Once or twice the past week, I noticed a Bishop Barron/Jordan Peterson confluence in social media. I thought I had misread the first, as I wasn’t looking for it. A friend posted it somewhere, and then I was slightly curious.
I guess I don’t have a problem with real dialogue with far-out figures. I think Professor Peterson is generally considered far out. Bishop Barron thinks he has something to contribute in the appeal to the human intellect.
“One of the reasons why Barron likes Peterson,” Bill McCormick, a Jesuit in formation, who has written on Peterson’s appeal for America, said, “is that Peterson is this great example of someone who is attracting people, intellectually, the way Bishop Barron thinks that we need to be attracting people to the church.”
If this is really Bishop Barron’s tactic, I think he’s missed the boat on diagnosing the contemporary US. We are far, far, far from being an intellectual culture. We like brawn over brain, flair over philosophy, sales over substance, wisecracks over wisdom. The good bishop should know this. Early in his career, and still with some of his films, he has an eye for beauty. This is authentic Christianity. Not outsmarting people, or even our sinful selves. We need things of life that will break through the brutishness of today. Jordan Peterson isn’t a person I’m willing to take time to read. I think we Catholics (if not Christians) have saints who went through worse crises than our nones.
In his blog post, Bishop Barron deplored this “polarized and ideologically driven” online environment where “the most elementary distinctions aren’t made and the most broad-brush analyses are commonplace.”
And yet, isn’t this the primary place people encounter celebrities such as Professor Peterson or Bishop Barron? If the Toronto academic is gaining followers from mostly men, is it because he plays into a certain showmanship against courtesy (aka political correctness)? Some people don’t want to be polite. They want to win the argument. Or second best, see someone wholly capable of winning an argument on their behalf.
“I dearly wish that people would actually listen to what their interlocutors are saying,” He suggested that “in the manner of Thomas Aquinas” those seeking engagement on social media should refrain from a “straw man” approach that purports an easily defeated position but should “‘steel-man’ their opponents’ arguments” in the interest of true dialogue.
“To seize on a name or a phrase or a slogan and then use that to categorize someone or put them in a camp gets us precisely nowhere,” he said.
Pot, kettle, black.
I recall many people rooted in faith who came to bishops seeking answers, if not a listening ear on many issues mostly from the Left in previous decades. Women in ministry, seamless garment, liturgical language, base communities, parish closures, financial mismanagement, abuse and its cover-up, women religious investigated, theologians teaching and writing books. How often have such folks been dismissed as schismatics, annoying gadflies, marxists, polyester-wearing, heretics, feminists, etc.?
Jordan Peterson is a very easy chat for Bishop Barron: man to man, academic to academic. Low hanging fruit with very little risk and a huge upside if he can work a little Fulton Sheen on the guy.
I don’t object to Bishop Barron having a conversation with a right-wing academic. I’m bothered that he and his confreres haven’t made it an eighty-ninth conversation, or a two-hundred nineteenth, or a three-hundred fiftieth. Farther back in a long line that includes actual people of faith who left the Church and had good reasons for doing so.
Let’s be honest: Bishop Barron has a lot more in common with a woman who was ordained a priest. Maybe if you want to find out why people left the Church, talk to people who were once in the flock yet still believe in God, rather than someone who doesn’t seem to be sure of God’s existence .