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I mentioned the former Catholic traditionalist Steve Skojec’s crisis of faith in my St. Gellert post earlier today. I see that Steve has posted now a new essay to his Substack talking about how Jordan Peterson’s teaching helped him when no Church figure’s did. It’s a free public post, so you can read it. My buddy and TAC podcast partner Kale Zelden makes an appearance. Excerpts:
I can’t tell you for certain when Kale, the formerly-online friend who invited me to Peterson’s Providence talk, first started interacting with me. If I had to guess, I’d say it was 2018 or 2019. At first, he was a reader of mine who pinged me with some interesting thoughts, sharing them on Twitter in a way that was provocative without being snarky — a rare enough thing to take notice of. Later, we transitioned to more in-depth conversations via private message. Then, one day, he practically reached through my screen and grabbed me with an email that I can say, without exaggeration, changed my life. It was in August of 2020, while I was still in the thick of running 1P5. For the previous six months, I had found myself increasingly alienating large segments of my long-cultivated audience with decidedly non-tribal takes on current events. My faith was crumbling, and I was trying to hold on through sheer force of will. The answers I was finding within Catholicism no longer satisfied. I had no idea what to do. My sense of identity was dissolving, and I was rapidly losing my sense of direction.
When his email came, it was within 48 hours of my experience of a turning point from a personal crisis so deep it had almost cost me everything. My marriage, which had almost ended, was inexplicably saved in a moment of unearned forgiveness. My perspective on the expectations I had for “the way things should be” had been blown apart. I had been shown mercy and love I had not deserved. If my heart had been hardened before, the churn of my life and the nascent epiphany that love mattered more than rules, doctrines, or even order itself had broken me open, and I was vulnerable and ready for unexpected ideas. The ground was fertile for new seed. The old me was dead. I was ready for what was next.
Kale knew none of this, of course. He had been pondering the online discourse, and was increasingly concerned with what he saw — and thought maybe I might be the guy willing to address it. He had no idea that his observations were about to take me from the dark wood in which I had found myself and show me a pathway out. I have come to think of him as the Virgil to my Dante, at this phase of my life. He has helped to lead me out of my particular Inferno and on to higher things.
In the email, which to an outsider may seem like an unlikely catalyst for profound metanoia, Kale made an appeal to look outside of trad-world bubble I had spent the better part of two decades within for some sense-making help:
A few years back I stumbled upon the Jordan Peterson/Kathy Newman clip on Rod Dreher’s blog. I was intrigued by the interchange, and enjoyed his calm demeanor in the face of an obvious attempt at a smear job. But honestly, bill C16 wasn’t really my jam.
But as I started to watch his videos, along with other members of the group dubbed the Intellectual Dark Web (IDW), I lamented that this group (Peterson, Bret Weinstein & Heather Heying, Eric Weinstein, James Lindsey, Joe Rogan, et al) has almost zero interaction with my (our) own tribe of Trad Catholics.
There is virtually no one in the Catholic Trad-ish world with the capacity and/or stones to actually remain elastic enough to learn from the IDW without resorting to some kind of of knee-jerk response along the lines of “well in sacrum sacrum sacrum, the church condemns this as wrong-think,” etc.
I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the farcical poke at pontifical prooftexting in his last sentence. This had been my world for many years, and I was rather proficient at citing the proverbial Sacrum Sacrum Sacrum myself. But it wasn’t cutting it anymore. A lot of the harshness in my persona, as well as the anxiety, the fear, the guilt, the triumphalism, the frustration I dealt with on a daily basis — a jumble of emotions and ideological positions one would be hard-pressed to see as in any way positive — were very directly a result of the traditionalist ideology I had imbibed. It was a belief system that perpetually saw itself as a tiny, persecuted minority (within an already persecuted minority, namely Catholicism itself) whose members were perpetually on the brink of defeat, and were just waiting for divine reinforcements who never came. A cultivated hostility with not just “the world” but the larger Church meant seeing enemies everywhere, criticizing everything and everyone, all the time, and encountering daily existence with the sort of hawk-eyed search for threats that leads to seeing existential danger in the flicker of every shadow. It’s a kind of self-inflicted PTSD — which feels oddly normal, if you’ve already got the real kind in some form — and it makes you a miserable, trigger-happy sonofabitch.
Being a full-fledged member of Tradistan means your cup is always full. There’s just no room to take in more when you already know everything — or at least, when whichever version of Sacrum Sacrum Sacrum you have in your screenshots folder does. There’s this weird psychological phenomenon in tradland where folks — usually but not always young men —outsource the pride and arrogance they know would be personally sinful to the Church, since She Can Never Be Wrong. They then weaponize this narcissism-by-proxy to glibly condemn anyone who falls short, unconvincingly disguising their rash judgment as a spiritual work of mercy: “I’m just admonishing the sinner/instructing the ignorant, fam.”
But my cup had just been emptied in the most profound and moving of ways. I was done, done, done with the constant negativity, the doom and gloom outlook, the conspiratorial overtones, the fear and anger and judgmentalism, all of it. I had brought that shit home and wielded it on my wife and children. For years. And I had been too blind to see the damage it had done. As I’ve written before, being Catholic didn’t make me a better person. It made me a worse one. And the ideological side of traditional Catholicism, which I’d gone all in on back in 2004, had ‘roided up the problem.
So there I was, having just woken up and realized that nothing was worth this. Not the Church. Not even God. I was not going to be a willfully miserable person for another. single. day. But I still needed to make sense of the world, and suddenly in marches this dude I barely knew from Twitter with answers on a silver platter.
I honestly didn’t realize until I sat down to write this just how profound this coinciding of events actually was.
I’m so pleased to see Kale get some public recognition. He is a very fine, questing orthodox Catholic who always makes me think, and who always leads with common sense and compassion.
Anyway, Skojec goes on to talk about how Jordan Peterson stabilized him, and led him out of a dark hole. You’ll want to go to the essay and see for yourself how JP did this for him. Skojec concludes:
Peterson is a man who has a profound gift for helping us to better understand ourselves, the world around us, and the archetypal stories that make sense of our existence. He is cutting through the noise and the clutter and the chaos of post-modern thought and offering substance and duty and purpose and meaning without sugar coating the reality of suffering, all offered to a world of broken souls who were neglected or abandoned by those who were supposed to care for them and raise them and teach them how to live rightly. He is also, for those overly concerned with such things, a man grappling with Christian belief, as I’ve written about before. But he has to get there via his own path, because he is too honest to simply bend the knee while questions remain.
— Steve Skojec (@SteveSkojec) February 18, 2022
I haven’t gone very far into Jordan Peterson’s work, but I find him to be impressive. I gave his lectures on Genesis a try, and was astonished that this funny-sounding, kind of dorky Canadian psychology professor held me riveted by his discourse on the profundity of the Bible — and the man isn’t even a Christian!
Why is it that Peterson succeeds, especially with young men, when so many Christian pastors fail? Kale wrote about in this 2020 essay on One Peter Five, the Catholic trad website that Skojec founded, but sold last year. Excerpt:
What we [Catholics] are doing isn’t working. We are not winning the war for the culture. We are not even winning the war for the soul of the Church. Meanwhile, civilization is, to borrow a line from Yeats, slouching towards Gomorrah. These days, that slouch is looking more and more like a sprint.
Something needs to give. We need to learn how to see again. It is my hope that for those willing to explore ideas from thinkers who are not exactly safe – men and women who will never survive the endless Catholic purity spiral – we may find a view of our unflattering state that will help us mend the wounds.
Are you a Christian who has improved your spiritual or moral life from paying attention to Jordan Peterson, or any of other IDW figures? If so, would you mind explaining it in the comments section? I’d like to know more. In my relatively limited experience with Peterson, what’s so compelling about him is that he comes across as a relentlessly honest searcher for big-T Truth, not like he’s trying to deliver pat answers to settle questions too quickly, or to reinforce settled teachings.
Take a look at this clip of one of his talks. Maybe what it is about Jordan Peterson is that he is unafraid to talk about the fact that life hurts, that we all suffer. He doesn’t sentimentalize it, or blame others for it — but he does offer us a no-b.s. way through it.
* This article was originally published here
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