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About this episode:
Has internet atheism run its course? Are young people ready to find meaning in religion again?
Mikhaila Peterson is the daughter of the popular psychologist Jordan Peterson and has established her own online following among a younger demographic following trends of culture, atheism and religion. She recently revealed she had ‘found God’ and is on a spiritual journey.
In this live online event, She engages with Jon McCray who runs the popular apologetics and theology channel ‘Whaddo You Meme?’ and has been at the forefront of responding to internet atheism and religious trends in our culture.
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Sign up to our online course, Do we need God to make sense of life: A guide to Jordan Peterson’s Big Conversation and unearth the hidden gems that Jordan Peterson offers us in making the case for faith.
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More from this season:
- Episode 1: Biology, Belief, and Covid: Can Science and Faith be Reconciled?
- Episode 2: Conversion, Culture and the Cross: Are we ready to believe in God again?
- Episode 3: Is there a Master Behind our Mind?
- Episode 4: Rationality, Religious Experience and the Case for God
- Episode 5: Robots, Transhumanism and Life Beyond Earth
Audio Transcript for The Big Conversation: Season 4 Episode 6 Are Millennials and Gen Z ready to believe in God?
Justin Brierley (JB), Mikhaila Peterson (MP) and Jon McCray (JM)
JB: Hello and welcome to this live edition of The Big Conversation from Premier Unbelievable, in partnership with the John Templeton Foundation. I’m Justin Brierley and I’m so glad to be joined today by Mikhaila Peterson and Jon McCray, as we discuss Gen Z, millennials and the search for God. And welcome to the many people who are continuing to join us from all over the world on this live-streamed edition of the show. In fact, why don’t you tell us where you’re watching from, in the comments – it would be fun to know where you’re joining us from.
But just before I formally introduce Jon and Mikhaila, just a bit of housekeeping for tonight. This is a Q&A event; if you would like to ask a question today, it’s really simple to do so – just use the Q&A tool, to ask your question. We’ll turn to those about halfway through the show and respond to as many as we can, but as we talk, do feel free to be submitting those questions.
And finally, since we’re talking about Gen Z, millennials and God, we want to know what the make up of this online watching audience is today. So we’re launching a poll right now in fact, which will be open for the next few minutes – so you’ve probably seen it pop up on your screen. And we’d love you to respond with which generation you fall into and if you’re willing, your religious affiliation, if any, ok. So it’ll be fun to see what the make up of the audience is today; you should be able to see that poll now, so do go ahead and answer that. And we’ll close that in a few minutes; we’ll just see what people’s general views are and which particular generation they belong to. But for now, let’s welcome Jon and Mikhaila to today’s show.
Mikhaila Peterson is a lifestyle and diet blogger, with a wide following on her YouTube channel and podcast, where she hosts a variety of thinkers and experts. She is of course also daughter to the renowned psychologist Jordan Peterson. Jon McCray is a Christian who runs the popular YouTube channel, Whaddo You Meme? Engaging with Internet atheism and popular culture. And on today’s show we’re going to be talking about millennials, the large Gen Z audience, that follow both Mikhaila and Jon. And we’ll be discussing their journeys of faith and the search for meaning and spirituality among the digitally connected current generations. So welcome, Mikhaila and Jon.
We’ll start with you Mikhaila. You’ve had a crazy few years and most recent crazily you’ve got married as well, so tell us about married life, how’s it going?
MP: Married life is fantastic, so far. So I’ve found somebody and I’m unbelievably compatible with and I’m extremely thankful. He’ll probably come into play later on, because I think that’s what changed my belief system last summer, or really solidified my belief in God – so he’ll come into play later. But married life is fantastic; I think if you find somebody you match with, then you should do it.
JB: Great, great. Well I look forward to hearing more of that in due course. Of course, many know you for your own work, but also for your father’s work as well. Of course you had a crazy few years, because obviously Jordan exploded into popular consciousness about five years ago, and then suddenly everything sort of went crazy with his health. You were very involved in pulling him through some really tough times in 2019/2020. You seem to be through the worst of that now – do you feel like you’re there and I guess what got you through it, in the end?
MP: So I was chronically ill as a kid and so I think I was just – not to pat myself on the back for it or anything – but I think I was pretty used to suffering. So what got me through it was really like some anger I pulled up from deep inside… I don’t know if that’s healthy. But like, anger, and I guess determination and just, this isn’t how this story goes, right. I think sometimes people get into situations where they’re like, ‘I’ve no control’. And I’ve felt more recently, if I try really, really hard to work towards something, and I put all my effort into that, then I can accomplish that. So I think that came into play a lot, in the last couple of years when my dad got sick. Because he got sick and it was like, we went all over the world trying to find help. We had access – I mean, it’s my dad – we had access to the top doctors anywhere we went in the entire world.
And the condition he had, called akathisia, which is a side effect of a ton of medications, it’s so misunderstood that nobody could help us. And so I ended up researching a lot on my own and we ended up figuring it out, so he was sick with that combined with a lot of allergies – severe allergies, like EpiPen-type allergies. And that combination just almost killed him for a number of years. And he recovered pretty recently; he’s just been getting better and better and better. But he said at the moment he feels better than he has since before people knew about it and in at least five years, probably more like ten. So yes, we’re through the worst of it; it was not pleasant and I would not have wished that on my worst enemy.
JB: Yes. Well I know that you had a big role to play in managing to bring him through that. And I know there were other pressures going on – your mother almost died, for goodness sake, so there was lots going on in your life for a few years. I’m glad things have kind of reached a little bit more of a stable state now.
MP: Oh my, things are great. It’s a completely different reality at the moment.
JB: Yes, yes, that’s good to hear. Let’s introduce Jon as well – Jon, welcome to the show. Tell us a bit about Whaddo You Meme? It’s a kind of unusually titled YouTube channel – tells us where the title came from?
JM: Yes, thanks for having me. The title really came from… So when I first started kind of doing YouTube, prior to that actually, I was doing a lot of online debates with a lot of atheists and stuff. And I saw there was a lot of memes that were online that I thought needed a response. And to get to the gist of it, I started by responding to a lot of the atheist memes and stuff in culture. And because I didn’t grow up in the church or anything like that, so I speak the language of culture, so to say – because culture made a lot of sense to me, whereas Christianity and stuff didn’t as much. And so because of that, I wanted to try and communicate Christianity to culture and defend Christianity to culture, in a way that made sense to them and that they could understand. So I started by responding to memes. And I knew that these picture memes wouldn’t last forever, but I always wanted to keep up with the cultural memes – the cultural thought and culture, and so that’s where the name kind of came from.
JB: Yes, Whaddo You Meme? It’s a great channel – lots of stuff. I mean, we’ll talk in a moment about Internet atheism – the new atheism that you were responding to, how the pictures changed there – in just a moment. But it’s great to have you with us as well, Jon, as we explore your story and Mikhaila’s story today – really looking forward to today’s show.
Now as I mentioned, we have got the Q&A, so do make sure to be putting your questions in for Jon and Mikhaila. You can do that while we’re chatting away here, and as I say, a little bit later on in the show we’ll ask as many of those questions as we can. But do use the Q&A functionality for that; you can up-vote your favourite questions too.
We’re going to close this poll as well – thanks to everyone who has responded. Just the last few moments to get your answers in – which generation do you belong to and do you have any particular religious affiliation, just be interested to get that. So we’re going to close that now; we’ll just take a look at of those who responded, what kind of audience we are looking at tonight. Because we’re talking about millennials and Gen Z. Millennials,
by the way, is classified as anyone born from about 1981-1996, and then Gen Z is 1996-2012, I believe. So those are the kind of generation that we’re hearing a lot about these days, in terms of their religious affiliation going towards ‘nones’ – that’s who have no particular religious affiliation. So we’re going to close that poll and see what’s come in.
Ok, here we go. I’m seeing here that most of our – as perhaps you might have expected – are in the millennial and Gen X, actually, Gen X makes a significant proportion – 21%, that’s age 65-80, in the audience. We’ve got millennials, Gen Y1 and Y2 – so this is 25-29 and 29-39 – making up 19% and 22%, respectively. So millenials, certainly, the lions share of the people who are on the call today. Gen Z – about 19% of the audience, that’s from 1997-2012. Apparently, we are not very appealing on this show to Gen A, but I’m sure there are a few who perhaps just didn’t respond. But baby boomers – 17%, so that’s the kind of post-war generation, born 1946-1964.
And in terms of the general sort of people who are willing to tell us about their faith, well, we haven’t had a lot of response from many people other than Christians. And that may just suggest that most of the people watching are Christians – in fact, a whopping 96% of people who have responded are Christians, who are watching today. But the rest made up of atheists and agnostics. So thank you very much. Oh and a few people saying, ‘don’t label me’, which is great!
Ok, so there you go. Well I’m really looking forward to this conversation. Let’s talk about your journey, Mikhaila. You’re a millennial and a lot of your generation have kind of either walked away from church or never entered church in the first place. You’ve recently though gone on a journey to God, so do you want to just give us the background to that, and we’ll just listen and you tell us what happened?
MP: Sure, ok. So given who my dad is, I grew up knowing about the biblical stories but more from a psychological perspective. So the meaning behind the biblical stories; we never read them really as if they had actually happened – a lot of it was the psychology significance behind it. And so I can remember in grade four somebody coming up to me and asking me if I believed in God, and I said, ‘I don’t know’. So I probably identified as an agnostic until last August. And agnostic as in, completely open to it, understanding that religion has value and hoping that one day I could find some sort of support like God, that I’d heard Christians talking about. I was like, that sounds fantastic, but I don’t have that.
And then that changed for me last August. And I think that there were a number of things that happened, that opened my mind to the possibility of God. And I think having my dad as my dad was unbelievably helpful. And I’m not sure how this resonates with a Christian audience, but I took a lot of psychedelics, and I do think the psychedelics opened my mind to the possibility that there was something there I couldn’t see – so think that had a fairly large role to play.
And then my mum got cancer and she almost died. And it was movie-style bad – and I’m sure people who are listening have had family members get sick, and a sick person in a hospital is just horrible, right. And she was unbelievably sick; she got this rare cancer that nobody gets and there were no studies on it and the death rate was 100%. And it was like, you have eight months, starting now – and nothing helps. And it was like, really? She had to get the cancer that nobody gets, that kills you right away? Right, like really? She wasn’t that old; I could be off by a year, but about fifty-seven – it was like, that’s not fair at all. So I watched, and that tore my family apart, because it was so sudden and it’s my mum.
And something happened to her in the hospital; so she had surgery, and the surgery didn’t work the first time. And then she had surgery a second time and then the doctor nicked a lymph node, and so she had to fly to the U.S. to get surgery again. And nothing was working. And at some point through that experience, she found God. And so she identifies as a Catholic at the moment. And a lady started visiting her in the hospital, and they were praying together. And my mum’s demeanour changed – she just let go, and what she said was, she let go of the control she was trying to have over the cancer.
And then this is when things got spooky-weird, in a way that I couldn’t logically understand. And in July she was in the hospital – she wasn’t eating, she’s being fed through a tube, it was bad – and she goes, ‘I’ll be better by our anniversary’. And my parent’s anniversary is mid-August. And we’re like, ok mum, mum’s on pain killers – ‘I’ll be better by our anniversary’. And she flew down to the States and had this surgery, and the surgery failed. And on their anniversary she recovered. And nobody understood why, right. And all the doctors didn’t understand why; nobody understood why – it was kind of like, oh, that’s a weird day, and you said that was going to happen a month ago, and how is that possible? And she was like, ‘God’. And I was like, ok, not entirely sure how I can logic my way out of that experience.
So that happened. And then we just had two horrifying years after that with my dad being in and out of hospitals, with doctors misdiagnosing him; put on medications that were making him sicker. And just like, again, every single day was so awful that I couldn’t believe it was happening, right. And it was like too much – it didn’t make any sense. And when that was happening, I thought it kind of felt like it was a two-year thing. When I chose to help dad, I thought, I could just move to the U.S., I could do my podcast – I don’t have to deal with this. This is really ruining my life; it’s really stressful. And I decided instead to go full force and do primary care and figure out what was going on with him and talk to the doctors. And at that time I felt that this was going to take two years – every day for two years. And it ended up taking a little bit longer than that.
But last summer – I’ll speed it up – last August, things were not good still. And so my dad was still sick; I was actually in the middle of a divorce, and there were a whole bunch of parts of my life that were just not working well. And I wasn’t depressed – I’ve been depressed; I wasn’t depressed. But I was crying daily, because life was really hard – not because I was depressed. And I flew to Austin, because I was planning on relocating from Canada, and I met my husband in Austin. And he’s a Christian – he’s been a Christian his entire life, his parents are Christian’s, and he’s like, super-Christian, compared to how I grew up. And he was like, ‘how are you doing?’ And I was like, ‘honestly, I’m coping – I’m doing things – but I’m not doing well, obviously; a bunch of bad things are happening all the time’. And he was like, ‘well you need God’. And I was like, ‘yes, that would be fantastic, but I don’t have that – how do I get that?’ And he said, ‘go home and pray and just ask God to reveal himself to you’. And so I went back home and prayed, and really, ‘please, if you’re out there, please show yourself’.
And then I know other people’s experiences aren’t this obvious, maybe. But for me, there were really four parts of my life that were heading in a bad direction, and they all kind of turned to head in a better direction. So my dad called me and he was like, ‘I’m feeling better; we’re on this diet for autoimmune disorders’ – and he’d gone back on the diet and it had started to help, finally. So that happened. And then negotiating with my ex-husband kind of went in a more positive direction. And then there were two major work things – because there’s a lot of PR around my dad and just stressful things happen all the time – and they just went in the right direction. And it was like, ‘well that could have happened, I guess. But I think that was God’ –and that was enough for me. I was like, ‘things have been bad every day for years – for my entire life’, and I woke up feeling calm and kind of lifted, which I think was the Holy Spirit. I just felt a calm that I hadn’t felt before and then aspects of my life improved. And things have been up and down since then, but I’ve always felt comforted in a way I hadn’t before. So that was last August.
JB: Wow, wow. That’s such an interesting story. And I mean, you said obviously that your husband, who I understand is also a Christian, has been obviously a significant part of that. And is that a name you’re happy to give yourself now, that you’re a Christian and not just someone who believes in God generally, as it were?
MP: Yes. I haven’t taken… I saw somebody ask what denomination – and keep in mind everybody here that I’m still pretty new to this – but I’m non-denominational, at this point. I’m mostly just reading the Bible a lot – multiple times – and trying to understand as much as I can from that, before figuring out anything more.
JB: Yes, well that’s a good place to start. I mean, Jon, as it were, this is a conversation in that sense between two Christians. But you’re obviously someone who’s been on the journey a bit longer; I know you even responded at the time that Mikhaila talked about this publically on her own channel. What are your thoughts just on what Mikhaila shared there, and the particular way in that she’s obviously had to faith, in the last year?
JC: Yes, I think that’s great; I loved hearing your story. What’s interesting I think is that my story kind of started at the opposite end, and so it’s kind of interesting how we both kind of found God in different ways. Because I’ve watched probably a good handful of videos on your channel, and you’re a very rational person, and so it’s interesting too because your conversion didn’t necessarily have to do with pure rationality. I mean, there were these things that you couldn’t explain, given just pure logic, you know. But it was more like you had experience and you had these things that all kind of mapped it out in your life.
And it’s interesting because for me – being a product of culture – it was interesting, because I started on the other side, where I was like following a lot of signs and coincidences or something like this. So it’s interesting, because there would be a lot of times though for me where it was like, ok, yes, there has to be a God out there – all these things happened in this way. But then there were also times where coincidences would work in a different way, or I’d be like, ok, maybe I’m just thinking that this is the case because coincidences happen. And then I’d see other people are having coincidences and coming to other conclusions and stuff, so really it kind of threw me off. So I’d say I was pretty agnostic as well too – I’d believe God one day; not believe in God one day.
And then in college I ended up taking a philosophy of religion class – I didn’t even know what philosophy was – but basically I came across a lot intellectual arguments and stuff for God’s existence. And when I came across… particularly the Kalam Cosmological Argument, I found very persuasive, and that convinced me intellectually that there was a God. And so I was like, ok, it just really made sense to me; really resonated – so it kind of got me to that point. And then after that is when I started going to a lot of different churches, because I believed in God – I just didn’t know if God revealed himself in any religions or not.
And so then when I went to these different churches and these different religions, I heard a lot of times when I asked them why they believed in their church and not other churches, almost every time people would say because of these coincidences. All these things happened and therefore this is how I know that my church is true, because it couldn’t have happened any other way. And so that threw me a curveball because I said, ‘well shoot, if there are all these kinds of things like that, I can’t really trust that, because they’re mutually exclusive – you know, some people it will lead Islam; some people it will lead to all these different religions’. And so for me, it got me to start looking into the resurrection, the evidence for the historical resurrection and that sort of thing. And I eventually converted to Christianity, based off of more the intellectual aspect, rather than the emotional aspect.
So it was weird, because I started here on the kind of – I don’t want to call your experience emotional, that’s not what I’m saying – but I’m saying like the kind of non-scientific or super-analytical approach, if you want to say something like that. So I started there, and I needed to get grounded by using more reason and thought, you know what I mean. So that’s what kind of got me somewhere in the middle for my conversion, and so then it was like we kind of switched spots, but ended in a similar position. So I think that’s interesting.
So I guess what I’d say when it comes to your experience – and this is just from where I’m sitting – I think it’s great; experiences and these coincidences are great, as these kind of starting premises, to get you to consider that you otherwise wouldn’t have considered. But like I said, with talking to so many people and then hearing these different people leading to different beliefs, I’m hesitant to take experiences and coincidences and stuff like that as an indicator of just the truth, because it can lead different people to different places. But it’s a good starting point for you to investigate the truth.
Just one more quick note on the side, I had a friend who had a bunch of experiences and it led him to believe that Islam was true. But then he started looking into Islam, and then he realised Islam was false and became a Christian. So I think that’s why it’s good – the experiences are what really helped him to get motivated to start considering Christianity, where he otherwise wouldn’t have. And so that’s why I do believe that God can use those experiences for those sorts of things; I just don’t think that they’ll be a starting and stopping point, if that makes sense.
MP: Yes. Well one thing, to follow up with that, so I’m a pretty sceptical person. And the reason that I’ve gravitated towards Christianity is, well, mostly because that’s the religion I’m most familiar with, and then also because of my husband, and also because of the feeling I get around other Christians – so that’s a big part. I’ve always picked up on… I call them ‘vibes’ and always wrote it off; I was like, that person’s giving me terrible vibes – I don’t know what it is, but I don’t want to be near that person, I have no idea why. And I was kind of like well, that’s not logical. And I know that Christians I’ve met – 99% of Christians I’ve met – give me really comforting vibes, and so that’s helped.
But to be perfectly honest, I’m going to have to do a deep dive into a whole bunch of research and then experience a lot more in different types of churches, to figure out what I believe super-firmly, I think because it’s all so new. So I’ve been attacking this from a Christian perspective, which I want to continue doing unless something changes. But I’m definitely still open to experiencing other things, because I don’t know enough at this point.
JB: Yes. What have some of your maybe more atheistically minded friends made of your journey, Mikhaila? Have you had any pushback on this?
MP: Not really. Because in 2016 I went on this really extreme paleo diet, and I was like, ‘it’s cured my autoimmune disorder, I’m off of all my medications!’ They were like, ‘ok, Mikhaila’. So that already happened. And then it was like, ‘oh my autoimmune disorder’s back after pregnancy, and now I’m going on a meat diet. I’m on an all meat diet, and my autoimmune is in remission; I swear it’s in remission because of the diet’. They’re like, ‘ok Mikhaila, we see this working but…’ And so then I was like, ‘God – I think God is real’, they’re like, ‘ok, so now you’re on the God train’, and I was like, ‘whatever, whatever – you guys keep suffering’.
JB: That’s funny. But what about your friends – not just your friends, but the wider culture, because… I’ll give some research here. So Pew Research in 2021 said that currently about three in ten US adults (29%) are nones – so these are people who described themselves either as atheist, agnostic or just nothing in particular. And in fact that rises quite significantly among millennials and Gen Zs. So millennials, about 49% of millennials in the US now identifying as nones. And again, almost the same number, 49% of Gen Z. So this is the trend, people kind of deciding, ‘no, I’m not affiliated to any particular religious tradition’. And that certainly was your story up to now, Mikhaila, and initially was your story as well, Jon. So what’s behind that? What are the big picture things that you’re seeing among that generation, that mean they’re just turned off church; they’re not interested maybe in organised religion and that kind of thing. I’ll start with you Mikhaila and then come to Jon.
MP: Well I was turned off a bit from seeing bumper stickers from people that are like, ‘if you don’t have Jesus, then it’s hell’. And whether or not that’s true, that’s not how you get other people to understand what you believe. So what I had been exposed to were like more evangelical Christians that kind of… and it’s not a Christian thing to do, to look down on other people. But the way that they were speaking sounded cultish and I didn’t understand it at all. And it sounded rehearsed, like something they’d heard when they were little, that they’d just been rehearsing forever. And it was like, ok you just said that sentence, but what does it mean? What on earth are you talking about?
And so I think part of the reason people are turned off religion is because some people who are religious don’t know how to speak to people who haven’t experienced it at all. And not experiencing it means it’s very, very difficult to understand. And I think it’s hard for people who grew up in a Christian family maybe to understand what it’s like to not feel it. So I think people
don’t identify with religion because of that, and then people don’t identify as religious because we’re taught science and it doesn’t really make sense, if you don’t really think about it and you don’t experience it yourself. Like if someone just explains something by saying, ‘God’ or ‘Jesus’ – what does that mean?
JB: Yes. Do you agree with that broadly Jon and anything else to add?
JM: Yes, I think she’s right about that too. I think there’s a lot I could say about that, but I guess to put it to another angle too is there was a study done underneath Barna in May 2021, where he talked about the majority – I think it was 89% of millennials, hold to what he calls in the article syncretism. And really what it is, is a mix of different world-views that provide an understanding or response to life. And in that what it is basically is what… And this makes more sense with what I’ve noticed too. It doesn’t seem to me that people are necessarily anti-Christianity or anti-religious, it’s just that we’re asking the wrong questions.
Because we’re thinking differently about it I think as millennials. We’re not looking to say, ‘ok, of all these different world-views out there, which one am I going to choose? Ok, I want that one and now I’m holding everything within that world-view’ – you know what I mean? It’s just like everything’s just systematic and consistent world-view. Instead it’s more from the ground up. I think millennials are typically starting from an absence of a world-view and then they’re choosing which parts make sense or which parts are the most useful, and then they’re adding that to their world-view. Because it really starts from identity, and this is why the term spiritual but not religious makes sense, because it’s starting from personal identity and saying, ‘what’s consistent with this personal identity?’, and they’re adding onto that. So I think a lot of the time with these studies, they’re asking the wrong question. Because it’s not that people are less religious or something like that, it’s just not in the way that we tend to think about it.
JB: Well interestingly I was going to say, with these studies, it’s still a relatively small number – and it’s not rising massively – that go for specifically atheist or agnostic and say, ‘I’ve decided’. Most people are just saying, ‘well I don’t believe in any particular religion’. But actually they might still have a kind of belief in God; they might have some kind of spiritual tendencies – exactly the phrased you’ve used there, spiritual but not religious, tends to define an awful lot, I think, of people who are in the kind of religious nones.
But then I also wonder if… you know, you were responding to the new atheism, when you started your channel, Jon. In fact, the first couple of people I had on this year’s season of The Big Conversation were – well, if they’re not baby boomers, they might be the generation before – but Richard Dawkins and Francis Collins were on the show just a couple of months ago, and Richard Dawkins obviously the preeminent example of the atheist. Do you find though among the millennials and especially Gen Z, that kind of whole movement – new atheism, the very kind of anti-religious movement – is on the wane? Are you having to kind of interact as much with that kind of dogmatic kind of anti-religious viewpoint, Jon?
JM: No, that’s a good question. The way I think of it is this, so you have the new atheist – the Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris – you know, that sort of kind of branch of whatever you want to call it of atheism – the new atheist. They tended to argue that religion was bad for the world, right. So religion does bad things for the world. But then when you have the online atheist, like Cosmic Skeptic and Rationality Rules and these types, this is kind of the newer version. I think they’re more consistent with culture, because they’re not saying that religion is bad for the world nearly as much as they’re saying religion is bad for you emotionally and your internal world. And it makes people feel bad and it makes people look down on you, and so you feel bad. So I think they’re more pointing out the consequences of religion in terms of how it affects you personally and how it stifles your identity; religion stifles your identity, because then you have these things that I guess I want to say these borders – it’s very rigid. And so they’re kind of playing off of the cultural beliefs a lot more naturally than the Richard Dawkins type was. So I think the Richard Dawkins type is definitely on the way out, and I think the online atheism has picked up since
then. But I also think that the online atheism is going to fade a little bit more as well, for other reasons that we can talk about later if needed.
JB: Is that your experience as well, Mikhaila, with the new atheism – is it waning in your view?
MP: I mean, yes, I think so. And I don’t know, to be honest, but from what I’ve seen online I think that there are more people who are interested in religion and God and Christianity than there were when I was a teenager. And I think that’s true; it could be the people I’m exposed to, so I’m not sure. But I think that people are more open to it than they were when I was younger.
JB: Yes. We’ve got loads of great questions coming in, and they’re all kind of centred around these issues and both of your journeys and that sort of thing, so we’re going to take some of those. Keep putting your questions in the Q&A functionality and we’ll get to as many as we can in just a moment…
Ok, on to your questions. So lots of really interesting questions coming through here. Let’s go for this one, because I wanted to ask this anyway and Steven has asked it. He says: in the latest Gallup poll, trust in institutions across the board are falling, continuing the trend of recent years. We also know the younger generation is less and less likely to be conventionally religious. But do you think people truly are becoming less religious, or are they simply placing their faith in something else? If so, what is it and why?
Because I have wondered, actually, whether myself, what we’re seeing is not necessarily people becoming less religious, they’re just becoming religious about other things. So there are all those kind of identity politics issues, there are political issues, cultural conversations and ideologies and everything else, that people almost treat as sacred, in a way that maybe once people treated conventional religion. I don’t know Mikhaila if you’ve got a perspective on that – do you think there is an element of almost religiosity in some of that stuff?
MP: I don’t think human beings work very well if they’re not focused on something. So yes, definitely people are just focusing on something else, right. And at the moment, a lot of that is politics. I think for me, it was probably science, right. So the medical system and science –that’s kind what I focused on, that I was probably replacing God with. And at the moment there’s a lot of ideology going around – it’s like crushing people, crushing institutions; I don’t know what’s going to happen with universities at this point. So people are definitely redirecting their attention and probably I guess that would be worshipping false idols, right.
JB: Yes, Jon, any thoughts on that?
JM: Yes, I think I’d agree. I think people need meaning and purpose and so they’re going to find it somewhere, right. And I think typically for at least millennials and some of the Gen Z’s, is they’re looking for meaning and purpose in personal identity. So they’re looking to personal freedom – so that freedom of self-expression, of being able to express your personal identity. And institutions a lot really kind of stifle that. And so that’s where I think even with Christianity, right, if you say you’re a Christian, a lot of times they see it as this rigid system where it cuts off these boundaries. And so because of that, I think people are a lot more hesitant to identify as Christian, even if they hold to a lot of core Christian beliefs. And I think we see that consistent with the data as well. Because even you see people identifying as atheists, who believe in God and believe in the Bible in some aspect, you know – and so then you’re like, what’s going on? And really I think it’s just a difference in terms and then how things are set up.
JB: Yes, that’s helpful. I mean, if you don’t mind, there are some questions here Mikhaila about again your own journey and indeed how it relates to the rest of your family. So Alex saying: how has your newfound faith affected your father, Jordan Peterson, in any way? I’ve seen in past videos it seems like he hasn’t quite decided if he’s got faith yet or not, but obviously respects the Christian faith for it’s virtues and values.
You’ve already mentioned that your mum has been on a not dissimilar journey herself, so how is that kind of playing out for Jordan himself at the moment?
MP: Well I think that the change he saw in my mum really impacted him, because her personality changed quite a bit. She got a lot more patient. It’s not like she wasn’t patient before, but the change was dramatic. And so at first we thought she’d joined a cult or pretty sure this was a cult, because she was having meetings and we were like, this seems kind of cult-y. But you do seem a lot happier and you are quite a bit nicer, so hmm… And then it kind of transformed where it was like, oh ok, you’re a practising Catholic – that makes a little bit more sense. So I think that the transformation he’s seen in my mum has impacted him.
And so he prays before he eats and I think he prays… I think it’s really hard for the type of brain he has, because he is so verbally fluent, that he can think circles around himself. So I think it’s hard for him to wrap his mind around the concept of God, because part of it is unexplainable, and I don’t think he likes that – a large part of it’s unexplainable. So it has impacted him hopefully I think positively, and I think it’s made him more likely to believe, but I’m not entirely sure where he is right now.
JB: Yes, I mean I’m not expecting you to answer on behalf of your father, but there is another kind of similar question almost to what you just said there from David, who asks: obviously your journey sounds quite experiential – more embodied than just intellectual. How does that affect or not conversations with your father, who obviously takes a more careful, rational approach to faith?
Are the conversations kind of going ok on that front?
MP: People think that, but that’s not true. Like Jon was talking about earlier, coincidences – my dad is very interested in coincidences. And since 2016 the number of coincidences that have occurred in his life – that he’s told me about – is astronomical; it’s happening all of the time –he talks about synchronicity. I think probably his experience with psychedelics probably helped that as well. But yes, I’m not sure where to go with that. But he believes me – like, when I have experiences like that, he believes me; he doesn’t try and logic it out. He believes in picking up on vibes from people – he believes that kind of stuff.
JB: And your father can hardly be accused of being an unemotional person. I mean, he wears his heart on his sleeve, you know, on stage, in discussions, you know. And especially actually often when it comes to those really intense conversations on faith and God and Jesus; the one he did about a year ago with Jonathan Pageau was just extraordinary on that front. You mentioned the psychedelics, and I’d love to get a thought from both of you on this, because someone’s asking about that here. Natalie says: both Mikhaila and Jon, what are your thoughts on psychedelics and how would you argue either the dangers and deceptions they might bring?
Obviously you’ve spoken about it in not negative terms there, Mikhaila, so you start us off Mikhaila and I’ll get Jon for his thoughts on this as well?
MP: Ok. I’ve had this conversation a number of times with my husband, as you can imagine. I don’t think they’re evil; I talked about it a bit on my channel and I have people who are like, ‘oh no, they make you see demons’, and then it’s like, well, whatever they did to me, I think opened my mind to the possibility of God. Plus, why are they on earth? Wouldn’t you argue that maybe God put them there? Like, shrooms? Or were they put there by the devil? I don’t know.
I think that they can be unbelievably beneficial for people. I think that they can probably be used as a replacement for God by people, which is not a good idea at all. So I think people who are really looking for a sense of meaning will gravitate towards psychedelics to fill that void – they don’t work like that. And people don’t have good experiences like that and they should not be used like that. So I think you have to be really careful with them. I think they are a lot safer than
a lot of the pharmaceuticals that are given out and less addictive. So that was kind of a disjointed version of my beliefs in psychedelics.
JB: That’s fine. And people take all kinds of different journeys, I guess, to arrive at the same destination. But Jon, what are your thoughts on the psychedelic thing?
JM: To be completely honest with you, it’s a topic I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about. I know Mikhaila has some podcasts on it that I meant to watch, but haven’t got to be able to watch yet. But my kind of overall thought about it is… So it depends, if it’s… I guess I don’t know enough to say too much about it. But what I would say when it comes to spirituality, is I’d say it’s one of those things… Like I mean you listen to Joe Rogan and those types, and they tend to have different kind of conclusions that they come to for it, you know. And so it’s almost like this thing where it’s like,, if helps in some cases like say it helps Mikhaila open her mind up to the possibility of God, it’s kind of like what we were talking about earlier with the experiences and stuff, right. But for some people there’s no guarantee where that’s where it’s going to lead them, and maybe it can lead them to other stuff, you know what I mean…
MP: Yes, I agree…
JB: Go ahead, Mikhaila…
MP: Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt… I do think some of the visions too you can have on psychedelics can lead you to believe in other things, right – 100% it can be used like that. Because what you see isn’t really explainable, and then you can say, ‘well, that felt real’, and that doesn’t necessarily lead to God. I also don’t know how many people who have actually found God or are Christians, would find use for them. Any time I took them, most of the times I took them I was in the middle of something really awful and I wanted to explore my mind to make sure that I wasn’t the one putting myself in that situation. So I was trying to use them that way and I found them really beneficial. But that was before I had any type of faith. So I think they helped me, but I don’t know if I would need them now.
JB: Yes, it’s very interesting. I did a show actually – probably getting on for nearly a year ago – where we discussed psychedelics, both with someone who’s very pro psychedelics, and a Christian who was deeply into psychedelics but eventually decided that they weren’t actually the gateway to kind of enlightenment. Though I think she’s very empathetic with those who do see it, because obviously people are looking for something – if they’re taking it, it’s because there is a search, a hunger, for something deeper than just the material world offers. And I know many people who came through the sixties psychedelic stuff and they’re now Christians and say: look, I’m not saying anyone should take psychedelics, but I’m not sure I’d be a Christian if I hadn’t been in that kind of hippy culture, you know, that kind of drew me out of it at the same time.
But anyway… yeah, go ahead Jon…
JM: I was just going to say I mean, kind of like how you just said… I think for example, if somebody came to Christianity through going to prison, you know what I mean, it’s not necessarily that the person telling you is advocating for you to go to prison, you know what I mean, but this was just part of Mikhaila’s journey in that sense. And so I think that she actually makes a good point, where she said now it’s like it’s kind of served as a function in that way, so now she doesn’t know if there’s a need for it, per se, as much. Because it was part of her journey – not necessarily like part of the destination that she got to.
JB: Yes. Got an interesting question here, an anonymous attendee, I’ll ask this one of you Jon specifically. They say: I wanted to ask a question that’s been on my mind. I want to be a Christian and get closer to God, but many religions claim to have a close relationship with God. So my question is, if all these religions claim to have relationship with God and feel his presence, how do we know the relationship we get in Christianity is the truth?
Do you want to go for that, Jon?
JM: Yes, I think that’s a great question. I think it ties in a little bit with what we were saying earlier. It really kind of depends on what this person is saying by relationship with God and feeling close to God. We can have… There is this kind of thing about those internal experiences, is that when people tell me they have an experience, I think, well, it could be God – not saying that’s not God – or it could be their brain chemistry. You know what I mean, like some sort of like DMT thing or something, right. Or it could be even Christianity; we believe that the world is more metaphysical, to an extent past the physical reality, so it could be a spiritual situation as well.
So I think back to, at least for me, I think if Christianity were just based off of people having personal experiences, then it would be hard to know if Christianity were true. But I think about the initial conditions that the disciples were in when they talked to Jesus and stuff, and they had these true experiences with the risen Christ – they sincerely, genuinely believed it as even non-Christian historians will say. That’s more concrete, because it happened in reality rather than just in their head, and it can be verifiable with external reality. So again, this is me pushing that other way, where I have to say to ground myself, to say my experiences – are they grounded in reality? But I really kind of look to that as well too, to say, ok it’s also consistent with external reality, and it’s verifiable. Because sometimes you’re going to feel close to God; sometimes you’re not going to feel close to God, you know. And sometimes you’re going to have these experiences; sometimes you’re not going to have the experiences.
So it’s really good to have both. So you have this kind of thing to kind of ground you, for when those experiences and stuff, you don’t seem to be feeling those experiences. And that’s also why I’m kind of pretty big on the Gospel as well too, because I think it really helps to ground us into knowing that we’re trusting in his promise rather than our own emotions or how we feel in the moment and that sort of thing.
JB: Yes. I mean there have been a few similar-ish questions for you Mikhaila, along these lines. Sort of you had this experience, but how do you know Christianity is the right route to go? And it sounds like you’re saying, well, I’m kind of at the beginning of the journey of going from more of a kind of emotional reason to looking into that intellectual journey… is that kind of the next step, as it were, that you see it?
MP: Yes, that’s spot on. I’ve got a very vague understanding of most of the major religions out there, I think because of who my dad is. And none of them resonated at all. But I don’t have an in depth answer for anybody here, because it’s been so recent, I’m purely going based… So I’ve read the Bible and I believe it. I know what kind of people Christians are, generally; like I know what kind of families they have. And the differences in how their families are compared to a secular family is striking – generally happier, more kids and just calmer and more forgiving. And that difference is enough, where I’m like, there is definitely something there to make those types of people. And I’ve met enough of them that I’m like, that’s a different type of person, and I can kind of feel it. But I’m still at the beginning and still have questions that I’m going to have to dig into for sure.
JB: Yes. I mean it’s interesting, because I’ve noticed just as much as there are, if you like, the millennials and Gen Z kind of rejecting formal faith, Christianity and so on; saying they’re spiritual but not religious. I have also seen an uptick… maybe this is just the circles I move in, but well known people – celebrities, you know, Chris Pratt, Justin Bieber, Kanye – really being quite upfront about their faith, actually, in public forums. Almost like in contrast to maybe people maybe hiding it away a bit, in the past. So where is that coming from? Jon, have you got any idea on why we are seeing a number of celebrities kind of being willing to wear their faith on their sleeve a bit more?
JM: Yes, absolutely. I think that, at least in my mind, this has to do with social media in a sense, where social media really allowed for more people to be accepted for their personal identity and expression. So I think given that, it’s easier for the religious people and the non-religious people to share their experience in a way like never before – their personal experience. And if
you notice, with a lot of these celebrities, they’re not sharing an institution; they’re sharing their personal experiences, right. And this is consistent with what we talked about earlier. So it’s not like they’re starting with the Kalam, you know what I mean, or something like that – an argument for God’s existence. They’re starting with their personal experiences, and I think that this is both good and bad.
I think it’s good in the way we’re… they’re talking to people about Christianity and stuff, kind of breaking that boundary to get them to consider it in ways where they otherwise wouldn’t, because they’re speaking the same language as culture. But I think one of the troubles with it is going to be some of the inconsistency problems, when they keep acting out of accordance with it, then I think that that kind of helps to add to that anti-institution sentiment that’s grown among us. Because then you’re saying, yeah, I don’t want to be identified with Christians, because they’re inconsistent and their doing this and I don’t want to be part of the church or the institution, because of this. And so I think that’s where it can be an issue a little bit. So I think that this authentic expression from these celebrities is a good thing, but I think that we also need to be able to understand that this is not necessarily Christianity within itself, but this is pointing towards Christianity. So the experience – just talking about your mess-ups and stuff, authenticity – is a good thing, but it should be within a community with the purpose of helping you grow and for the greater discipleship goal, that sort of thing.
JB: Yes. What have you made of some of those well-known folk who have been talking quite openly about their personal faith and that kind of thing, Mikhaila?
MP: I don’t know if I’ve had many thoughts on it; I think it’s brave, especially somebody like Justin Bieber who got a lot of negative media attention which he was a teenager for being famous and a teenager. I think it’s brave and I think maybe that’s helped increase people’s likelihood to take it more seriously or made it trendier, I guess. Which I think is a good thing –you don’t want to be oh, the old stuffy Christian person – it’s a lot cooler if Justin Bieber’s a Christian. So I don’t know – I’m for it, I think it’s interesting, I think it’s brave; I don’t know if I have any more in depth thoughts than that.
JB: No that’s great. I mean, I guess the danger always is we shouldn’t, by the same token as we might be encouraged by a story like that, we shouldn’t put people on a pedestal, because Justin Bieber is as human as the next person – they’re not always going to be the best paragon necessarily and wouldn’t claim to be anyway.
MP: Yes, that’s a danger. That’s definitely a danger, but I think it’s probably better for people to talk about it and then make mistakes than to not talk about it.
JB: Yes. And I’m sure you’re not looking to be the next great Christian celebrity or anything, Mikhaila, even though you’re willing to talk about it on a show like this. It’s not something you’re going to be kind of claiming to have all the answers or anything…
MP: This is my claim to fame! No, and I think the reason I talk… I was a little bit nervous about it, but not that nervous about it. I think the reason I have been talking about it is because it was so transformative to me in August; I feel way better, my life is completely different. Like, every day isn’t hell, and I don’t say that lightly. And I wasn’t even depressed at that point and it was still awful. So it was like, well, something happened to me and hopefully can happen to other people, because life is really hard without it.
JB: Yes. Just coming back to you again – something you said earlier Jon – you said the Kalam Cosmological Argument was quite important in your intellectual journey. And Carlton asks this question: I’ve been trying to use things like the Kalam Cosmological Argument, the Fine-Tuning Argument – these intellectual arguments for faith. But it seems like people aren’t really persuaded by them, even though it’s perfectly logical. Is there a reason you think that is? And is there a better way to engage millennials and Gen Z, for Jesus and for faith, than kind of the strictly intellectual route, in that way?
JM: Yes, I think that’s a great question. Honestly I think we take the model of Jesus, in this sense. Jesus always met people where they were, right. So he would talk to people where they were and what they were going through; he wasn’t starting from some high-end abstract theory that wouldn’t resonate with his audience. So if you look how he talked with the Pharisees, compared with how he talked with the woman at the well and so on, he’s always meeting people where they are and then adjusting for that person – this is how he’s going to talk to them in order to persuade them.
And so I think that that’s what we do, and that’s what I try to do on my channel, you know, is try to meet people where they are, which is why I talk about pop culture a lot. A lot of people don’t know, but I’m not really that into pop culture, to be honest, you know what I mean. But I keep up with this stuff, because it’s a means for me to be able to communicate the gospel message to them in a way that they can understand and appreciate. And so I’m trying to follow the footsteps of Jesus – I’m not Jesus, but I’m trying to follow the footsteps of Jesus, as you know.
So I think that’s a good question. I think most people today are more concerned about what Kim Kardashian ate for lunch, than they are what William Lane Craig says about the Fine-Tuning Argument, you know what I mean. I wish it wasn’t that way, but that’s just the way it is. And so we have to meet people where they are in order to reach them.
JB: Mikhaila, I mean how do you think Christians can be better reaching your contemporaries, if it’s not through some kind of great logical argument? What’s the way that we’re actually going to bring this message to people?
MP: I think what would have helped me… I would probably have been hearing people’s stories, but I don’t know how open I would have been to it before I believed it in the first place. So I don’t know. I’m hoping that the way I’m talking about what happened to me shows some people that it’s not just… It sounded like a fairy-tale to me to begin with – a magical fairy-tale. And I was like, wow, that can go into the bullsh*t pile. And I think maybe less condescension, from people who’ve had faith for a long time, for people who don’t understand. And less, ‘oh you’re thinking about this wrong’, or, ‘that’s not what it says in the Bible.’ Maybe if people were a little bit nicer, which they should be, then it would spread, and less condescending and more understanding of people who didn’t grow up with Christianity.
JB: Yes, absolutely.
JM: Can I just add to that real quick. I think she makes a great point with that, and that’s one of the things I kind of touch on, on my channel a lot too. Is because when you really understand the Gospel message, right, and just in a nutshell, the Gospel message is that all of us are equally set apart from God, you know what I mean. God requires perfection – and none of us are perfect – in order to live in his presence. And he has to judge every sin, right. And so when we know this, it’s like we’re so far – all of us are in the same boat. And so because we’re not earning our salvation, how could we possibly look down on others who aren’t as spiritual or moral or anything else – you know, they’re not as moral as us, right? With Christianity we’re not saved because we’re moral or more spiritual than other people or anything like that, you know what I mean. We’re saved because we just trust in Christ for our salvation.
And so because of this, it’s that great kind of neutraliser. And I think our natural tendency is to always look down on other people and to find some way to elevate ourselves, in comparison to other people. And this is why I think it’s always a battle with even Christians, because we can feel better about our relationship with God and our salvation, if we can look down on other people and say they’re not as spiritual or they’re not doing this; they don’t have the right views and this sort of thing too. But I think the Gospel is that great kind of neutraliser, because we’re all sinners and we all have the same problem, and none of us solve it by being better than anybody else. We only solve it by accepting the free gift of salvation that Jesus offers us. So I think a lot of times it’s like, not understanding the Gospel really adds to that condescending kind of aspect, where that really everybody wants to do anyway – to look down on other people. So the Gospel kind of neutralises that.
MP: That was well said!
JB: Yes, a great place to wrap it up. Thank you both, it’s been a really interesting conversation and I’ve really appreciated it. And if you’re watching with us live here on today’s show then you can watch again and listen again in a few weeks time; we’re going to be putting it out on our podcast and on our website, and it’s The Big Conversation, so do go and check it out. But for now, can I just say a huge thank you, Mikhaila and Jon, for joining me to talk tonight.
JM: Thanks for inviting us.
MP: Thank you very much for having us on, yes. It was great.
JB: Yes, it’s great to meet you both.
Thank you very much for being part of our live audience tonight. Sorry we could get to just a fraction really of the questions tonight, but they were great questions and we really appreciate everyone who turned out tonight. So thank you very much, wherever you find yourself – whichever generation you’re part of and wherever you are on the journey of faith, it’s been great to have been able to share the conversation with you today. Thanks for being with us, see you next time.