Maps of Meaning with Jordan Peterson: Part 20, Paradise Lost

In the final pages of Chapter 4 "The Appearance of Anomaly" from Maps of Meaning, Jordan Peterson turns to talk about the impact of death upon human development and consciousness. Recall, in this chapter we're dealing with threats to our maps of meaning, things that cause a crisis in our personal and cultural paradigms. And as you can imagine, death can precipitate such a crisis.

These pages in Maps of Meaning reminded me a lot of Ernest Becker's seminal work The Denial of Death, a book, as regular readers know, that significantly impacted both my scholarship and spiritual journey. I'm an existentialist at heart. Death has always accompanied my thoughts. 

Peterson's description of the impact of death upon human consciousness is very similar to arguments I've made before in this space. Specifically, as human consciousness evolved it eventually reached a threshold where a twin capacity emerged, the onset of death-awareness and a capacity for moral reflection. As Peterson writes, "We have become able to imagine our own deaths, and the deaths of those we love, and to make a link between moral fragility and every risk we encounter." 

Mythologically, the dawn of this twin awareness is experienced as an expulsion from Paradise. Consciousness becomes saturated with both death and guilt. With the onset of the "knowledge of good and evil" comes expulsion from the Garden. A primordial "innocence" is lost. As Peterson observes, "The tradition of the 'fall from paradise' is predicated on the idea that the appearance of self-consciousness dramatically altered the structure of reality...Our constantly emerging self-consciousness (our constantly developing self-consciousness) has turned the world of experience into a tragic play...Survival has become terror and endless toil..."

Here in this space, I've argued that this mythological take on the evolution of human consciousness is a way to reconcile human evolution with Genesis 1-3. Of course, such a reading of Genesis isn't for everyone, but it is one of those examples where mythological readings can help some people reconcile Scripture with science. As I've said repeatedly in this series, Jordan Peterson is a useful resource for the church in getting skeptical audiences to listen to the Bible. In the hands of Jordan Peterson, Genesis can preach to atheists.

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