Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Vanity of Vanities

Written by: on February 14, 2020

“The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.  Eccles. 1:1-2 (KJV)” These words of King Solomon were written in the book of Ecclesiastes thousands of years ago expressing the frustration of a King, who had great wisdom, great riches, and a knowledge of everything he could think of, yet found no profit in all that he had. Jordan Peterson’s Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief is reminiscent of King Solomon’s journey to understand life. Peterson starts his book with his life story, beginning with being “raised under the protective auspices, so to speak, of the Christian Church.”[1] However, in his preparation for confirmation, his minister was not able to reconcile his concerns about “the story of Genesis with the creation theories of modern science”, causing Peterson to believe “Religion was for the ignorant, weak and superstitious”.[2] Peterson later went to college starting out in political science, but eventually became a clinical psychologist and a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. Peterson’s book attempts to find meaning in not just words, but life in general.

Peterson struggles with concepts of good and evil, terrifying dreams, and the anxiety of things not going as planned. Two of Peterson’s favorite Modernists to turn to for answers are Carl Jung and Friedrich Nietzsche. It is through the lenses of Jung and Nietzsche that Peterson develops his complex Maps of Meaning, seeking to explain life.

In embracing the Modernists, Peterson, like Stephen Hicks, denounces postmodernism in lectures and YouTube videos. However, Peterson further associates postmodernism with chaos.

In his books and lectures, Peterson describes chaos as “feminine.” Order of course, is “masculine.” So the threat of being overwhelmed by chaos is the threat of being overwhelmed by femininity. The tension between chaos and order plays out in both the personal sphere and the broader cultural landscape, where chaos is promoted by those “neo-Marxist postmodernists” whose nefarious influence has spawned radical feminism, political correctness, moral relativism, and identity politics.[3]

Peterson’s association of women with chaos is troubling, to say the least. Unfortunately, he is a charismatic leader with a devout following and is also strongly associated with the alt-right. Although Peterson may lump all of the issues of postmodernism together many African Americans may view things differently.

For many white liberals racism, homophobia and misogyny can be stuffed in the same little box. But for black people who understand power dynamics, racism is not a package deal. One can be a homophobic, male chauvinist pig and not hate black people. And vice versa, one can despise black folk and have no problem with women or gays.

Racism is in the eye of the beholder. One of the earliest writers who took on the task of defining racism from a strictly black perspective was Neely Fuller Jr., who in 1984 published The United Independent Compensatory Code/System Concept textbook which clearly defines racism as the system of white supremacy, no ifs, ands or buts.[4]

Peterson wants to take us back to a time when modernist thinking ruled without considering how this impacts other groups, such as women and African Americans since he believes strongly in individualism.

Needless to say, as long as he defines ideology as a collective delusion, or a “substitute for true knowledge,” rather than a more global and encompassing philosophy of history that people are wedded to, Peterson can always accuse his adversaries—neo‐Marxists, feminists, postmodernists, queer theorists—of acting in bad faith, of deceiving themselves (as well as others), becoming conscious or unwitting agents of harm and misdirection to the young and gullible. The same holds true for his attitudes toward collectivism and individualism. If ideology is something only collectivists indulge in or produce, radical individualists (like Peterson) are free of these presumed pathologies. And that would appear to imply that people who identify as individualists do not share an ideology—by definition, no doubt, because they are individualists, right?[5]

            Peterson’s many lectures and videos may make him popular with many but all of this vanity without a foundation in a faith which helps him to consider the humanity of every human being as being valuable.

[1]. Peterson, Jordan B. Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. New York: Routledge 1999:7.

[2]. Ibid., 7.

[3]. Peterson, Jordan B. Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. New York: Routledge, 1999.

Smith, David Livingstone, and John Kaag. “Thus Spoke Jordan Peterson: A Wildly Popular Psychologist’s Self-Help Programs is Leading Young Men to Authoritarianism.” Foreignpolicy.com. April 2018. https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/04/04/god-is-ted-jordan-peterson-self-help-men/ (accessed 02 12, 2020).


[4]. Scott, Paul. “Black and White: Jordan Peterson and Definitions of Racism.” The Herald Sun. August 3, 2018. https://www.heraldsun.com/opinion/article216047705.html (accessed Feb 14, 2020).

[5]. Burston D. “It’s Hip to be Square! The Myths of Jordan Peterson.” Psychother Politics

Int. 2019;17:e1475. https://doi.org/10.1002/ppi.1475

About the Author

Mary Mims

I am a licensed and ordained Baptist minister and have worked with the children and youth for the last seven years. I have resided in the Washington, DC area for the last 30 years, but I am originally from Michigan. I am also bi-vocational and work at the US Patent and Trademark Office in the Scientific Library.

2 responses to “Vanity of Vanities”

  1. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Thanks so much for your insight and perspective. I too picked up on his early family-of-origin faith and belief struggles. I especially appreciate your communication of how African Americans may view a particular ideology propagated by a typically white academic. Your summation brings it home, without a humble biblically inspired faith, how can you begin to understand the incredible value of each and every human being? Thanks again.

  2. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Mary, you quoted the very passage I kept thinking about while reading Peterson. Ecclesiastes is one to keep handy during this reflection! I really appreciate your distinction with racism and this author’s disposition. It is true that we can easily lump all issues into one box, but they won’t neatly fit there. Honestly, each needs to be given its own merit and conversation.

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