Jordan Peterson discusses nature of suffering with university president

Ben Miller
Layout Editor

It is not often that you would consider a book to be the most fundamental element of a culture, said Jordan Peterson to a packed Finnegan Fieldhouse Monday at 7 p.m.

Peterson spoke for an hour about the modern culture requiring the lens of the Bible to be understood. He said the Bible is true, but questioned in what sense it was true.

“It’s like a meta truth,” Peterson said. “It’s true in that it provides the basis for truth itself.”

After Peterson spoke, the Rev. Dave Pivonka, TOR, university president, joined Peterson on stage to discuss gratitude in spite of suffering.

Peterson took the opportunity to reflect on Numbers 21:4-9.

After inflicting the snakes on the Israelites, Peterson noted, God did not simply remove the snakes, but commanded Moses to make a bronze snake and mount it on a pole. Those who looked at the serpent were cured.

Peterson likened this instance to exposure therapy, where patients face the object of their fears.

“There’s just no getting rid of the snakes; you have to learn to contend with them,” he said. “If you get people to confront what they are afraid of … they don’t get less afraid; they get braver.”

Taking this a step further, Peterson said the passion of Christ was the greatest of tragedies because of the circumstances surrounding it.

“It’s like the sum total of all possible fears,” he said.

“Our culture has put at its center the ultimate tragedy,” he said. “It’s as if we are attempting to inoculate ourselves against the catastrophe of life.” However, “the tragedy is not the end of the story; the resurrection is the end of the story.”

Peterson explained that in the Bible as well as in psychology, exposure is the “cardinal technique.”

“If you get people to expose themselves to what they’re terrified of, being terrified isn’t the end of the story; recovering is the end of the story,” he said.

Pivonka picked up the theme of transcending suffering with a story about an encounter with a sickly priest whose witness brought a renewal to his church. Pivonka was struck by the change that had come over the priest, as well as his parish, that was brought about through his suffering.

People want to be loving, kind, generous and empathetic but don’t want it to come through the suffering of the cross, Pivonka said.

“But it’s through that cross that we are transformed,” Pivonka said.

The event concluded with Pivonka inviting John Paul Von Arx, head of music ministry at Franciscan, to the stage to sing a brief hymn with the Franciscan University Schola before praying over Peterson.

Anthony Craig, a Steubenville resident, said the event lived up to the expectations.

“It is amazing how he was able to integrate religion, philosophy, psychology (and) science all into one to explain his points,” he said. “I think my favorite part of the whole evening was when he discussed finding Jesus in the middle of the suffering, … basically saying that you have to face your fear, face your chaos, face whatever it is in your life in order to overcome that thing.”

The university went all out to host Peterson.

The evening began with Daniel Kempton, vice president of academic affairs, thanking everyone for attending. This was followed by the Franciscan University Schola taking the stage to sing “Magnificat,” composed by Arvo Pärt.

The Schola was conducted by Vincent Rone, who holds a doctorate in musicology.

After the performance, the Rev. Jonathan St. Andre, TOR, vice president of Franciscan life, led the assembly in prayer.