing nor minimizing these eternal realities).

  5. If the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are to be the light of the world - Mt 5-13-14; This is the harder part of our walk - to go against the grain. I have struggled with hedonism all my life - the world is saturated in it. Hopefully 1 day God will help me over my weaknesses! I do love the idea that when we are doing good things,living to the will of God, that we have no idea how much impact this has on the world. I will not speak about the opposite of this!

    1. "I do love the idea that when we are doing good things,living to the will of God, that we have no idea how much impact this has on the world."


  6. As to the seeming conflict between mercy and justice: justice comes to those who refuse to repent. Those who repent receive deep and abiding mercy. We have a lot of help to repent, especially on our death bed. I have seen this dynamic in action as my late wife lay dying several years ago the prayers of the Orthodox Church being offered by our priest and two readers. Me and my wife's best friend stood by praying as well. Suddenly there appeared my wife's Guardian Angel standing at her head in intense prayer. Just as Orthodox icons depict. Both her friend and I saw the angel who looked alike to us. I have never seen before or since the intensity of prayer my wife's angel had. As my wife took her last breath and flatlined, the angel left. Her friend later became Orthodox and still is 17 years later.

    Out celebration of the Risen Christ, Pascha, was 3 weeks later. I went in deep grief. I left in great joy because I was shown my wife rising with her angel as we began to sing Christ is Risen.

    This I have seen with my own eyes. I expected none of it. Justice is administered upon one's refusal to repent. Mercy given upon repentance. My wife had many sins as do I, but she gave them upon her death bed through our prayers and the intercession of her angel

    This is the way of the Lord. Forgive me a sinner