Maps of Meaning with Jordan Peterson: Part 39, The Second Fall

We're moving slowly through the final paragraphs of Maps of Meaning, sharing and reflecting on Peterson's summative comments about his argument in the book. Today we reach one of the points made by Peterson that I find very provocative:

The great myths of Christianity--the great myths of the past, in general--no longer speak to the majority of Westerners, who regard themselves as educated. The mythic view of history cannot be credited with reality, from the material, empirical point of view. It is nonetheless the case that all of Western ethics, including those explicitly formalized in Western law, are predicated upon a mythological worldview, which specifically attributes divine status to the individual. The modern individual is therefore in a unique position: he no longer believes in the principles upon which all his behaviors are predicated are valid.  This might be considered a second fall, in that the destruction of Western mythological barrier has re-exposed the essential tragedy of individual existence to view.

Again, this is a point we've already observed in this series. Christianity is the implicit myth of the Western world, the story that has guided our societies and given us our moral code. This is one of the big take-home points from Maps of Meaning, how Christianity is operating implicitly within our values, ethics, and lifeways.

The trouble, as Peterson goes on to observe, is that our post-Christian culture no longer believes in the myth that guides and undergirds our values. We hold values and espouse ethical codes of conduct that we can no longer justify. This fracture in the Western world between values and beliefs, the growing crack between morals and metaphysics, is the origin of the crisis of meaning we see spreading all around us. 

Something I'd add to Peterson's analysis, a point I've made regularly over the last year, is the disjoint between myth and emotion. We've inherited more than values and morals from Christianity. We've also inherited a suite of emotional expectations. One of these expectations is universal empathy, the belief that we should care about all the suffering in the world. We should open our hearts to absorb the pain of the world. But as I've argued, universal empathy quickly produces compassion fatigue without certain metaphysical commitments. The Beatles preached, "All you need is love." They were wrong. Love, to be sustainable, needs a little bit of faith and a little bit of hope.

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