I heard about Jordan Peterson left and right over the past couple months. First, a friend wrote a comment on Facebook asking me if I knew about him. Then a few Christian friends asked me in person. Soon after, a co-worker asked me in the middle of a conversation. It was clear that I needed to check out what Jordan had to say.
Then I came across opportunities to hear from him. I listen to the podcast Unbelievable? on a regular basis, and that podcast featured him twice in the last month. I also received a Facebook invitation to his talk in Minneapolis. “Alright”, I thought, “This must be the moment”. I stalled a bunch but finally picked up a ticket the night before the event.
When arriving at the theater, I was instantly surprised by how long the line was. It’s clear that Jordan’s popularity has skyrocketed. The show was sold out a few days before it happened – I was fortunate to even get one last-minute ticket for it.
Throughout the show, people applauded after many things that Jordan said. It was hard to tell what type of audience was present at the show. From my understanding, Jordan’s talks tend to attract young men more than anyone, perhaps because of Jordan’s call to put a positive light on masculine traits. My assumption was that half or so of the crowd were Atheists or “non-religious”, but I could be totally wrong.
The most memorable moment of the night (by far) happened when a guy objected to something Jordan said. Jordan was talking about the Nazi regime, explaining corruption was not only at the top of their system, but it was also present within individuals throughout the different levels of the regime. After Jordan made his point, a guy near the middle-front of the theater stood up and shouted “You’re using propaganda from the John Birch Society!”. He continued shouting but was soon drowned out by boos from the audience. In the midst of the boos, the guy walked out of the theater.
As you can imagine, it took a while for the tone to get back to normal. Jordan stated that this was the first time in a tour of dozens of cities that someone heckled him like this. He also narrated what just happened from his perspective – that he wasn’t talking about anything super-controversial, and that the objection the guy brought up had little to do with his point. He rounded out his narration by pointing out this heckling as an example of ideological thinking (taking a firm, emotional, and dividing stance on a topic without much evidence behind it). To me, the heckling moment wasn’t a surprise, as I’ve attended a bunch of interfaith events in this area and have seen examples of divisive disagreement before. I personally appreciated the way Jordan handled the whole situation – I thought recapping and narrating what had happened was the perfect way to approach the heckling aftermath.
Another noteworthy event came from the Q&A, where Jordan read audience questions off his laptop and answered them. One question was about his most recent appearance on the Unbelievable? podcast, where Jordan said he doesn’t like answering the question “Do you believe in God”. The questioner asked him to expand further on why he made this statement. Jordan explained pretty much the same thing he did on the podcast, where he would want to ask “What do you mean by believe?” – because he doesn’t know and you don’t either. And he would also ask “What do you mean by God?” because personal conceptions of God are always unclear as well.
I think it’s completely valid to ask these clarifying “What do you mean by?” questions. But it seems that Jordan is dismissive of further conversation from there. I would want to give people the opportunity to explain what they mean by “believe”, and talk about any differences I have with their understanding of the word. The same process goes with “God”. I wouldn’t say we should avoid conversation about belief in God because the terms are unclear. But it may take some effort to get to a mutual understanding about the terms people are using in that conversation.
I also found it confusing that at another point, Jordan said “I live as though God exists”. By using this statement, Jordan must have some sort of conception of what “God” means! The statement seems to contradict what Jordan said about God being difficult to define.
Overall, the talk was highly practical. Jordan talked about focusing on personal responsibility rather than rights. He explained that people know they deliberately do bad things and have the power to make things worse, and thus they also have the power to make things better. And Jordan especially emphasized individual value, placing it as the focal point of our society. I definitely got a few snippets to think about from the talk, although I think I would enjoy Jordan’s religious-based presentations more.
I can certainly understand why Jordan has gained so much popularity – he is intelligent, keeps your attention when he talks, and doesn’t put himself into a specific box. The event was certainly worth attending. Even the time after the event was good – I had a chance to talk to a few people I didn’t know and to extend some invitations to my group Twin Cities Apologetics.
I want to check out Jordan’s future debate with Sam Harris – Jordan did a great job promoting it by saying he’s going to focus on what he sees as the biggest weakness in Sam’s views. And I’m definitely interested in hearing more from Jordan. Clearly there will be plenty of opportunities – Jordan has arrived to the world of juggernaut speakers, and he’s here to stay.