In recent interviews, Peterson has said he needs “three more years” before he can really sort out his beliefs about the Jesus resurrection story in a way he feels comfortable articulating in public. He does not, for example, attend church, but he is wrestling with it all. In 12 Rules for Life, he writes with genuine emotion about the martyrdom of Socrates and Christ’s 40-day struggle in the desert with Satan’s temptations. From a distance, it looks as though he is preparing himself for a transcendent new level of ministry.

Therein lies danger. Peterson may articulate an end goal of balance, but at the moment he’s offering order against chaos, yang against yin. The effort is, by definition, reactionary, counter-revolutionary. But once you place yourself squarely on one side of the pendulum, you’ll inevitably exaggerate the collective demerits of the other while indulging in-group excesses. Dogma throughout history has had its freedom-killing flaws, he readily admits, but, well, sometimes people just need to be told what to do. This is conscious authoritarianism, and Peterson is volunteering for the job.

Power corrupts, and relationships alter behavior. “This risk of being changed is one of the most frightening prospects most of us can face,” Peterson writes at one point. In setting himself up as rule-maker to an adoring flock and flirting openly with the idea that he is being visited with capital-r Revelation, the professor threatens to become unmoored from the winning pragmatism of his clinical practice. Stepping into an exalted role as avenging angel against a feminine chaos can descend quickly into self-parody.