Tuesday, October 08, 2019

The Names of Their Gods

Dr. Jordan Peterson’s fifteen minutes of fame are pretty much up, I suspect, but since he got almost three years of limelight and a book that has sold in the neighborhood of three million copies out of his notoriety, he’s probably not complaining.

For the three readers who have never heard of him, the professor drew international attention in late 2016 for his critique of political correctness, something almost unheard of on Canadian university campuses. He has not looked back since.

Credit Where Credit is Due

Regardless of whether the man is ultimately able to live up to his own hype, and regardless of whether he is ever able to nail down obscure concepts like “belief”, “resurrection” and “Jesus”, Peterson ought to get lasting credit for this gem:
“I don’t recognize another person’s right to decide what words I’m going to use. I’m not willing to mouth words that I think have been created for ideological purposes.”
I certainly won’t forget it. Using someone else’s loaded terminology is a bad idea. Peterson grasped that, and he distilled it nicely for us.

Don’t Use Their Words

Joshua had something similar in view, I believe, when he charged the nation of Israel and its leaders not to turn aside from the Law of Moses to the right or to the left, and specifically with respect to what the Law said about foreign deities:
“[Y]ou may not ... make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them.”
It was not simply that it was wrong to invoke the names of foreign gods when you took a formal public oath, or wrong to make offerings to them, or wrong to set the standards of an Israelite household by their putative precepts. That would have been plenty, and we can see perfectly logical reasons to forbid such things. But in addition, Joshua tells God’s people not even to make mention of the names of the gods worshiped by the nations; not to validate them by allowing them to become part of one’s common daily speech; not to give them the slightest credibility.

He said, in effect, “Don’t use their words.” Joshua was on to something there.

No ‘There’ There

You see, Ba’al and Asherah were not like the God of the Hebrews who had made their new homes in Canaan. They were not real deities. They were traditional fictions credited with various imaginary powers over humanity. Their blessing was sought, and offerings were made to placate or otherwise incent them, but there was no ‘there’ there; nothing of substance to which one might appeal in time of crisis. They served as a mask for supernatural evil. As the apostle Paul put it:
“[W]hat pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God.”
In short, the gods of the nations were the functional and cultural equivalent of Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, assuming those fictional constructs ate children instead of bringing them cash and presents. Therefore to place such caricatures of deity — or even to appear to place them — on the same level as the God of Israel was not only misleading and confusing, it was profoundly disrespectful to YHWH, to whom they bore no resemblance at all.

Loaded Terminology

Our society is constantly being bombarded with loaded terminology. Propaganda is the lingua franca. Words that have been coined or repurposed to dictate the boundaries of public discourse are everywhere, and Christians are wise to learn to recognize and avoid them.

Why? Because when we use the language of ideologues, we are allowing them to tell us how to think, what we should believe and what we should pass on to our children. Moreover, we are replacing valid biblical terminology and concepts with the language of liars. Not to put too fine a point on it, we are taking the knee to false gods.

For example, the “borderless planet” is a false god. Scripture teaches that God confused the languages of men at Babel, then he made the nations and fixed the borders of the peoples. “Peoples” means kindred or tribe, men and women related by blood, not just shared ideas. God did these things for good reasons, and all efforts to undo them are in direct opposition to God. Globalism can no more bring peace to the world than 450 prophets of Baal could make it rain.

More False Gods

Unless we are talking legal theory, the notion that “all men are created equal” is also a false god. You find equality nowhere in scripture, except in the case of the Lord Jesus, who “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” If Jesus did not prize it and seek it, and instead took the form of a servant, we ought to do likewise. In the Christian world, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” Merely declaring the weak conceptually equal will not get the job done. Mandating equality by law is bound to be precisely as effective as law has proved itself in all other areas, which is to say horribly insufficient.

Personal gender expression is another false god. “Male and female [God] created them,” not a buffet of individual preferences. Attempts to resist what God has created are the source of tremendous unhappiness, and Christians do not do any favors for men and women struggling with the idea of submitting their wills to God when we follow the world’s lead by distinguishing gender expression from biological sex. Rather, we allow ideology to reign over reality.

And Even More ...

The “right to choose” is a false god. There are certain things nobody has the right to choose, and murdering a child is one of them. Human self-determination was never intended to be enthroned. It is merely a means to an end.

Gaia is a false god. Man was given the responsibility to care for the earth by God himself, but the moment environmentalists start talking about promoting abortion in the Third World (thanks, Bernie Sanders), fast-food cannibalism, and preserving the ecosphere at the cost of the lives of its human inhabitants, we know the tail is wagging the dog. This world was made for man, not man for the world. To lose sight of that is a form of idolatry.

Saying It Clearly

Jordan Peterson was right in 2016, even if he may have clarified (and somewhat softened) his position since: We do ourselves, our families and our neighbors no favors by using words that have been coined and repurposed for ideological purposes. When we uncritically adopt the language of unbelievers, we deceive ourselves and others, do unintentional homage to pseudo-deities, and are allowing our speech, thinking and conduct to be determined by someone other than Christ. We are granting to fictions powers they do not deserve.

That’s disloyalty at best, idolatry at worst. When Joshua told the people of Israel not even to make mention of the names of false gods, he was not being fussy, petty or parochial. He rightly understood that the language we permit ourselves to use determines how we think and what we will tolerate, and it sets the default assumptions of future generations.


  1. Highly appropriate and good analysis. Unfortunately that's precisely where the problem comes in. It seems few are gifted to understand, or are willing to make the effort to understand, somewhat more complex and demanding ideas. Hence, the loudest, often most obnoxious, and only marginally honest, will carry the day in the public sphere. This then gets us where we are currently especially if it is combined with what people perceive to be the most convenient and least demanding route to take in their lives. Frustrating, isn't it? Frustrating because only you seem to know how to logically and properly load a dishwasher for best utilization and most people seem to either not care or simply can't do it. So we'll have to wait until people finally get disgusted with being served on dirty dishes. But we won't know when that will happen.

    1. Frustrating, isn't it?

      Was it Aristotle who said, "There are people whom one cannot instruct"? I think he was probably right.