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'Devil at the crossroads': Jordan Peterson talks Christianity, suffering at Hillsdale College

Jordan Peterson
Clinical psychologist Jordan B. Peterson speaks at Hillsdale College's commencement ceremony in Michigan on May 7, 2022. |

World-renowned clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson cited biblical accounts and spiritual metaphors in his commencement speech to graduates of Hillsdale College in Michigan, encouraging students to maintain faith as they encounter temptation during this critical period of their lives. 

In the speech, which took place on May 7, the Canadian author and professor warned students they are at a "crossroads" in life, where people encounter the devil and must "examine" their consciences. He noted that the students were no longer the people they were four years ago, and they have the "opportunity now to be the next iteration of [themselves] that [they] can be." 

"And then you might ask, well, why do you meet the devil at the crossroads?" he said. 

"And the answer is, most fundamentally, because when you come to a place in your life where you have to make a choice … as the choices that lay themselves out now in front of you are weighty, you aim up or down, and there's always an agent of temptation at every choice point enticing you to aim down," the psychologist continued. 

Peterson referenced the biblical account of Cain and Abel as an example of "the spirit of temptation," illustrating how God punished Cain for making "improper sacrifices" that were not "in the service of the highest good." Instead, his choices were "deceptive and arrogant simultaneously." 

"Because when we make improper sacrifices, we believe in the deepest part of ourselves that we've pulled one over God," Peterson said. "And I suggest that's a temptation you might want to avoid, that presumption." 

He pointed to the story of Genesis 6:9-9:17, where God flooded the Earth because mankind had lost its way, but He spared Noah and his family. One personal anecdote he compared to Noah's story involved his daughter, who was "very, very ill" for a long period of time when she was young. And Peterson warned her not to use her illness as an excuse, even though she had every reason to be "embittered." 

"So that's one temptation, right? That's the temptation of kind of faithless hopelessness, and you might say existential angst that you allow to pervade yourself," he said. 

"I would say when you're at the crossroads, and you're counseled to despair, rise up in courage and see if you can resist it," Peterson continued. "It's better for you, and it's better for the people around you. So that's the flood, man."

He also referenced the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9, when Noah's descendants attempted to build a structure tall enough to reach the heavens. Peterson called it a "Luciferian" story, as Lucifer is the symbol of "prideful intellect" who rose too high and fell after he challenged God. 

"The celebration of your own intellect, the construction of your own empire for your own narrow purposes … part of the reason you shouldn't do that, even though it's tempting in some sense, especially if you have the ability, is because, do you want to rule over Hell?" 

The self-help author advised the students to break their lives down into "practicalities," ensuring that they have things such as a career, relationships, and civic duties to help "develop an image" of themselves. The vision for themselves should enable them to assume that, with the "proper sacrifices," they can have all "[they] need and want." 

"And so, by practicing any good in any rigorous sense and making the proper sacrifices in that direction, you simultaneously learn to approach the good that is the sum or the essence of all those proximal goods," Peterson said. 

"I would say that the essential insistence in Christianity is that the good that unites all those goods is the same good that's reflected in the image of Christ, which is an image of acceptance of the suffering of life and the necessity of serving the lowest as the highest calling." 

Peterson contended that the promises of Christianity are likely "more true than anything else."

The Canadian psychologist has a large online following and is a sought-after speaker known for providing life advice — particularly to troubled young men — and using biblical archetypes to explain complex truths about human nature. 

Though Peterson was raised Protestant, he does not appear to consider himself a Christian yet. In a February 2018 podcast interview with Roman Catholic author Patrick Coffin, the thought leader said it would probably take him "three more years" before he could say if he believed in Christ's resurrection. 

During a March podcast interview with Orthodox Arts Journal Editor Jonathan Pageau, Peterson choked up while discussing Jesus, prompting fans to pray for his faith journey. He admitted that he still did not know yet what to make of Christianity, claiming "it's too terrifying a reality to fully believe." 

In October, Peterson's daughter, Mikhaila, revealed on her podcast that she had come to believe in God after she traveled to Austin, Texas, to see if she wanted to move there. She admitted that she had been dwelling on four major problems at the time. When Mikhaila confided in a stranger in Texas, he told her to seek God, and He would "reveal Himself." 

After spending the night praying, Mikhaila said all four problems cleared up by the next day, which seemed like an odd coincidence. While the podcaster felt an unusual sense of "calm," she did wonder if the experience was just a fluke. 

"And then I had the most wild dream … woke up at 5:30 in the morning, and I had a dream. … This loud thundering voice just yelled, 'Do it!' And I woke up at 5:30 in the morning, thinking, 'I think I just got yelled at by God. I think that just happened.' That's what it felt like."

"It occurred to me that I think what it meant was just go all in, don't do this like 75 percent in. It's been a wild month. I'm doing well. It's just; I'm a little bit shocked," she added.

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