DLGP

Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Good and Evil, Knowledge, and Ideology

Written by: on November 12, 2023

Introduction

Jordan Peterson explores mythological stories from religion, rituals, drama, and mythology to provide a philosophical and psychological narrative of the hero. His work, Maps of Meaning, also provides a window into how myths have helped form how humans make sense of the world through shared stories. Peterson explores the psychological aspects of meaning and how humans have developed tools to make sense of the natural and the abstract: science and religion. According to Peterson, by comparing and contrasting religions worldwide, clear patterns emerged that helped humans make sense of their religion and science. As humans evolved, they created tools (the myths) to carve out meaning to define their world.[1] The tools helped create a script that enabled science, religion, facts, and feelings to coexist.[2] Peterson states that myths in the human narrative helped to define universal codes of behavior, norms, and morality long before a rule of law, religion, or code of conduct existed. Peterson was keen on understanding how the mind creates meaning, how the myths transmitted the meaning, and what myths mean in rationalism.[3]

Because of the discussion on mythology, comparing several themes from a familiar mythological story, Paradise Lost, to similar themes from Peterson’s book would be interesting. I chose the themes of good and evil and the acquisition of knowledge. Lastly, because Peterson’s observations regarding ideology are relevant to our culture today, I’ll summarize its current state related to the transmission of mythological stories.

Milton and Peterson: Good and Evil

Both Milton and Peterson challenge the simplistic approach of humankind’s preponderance to grapple with good and evil. From a Biblical context, Milton’s poem presents multifaceted qualities in his characters, which helps the reader by challenging their inner struggles with moral decisions. A correlation can be drawn between the characters’ complexities and the complexities of good and evil. Milton’s characters encourage readers to think about their moral dilemmas and decisions considering the nuances of decision-making. Sometimes, there are no black-or-white answers, and one may have to settle for the gray. In contrast, Peterson inspects the more current psychological aspects of the hero’s journey in mythology that are undertaken to explore the unknown creatively. Peterson argues that when a hero faces the unknown, it is good because it leads to a pathway of promise, growth, and, ultimately, a return to safety. Along the journey, the hero encounters and defeats the evil in nature and culture.[4] The evil counterpart to the hero is often symbolic of the evil within and a demonstration of how not to behave. However, Peterson delves much more profoundly than Milton in his exploration of the capacity for evil in all of us. One example he uses is when those who stood by when Nazis committed atrocities or, worse, they participated and used the excuse of simply following orders. According to Peterson, the highest level of evil is when we reject creatively exploring the unknown. This evil within causes us to reject growth, allow our fears to overwhelm us, and stagnate our promise.[5]

Milton and Peterson: Knowledge

In Paradise Lost, Milton explores the results or consequences of pursuing knowledge based on the forbidden fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. In Milton’s work, the pursuit of knowledge represents a blessing and a possible curse. His work signifies the responsible acquisition and use of knowledge and its usefulness in making morally upright decisions. Of course, eating the fruit represented the unchecked bridle curiosity and irresponsible use of knowledge.[6] Peterson’s emphasis on knowledge is psychological, reflecting the human right to pursue knowledge, i.e., the creative exploration of the unknown. It is one of the foundational concepts Peterson uses throughout as he describes it as a God-given divine right for humanity to explore the unknown creatively. It is how to navigate our path by exploring the unknowns – finding our meaning and making sense of our world. Peterson connects that myths teach us that exploring the unknown can bring great rewards. The rejection of exploration brings denial of the possibility for growth and a rejection of knowledge.[7] Here is a great divide between Milton and Peterson. Because Milton’s context is Biblical, the notion of whether Adam and Eve are ‘human’ is not questioned. Instead, knowledge of good and evil is merely a free will choice. Peterson argues that once Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge, it was a blessing because, at that point, they became human and could make their own decisions.[8] This perspective is a unique twist on the Garden of Eden story. This is a sticking point for those who do not regard the Christian religion as a myth. Nevertheless, the concept lends itself to a great philosophical debate.

Ideology and Conclusion

Peterson writes that facing the unknown is always uncomfortable. And a complete acceptance of cultures’ way of doing things – because of fear of exploring the unknown – only leads to authoritarianism or fascism. The type of person who loses themselves in an ideology avoids, denies, or rejects anything contrary to the ideological narrative.[9] Peterson explores much more as he identifies nationalism – thinking one country is better than any other – as a form of ideology. I pause when I think about how myths are transmitted today. I’m concerned. Great classics like Milton’s are being considered for removal in school libraries.[10] So rather than using the tools of old to transmit heroic stories, good vs evil, and creative exploration of the unknown, we have devolved into transmitting conspiracy theories. Theories that feed the evil within.

 

[1] Maps of Meaning: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CDY1TrN0p8

[2] A 30 Minute Read of Jordan B. Peterson’s Maps of Meaning:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvtm7c_H6AU&list=PL_3-JB_t6ZM2MvXEVjH8Bib_d4eBZXqGz&index=1

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] ChatGPT, OpenAI, November 11, 2023.

[7] A 30 Minute Read of Jordan B. Peterson’s Maps of Meaning:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvtm7c_H6AU&list=PL_3-JB_t6ZM2MvXEVjH8Bib_d4eBZXqGz&index=1

[8] A 30 Minute Read of Jordan B. Peterson’s Maps of Meaning:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvtm7c_H6AU&list=PL_3-JB_t6ZM2MvXEVjH8Bib_d4eBZXqGz&index=1

[9] Ibid.

[10]Josh Marcus, ‘Florida schools remove books by John Milton and Toni Morrison and restrict Shakespeare under DeSantis rules,’ July 5, 2023 https://sports.yahoo.com/florida-schools-remove-books-john-215706152.html

 

 

About the Author

Audrey Robinson

6 responses to “Good and Evil, Knowledge, and Ideology”

  1. Dr. Robinson,

    Very thorough post, well done! I really liked your conclusion of “that we have devolved to conspiracy theories.”

  2. Alana Hayes says:

    I really enjoyed listening to the youtube video that you found! What is a way that we can keep the myths of today alive and not removed from the shelves as you discuss?

    Is there any rhyme or reason why topics are getting removed? Is the public notified… or is it just removed in the night?

    • Audrey Robinson says:

      Alana,
      I had a difficult time focusing on reading the book and the academic articles were scarce. YouTube is usually my third go-to option.

      From anecdotal information, it would seem as though the Moms for Liberty are at the forefront of challenging many of the school libraries and reading lists across the country. Without having young children in school it’s not on the top of my radar. However, I would encourage all parents with school age children to try to stay informed.

  3. Audrey – Thank you for bringing up Peterson’s take on Genesis. After the Zoom conversation on Monday, I did some more research into the various types of biblical hermeneutics and was curious which (if any) of the following you consider yourself? I’m delving deeper into this for myself, as well.
    – Literal Interpretation.
    – Moral Interpretation.
    – Allegorical Interpretation.
    – Anagogical Interpretation

    • Audrey Robinson says:

      Laura, I grappled with some things after our Zoom meeting. I was asking the Lord about it for the better part of two days. Long story – but I read 1 Cor.1:18-23 and 1 Cor.2:3. See below. Also, check out the Message version of these passages.

      I am definitely literal in my approach to the Bible. Call it my Black Charismatic background or my prophetic approach of seeing black or white and not gray. Maybe a little of both. When I pray I expect a response from Father. It may not be the answer I want all the time but for me to pray in faith I have to be 100% assured that God’s word is true. Jesus kept it simple. When I read 1Cor. 2:3 and to hear Paul say I came in weakness with great fear and trembling… so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom but God’s. Was he thinking literally, allegorically, morally or anagogical? Rhetorical question. He was convinced. In spite of all his learning.

      18 The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. 19 As the Scriptures say, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.”
      20 So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. 21 Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. 22 It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. 23 So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.

      2 Cor.
      3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

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