by Andrea Elizabeth
I just finished the last of the discussion between Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson referenced in my last post. Peterson’s problem with Harris’ revulsion to religion is that he does not have any framework to base his sense of morality other than intuition. Harris’ criticism of religion mainly stems from using unverifiable revelation, such as fear of hell, to motivate people to do good. He said, ‘what’s wrong with respecting Jesus as a man and learning from him without an appeal to an afterlife?’ The moderator, Bret Weinstein, whom I’ve heard from before in a discussion with JP, and who did an excellent job keeping it smart, asked, ‘don’t you think people can be motivated by the supernatural?’ He also said Harris tended to focus on the negative aspects of religion and dismissed the positive. But to the question, Harris said that religion should not be necessary to motivate people to “be excellent to each other” as Bill and Ted would say.
So I think Harris is right that we do have a moral compass in our intuition that can be de-legitimized by power-hungry religious people. Peterson is right that we can’t trust our feelings either, or we’d just give cocaine to everyone to give them a sense of well being, and so we need a structure beyond ourselves. But Harris also gets points for motivating people towards altruism and not just individualism. If Peterson had been allowed to get into the weeds, I know that he points to familial reconciliations that he’s facilitated as altruistic. I think he is more focused on people becoming healthy starting with themselves, then expanding out. And I think he and Pageau are doing a necessary work in encouraging individual health. Leftist universalism is too overwhelming, and probably not accomplishable by unhealthy people. But sometimes we protect ourselves too much. Still, that should be voluntary and not state mandated, which I think Peterson would also say.
Harris also, in addition to coming scarily close to computer implants to take over irrational thinking, said that perhaps someday science will be able to pinpoint exactly what is wrong with the brains of “evil” people, and thus our responses to them could be emotionally de-escalated.
The problem to me is that in eschewing the supernatural and the afterlife, a human becomes the chief arbitrator of right and wrong and consequences. This reminds me of the interview I watched between Imagine Dragon’s Dan Reynolds and Ellen Degeneres (that I wrote about here) where Dan Reynolds seemed to think it obvious that he and his mother are reconciled because he totally believes that if she had to choose to save his life or Jesus’, she’d pick his. It’s so “obvious” to these people that they are as important or more important as/than God. Now I do think that some Christian sects, like Calvinism, devalue people too much, but there’s a way to value human life in a proper Christian context, which I think most Christians intuitively do. This is why there are acts of kindness as well as preaching. This is also why Christ healed bodies as well as forgave sins, thus saving their souls.
Next I’ll listen to Pageau’s response
then there’s this follow up