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Angela Tilby: The danger of T-shirt morality

05 April 2019


Dr B. Peterson, professor of psychology and clinical psychologist at the University of Toronto

Dr B. Peterson, professor of psychology and clinical psychologist at the University of Toronto

AS A former student and later assistant lecturer at Cambridge University’s Faculty of Divinity, I am left disquieted by the Jordan Peterson affair. First, an invitation to the Canadian academic to give a lecture series on the Bible was abruptly withdrawn (News, 29 March). Then, the Students’ Union expressed relief, alleging that he had a history of espousing “discriminatory views”.

When this was challenged, the Vice-Chancellor issued a statement that mentioned a photo of Professor Peterson next to a man wearing a T-shirt bearing the words “I’m a proud Islamaphobe” — evidence, he said, of “casual endorsement by association” of Islamophobia.

Except that it wasn’t. The picture showed a glazed-eyed Professor Peterson smiling weakly for the 100th time as his misguided fan preened for the camera. The university, though, predictably jumped to the tune of its “woke” students and shunned him — which is a pity.

I have read some of the Professor’s biblical musings. He reads scripture through what seems to me to be a Jungian lens, as a treasure-house of universal wisdom. He seems fairly well-informed on current biblical scholarship. He also happens to be one of the most widely read public intellectuals of our time.

Admittedly, his views on society and culture are divisive (Comment, 2 November). He is a conservative thinker, who sees a continuity between loss of belief in God and the growth of totalitarian thinking. We are all endangered, he suggests, by the tendency to construe relationships between majorities and minorities in terms of oppression.

He is right to deplore the prevalent culture of self-pity and to regret the decline in notions of self-discipline, honour, and self-sacrifice. He challenges Left-liberal thinking, which those on the Left would be wise to acknowledge. He would see himself as a defender of the core values of the West: an honest search for truth, based on belief in the ultimate truth of God, and with a tolerance of difference.

Cambridge taught me that feeling uncomfortable with an idea does not confer the right to ban it. I went to lectures given by the brilliant-but-bonkers Donald MacKinnon, who compared the violence of the October Revolution to Jesus’s decision to go up to Jerusalem. This made me uncomfortable, but the discomfort provoked me to come to my own views and to defend them. The withdrawn invitation to Professor Peterson does not reflect well on a university that is supposedly dedicated to intellectual and moral integrity.

I also wonder what wider society is doing to itself in its inability to take on the challenge of social conservatism. The Church, along with academia and the media, repeats the mantras of inclusivity, diversity, and equality without qualification or genuine implementation. A blast from the intellectual Right might do us all good. We should not leave it all to the Daily Mail.

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