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Jordan Peterson's Maps of Meaning:
A Review





Jordan PetersonPaul Gosselin (6/6/2022)


Peterson, a critic of the Enlightenment/modernism
Peterson's Maps of Meaning (MoM) is a rather massive book, over 500 pages with large page size. It is perhaps more academic in approach than Peterson's more popular books, though he is NOT boring to read and is open about his own life struggles and search for meaning. MoM begins with a description of his own (VERY typical) drift away from nominal Christianity as a teenager. Peterson then describes his conversion to socialism and his drift away from that. The problem of human evil in the period dominated by Enlightenment thinking plays a significant part in this drift away from socialism and the rationalistic Enlightenment ideologico-religious culture that so dominated the 20th century West. Another element that ticked Peterson off is the modern principle which holds that if something is wrong with the world then it (conveniently) has to be someone else's fault... It is pointless to ask a modern to repent of their sins seeing as repentance has no place in Enlightenment theology... No doubt, Peterson's critique of ideologies derived from the Enlightenment will not have won him friends in academia. Such views are certainly sufficient to be viewed as suspect...

In the first half of this book, Peterson spends much time discussing mythology and it's psychological significance. I expect Peterson would accept the concept that humans are genetically hardwired for myth. I would concur with Peterson that no civilisation and no individual can escape myth, that is dealing, in one shape of form, with the big WHY questions of life, the search for meaning. One of the most pathetic delusions of a civilisation anchored in the Enlightenment is the belief that one can do without religion or myth. While postmoderns may reject Judeo-Christian beliefs or supernatural concepts generally, no one can avoid religion, worldview or myth. Thus those who reject Judeo-Christian beliefs must be asked what their current religion or myths are, that is with what have they replaced their previous (?) Judeo-Christian beliefs. To avoid thinking about such matters academics will offer the outworn trope “myth deals with the supernatural” and thus materialistic origins myths get no attention (since they are Science) and thus can be ignored. Convenient... Postmoderns are hard to nail down as they typically buy into an ever-changing eclectic and subjective collection of inconsistent beliefs and presuppositions. Peterson's perspective on myth is thus psychological/relativistic and in my view he spouts a lot of nonsense on such matters (as he is anchored in the postmodern dogmatic precept that all religions are "same/equivalent"...). The unique and specific claims made by particular religions get no attention from Peterson. All is symbolism... But towards the middle of the book it gets interesting, as Peterson dares suggest that ideologies in the West are in fact mythologies... Needless to say, these are ideologies that Peterson personnally rejects...

It would appear that Peterson has travelled on an ideologico-religious pilgrimage parallel to the one previously run by the American sci-fi novelist and WWII veteran Kurt Vonnegut. In this regard, Vonnegut offered some self-dialogue concerning his pilgrimage and drift away from modernism into postmodernism (1975: 162):

Now Jordan Peterson is too sophisticated to become a horoscope vender, yet at the end of the day there is good reason to believe he has ended up in the same postmodern boat as Vonnegut[1]. This results from the fact that to go up against the massive human evil produced by the Enlightenment (exposed to view by the 20th century) all Peterson has to offer is the “startling revelation” that myth is important and will (hopefully) save us from the cruel void where the Enlightenment left us (Peterson 1999: 261)

Now if Peterson has discovered that that “myth is important/significant”, for what it's worth this must be considered an implicit repudiation of materialistic worldview[5] produced by the Enlightenment.


Peterson and the Covid crisis

Despite the fact that Peterson wrote Maps of Meaning well BEFORE the Covid crisis, Peterson provides material here that sheds useful light on these recent events. In a context of rising totalitarianism, Peterson notes two compliant psychological types in reaction to such systems, the fascist and the decadent. Peterson points out the fascist type is willing to go along with any State lie if such behaviour ensures ORDER (which basically means the maintenance of the individual's comfort, life style and survival) (1999: 307):

Examining the development of the fascist type, Peterson quotes the French psychologist Jean Piaget discussing the three stages of game learning in children (Peterson 1999: 373):

These observations shed light on the behaviour of many citizens in the West during the Covid crisis... Some people need only a little nudge, a little pressure, a small threat to reach this condition and accept any lie from the State at which point the State narrative becomes “the unquestionable rule”... But State pressure must be restrained. Open violence would shatter the illusion and expose the lies and Totalitarian Evil in all its brutality. Postmodern elites have clearly learned their lessons from the experiences of 20th century totalitarian regimes. No, the illusion of reasonable persuasion MUST be maintained (as long as possible). The illusion of credibility and State benevolence can be an effective weapon... In the long term open violence and brutality has the disadvantage of producing committed enemies of the Totalitarian State.

With civil servants and bureaucrats, the job of instilling compliance is easy as the more senior and powerful they are, in most cases the more conformist and compliant they will be, which means that indirect threats will be quite effective to insure their complete submission. And once individuals reach that state that Peterson calls fascist, unless they are forced to face severe personal trauma, a big shock, the official narrative will be their sole refuge as they have abandoned any interest in the truth of the situation or in facts. Who knows if the following New Testament verse may in fact apply to many who call themselves Christians: "in them that perish; because they received not the love of the Truth, that they might be saved.” (2Th 2: 10)

Since postmodernism rejects the idea of an Absolute moral law above man (and above the State) it must be noted that this worldview offers NO obstacle to the LIE. In his novel That Hideous Strength (1945: chap. 11) novel CS Lewis skilfully exposes the psychological roots of the character Studdock's acceptance of organisational lies:

As Lewis points out, at the root of this state of vulnerability to lies we find a mixture of ambition and fear of men... What will they think of me if...???

In the following excerpt, Peterson discusses a phenomenon often studied by anthropologists, namely the coming of age ritual initiations that young teenage males are often subjected to in many cultures of the world. These rituals by trial teach these young men the basics of their society's worldview and open the doors of the adult world (with it's privileges and responsibilities) to the successful initiates. Peterson describes the psychological process involved and it's impact on initiates (1999: 223-224)

Now after reading this excerpt it seems logical to compare the fear-mongering and manipulation that the Davos puppets (in positions of political power) have put the world through during the Covid crisis to this description of ritual initiations and if one allows such a parallel then it is also logical to give thought to the heightened state of suggestibility of the world population and on the resulting intense desire for ‘order' that has followed this crisis. Yes, it seems quite likely to me that the world has been put through an unprecedented global scale INITIATION[6]. Now if we do accept that the Davos sect has put the world through an INITIATION, then it is time to seriously consider WHAT they want us to accept, i.e. the purpose of this initiation, the new order. But since Davos puppets are arrogant, they have no qualms about announcing to us with great pomp and circumstance (in published books) this new order they want to bring about.


Jordan Peterson, “a Christian”?
I'd guess many reading this review have bumped into rumours that Jordan Peterson has become “a Christian”. While it is true that Peterson does discuss a lot of Christian theology, this is not very significant on it's own. After all, many heretics also have serious interest in Christian theology. The issue of Jordan Peterson's true beliefs is NOT a matter to be shuffled aside, obeying postmodern wisdom "not to judge" as recently Peterson has set himself up as an influence on the Church (see article below by Mitchell). I am not insinuating that Christians should ignore anything Peterson says about the Church, but seeing Peterson is putting himself in a place of influence OVER the Church, the issue of Jordan Peterson's true beliefs CANNOT be ignored. Inevitably Peterson's true beliefs will shape his influence over Christians... While Peterson certainly discusses a lot of Christian theology and Christian principles, in this particular book it is quite clear that Peterson has a VERY postmodern perspective on Christianity... Here is a sample (1999: 456):

Clive Staples LewisThis is of course a VERY syncretistic view of Christianity. Since Peterson openly concedes having come under the influence of the Swiss psychoanalyst Karl Jung, it is likely the views expressed above have their source in Jung... This is a view of Christianity that is comparable to views that Baha'i Faith devotees would hold... claiming that Jesus Christ was one of MANY “Illuminated Masters” (along with Buddha, Moses, Mohamed, Zarathustra, etc.)... I've seen no evidence in Maps of Meaning that Peterson accepts the Protestant concepts of Sola Scriptura, the inerrancy of the Bible or concedes the truth of the unique claims Christ made for himself. In Mere Christianity CS Lewis nailed such individuals when he observed:

Regarding theological matters I don't think it would be of any use to anyone to consider Peterson a “confused person”. In Peterson's case, Lewis might have added... (1955/1970: 126)

That said, Peterson is no idiot and has reflected deeply on the problem of modern evil. As a result Christians and non-Christians may find there are a number of useful things to be gleaned from reading MoM, but it would be rather naïve to consider him a Christian influence. Jordan Peterson is NOT a 21st century Francis Schaeffer... Among the useful things to be gleaned from reading MoM in the 2nd half of the book, Peterson provides us with the following quote from Marie-Louise von Franz (a disciple of Karl Jung), which examines some fundamental contributions of Christianity to science[7] (1999: 403-404)

In classical physics, up to the end of the 18th century, one of the working hypotheses, arrived at either unconsciously, or half-consciously, was that space had three dimensions, an idea which was never questioned. The fact was always accepted, and perspective drawings of physical events, diagrams, or experiments, were always in accordance with that theory. Only when this theory is abandoned does one wonder how such a thing could have ever been believed. How did one come by such an idea? Why were we so caught that nobody ever doubted or even discussed the matter? It was accepted as a self-evident fact, but what was at the root of it? Johannes Kepler, one of the fathers of modern or classical physics, said that naturally space must have three dimensions because of the Trinity! So our readiness to believe that space has three dimensions is a more recent offspring of the Christian trinitarian idea.
Further, until now the European scientific mind has been possessed by the idea of causality, an idea hitherto accepted without question: everything was causal, and the scientific attitude was that investigations should be made with that premise in mind, for there must be a rational cause for everything. If something appeared to be irrational, it was believed that its cause was not yet known. Why were we so dominated by that idea? One of the chief fathers of natural sciences—and a great protagonist of the absoluteness of the idea of causality—was the French philosopher Descartes, and he based his belief on the immutability of God. The doctrine of this immutability of God is one of the Christian tenets: the Divinity is unchanging, there must be no internal contradictions in God, or new ideas or conceptions. That is the basis of the idea of causality! From the time of Descartes onwards this seemed so self-evident to all physicists that there was no question about it. Science had merely to investigate the causes, and we still believe this. If something falls down then one must find out why—the wind must have blown it, or something like that, and if no reason is discovered I am sure that half of you will say that we do not yet know the cause, but that there must be one! Our archetypal prejudices are so strong that one cannot defend oneself against them, they just catch us.

In the last half of the book, Peterson spends a lot of time exploring Jung's meditations on Gnostic and alchemic thinking[8]. It does NOT end well. The last paragraphs of Peterson's conclusion are a lengthy quote from a Gnostic Gospel. Unless Peterson were to publicly repudiate the Gnostic view that so strongly comes across in MoM and until further evidence appears I have to place him in the wolf category, one of those “holding a form of godliness, but having denied the power thereof: from these also turn away.” (2Tim. 3: 5). It is true that Peterson's Maps of Meaning dates from 1999 and it is possible that he has since evolved in his thinking... In any case his clear courage in going against woke currents of thought is admirable, but this does NOT make him a Christian. Here is something to consider though. Peterson spent 13 years writing Maps of Meaning. It is a massive work. One does NOT spend so much time on such a work, without exposing who you are and what you really believe. Such matters must be taken into consideration when evaluating Peterson's influence. Since he has joined Daily Wire, more and more he is positioning himself as someone who wants to speak to the Church and have influence over the Church. This is NO small matter. It is VERY important that Peterson lay his cards down on the table. This is NOT a time for games.

At this point, I don't see any evidence that Peterson is a Christian[9] or clearly understands the Gospel, but I do admire his courage to stand with Christians on some issues at a time when Christianity is so reviled and hated. That may count for something in the long run. And VERY clearly Peterson has the guts to go against the Woke Inquisition, even at some personal cost[10]. Time will tell...


Modernism/Postmodernism: A Nutshell View

If I were asked to provide a nutshell view of Western civilisation I'd say that in the West, the Greco-Roman worldview sank deep roots, centuries before Christianity appeared. Even the Middle Ages were never purely Christian. In fact the Medieval West was always schizophrenic in terms of worldviews, with Greco-Roman influence in a symbiotic and parasitic relation with Judeo-Christian influence.

Thus the Renaissance was not just a artistic or architectural fad, but, more profoundly, an attempt by some to escape Judeo-Christian influence and develop an alternative worldview, that is to recreate a civilisation based on Greco-Roman thinking (just the concept of "Renaissance" (or Rebirth) begs the question, rebirth of what?). But with the rise of natural science (and it's growing prestige) in the West, the GREAT prestige long enjoyed by Greco-Roman philosophers for so many centuries began to erode. Some of those who'd jumped on the Renaissance bandwagon realized they'd bet on the wrong horse. Another alternative to the Judeo-Christian worldview was needed.

The Enlightenment worldview was then the next step. Now all worldviews have to answer the basic question: Where is Truth? Where do you find the deepest wisdom? For the Renaissance the answer was Greco-Roman philosophical thinking, but the founders of the Enlightenment rejected that and turned to Science (as Truth), empirical science of course. This set up the stage for the prestige of science to be exploited for ideological purposes and scientists to become the new priesthood.

Further along the line, postmoderns have appeared. Postmoderns have rejected the modern/Enlightenment answer to the question: Where is Truth? For postmoderns, Science is no more than a Western belief system, it is NOT Truth in any absolute sense (though these hypocrites dare not question Darwin). In postmoderns' view, the only "truth" left is that of the individual.

Now to understand the postmodern belief system, we have to go back in time to the Modern belief system. The modern view is rooted in the Enlightenment (or the Siècle des Lumières as the French would say). One thing one has to realise is that the Modern belief system is largely a reaction to the Judeo-Christian outlook, which was dominant in the West. It was first of all a rejection of the Judeo-Christian cosmology and in particular Genesis. The modern system of belief rejected the core presuppositions of Christianity as expressed in the Bible. For moderns the source of truth was no longer to be found in some kind of revelation, but in Science and Reason. Empirical observation was supposed to lead us to the Absolute, to TRUTH. If Americans have the motto “In God We Trust” on their bills, a fitting motto for the Modern view would be In Man (or Reason) We Trust! In the modern belief system, scientists, technicians and educators became the high priests who will lead the masses out of captivity from religious superstition and on to the land of progress where oppression has been eliminated and all wars have stopped because all have learned to be rational and tolerant….

In the same way the modern outlook was a reaction to the, then dominant Judeo-Christian world-view, the postmodern is, as it name implies, a reaction to the modern, but is also a reaction to the Judeo-Christian world-view in the sense that is a reaction to various Western cultural concepts with links to the Christian world-view. In fact, postmodernism is a more extreme reaction to Christianity than modernism (the Enlightenment) ever was. This explains why postmoderns demand that everyone should be tolerant, but when it comes to Christianity, postmoderns themselves show very little tolerance. While in the monotheistic religions you typically get explicit creeds, that is lists of beliefs and one can find much the same in modern religions,  postmoderns (much the same as Freemasons) typically deny their religious perspective and keep their core beliefs buried, out of view. If you want an explicit list of postmodern beliefs, typically you’re on your own.


References


Arendt, Hannah (1948/1976) The Origins of Totalitarianism. Harvest Book New York xliii-576 p.

Fava, Anthony (2022) The Idolatry of Jordan Peterson. (Evangelical Dark Web - 10/7/2022)

Hilton, David (2022) Beware Pseudo-Christian Gurus "This fame is being fed by a youth hungry for truth in a culture of lies, and to our shame, this mission field is being neglected by a self-absorbed, self-satisfied and too often self-deceiving church comfortable in spiritual Babylon." (Caldron Pool - 17/7/2022)

Lewis, C. S. (1955/1970) Magician's Nephew. Collier Books New York 186 p. Ebook

Lewis, C. S. (1945/1970) That Hideous Strength. Ebook

Mitchell, Cody (2022) "You're Churches… attend to some souls!" Jordan Peterson's Scathing Message to Churches. (Daily Declaration - 14/7/2022)

Peterson, Jordan (1999) Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. Rougledge New York & London 541 p.

Provine, William B. (1990) Response to Phillip Johnson. (Letter) pp. 23-24 First Things n° 6 Oct.

Vonnegut, Kurt Jr. (1975) Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons, Dell Publishing Co. Inc, New York 238 p.



Notes

[1] - Inevitably, labelling Peterson a postmodern will draw objections from some parties. To avoid pointless misunderstanding, check out the Modernism/Postmodernism: A Nutshell View section. While worldviews can be looked at from a variety of perspectives, one can quickly go to the heart of the matter by examining how each worldview handles the simple question: “Where is Truth?” (or for philosophers "What is the ultimate epistemological reference point?").

[2] - A bogus and unsubstantiated claim that the Judeo-Christian imago dei concept is derived from pagan Egypt... An outworn Enlightenment trope.

[3] - Now if Peterson is aware of the effect (moral decline), he has little to say about the cause of this situation. William B. Provine, evolutionary biology professor at Cornell University, made the following blunt observations on the cultural and ethical impact of the materialist cosmology that has been dominant in the West for over a hundred years now (1990: 23):

[4] - In 2022, we seem to have first-row seat to this process...

[5] - Along with Darwin ?? Postmodern elites are typically very careful to bend the knee to this idol. While Peterson has courageously critiqued transgender ideology I am unaware that he has ever dared seriously question Darwinism, cornerstone to both the Modern and Postmodern worldviews.

[6] - And if the Davos sect is in fact a Masonic project, it should come to no surprise that they have putting world population through an INITIATION, because Freemasons are a secret initiatory society where only the highest level initiates really know what Masons really believe and what their agenda truly is. Among Freemasons, initiations open the doors to Enlightenment/gnosis, and are a critical part of their system of belief. Low level Masons are just useful pawns who can be lied to with impunity. Of course there will be many people who just can't "see" (don't want to see) the many parallels between the initiatory process Peterson describes and the events the planet has experienced since March 2020... This is entirely predictable seeing that such questions logically lead to the identification of major social institutions such as the State, mainstream media, the medical system, etc. as ENEMIES of the people. Denial/refusal to deal with such matters offers a convenient and welcome escape... Now typically any finger-pointing at Freemasons regarding their real-world influence makes people nervous and will be immediately laughed off as conspiracy-theorism nonsense. In her magnum opus, The Origins of Totalitarianism (written immediately after WWII), the very rational political philosopher Hannah Arendt exhaustively examined 20th century totalitarian regimes, but "oddly enough" linked these regimes to secret societies. To avoid any misunderstanding, Arendt does not name Freemasons, but the comments below fit in quite well with what is known about the operating principles of Freemasons. Arendt observed (1948/1976: 376-377):

[7] - There is a LOT more to be said about the link between Christianity to science. A good starting point is historian of science Stanley Jaki's groundbreaking work, Science and Creation (1974).

[8] - Here is a sample (1999 : 445)

[9] - Check out this recent article by Peterson himself. Again, there's a LOT of Christian theology.

Jordan Peterson Tells Graduates Faith ‘Is a Form of Courage,' Warns Them of the ‘Devil at the Crossroads'. (Tré Goins-Phillips - Faithwire - 9/5/2022)

[10] - Why I am no longer a tenured professor at the University of Toronto: The appalling ideology of diversity, inclusion and equity is demolishing education and business. (Jordan Peterson - National Post - 19/1/2022)