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Bishop Barron and Dr Peterson’s meeting of minds

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Canada’s best intellectual export? Jordan Peterson, the man people either love or hate. Photo: Gage Skidmore, Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
Jordan Peterson, the man people either love or hate. Photo: Gage Skidmore, Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

US bishop and popular author Bishop Robert Barron has spoken of a “huge pastoral failure” by the Church during a highly anticipated discussion with world-famous psychologist Dr Jordan Peterson.

In reaction to an overdue emphasis on sin, Bishop Barron said the Church has ended up with a generation of ‘God is Love and everything is ok’ Catholics who find a mature faith elusive.

“It was a real pastoral failure on the Church when I was coming of age because we were reacting against a hyper-stress on sin … especially sexual sin,” said Bishop Barron.

“You end up with a generation of Catholics that is like God is love, I’m ok and everything will be fine. Then there is no energy, directionality, no sense of purpose.”

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Hosted by Dr Peterson and published on his podcast on 23 June, the two great minds met for almost two hours to discuss a number of topics pertaining to Catholicism in the modern age.

Much of the first half of their conversation focussed on their popularity among younger audiences and the reasons why there is a deep hunger for knowledge on scripture and culture.

Mercy versus justice was a theme that drew much interest from Dr Peterson and Bishop Barron, and both spoke at length on how an imbalance of the two has affected the Church and society.

Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron. Photo: CNS photo/courtesy Word on Fire
Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron. Photo: CNS photo/courtesy Word on Fire

“One of the things that Jung [Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung] said about Christ in the Gospel, is that He is presented as a figure of mercy [but] Jung was wise enough to know that God rules with two hands, with mercy and with justice,” Dr Peterson said.

“If it was all mercy then all is forgiven and you are an eternal infant but if it is only justice then every single transgression you commit you will be held to account for in some infinite manner.”

Both men acknowledged the prevalent misunderstanding that love is only about mercy and not about passing judgement.

“Love is to will the good of the other and that always has a judgmental element to it,” said Bishop Barron.

“I had a student years ago that said to me what we are missing from the Church is Yoda on our shoulders, he meant Yoda on the shoulders of Luke Skywalker, instructing him, pressing him and telling him what he are doing wrong and how to get going.”

Dr Peterson said that there is not anything more damning than telling a young person that they are ok, especially if they are suffering.

“You tell them instead that you’re suffering because you’re steeped in sin at an unimaginable degree and [you] say that compassionately not judgmentally,” said Dr Peterson.

Scales of Justice
There must be a balance of mercy and justice, both Bishop Barron and Jordan Peterson have said during their highly anticipated interview.

“You tell them that if you want to put your life together you have to start small and if you do it carefully you can eliminate these flaws in your character.”

Turning to the topic of atheism, Bishop Barron said that his conviction was that atheists, both old and new, are rebelling quite properly against a false [understanding of] God, the god who is posing a threat to our freedom.

“It is partially because we got so bad at proclaiming the true God who is not brooding over our freedom in this moralising and repressive way,” said Bishop Barron.

“That what the atheists quite rightly, old and new, are objecting to is that false understanding of God.”

Though in agreement, Dr Peterson said that from all the Church’s faults that people like Nietzsche, Hitchens and Dawkins lay at the feet of these traditions they [the Church] at least still preserved these traditions and left the door open.

In a video that appeared on his Youtube channel after the interview, Bishop Barron said that he enjoyed the discussion and found it very stimulating.

“I felt it was very invigorating. Sometimes you have a conversation that wears you out or turns into an argument, but this was the kind that lifts you up,” said Bishop Barron

“I found him to be a very gentle and winsome guy to talk to. I loved it.”

The audio version of the interview is on the Jordan B. Peterson podcast.

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