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Keywords: Pinocchio, Sacrifice, Unknown, Country, Children, Suffering, Transform, Covenant

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Biblical Series IX: The Call to Abraham

by Dr. Jordan Peterson

So I’ve been thinking this week about doing this once a month, on continuing basis. If I do that, I think it’ll be here, although it’s harder to rent this theatre during the academic year. But if it isn’t here, it’ll be somewhere else. I’d like to continue doing this. I’m learning an awful lot from doing it. Once a month would really be good, because then I could really do the background work. I could probably do that for a couple of years. Obviously, this is going very quickly. But that’s ok. It shouldn’t go any faster than it can go. That’s how it seems to me, anyways.

This has been a very steep learning curve for me, with regards to these stories. I didn’t understand them very well. I’ve got better at using the resources online to help me do my background investigation. I have a lot of books. Some of you may have noticed that, online, I’ve posted a conversation I had with Jonathan Pageau and his brother, Matthieu. I hope it’s Matthieu. Names escape me so badly, but I believe that’s right. He just finished a book on the Bible. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and talking about these stories, trying to understand what they’re about. And then there’s all these commentaries. There’s a great—I think it’s called Bible Hub, that has every single verse of the Bible listed there. With each verse, they’ve aggregated 10 commentaries from about 10 commentators from the last 400 years. So there’s like a dense page on every line.

That’s one of the things that’s really interesting about this book, too: it’s aggregated so much commentary that it’s much bigger than it looks. The book is much bigger than it looks. It’s been very interesting to become familiar with those, too. The fact that this site is set up with all the commentaries, split up by verses, means that you can rapidly compare the commentaries, and get a sense of how people have interpreted this over at least several hundred years—but, of course, much longer than that: the people who wrote the commentaries were reading things that were older than that. So that’s been very, very interesting.
Last week we talked about a couple of things. We talked about how you might understand the idea of the divine encounter. And then we also paralleled that with the idea that God disappears in the Old Testament—he bows out as the stories progress. That seems to be an emergent property of the sequencing of the stories, right? All the books were written by independent people, and then they were aggregated by other people. And so the narrative continuity is some kind of emergent property that’s a consequence of this interaction between readers and writers over centuries. It’s strange that, given that, there are also multiple coherent narratives that unite it. It’s really not that easy to understand that. But it does, at least, seem to be the case.

The third thing we talked about was that, as God bows out, so to speak, the individual personalities of the human characters that are involved seem to become more and more developed. What it means is that God steps away, and man steps forward. That’s what it means. But why it’s arranged like that—or, say, the ultimate significance of that—is by no means clear.

So Abraham, who we’re going to concentrate on today, is quite a well-developed character. I would say there are multiple endings and beginnings in the Biblical stories. The most important ending, I suppose, is the ending of the Garden of Paradise, and the disenchantment of the world, and the sending forth of Adam and Eve into history—into the future, and into a mode of being that has a future as part of it, and that has history as part it, and that has the necessity of sacrifice and toil as part of it. That’s obviously crucial. That is replayed with the story of Noah, because everything is destroyed, and then the world is created anew. Sacrifices have to be made in order for the world to begin. And then you see the same thing happen, again, after the Noah story and the Tower of Babel.

History, as we really understand history, seems to start with Abraham. The stories of Abraham sound like historical stories. Scholars debate the historical accuracy of the Bible. I suppose there’s no way of ever determining once and for all the degree to which you might regard the accounts as equivalent to modern, empirical history. This is a psychological interpretation of the Biblical stories, not a historical interpretation. It certainly does seem to be the case that, from a psychological perspective, we enter something like the domain of a relatively modern conceptualization of history with Abraham.
"Beyond the accounts of divine commands that Abraham carries out"—this is from Friedman, the man I mentioned in the last lecture, who wrote The Disappearance of God and a variety of other books that are well-worth reading—"the narrative also includes a variety of stories in which Abraham acts on his own initiative. He divides land with his nephew Lot; he battles kings, he takes concubines; he argues with his wife Sarah; on two occasions he tells kings that Sarah is his sister out of fear that they will kill him to get his wife; he arranges his sons’s marriage. In the place of the single story of Noah’s drunkenness, there are in the case of Abraham the stories of a man’s life."

One of the things I was really struck by—reading this in depth, and reading the commentary—is how much like a story about a person it is. Abraham isn’t a divine figure in any archetypal sense. I mean, he has archetypal elements, because he’s obviously the founder of a nation, but, fundamentally, he’s a human being. He has adventures, and he makes the mistakes of a human being. It’s the mistake part that really struck me.

I was talking with a friend of mine this week, Norman Doidge, who’s a very remarkable person, in many ways. He was taking me to task. He was reading my book, which will be out in January. In the book, in one section, I contrasted the God of the Old Testament with the God of the New Testament. I made the case, sort of based on Northrop Frye’s ideas, that the God of the Old Testament was really harsh and judgemental, and that the God of the New Testament was more merciful, and, at least to some degree, more sweetness and light. Norman took me to task about that, saying that was an overly Christianized interpretation, which would make sense, because I derived it in part from Northrop Frye. I really have come to understand that he’s right about that.

The God in the Old Testament is actually far more merciful than he’s made out to be. It’s good news, fundamentally, if you regard the representation of God as somehow key to the description of being itself. Abraham makes a lot of serious mistakes, and yet he has a life, and he’s blessed by God, despite the fact that he’s pretty deeply flawed, and engages in deceptive practice. He’s a good man, but he’s not a perfect man, by any stretch of the imagination. Things work out really well for him, and he’s the founder of a nation, and all of that. That’s good news for everyone, because perfect people are very, very hard to find. If the only pathway to having a rich and meaningful life was through perfection, then we would all be in deep trouble. That’s very satisfying, to read that.

The other thing that I’ve been struck by is that Abraham—and I think this is actually absolutely key to the interpretation of this story—goes out and does things. That’s the thing. One of the things that I’ve noticed in my life is that nothing I’ve ever done was wasted. By ‘done,’ I mean put my heart and soul into it—attempted with all of my effort. That always worked. Now, it didn’t always work the way I expected it to work. That’s a whole different issue. But the payoff from it was always positive. Something of value always accrued to me when I made the sacrifices necessary to do something worthwhile. And so I think part of the message in the Abrahamic stories is—go do something. I’ve thought about this in a variety of ways outside of the interpretation of the story.

I have this program—some of you might be familiar with it—which is called the Future Authoring Program. It’s designed to help people make a plan for three to five years into the future. What you do is answer some questions—it’s a writing program—about how you would like your life to be, what you would like your character to be, three to five years down the road, if you were taking care of yourself like you were taking care of someone that you actually cared about. You kind of have to split yourself into two people, and treat yourself like someone you have respect for and want the best for. That’s not easy, because people don’t necessarily have respect for themselves, and they don’t necessarily want the best for themselves. They have a lot of self-contempt, and a lot of self-hatred, a lot of guilt, a lot of existential angst, and a lot of self-consciousness, and all of that. And so people don’t necessarily take care of themselves very well. I think you have an obligation—it’s one of the highest moral obligations—to treat yourself as if you’re a creature of value that is, in some sense, independent of your actions. You might think about that, metaphorically, as a recognition of your divine worth, in the Biblical sense, regardless of your sins, so to speak. I think that’s powerful language, once you understand it.

Anyways, with the Self Authoring Program and the Future Authoring Program, you answer questions about how you would like your friendships to be conducted. It’s useful to surround yourself with people who are trying to move forward, and, more importantly, who are happy when you move forward, and not happy when you move backwards—not when you fall; that isn’t what I mean. When you’re doing self-destructive things, your friends shouldn’t be there to cheer you on, because then they’re really not acting like friends, obviously. I know it’s obvious, but it still happens all the time, and people allow it to happen. It’s not a good idea.

How would you like to sort your family out? I was thinking about this, too, because I was thinking about Noah’s ark. There was a phrase in that story that I didn’t understand, which was that "Noah was perfect in his generations." I thought, I don’t know what that means. When you’re going through a book like the Bible, if you don’t understand a phrase, that actually means you missed something. It doesn’t mean that that’s just not germane to the story: that means you’re stupid. You didn’t get it, man. You didn’t get it. You didn’t understand it. The idea that Noah was perfect in his generations, and that’s why he could build an ark that would sustain him and humanity itself through the flood, meant that, not only did he walk with God—which is something that we talked about in the context of the Sermon on the Mount—but that he established proper relationships with his family, with his children. What that meant was that, not only was he well integrated as a person, but his level of integration had reached the point where it stretched out beyond him, and encompassed his family. So it was Noah and the family that was in the ark.

I really understood this, this year. I had a really tumultuous year. You can think about it from a personal perspective. I can think about it as a year that had no shortage of floods. Part of the reason that I was able to get through it—I also had terrible health problems—was because my family really came together around me: my kids, my wife, my parents, and my friends, as well—particularly a certain group of friends. All of that came together in my mind this week. I thought, oh, that’s what it means to be perfect in his generations. It meant that he hadn’t just straightened himself out: he’d also straightened out his relationships with his family. I can tell you that, when crisis strikes you—which it will. It will. The floods will come. That’s why the apocalypse is always upon us. The flood will definitely come in your life, and the degree that you’ve organized yourself psychologically, and also healed the relationships between you and your family, could be the critic element that determines whether you live or die when a crisis comes, or whether someone in your family lives or dies. So the idea of the ark containing the man who walks with God, and whose generations are perfect, and that that’s what sustains humanity through the crisis—you couldn’t be more psychologically accurate than that.

I was thinking about another line in the New Testament, this week. I think it’s from the Sermon on the Mount, but I’m not absolutely sure. Christ compares the kingdom of heaven to a mustard seed. A mustard seed is a very tiny seed. It grows into quite a spectacular, complex plant. I was thinking about how you should operate in the world in order to make it a better place, assuming that that’s what you should be doing. That is what you should be doing. There’s lots in the world to fix. Everything that bothers you about the world, and about yourself, should be fixed. You can do that. My dawning realization…

I have a friend. He lives in Montreal. His name is James Simon. He’s a great painter, and he’s taught me a lot of things. He’s helped me designed my house, and beautify it. I bought some paintings from him a couple of years ago. He did this series of paintings where he went around North America, and stood in different places, and then he painted the view from here down. And so it’s his feet planted in different places: on roads, on the desert, in the ocean. I have one, actually, hanging over my toilet, which is him standing over a urinal. Well, you know, he was trying to make a point. The point was that, wherever you are, it’s worth paying attention. So all these places that he visited, he looked at exactly where he was: standing by the side of the road in the desert—kind of mundane, in some sense. But then, maybe he put 40 hours into that painting, and it’s very, very realistic, with really good light. What he’s telling you as a painter is, everything is worth paying attention to an infinite amount, but you don’t have enough time. The artist does that for you. The artist looks and looks and looks and looks, and then gives you that vision, so then you can look at the painting. It reminds you that everything that there is, is right where you are. That’s a hard thing to realize, but it’s actually true.

I’ve been telling people online, in various ways, and in lectures, that they should start fixing up the world by cleaning up their room. I wanted to just elaborate on that a little bit before I get back to the lecture itself. So it’s become this weird internet meme. It’s a joke, and good: it’s a joke. I’m really happy about the fact that so much of this has got humor in it. That’s really important. That’s what stops things from degenerating into conflict. I was thinking about this idea of cleaning up your room in relationship to the mustard seed idea.

The thing about cleaning up your room…This is also something I learned from Carl Jung and his studies on alchemy. For Jung, when the alchemist was attempting to make the philosopher’s stone, he was not only engaged in the transformation of the material world, but he was engaged in a process of self-transformation that occurred at the same time as the chemical transformation. It was a psychological work, in some sense.

Let’s say you want to sort out your room, and beautify it, because the beauty is also important. Let’s say all you have is just a little room. You’re not rich; you’re poor, and you don’t have any power. But you’ve got your damn room, and you’ve got this space right in front of you that’s a part of the cosmos, that you can come to grips with. You might think, well, what’s right in front of you? The answer to that is, it depends on how open your eyes are. That’s the proper answer. William Blake said this, for example—Aldous Huxley made comments that were very similar: in a transcendent state, you can see infinity in the finite. You might say, well, you can see infinity in what you have within your grasp, if you look. You could say, maybe, that’s the case with your room.

So you want to clean up your room. Ok, how do you do that, exactly? Well, a room is a place to sleep. If you set your room up properly, then you figure out how to sleep, and when you should sleep, and how you should sleep. And then you figure out when you should wake up, and then you figure out, well, what clothes you should wear, because they have to be arranged properly in your dresser, and then you have to have some place to put your clothes. If you’re going to have some clothes, you have to figure out what you’re going to wear those clothes to do. That means you have to figure out what you’re going to do, and then your room has to serve that purpose. Otherwise, it isn’t set up properly. If it doesn’t serve your purposes, you will be unhappy in the room, because the way that we perceive the world is as a place to move from point A to point B in. And then, if the place that we’re in facilitates that movement, then we’re happy to be there. If the place that we’re in serves as an obstacle to that movement, then we’re unhappy to be there. And so, to set up your room means that you have to have somewhere to go that’s worthwhile, or you can’t set up your room. And then your room has to be set up to facilitate that.

The next thing is, well, maybe you have to make it beautiful. That’s not easy, right? That means you have to have some taste, and that doesn’t mean you have to have money. It doesn’t. You can be garish with money, and you can be tasteful with nothing. All you need is taste, and taste beats money when it comes to beatifying things—not that money is trivial, because it’s not, but taste is crucial. People who are very artistically oriented can make beautiful things out of virtually nothing. The literature suggests that, if you’re going to make beautiful things, putting real constraints on what you allow yourself to do facilitates creativity, instead of interfering with it.

Let’s say you have to make something out of nothing—which, I suppose, would be a Godly act. You have to make something out of nothing; you have to be creative in order to do that. So then, to beautify your room means that you also have to develop your capacity to be creative, so then you can make your room shine. But then what will happen, if your family isn’t together, they’ll interfere with that—you’ll interfere with that, because you won’t have the discipline to do it properly. But then, when you start building this little microcosm of perfection with what you have at hand, it’ll evoke all the pathologies of everyone in your household. They’ll wonder what the hell you’re up to, in there. They won’t necessarily be happy, because if they’re in a lowly place, let’s say, and so are you, and you’re trying to move out of that, then the higher you move out of that, the more the place they’re in looks bad. You might say, well, what they should do is celebrate your victory over chaos and evil, but that isn’t what will happen. What will happen, instead, is that they will attempt to pull you back down.

I mean, obviously, all families don’t do that, but all families do that to some degree, and some families do almost nothing but that. What that means is that, if you’re going to organize your room, then you’re going to have to confront the devils in your house. That’s often a terrifying thing; some of those devils have lineages that go back many, many, many generations. God only knows what you have to struggle with in order to overcome that. And so, to sort yourself out, and to fix up your room, is a nontrivial matter. You’ll learn by doing that, and then, maybe, you can fix up your family a little bit, and then, having done that, you’ll have enough character so that, when you try to operate in the world—at your job, or maybe in the broader social spheres—you’ll be a force for good, instead of harm. You’ll have learned some humility by noting just how difficult it was to put your damn room together—and yourself, for that matter. You’ll proceed cautiously, with your eyes open, towards the good.

Those are some of the things I’ve been thinking about this week. They’re germane to what we’re going to discuss tonight. What happens at the beginning of the Abrahamic stories is, basically, God comes to Abraham and just says, go. Get going, man. Do something! Get going! You might think, well, where should I go? God is somewhat vague about that. Where he sends Abraham—it’s a real fixer-upper, man. There’s starvation there, and there’s tyranny, and there’s marital dissolution, and there’s deceit. It’s just like where you live, you know? It’s exactly the same thing. It’s tyranny and catastrophe. That’s the tyrannical Great Father.

Abraham ends up having to sojourn in Egypt. There’s a famine, and so mother nature’s on the rampage. Abraham lies about his wife, as we’ll see. So it’s the world. It’s tyranny, vulnerability, and deceit. And yet, God says, go, because if you do go, then you’ll become a father of nations. And you think, again, that’s pretty good news, although it’s strange. You’d expect that, if God chose Abraham, he’d send him immediately to the land of milk and honey. That isn’t what happens, at all, and Abraham never gets there. But his mission is still regarded as divine, and thank God for that. That’s what your mission will be, because that’s what you’ll encounter in your life. Those are archetypal things that everyone encounters: the tyranny of the social structure, the rapaciousness of nature, and the deceitful quality of the human psyche. That’s the world.

That’s a negative view, in some sense, but it’s positive in the story. What it basically says is something that’s akin to the Sermon on the Mount, which is that, if you’re aligned with God, and you pay attention to the divine injunction, then you can operate in the midst of chaos, tyranny, and deception, and flourish. You could hardly hope to have a better piece of news than that, given that that’s exactly where you are. I didn’t see any of that in the Abrahamic stories, to begin with. It’s been very interesting to have that reveal itself.
"The Abraham section thus develops the personality and character of a man to a new degree in the Biblical narrative while picturing in him a new degree of responsibility…"

So here’s the other thing that’s really struck me, and I think this is of absolutely crucial importance. I don’t know of how much importance, but it’s certainly important to me. One of the things that has just blown me away in the last year—because I’ve talked to lots of people live, but also lots of people online, but it’s more obvious live, and it’s obvious in this theatre, as well. I’ve gone around and spoken, and a large proportion of my audience has been young men under 30. I’ve spoken to them a lot about responsibility. What’s so odd about this is that, of all the things that I’ve spoken about—because I can see the audience, and I can feel how the audience is reacting. I’m always paying attention to all of you, insofar as I can manage that. I get some sense of how what I’m saying is landing, which you have to do if you’re going to speak effectively to people. What happens is that, if I talk about responsibility, everyone is silent, just like they are now. Just silent, and not moving. Focusing, attentive. I say, pick up your responsibility. Pick up the heaviest thing you can, and carry it. The room goes quiet, and everybody’s eyes open. I think…It always makes me break up. I don’t know why.

I was speaking to an English journalist today. He was going to write an article in Spectator magazine. I was talking about this. At the same point in the discussion, I had the same emotional reaction. I don’t really understand it. There’s something about it that’s so crucial. We’ve been fed this unending diet of rights and freedoms, and there’s something about that that’s so pathologically wrong. People are starving for the antidote, and the antidote is truth and responsibility. It isn’t because that’s what you should do in some I know better, or someone knows better than you, for you, sense. It’s that that’s the secret to a meaningful life. Without a meaningful life, all you have is suffering, nihilism, self-contempt, despair, and all of that. That’s not good.

It’s necessary for men to stand up and take responsibility. They all know that, and they are starving for that message. The message is more that that’s also a good thing, to stand up and take responsibility. You’re cursed so much now, from when you’re young, with this notion that your active engagement with the world is part of what is destroying and undermining the planet, and adding to the tyranny of the social systems. How about not so much of that, ok? It’s too soul-deadening. It’s antihuman, right to the core. My sense, instead, is that if you are able to reveal the best of yourself to you and the world, that you would be an overwhelming force for good. Whatever errors that might be made along the way would wash out in the works.

That’s the other thing that you see in the Abrahamic stories. Abraham is not a perfect person, by any stretch of the imagination. He’s a real person. He makes mistakes, but it doesn’t matter: the overarching narrative is, maintain your covenant with God, and, despite your inadequacies, not only will you prevail, but your descendants will prevail. It’s like, great. That’s really good news. It’s been really something to see that in the stories. So that’s responsibility.
"It is not just that Abraham is kinder, gentler, more intrepid, more ethical, or a better debater than his ancestor Noah. Rather, both the Noah and the Abraham stories are pieces of a development of an increasingly stronger stance of humans relative to the deity. Before the story is over, humans will become a good deal stronger and bolder than Abraham."
That’s really something to say, because Abraham is pretty bold. So let’s read the stories. The first one is about Abraham, Sarah, and Lot. "Now these are the generations of Terah: Terah begat Abram"—so his name’s Abram, to begin with, and that actually turns out to be important. It’s not Abraham—"Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begat Lot"—so Haran is Abram’s brother—"And Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees. And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah.
"But Sarai was barren; she had no child. And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son’s son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram’s wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan"—so that’s exile—"and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there. And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years: and Terah died in Haran."

There’s a reason that Sarai is introduced as barren: it’s to set the stage. I think it was Anton Chekhov that said, when he was talking about the stage setting for a play, that if there was a rifle hanging on the wall, it had better be used before, I believe, the second act, or it shouldn’t be hanging there, at all. So this is stage setting. Part of the reason that the Biblical writers are pointing out that Abram’s wife is barren is because it’s a real catastrophe for Abraham, and for Sarai, as well, that she’s barren. It’s showing the trouble that Abraham’s in at the beginning of the story. It’s also…See, what happens as the story progresses is that Abram and Sarai are eventually granted a son, but it’s way late in the story, and they’re very, very old by the time it happens. And, of course, you’re not going to be a father of nations without having a child. The writers are attempting to make the case that, if you forthrightly pursue that which God directs you to pursue, let’s say, then all things are possible. That’s the idea in the narrative.

You might say that’s naive. It’s not. You think it when you’re naive, right? And then you dispense with that idea. And then, when you stop being the sort of person who dispenses with ideas, you come to another place. That’s the place where you have no idea what might be possible for you, if you got things together, and pursued what you should pursue. You don’t know how much of what’s impossible to you, right now, would be become possible under those conditions. It’s an unknown phenomena.

I’ve watched people put themselves together, across time, incrementally and continually. They become capable of things that are not only jaw-droppingly amazing, but, sometimes, metaphysically impossible to understand. So we don’t know the limits of human endeavour. We truly don’t. It’s premature to put a cap on what it is that we are, or what it is that we’re capable of. You’re already something, and maybe you’re not so bad in your current configuration. But you might wonder, if you did nothing for the next 30 years except put yourself together, just exactly what would you be able to do? You might think that’s worth finding out. But, of course, that’s the adoption of responsibility.

One thing that I’ve also learned over the years…I’ve been curious about this battle between meaning and nihilism. I could see for a long while the rationale in nihilism, and the power of the nihilistic argument. But it occurred to me, across time, that the power of the nihilistic argument is more powerful than naive optimism, but it’s not more powerful than the optimism that is not naive. The optimism that is not naive says, it’s self-evident that the world is a place of suffering, and that there are things to be done about that. It’s self-evident that people are flawed, and that there’s things to be done about that. The non-naive optimist says, the suffering could be reduced, and the insufficiency could be overcome, if people oriented themselves properly, and did what they were capable of doing. I do not believe that that’s deniable.

I think that human potential is virtually limitless, and that there’s nothing, perhaps, that’s beyond our grasp, if we’re careful as individuals, and as a society. I think that there’s no reason for nihilism, and that there’s no reason for hopelessness, and there’s no reason to bow down before evil. We’re capable of so much more. I think that you can easily—you know that, first, because you’re not happy with who you are, and you’re ashamed and embarrassed about it, as you should be. And you know it because, if you look out there, you see people who are capable of doing great things, and you know that we’re not giving it our all. And, still, we’re not doing so badly. You might wonder, if we devoted 90 percent of our effort to putting things right, instead of 55 percent of our effort, or maybe even less than that, just how well could things be put together? I think that you can figure that out by starting with your room, by the way.
"Now the Lord said unto Abram"—this is the opening of the story—"Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee:"

This is one of those phrases where every clause is significant. Go somewhere you don’t understand! That’s the first thing: "get thee out of thy country." Back in the 1920s, there was a whole slew of American writers who ended up as expatriates in Paris—Hemingway among them, Fitzgerald, and a variety of others. It was very inexpensive in Paris, at the time. Part of their transformation into great literary figures was the fact that they were out of their country. Now they could see what their country was, because you can’t see what your country is until you leave it. So you have to go into the unknown. That’s God’s first command: go into the unknown! You already know what you know, and that’s not enough, unless you think you’re enough. And if you’re not enough, and you don’t think you’re enough, then you have to go where you haven’t been. And so that’s the first commandment to Abraham. That’s a good one. That makes perfect sense: go to where you don’t know. Yes.

"And from thy kindred." Well, what does that mean? It means grow up! That’s what it means. It means get away from your family enough so that you can establish your independence. And that isn’t because there’s something wrong with your family—although, perhaps there is, as there is, perhaps, wrong with you—but it means get away. I talk to people very frequently whose families have provided them with too much protection, and they know it themselves. That means they’re deprived of necessity.

One of the things that you see in the United States, for example, is that the children of first generation immigrants often do better than their children. The reason for that is that the children of first generation immigrants have necessity driving them. You don’t know how much you need necessity to drive you, because maybe you’re not very disciplined. If a catastrophe doesn’t immediately befall you when you don’t act forthrightly, then maybe you never act forthrightly, right? The gap between your foolishness and the punishment is lengthened by your unearned wealth, so you never grow up and learn. You have to get yourself away from your dependency in order to allow necessity to drive you forward. That’s to become independent, and to become mature.

I think part of what’s happening in our culture is that the force that’s attacking the forthright movement forward of young men, in particular, is afraid of the power of men. It’s confused about the distinction between power and authority and competence. A man who has authority and competence has power as a byproduct. But the authority and competence is everything. People who can’t understand that fail to make the distinction between power and authority of competence. They’re afraid of power, and so they destroy authority and competence. That’s a terrible thing, because we need authority and competence. What else is going to allow us to prevail in the long run? And so you get away from your country, and you get away from your kin, and from your father’s house, right? And you go out there, and you establish yourself in the world. It’s a call to adventure. The first lines in the Abrahamic stories is a call to adventure. Great.

"Unto a land that I will shew thee." Well, what does that mean? I’ve been struck very hard by a number of writers, Carl Jung, obviously, among them. I mean, he wrote things, like Nietzsche, that, if you understand them, they just break you into pieces. One of the things that Jung understood, and the psychoanalysts understand, is one of the most terrifying elements of psychoanalytic thinking, and is very tightly allied with religious thinking, which is that you are not the master of your own house: there are spirits that dwell within you, meaning, you have a will, and you can exercise a certain amount of conscious control over your being, but there are all sorts of things that occur within you that seem to be beyond your capacity to control. Your dreams, for example—that’s a really good example—or your impulses. You might think of those as so foreign from you that you don’t even want them to be part of you. But more subtly, even, how about what you’re interested in, what compels you? Where does that come from, exactly? You can’t conjure it up of your own accord.

So if you’re a student, and you’re taking a difficult course, you might say to yourself, well, I need to sit down and study for three hours. But then you sit down, and that isn’t what happens: your attention goes everywhere. You might say, well, whose attention is it, then, if it goes everywhere? You say it’s your attention. Heh. Well, if it’s your attention, maybe you’d be able to control it, but you can’t. And so then you might think, well, then just exactly what the hell is controlling it? And you might say, it’s random. Well, it better not be random. I can tell you that. That happens to some degree in schizophrenia. There’s an element of randomness in that. It’s not random. It’s driven by the action of phenomena that I think are best considered as something like subpersonalities—although, even that is only a partial description.

You can’t make yourself interested in something. Interest manifests itself, and grips you. That’s a whole different thing. So what is it that’s gripping you? How do you conceptualize that? Is that a divine power? Well, it’s divine as far as you’re concerned, because it grips you, and you can’t do anything about it. So there’s a calling in you towards what you’re compelled by, and what you’re interested in. Sometimes that might be quite dark, and sometimes not. But you’re compelled forward by your interest. And so the idea that what moves you away from your country, and your father’s house, and the comforts of your childhood home is something that’s beyond you, and that you listen to and harken to. That’s exactly right.

You can say, well, I don’t want to call that God. It doesn’t matter what you call it, exactly. It doesn’t matter to what it is, to what it’s called: it still is. If you do not listen to it—and I’ve been a clinician, and talked to enough people now, as old as I am, to know this absolutely: if you do not listen to that thing that beckons you forward, you will pay for it like you cannot possibly imagine. You’ll have everything that’s terrible about life in your life, and nothing about it that’s good. And, worse, you’ll know that it was your fault, and that you squandered what you could have had. This is not only a calling forth, but it’s a warning.

"Unto a land that I will shew thee." That’s it: "that I will shew thee." And you don’t want to be too concrete about this. There’s all sorts of new territories that you can inhabit. There’s abstract and conceptual territories. If you go to university and you study biology, or you study physics, or any discipline, you’re in a territory, right? You’re in the territory that all the scholars have established, and then, as you master the discipline, you move out beyond the established territory, into the unknown. That’s a new land, right? Maybe it’s even a land of your enemies, for that matter. But it’s a new land. The frontier’s always in front of you.

When the earth was less inhabited than it is now, the psychological frontier and the geographical frontier was the same thing, and now they’ve separated, to some degree. There’s not so much geographical frontier, but the frontier’s a place that never disappears. The land that’s beyond the land that you know is always there, and it’s always where you should go. All of that’s packed into these four phrases.
You look at the world through a story. You can’t help it. The story is what gives value to the world, or the story’s what you extract from the value of the world. You can look at it either way. You’re somewhere, and it’s not good enough. That’s the eternal human predicament: wherever you are isn’t good enough. To some degree, that’s actually a good thing, because if it was good enough, well, there’s nothing for you to do. So it’s actually, maybe, a good thing that it’s insufficient. That might be why, sometimes, having less is better than having more. I don’t want to be a pollyanna about that. I mean, I know that there’s deprivation that can reach to the point where it’s completely counterproductive. But it isn’t always the case that…If you start with little, you start with more possibility. It’s something like that. So you always move from what’s unbearable about the present, to some better future, right? And if you don’t have that, then you have nothing but threat and negative emotion. You have no positive emotion, because the positive emotion is generated in the conception of the better future, and in the evidence, that you generate yourself, that you’re moving towards it. That’s where the positive and fulfilling meaning of life comes.

So you want to set up this structure properly. It’s very, very important. What it means is that you want to be going somewhere where it’s good enough so that the going is worth the while—and you can ask yourself that. That’s partly what we tried to build into the Future Authoring Program: We know what’s wrong with life. It’s rife with suffering, insufficiency, deception, and evil. It’s all of that, obviously. What would make the journey worthwhile? Well, you can ask yourself that. It’s like, all right; in order to bear up under this load, what is it that I would need to be striving to attain? And if you ask yourself that, that’s to knock, and the door will open. That’s what that means: if you ask yourself that, then you will find an answer. You’ll shrink away from it; you’ll think, well, there’s no way I could do that. Well, you don’t know what you could do. You don’t know what’s possible, and you’re not as much as you could be. God only knows what you could do and have and give if you sacrificed everything to it.

That’s the reason Abraham is constantly making sacrifices. It’s archaic, right? He’s burning up, like, baby lambs. Well, they’re alive; that’s something. And they’re valuable; that’s something. You have to admit—even if you think about it as a modern person—that the act of sacrificing something might have some dramatic compulsion to it. To go out into a flock, and take something that’s newborn, and to cut its throat, and to bleed it, and to burn it, might be a way of indicating to yourself that you’re actually serious about something. It isn’t so obvious that we have rituals of seriousness like that, now. And so it’s not so obvious that we’re actually serious about anything. And so maybe that’s not such a good thing. Maybe we shouldn’t be thinking that these people were so archaic and primitive and superstitious. It’s possible that they knew something that we don’t.

In the Abrahamic stories, one of the things that maintains Abraham’s covenant with God is his continual willingness to sacrifice. That sacrificial issue is so important: you are not committed to something unless you are willing to sacrifice for it. Commitment and sacrifice are the same thing. It borders on miraculous that those concepts are embedded into this narrative at the level of dramatic actions, instead of abstract explanation. People are acting this out. The fundamental conception is so profound; it’s quite awe-inspiring. It’s breathtaking, really, when you understand what message is trying to be conveyed. You have to make sacrifices. What do you have to sacrifice? You have to sacrifice that which is most valuable to you, currently, that’s stopping you. God only knows what that is—it’s certainly the worst of you. It’s certainly that. God only knows to what degree you’re in love with the worst of you.
You move from the unbearable present to the ideal future, and you can’t help that. You have to live in a structure like that. That’s your house—that’s another way of thinking about it. If you want to get your house in order, and if you want it to be a place that you can live properly, then you have to plan the future that is perfect. And then I think, well, what does that mean? It means that it’s good for you.

One of the things that I do all the time with my clinical and consulting clients is to try to figure out what would be good for them. But we do more than that: we try to think, ok, how can we set this up so it’s really good for you, and that all the side consequences of that are good