There are others who understand this, see the implications, and are enjoying some success in fighting back. Jordan Peterson is one of them. Peterson first won acclaim through his public refutation of state-enforced political correctness (and especially new gender pronouns), but he seems to have known that even victory in this domain would have been insufficient. Rather than turning this into a battle of competing evaluations, even one as useful and winnable as the value of social cohesion and of tradition over feelings, Peterson used his acclaim to help us reconnect the objects – and their proper evaluation – to their proximate source: traditional Judeo-Christian mythology.
Peterson’s YouTube series “The Psychological Significance of the Biblical Stories” goes through the major events and ideas of the Bible from Genesis onward and describes the time-tested wisdom they reveal about mankind, the world, and meaning – as well as how the society based on this wisdom created the most prosperous, good, and noble civilization in the history of mankind. This is hardly novel. Hundreds of thousands of churches in America offer Bible study classes that teach similar lessons every week. What is novel is Peterson’s reach. This video series has millions of views, has bolstered the confidence of many conservatives, and is especially popular with millennial men, a demographic traditional institutions have found hard to connect with. His success demonstrates that people are hungry for meaning and are willing to look to religion for answers. Peterson’s work is good, but it is not enough.
The Orthodox Reality explains why Peterson’s approach won’t succeed unless it is grafted onto or leads people towards something deeper. Secularism does not just objectify ideas like marriage, sexuality, and virtue; it is equally capable of objectifying – and thus dismissing – cultures and the mythologies that gave rise to them. Peterson’s approach is the best that secularism can offer, but as long as it works from within its confines, it cannot replace it. The problem is not just that the “good” of something in Peterson’s worldview is defined by its fitness or utility rather than its intrinsic value. The problem is that it allows for no living connection with anything really true or good. His agnostic approach to mythology and virtue is politically useful to the extent it privileges Western culture and the Judeo-Christian symbols and stories that are linked to them (these are “specifications of the symbolical ontology of creation,” as Guroian describes them on p. 135), but Guroian convincingly makes the case that they cannot heal, bless, and perfect mankind or the cosmos if they are cut off from their true Source.
The answer to the problems of our day is not just a restored commitment to the traditional Western canon and mythology, but a commitment to experiencing God through the traditional liturgical worship and sacraments of the Church, and allowing that experience to enliven us and the culture that rises up around us. The strength and beauty of Guroian’s theology is that it, like him, has been formed by that very experience. He writes in the chapter on marriage that, just as the Eucharist reveals the “epiphanic character” of the bread and wine that are the “natural symbols of flesh and blood, ” so to the service of marriage reveals the unique capacity of a male and female couple to become “one Christic and ecclesial being.” He is not proof-texting the marriage ceremony to support a traditional understanding of marriage. He is indeed expressing a truth that a life of worship and prayer has made obvious to him (and that is available to all who have allowed themselves to be reformed through their own immersion).
Similarly, when he points to the unique sacramental communion of traditional marital “coupling, ” he is less arguing against cultural norms of fornication and sodomy in favor of biblical morality than he is describing a specific example of how God works in the world to perfect His children. Unmarried sex may feel good, but Guroian is trying to help us understand that feelings and strong opinions, even ones derived from an abstract commitment to traditional morality, are poor substitutes for a connection with the living God. Without that connection and the true love it sustains, even the perfect words of “men and angels” are as a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (I Corinthians 13:1).