As the Election Approaches
I’ve recently become interested in a YouTube sensation, Dr. Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist. He lays no claim to faith and resists being asked about belief in God. But he has done a series of Biblical talks on Genesis from a psychological perspective and is not afraid to quote Jesus. I mention him because of a response he gave to a question after one of his lectures. A young man asked him about the “radical left’s grab for power” and their “doubling down on empty slogans.” Although laying no claim to faith his response was absolutely Christian.
He began by reframing the issue. Instead of talking about politics he talked in terms of personal responsibilities. Peterson pointed out that absolute committed radicals on the right or left are rare and should not be driving our conversations; that most of us have about 95% of our lives in common; and that the goal is not to win, but to come to agreement. He warned that it’s very easy for things to go seriously wrong, and that tit-for-tat behaviors can escalate quickly into all out violence. Peterson then quoted Jesus. He referred to Jesus’ saying about not resisting evil, but turning the other cheek. To resist evil is to play on the enemy’s field by the enemy’s rules. It reminded me of another saying: “if in order to defeat the beast, you become like the beast, the beast has already won.”
Peterson pointed out that what is required of every one of us is not to battle the enemy without but the evil within. The best response to what we perceive as our enemy’s aims and behaviors is to cultivate goodness within. We can’t control and shouldn’t combat others their terms, but focus on our own fear and anger, our own propensity for hate and domination. The evil passion and fantasies within are our real enemies. Peterson said that he’d learned these things from reading Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago—one of my heroes and one of my favorite books.
Solzhenitsyn was a Soviet Captain during World War II. He was indiscrete in personal letters to friends back home about how Stalin was conducting the war. He was arrested and sent to a concentration camp in Siberia for 15 years as a political prisoner. The political prisoners were the most hated and mistreated in the camps. The included those arrested for religious reasons, particularly priests and others with Christian vocations. In The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn observed that these priests were treated worse the any others and were often the first to die because they refused to adapt to the barbarity of camp life. But they lived (and died) with a kind of dignity, courage and kindness that he knew he lacked and wanted. Eventually he adopted their faith. After his release he became a writer, won the noble prize for literature, and was exiled to America where he remained a strong critic of the Soviet Union and Socialism. In 1978 he gave the commencement address at Harvard, warning the West against losing its spiritual moorings (a copy of which I keep in my desk).
In The Gulag Archipelago Solzhenitsyn wrote, “There is nothing that so assists the awakening of omniscience within us as insistent thoughts about one’s own transgressions, errors, mistakes. After the difficult cycles of such ponderings over many years, whenever I mentioned the heartlessness of our highest-ranking bureaucrats, the cruelty of our executioners, I remember myself in my Captain’s shoulder boards and the forward march of my battery through East Prussia, enshrouded in fire, and I say: ‘So were we any better?‘” Peterson and Solzhenitsyn are right: it doesn’t help to be right if you don’t do good, and, the real enemy is within. Two things we do well to remember as this election approaches.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Rev. Don Muncie