The existential problem of evil has been a wrestling match humanity has participated in since the dawn of time. It is this very existential question Jordan B. Peterson attempts to tackle in his book Maps of Meaning : The Architecture of Belief. Relying heavily on the principles of the hero’s journey outlined in Joseph Campbells Hero with 1000 Faces, Peterson thesis works to unpack the how and why humans’ maps of meaning have come to be. For Peterson, the myth of the hero’s journey in the wrestling with good and evil frame our map of meaning, and sciences of psychology, neuroscience, anthropology, politics, philosophy and religion make up the contours.
Maps of Meaning is a dense read. Reading summaries found on Quickread.com, Deployyourself.com and Docroid.com helped pinpoint Peterson’s salient points that include the dynamics of known and fear of the unknown, power of myths in understanding our identity, humans’ capacity for evil. However, it was Peterson’s interview with Ben Shapiro that set me down a trail of thoughts and research. Peterson begins to deconstruct his thesis on hierarchy and myth around the conversation of identity politics and the value of enlightenment ideals. He shares his understanding of axiomatic ethics as shaped by Jean Piaget’s argument that we must “play it out in the world”; “If the axiomatic system satisfies the motivations and emotions of the people who are engaged in that system then the system is justified. Peterson continues with this concept by using the analogy of how children play games and figure out the rules when he says, “it shows you is that how an ethical system is tested and justified…so we play it out to see if everyone wants to keep playing. Although this concept has merit in how our ethical maps are shaped I struggled with the part of reality that not everyone is included in the game so the ethics that lead to the satisfaction of needs of one group doesn’t include those outside of the group. This has implications pastorally for how we lead our congregations. The notion of the self out of the enlightenment period that Peterson embraces seems to negate the broader and deeper understanding of the Trinity; the perichoresis of the Trinity includes invitation to all of humanity, not the select we decide. When researching identity politics, I came across Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University, Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò, who adds another dimension to game playing. He applies the concept of elite capture as contextualized as “Value Capture” seen in the gaming industry to understand the complications of identity politics in the hands of those who are not ethical. The existential problem of evil pervades even issues of identity.
Myth, the hero’s journey, and identity led me to contemplate one of Disney’s great renditions of a hero’s story: Hercules. Does Hercules archetype have confluence with the Christian wrestling with the existential problem of evil? Philosopher Prodicus wrote an essay with Hercules as the main character who was faced with the decision to choose between virtue and pleasure, the hard road vs easy road, the good path or evil path. In a blog on Christian Platonism scriptural echoes of Matthew 7:13-14 in Hesiod quote,
“Wickedness (κακότητα; kakotes) can be had in abundance easily: smooth is the road and very nigh she dwells. But in front of virtue (ἀρετῆς; arete) the gods immortal have put sweat: long and steep is the path to her and rough at first; but when you reach the top, then at length the road is easy, hard though it was.”
The myth of Hercules speaks into our human struggle to choose virtue or that which is good. As Christian’s we must recognize that the hero story of Hercules is not to be embodied just on an individual level but as a community sphere as well. Peterson says in his interview, “The hero comes out of finding a way to master the hierarchy.” As Christian’s we have to be ever mindful that our call is not to master the hierarchy but to subvert it, to open the games to include those whose identities are different than ours, to choose good in the face of evil. Only then do we go from zero to hero in no time flat.