12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos

January 29, 2018 — Leave a comment

If you haven’t heard of Jordan Peterson at this point, you have two options. The first is to just punch in his name on YouTube, and probably end up watching this interview. Now, you can simply get his latest book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. At the advice of a friend, I had actually pre-ordered the latter before seeing the former, and so came home last Tuesday after school and got to reading.

I’m about halfway through, and will probably finish later this week. It made an appearance in book corner last week (along with this and this), and it might make an appearance at SHIFT tonight. Because you’re probably curious, here are the 12 rules that Peterson, a clinical psychologist at the University of Toronto, put together:

  1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back
  2. Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping
  3. Make friends with people who want the best for you
  4. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today
  5. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them
  6. Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world
  7. Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)
  8. Tell the truth—or, at least, don’t lie
  9. Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t
  10. Be precise in your speech
  11. Do not bother children when they are skateboarding
  12. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street

Rather simply state each rule and then explain it, Peterson takes a different tack and writes essays for each that range across a variety of disciplines. This is in some sense a kind of self-help book for intellectually minded people. Peterson moves seamlessly through mythology, psychology, philosophy, and religion (the Bible is featured prominently). Along the way sometimes the insights relate to the core of the rule, and sometimes they profound, yet oblique points.

Yesterday in the chapter I was reading, he did a bit of presuppositional apologetics without perhaps realizing it. In the discussion of rule #4, Peterson is explaining that what you aim at determines what you see. He then notes that what we see is dependent on our religious beliefs and then responds to a person’s objection that they are an atheist:

No, you’re not (and if you want to understand this, you could read Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, perhaps the greatest novel ever written, in which the main character Raskolnikov, decides to take his atheism with true seriousness, commits what he has rationalized as a benevolent murder, and pays the price). You’re simply not an atheist in your actions, and it is your actions that most accurately reflect your deepest beliefs—those that are implicit, embedded in your being, underneath your conscious apprehensions and articulable attitudes and surface-level self-knowledge. You can only find out what you actually believe (rather than what you think you believe) by watching how you act. You simply don’t know what you believe, before that. You are too complex to understand yourself (103).

If this is true (and I think it definitely is), then it cuts the other way too. I think for both Christians and atheists, there is a delusion that intellectual assent and belief are the same thing. But, simply acknowledging something is true is not the same as truly believing it. You can tell whether it’s truly a belief if it affects behavior.

There are people who think they are Christians who haven’t come to terms with Christ. And there are people who think they are atheists who haven’t come to terms with Nietzsche. And it is perhaps telling that even if one comes to terms with Nietzsche, you can’t truly live out his philosophy (he couldn’t either by the way).

Peterson himself is not a Christian, but he has a deep respect for Christian teaching. Much of what he says in this book doesn’t need to be “Christianized” since it neither confirms nor conflicts with Christianity. Rather, his book provides an important first step for many in taking responsibility of their own life in a very pragmatic, nuts and bolts sort of way. And as Peterson hopes, “if we each live properly, we will collectively flourish” (xxxv).

I’ll have more to say as I read and discuss more, but I’d highly recommend picking up a copy and reading for yourself. This book is a conversation starter in the best sort of way and we do well to be part of the discussion.


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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