Last week, Jordan Peterson, who is currently the world’s top public intellectual, had his fellowship offer to the University of Cambridge revoked. On March 20, Cambridge’s Faculty of Divinity issued the following statement on Twitter: “Jordan Peterson requested a visiting fellowship at the Faculty of Divinity, and an initial offer has been rescinded after a further review.” However, Peterson, on his blog, was quick to point out that this claim was a half-truth since it had been discussed with faculty members before he submitted his formal request. A spokesperson gave The Guardian a blanket statement as to why Peterson was disinvited: “[Cambridge] is an inclusive environment and we expect all our staff and visitors to uphold our principles. There is no place here for anyone who cannot.”
Why the Revocation?
Before learning about Cambridge’s “official” reason for disinviting Peterson, I considered a number of potential reasons.
I wondered if it could be his hard stance against the toxic leftist ideologies that are antithetical to the tradition of Western civilization and its Christian roots. The ideologies I’m referring to include Neo-Marxism, postmodernism, radical feminism, gender ideology and a host of others. Could it be the unsubstantiated accusations that he rubs shoulders with the alt-right? What about his stated refusal to use gender neutral pronouns? Could it be a lack of scholarship? Ignorant commentators on Twitter have suggested this, but the facts discredit their claims: Peterson’s academic work is highly cited, and he is a respected authority on personality, social conflict, the psychology of religion, and the effects of alcohol on the brain. Google Scholar shows that he has over 11,000 citations and an h-index of 52. It would be reasonable to think that the Faculty of Divinity might have a particular interest in Peterson’s thoughts on the psychology of the various biblical narratives. His online biblical lectures on the “The Psychological Significance of the Biblical Stories” have had millions of views. His first lecture of the biblical series alone has had over 3 million.
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He is also highly sympathetic to the plight of young men who are suffering from social pathologies largely due to a lack of moral guidance and encouragement. Moreover, his work and talks have been highly transformative to thousands of people throughout the world. I asked myself: how could Cambridge object to good scholarship, provocative lectures, and helping people? Moreover, in November of last year, Peterson delivered a lecture for the largest student society at Cambridge, a famous debating forum, called the Cambridge Union. The lecture was well received and generated thoughtful discussion. The talk’s video has had close to 500,000 views—the second most viewed on their YouTube channel.
Finally, I wondered if it could be the picture that had recently surfaced of him posing with a fan sporting a “Proud Islamophobe” t-shirt. Below the title is a list of immoral acts committed by some Muslims. It spread quite rapidly after the tragic and horrifying massacre upwards of 50 Muslims peacefully worshipping in a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. By odd coincidence, a day after Cambridge revoked their invitation, Whitcoulls, New Zealand’s largest book franchise, withdrew Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos—an odd thing to do for a book that promotes moral responsibility and nowhere advocates violence. And yet they carry undeniably objectionable books like Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. It turns out that this was the reason for the revocation given by the vice chancellor of the Faculty of Divinity, Stephen J. Toope. He stated:
Early last week, the Faculty became aware of a photograph of Professor Peterson posing with his arm around a man wearing a T-shirt that clearly bore the slogan “I’m a proud Islamophobe.” The casual endorsement by association of this message was thought to be antithetical to the work of a Faculty that prides itself in the advancement of inter-faith understanding.
One could argue that since Peterson often takes pictures with over a hundred people per lecture and thousands throughout his speaking tours, he didn’t notice it. Still, one could conversely argue that the photographer or others on his team could have said something. Nevertheless, even if Peterson did consciously note the shirt, does that mean he endorses the messages on every piece of clothing worn by those he meets? Could a noted champion of free speech justifiably refuse to been seen with someone merely over a different point of view? And does the message on the shirt necessarily call for hatred or legal discrimination against all Muslims? I don’t think it does. The term on the shirt is being used in an ironic way to suggest that his fear or “phobia” of Islam is not irrational. Is opposition to the immoral behavior of some Muslims necessarily irrational? It would be unfair to paint too broadly. Not all forms of Islam are the same. For instance, I do not think most sensible people would fear the Ahmadis. The Ahmadiyya Islamic sect is a very peaceful version of Islam. However, many Muslims consider this sect to be heretical because it does not accept that Mohammed was the last prophet. But what about Wahhabi Islam? This form of Islam is antithetical to core Western values. Would fear of this brand of Islam be irrational? I think not. But you can’t expect to find such distinctions on a t-shirt. Nor would such distinctions satisfy Peterson critics.
Furthermore, Muslims do not have a monolithic view of Peterson. Take for instance what one self-described devout Muslim on reddit said about Peterson:
Hi Dr Peterson, I pray you and your family are well.
I am a devout Muslim and I would like to say that I am a big fan. I loved your book ‘12 Rules to Life’ and am saddened that it’s been pulled in New Zealand, I think this will only increase the dislike certain people have for Islam. I’ve listened to most of your talks and interviews, I haven’t heard any hate speech towards Islam or to any other group for that matter.
Your sincerity in pursuing and speaking what you believe to be the truth is admirable and I pray that God continues to assist you in this.
There are numerous things to say here but I’ll mention only a couple. The vice chancellor mentions inter-faith understanding, but he squandered a perfect opportunity to facilitate it. A public inter-faith dialogue with Peterson could have attracted a significant amount of attention, but that would generate the sort of publicity Toope fears. Political correctness is stifling honest inquiry. Amidst all the misunderstandings about theology, this is a crucial time to build understanding between different faiths and viewpoints by asking difficult questions.
It is also worth pointing out that many Muslims do not know or accept all Islamic teachings. I would argue that many Muslims who were raised in the West are unaware of many of the “troubling” verses of the Quran and Hadith (which are a record of the traditions or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad). The issues are complex and I cannot do them justice in a limited space. I have written on these issues at academia.edu.
Nonetheless, the truth is that many Muslims are leaving Islam because of groups like Isis and Boko Haram. Things are so polarized in the West that misunderstandings and confused emotions are rampant. Things are backward in England these days. Recently, a former Iranian Muslim seeking asylum in England, who had converted to Christianity believing it was a peaceful religion, had their application rejected. The British Home Office justified their decision by citing passages from Exodus, Leviticus, and Revelation in order to demonstrate that Christianity is not peaceful. The only thing that the Home Office demonstrated was their profound ignorance of history and theology. These Old Testament verses were written 1,400 years prior to the New Testament and the advent of Christianity. They represent the old covenant between Yahweh and the Jews; it related to a piece of land and judgments regarding immoral practices such as child sacrifice. The new covenant has nothing to do with this and reflects Christ’s teachings of radical altruism and loving one’s enemies. Revelation is about things to come and God’s future judgment; it does not incite Christians to commit acts of violence.
Nevertheless, Cambridge has not explained in which way Peterson is not inclusive. They have only pointed to his guilt by association. Moreover, the statement itself is inconsistent since it is non-inclusive of Peterson’s objectionable views—views which were unstated. Posing in a picture tells us nothing about someone’s views. It is mere speculation. What is really going on then?
Unsurprisingly, it seems as though university administrations have become subservient sycophants to radical activist groups, instead of putting forward the best interests of the majority of the students. This is evidenced by the Cambridge University Student Union’s (CUSU) statement published by The Guardian:
We are relieved to hear that Jordan Peterson’s request for a visiting fellowship to Cambridge’s faculty of divinity has been rescinded following further review. It is a political act to associate the University with an academic’s work through offers which legitimise figures such as Peterson. His work and views are not representative of the student body and as such we do not see his visit as a valuable contribution to the University, but one that works in opposition to the principles of the University.
Curiously, as Peterson has pointed out on his blog, CUSU posted a tweet regarding his disinvitation three minutes prior to that of Cambridge’s Faculty of Divinity. This shows that CUSU knew of the decision prior to the faculty’s posting. Are we to believe that the Divinity faculty agrees with the Student Union that the only ideas that should be allowed on campus are the ones that are already approved of by a presumably homogeneous student body? Do universities exist to coddle students or to educate them?
Cambridge’s Legacy Disgraced
Even though Cambridge was rated second in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings this year, after last week’s poorly thought-out decision, it is showing signs of becoming a bastion for radical activism and mediocrity.
So much for Cambridge’s motto: Hinc lucem et pocula sacra (“From this place, we gain enlightenment and precious knowledge”). Instead, obscurity and the suppression of certain types of thought have been upheld. Friedrich Nietzsche, in his 1881 work, The Dawn, captured the essence of what Cambridge has unwittingly become: “The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.”
Peterson shouldn’t be surprised at the corruption and unfettered leftist ideology found within Cambridge’s Faculty of Divinity. One could say that it is the “devil’s illusion” to deceive the outside world and unsuspecting minds who enter these institutions of ungodliness into thinking they are a place of orthodoxy. These once-Christian institutions do not care about Christian truth and values, despite what their mottos may have us believe. The world we live in is truly upside down. Delusions and falsehoods are vociferously defended. If you speak the truth you will be met with derision. If you go against falsehoods and state facts about reality, you will be punished. Lies, deceit, and immorality are the law of the land. Man is indeed the measure of all things.
I’ll close with Peterson’s own condemnation of Cambridge and its Faculty of “Divinity,” which accurately illustrates the state and future of many of these corrupt Christian universities:
I think they handled publicizing the rescindment in a manner that could hardly have been more narcissistic, self-congratulatory, and devious. I believe that the parties in question don’t give a damn about the perilous decline of Christianity, and I presume in any case that they regard that faith, in their propaganda-addled souls, as the ultimate manifestation of the oppressive Western patriarchy, despite their hypothetical allegiance to their own discipline. I think that it is no bloody wonder that the faith is declining (and with it, the values of the West, as it fragments) with cowards and mountebanks of the sort who manifested themselves today at the helm. I wish them the continued decline in relevance over the next few decades that they deeply and profoundly and diligently work toward and deserve.