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A Hole in The Intellectual Dark Web

June 26, 2019


The so-called Intellectual Dark Web, populated in at least some proportion by purportedly anti-PC and smart-mouthed New Atheist types, has seemed to create an unexpected opening for people to discover the value—and truth—in religion. This is a topic I not only wish to explore the phenomenon of, but to show how people of faith can find opportunities to dialogue, and even evangelize, those who spend probably far too much of their time watching Joe Rogan interviews on the harm transgenderism has done to sports. We begin with an analysis, which I admit is entirely speculative, so bear with me.

I believe The Intellectual Dark Web can be aptly described as a congregation of mostly liberal secularists who’ve become increasingly jaded with the direction the left-wing political agenda has been heading. People like Sam Harris, Brett Weinstein, and Dave Rubin. Jordan Peterson is there as well, who has played a particularly interesting—not to say, delightfully unexpected—role in bringing people to religion, which is of primary interest to this article, and a point we’ll eventually return to. And then there’s Ben Shapiro, the conservative outlier; essentially Megan McCain on The View. What generally unites members of the Intellectual Dark Web is a reasonable worry regarding political correctness, a standing against agendas that hope to shut down discussion and debate.

That said, most of those included in the IDW are atheists or at least strongly agnostic. They are almost all of them certainly left-wing. So, one can practically chew on the thickness of the irony. People who promote secular liberalism protesting the logical (I would argue, inevitable) consequences of secular liberalism: People who deny traditional, natural law morality ethically objecting when their relativism turns in a direction they don’t particularly happen to like. What the religious-mocking Sam Harris types seem unable to comprehend, or are at least unwilling to admit, is just how entirely arbitrary their political positions are, and how their precise views have contributed to the problem. They wants to bake their atheist worldview cake and lick away all the religious-free frosting, but, at the same time, have never realized they’ve only been able to do so by borrowing all the essential ingredients from their friendly traditionalist Christian neighbor whom they so adamantly despise—foundations for objective truth, morality, and reason. Atheism cannot lend support to any of these; yet very few – in fact, none so far as I’ve seen, apart from Shapiro, who is not an atheist – members of the IDW seem even moderately curious about asking the question of whether their general worldview is part of the problem they are all now so heroically protesting.

With that being said, what draws people to the Intellectual Dark Web, it would seem to me, is a sort of brash confidence and manly virtue often on display in the face of the otherwise frightening encroachment of these especially pernicious, far-left ideologues. People who want to censor speech and shut down debate. People who want to make forced use of pronouns. Those types. And all this, of course, is quite in line with why many people were drawn to the so-called New Atheism to begin with. They were brash and they were bold. They said things that most people were afraid to speak of. They had nearly everything going for them except the virtue of being correct.

But dogmatic, evangelical atheism, fortunately, is not descriptive of everyone attracted to the Intellectual Dark Web, and here is where I believe the opportunity lies. Specifically, we can see a sort of bridging happening from the morally barren, soul-stripped landscape of Sam-Harristanto the everlasting and holy sunbeams of Roman Catholicism because of people like Jordan Peterson. Peterson artfully and articulately expounds the, at the very least, pragmatic virtue and sense found inherently in religion. While he doesn’t argue for the existence of God per se, he significantly undermines, and from a secular perspective no less, so many of the moth-eaten, anti-religious clichés flung out by people such as Sam Harris, who assert belief in God as being entirely useless, outdated and in urgent need of termination. Peterson, who, in his own words, “acts as if God exists,” is returning to people a sense of objective life meaning that has been almost entirely degraded because of the New Atheism. And otherwise intelligent people who were taken in by their forceful and snide rhetoric are once again beginning to consider the practical utility, and even ontological plausibility, of religion—many, as you can see in no shortage of responses to videos made by Peterson, have actively converted toreligion.

That said, Peterson is somewhat… well, tone-deaf, and his Jungian interpretation of the Bible seriously begs the question. He wants to see Jesus as an archetype, a mere psychological meme, handed down from generation to generation. Fine and fair. But only insofar as Jesus was (and is) more than some fancy psychological construct. Because Jesus existed, my friends, and that is not a joke: we’ve got the historical record to prove it. So it seems that Peterson, whether he intends it or not, is simply committing the fallacy of Bulverism; that is, of trying to show why Christianity is wrong (even if only implicitly), without first showing thatChristianity is wrong. While his Jungian psychologizing may well be useful and interesting, surely the more interesting question is this: yes, yes– but is it true?

We should also let Peterson know (if somebody doesn’t mind telling him; I’m a little, ahem, busy at moment) that there is no inherent conflict between the Jungian and religious worldview per se. The whole psychological project of archetypes could be of immense pragmatic value for people lying on the psychologist’s couch trying to work out the motives and explanations behind their phobia of milk, and Jesus could really have been raised by God from the dead and Christianity be true. So, there is no need to say Peterson is wrong about everything (surely, he isn’t), but there is a need to say that he is badly missing the point with respect to the most important questions we can ask with respect to Christianity. Does God exist, and is Jesus God?

But we also shouldn’t be overly critical of Peterson not fulfilling a role he never intended to. He doesn’t work for the Archdiocese of Toronto, after all. Aside, Peterson serves as the essential mediator. He gets those who are entrenched in the kindergarten platitudes of the New Atheists to break away from their shallow, anti-religious commitments. He puts them in a state of religious receptivity, where people like us – that is to say, apologists and evangelists, or whoever – can provide arguments. We can show those who are jaded and skeptical the logical, rational and historical basis for the truth of the Catholic faith. We can present a full case for the argument from contingency, if the opportunity presents itself, or can simply state the fact that God seems to be far and away the best explanation for so much of human experience that atheism simply, in principle, cannot account for – like the fine tuning of physics for intelligent life, our perception of objective moral values and duties, and this odd but striking, historical account of some guy who emerged on the scene in first century Palestine, and somehow got a whole bunch of people – people who had no particular reason to think this, and suffered immense pains in order to promote it – to believe he had been raised from the dead, and was (and is) God.

This is no mere speculation, mind you, but a real and possible scenario, that I have actually seen happen. Peterson brings people from Sam Harris to Ben Shapiro, and then Shapiro passes them along to, say, Ed Feser or Bishop Barron and there you have it: Baptized at Easter Vigil. Peterson—frustrating as he is about some obviously big issues—is that bridge across the divide. He is, as they would say, an ally. A hole in the Intellectual Dark Web. So what we as religious advocates must be ready for is to offer the rational, logical basis—the metaphysical realism, and the reality of God—that so many of these frustrated, young people are searching for who are patently fed up with the absurd direction the secular world seems to be going. They’re looking for solid ground. And we’ve got it. And though he has yet to swim across the Tiber himself, Peterson has seemed to recognize something about this essential truth, when with respect to our great religion, he recently announced: Catholicism, “that’s as sane as people can get.”