Jordan Peterson and Brett Weinstein: “Metaphorically true, but literally false.”

In my last article I broke down a conversation between Jordan Peterson and Brett Weinstein that focused on the evolutionary benefit of religion and storytelling for humanity. To quickly recap that logic:

  1. Because we can delay gratification, we form beliefs about the potential for an afterlife.
  2. Belief in an afterlife is an example of delayed gratification meant to improve our communities and the lives of our offspring yet is, “metaphorically true, but literally false.” [Brett’s quote, which contextually refers to an afterlife not being real (“literally false”), but because belief in an afterlife alters the behavior (delayed gratification) of an individual or even a tribe during their time on earth, it can improve the lives of everyone in the community and the lives of all their offspring (which makes a belief in an afterlife that improves the human species, “metaphorically true”).]
  3. Faith in and adherence to metaphor and fantasy may present us with a higher form of truth than does belief in cold, hard facts. (Which was a question posed by Jordan Peterson.)

The Critical Importance of Storytelling

I think storytellers have a responsibility to communicate the Divine.

Paramount? Yikes. That’s a lot. Now, there are undoubtedly numerous ways to push back on these ideas and the conclusions reached by both Weinstein and Peterson (on their podcast) or even my analysis of their podcast in my last article. But even if their philosophical framework contains flaws, the importance of the storyteller (or, perhaps more accurately, the stories they’re telling) in a given community remains incredibly high.

The Definition of Divine

Divine. An interesting word choice for many reasons. Let’s consider the definition of that word, Divine:

Storytelling and the Divine Message

Let’s consider the resounding implications of Jordan Peterson’s question. Here’s that question reworded by me:

  1. A means to understanding the Divine?
  2. A means by which to communicate the message of the Divine to humanity?

How Storytellers = Scientists

The definition of science:

The dual roles the storyteller must take on are: scientist and theologian.

**(Source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition)

How Storytellers = Theologians

The definition of theology:

Questions for Consideration

Scientists, theologians, and conveyors of Divine truth… Is that what storytellers are? Let’s pause here to reflect and consider the following questions:

  • What implications does that have on stories and storytellers? Should we act, think, or feel differently?
  • What arguments exist that would contradict these assumptions and theories?
  • If storytellers do convey the Divine, what does that mean for society?
  • Should storytellers behave as both scientists and theologians or should they behave in some other way that I postulated here? And if so, how?



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Jay Sherer

Jay Sherer

I love storytelling. I write novels and screenplays. My latest book, DEATH OF A BOUNTY HUNTER, is out now!