Although his book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, is full of citations to the Bible and lengthy excursions on the meanings of the stories there, Jordan Peterson never mentions the Book of Esther.
I think he missed some thunder. This little book tucked away in the middle of the Old Testament affords much support to many of his arguments.
We’ve been talking here in the last few weeks about truth telling. It’s one of Peterson’s themes; one of the book’s 12 rules is “Tell the truth, or at least don’t lie.” He also writes a great deal about the idea of sacrifice, taking us back to the first books of the Bible and the complex system of ritual sacrifice outlined there. Peterson tells us that the fundamental dynamic in sacrifice is the foregoing of some immediate good – some pleasure or peace or gain – in the hope of greater good sometime in the future.
Look at the story of Esther. Look at the truth telling there, almost all of which involves some measure of sacrifice. First, there is Queen Vashti. She refuses her husband’s – King Xerxes’ – command to show herself before his drunken friends and, consequently is banished from the presence of the king.
How does this involve truth telling? Well, Jordan Peterson says that one of the most insidious forms of lying – in fact the kind of lying that allowed the murderous tyrannies of the 20th century to continue for generations – is the lie of omission. What that boils down to is this: a lie of omission is a kind of lie or type of dishonesty involving remaining silent when one knows that something ought to be said. Vashti knew that her husband’s demand on her was not right. It wasn’t moral. It did not recognize her as a person, but treated her as an object. She could have committed a lie of omission here and just showed up and played along, thereby saying in effect that everything was okay, when in fact it was not. Her refusal to come to the king’s party was a statement. It was telling the truth: What you have asked me to do is not okay.
Now let’s look at Mordecai. He finds out about a conspiracy among court insiders to murder the king. And he tells the truth about it. Rats out the conspirators. But that ain’t all. Sometime later he makes another statement, this one non-verbal. You see, there is a law in place that demands that everyone bow down before one of the king’s men, some cat named Haman. Mordecai rightly interprets this bowing down as an act of worship and he refuses to lie about it. The lie of omission would have been simply to do as he was told –to go through the motions and let old Haman have his kicks. But he told the truth. By refusing to bow down he makes a truthful statement that what Haman and the law have demanded of him is not right; it’s not okay.
Of course, this act of civil disobedience gets Mordecai in a heap of trouble as he must have, from the outset, known that it would.