Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Personality and Faith

Are you a: Golden Retriever, Otter, Beaver, or Lion? How about: Negotiator, Explorer, Architect, or Builder? Are you an: INTP, ISTP, INTF, ISTF, INFP, INTP, INTF, INFP, ENTP, ESTP, ENTF, ESTF, ENFP, ENTP, ENTF, or ENFP? What does your Enneagram look like?

Okay, you get the point. Or in case you don't, it's this: we have developed all kinds of systems to categorize our personality types. And I seem to keep running across new ones all the time (the most recent one I've learned about? The FIRO-B personality assessment tool). People devote entire careers to developing this stuff.

I am fascinated by personality tests, myself. Often because I never quite fall straight into one box. Or I fall into one box one year, then I take the test again a year later and I come out as something else. Which I suppose is a good indicator that we can never quite capture and put in a box beings as complex as us humans. (Plus, I love defying categorization!)

But here's the thing: no matter which system of categorization you look at, each personality type has strengths and weaknesses, is well suited for some things, and less well suited for others. So I started wondering recently if there are specific personality types that are drawn to, and thrive in, religious/faith systems. And if there are, by extension, other personality types that are repelled by the same.

For instance, I am someone who generally doesn't like authority or otherwise being bossed around. Given that, I'm a little surprised that I spent so many years not questioning the church authority that taught me things like "girls can't be pastors." (I guess I'm making up for all of that compliance now!) And I am dating someone whose personality is very logic-driven; he rejects that which cannot be explained logically or for which there is not hard evidence. Sorta like Special Agent Fox Mulder on The X Files.

Yet there are also personality types out there that really appreciate hierarchy and authority; that respond to and thrive within clearly delineated power structures; that are more driven by feelings than by logic; that are willing to believe in the supernatural or who regularly report having had experiences with the supernatural. Like Special Agent Dana Scully, perhaps.

Now: if the Christian argument is that God created each of us uniquely (and by implication imbued us with our basic personality characteristics), why would he have created some portion of the population with personalities that are hard wired to have a hard time believing in Him? That, thanks to genetics, tend to reject things that cannot be directly observed or tested?

I suppose this is another take on the question of why God would create beings that he knows will reject him and therefore go to hell. But instead of rehashing that conversation (at least for the time being), let me pose this question: which, if any, personality types do you think are more drawn toward belief in God, and which ones are repelled by it? Is there anything in your basic personality that draws you toward, or repels you away from God?

11 comments:

SocietyVs said...

"Is there anything in your basic personality that draws you toward, or repels you away from God?" (Slapdash)

I think the fact I am open enough to this aspect of the faith connection was all it really took - not sure it was a personality trait so much.

Zeke said...

Man, I'm not sure. This is a really intriguing question...

...but I would say that I have seen personalities that were more inclined towards spiritual matters broadly understood, not necessarily Christian. In my New Age wanderings I ran into more than my fair share of N (as in Miers-Briggs iNtuitive) types. In Christian church, pretty much all kinds with the exception that Christians were less likely to be as intellectually curious as the New Agers I knew.

marie said...

My mom is a big worrier. She worries about everything--she can come up with the worst case scenario in any situation. In that, I think it was easier for her to believe in a God who would supposedly take care of everything for her..i am going to try thinking of more

jennypo said...

I have brought up this issue a number of times with friends. Like you, I naturally reject authority. Though I don't deny the power of emotion, neither do I like to depend on it. My personality does not fit well in mainstream Christian culture. Unlike you, I don't think I'd miss the social aspect of church life. Almost all of my close friends are non-Christians, with a few exceptions, I think for the reason that, as you point out, it appears that Christian cultural demographics are indeed skewed towards certain personalities.
But I have found the God of the Bible, not the God of Christian culture, to be wide enough and deep enough to satisfy my personality. Of course, there are things about him that I balk at - if there weren't, could he be God? - but this God is no less comprehensible to me than to any other personality.
What we have to remember is that being drawn to God-stuff and church-things by personality is no ticket to knowing God on a real level. While the church may be lop-sided on the feel-y, structure-loving side, God himself deals with individuals, as he made them. Surely the creator of our world and of humanity is a great lover of the various, the unique!
It is an enormous thing in a life to face the realization that we have been betrayed; that the people and truths that we trusted have ultimately failed us. You have awoken to the realization that the God you worshipped is a humbug, and that is necessarily crushing. If there is a God who is there, behind the paper man held up in our world, then he is being merciful rather than cruel in allowing you to see the holes in your beliefs. But after all, is it enough to point out that the emperor has no clothes?
What, then, is the Truth?
Is is possible that there could be a God who lives and speaks beyond the blinding glare of the church spotlight - a God who is everything he ought to be? Could it be that your disillusionment with a shallow, one-sided Christianity is part of his communication with you as an individual, and not a sign of his retreat from you?

Heather said...

**which, if any, personality types do you think are more drawn toward belief in God, and which ones are repelled by it? Is there anything in your basic personality that draws you toward, or repels you away from God?
**

I think this answer greatly depends on how one defines 'God.' The definition even varies depend on what type of Christian you talk to. For some, God is panenthestic. For others, God is 'other' and completely seperate. For some, it's all about the justice of God and the other characteristics fall to the wayside. For others, it's also about justice, but a redeeming justice, not a redemptive one. Others for for Truth.

So I think you can tell what kind of God someone worships based on behavior/personality.

lowendaction said...

great question your slappyness -

Though you specified in your question that this belief was directed towards God, I would argue that there is a large swath of "Christians" who are far more attracted to the idea of church (the building and its social-club-likeness, not the biblical term) than a "personal" relationship with God. That takes care of the social-needy types right there.

In one of my psych classes, our prof. pointed out that one could make a similar study with behavioral disorders as well, ie. Obsesive compulsives are in very high concentrations with the Mormon/LDS movement, due to their stringent rules and practices.

Me personally...I've never taken one of these tests, but I've always wanted to (if anyone has any good links...). I would say that I tend to be a mixture of logic and intuition along with passionatly driven (if that isn't contradiction in terms, I don't know what is!!!), so I tend to feed my logical brain with examples in nature, when it comes to the God question. Whereas my intuitive/philosophical side seeks for deeper meaning within and outside of this exsitance. Then I look at some of my role models (Rob Bell, my dad, Fred Hammond, C.S. Lewis), and I see a spiritual vitality and realness that challenges me to understand their motivations.

don't know if any of that made sense...but there ya have it.

Here's my two sense about this topic:

I believe we were created in the "image" of God. And since I believe that God is in fact omnipresent, he can be "seen" in ALL things (not just humans). Therefore we are all created to be different and individualistic, but there is a core essence built into our design, that is hard wired to be with God. In laymen terms, I like to think of it as though He had left a homing device in all of us, leaving us with the challenge of understanding and interpreting the signals it gives off. God's joy results in the results of our efforts from having explored this mysterious "thing" and ulitmatly embracing it.

I know this might sound a little loopy, but I'm a very visual person, and this is just my lame, caffeine induced, attempt at explaining the phenomenon of God's love for us.

lowendaction said...

so it turns out I'm an INTJ...facinating test.

Slapdash said...

***so it turns out I'm an INTJ...facinating test. *** (LowenD)

Funny - for years I tested as INTJ. These days I come out as ENFP, though I still can't decide how accurate I think that is.

Slapdash said...

***What we have to remember is that being drawn to God-stuff and church-things by personality is no ticket to knowing God on a real level. While the church may be lop-sided on the feel-y, structure-loving side, God himself deals with individuals, as he made them. Surely the creator of our world and of humanity is a great lover of the various, the unique!*** (jennypo)

What if some empirical study could be done in which you learned that 71% of people who "know God on a real level" are of a particular personality type?

I know it's a very speculative question, but I have to question a God who creates people who seem entirely unable to conceive of a spiritual realm due to personality traits that favor logical, tangible, concrete evidence.

How is God dealing with them? He's not presenting obvious tangible evidence of himself to THEM. For them to believe in God, they have to use the same stuff (Bible, church, etc) other personality types have to use to find God.

What about the idea of "when in Rome..." If it's so important to God that we find him, you'd think he'd come up with ways to speak to each of us in ways we can EACH actually hear and accept.

Instead, according to Christianity, it seems like we have to conform to some pretty specific and limited ways of relating to, and understanding, God.

Slapdash said...

***Therefore we are all created to be different and individualistic, but there is a core essence built into our design, that is hard wired to be with God. In laymen terms, I like to think of it as though He had left a homing device in all of us, leaving us with the challenge of understanding and interpreting the signals it gives off.*** (LowenD)

Hmmm, this is a very universalist-sounding statement. It kind of suggests that Buddhists, Muslims, Taoists,etc, might be let into the club, because hey! they are trying to understand the homing device, and those other religions are their way of understanding and interpreting the signals it gives off.

Is that what you're sayin'?

lowendaction said...

slap - my wife is an ENFP...odd.

to your jennypo response: I think there are a number of critical/logical/evidence based scolars who have actually come to follow Christ in their pursuit of understanding/disproving God. I think there is plenty of "evidence", I just don't think it always presents itself in the "usual" scientific ways we would like.

As far as my universalistic theory...I don't know. And I won't even begin to speculate who God might choose or not choose under such circumstances. His love and grace is beyond our human understanding, and therefore I would like to think that everyone is covered, but He has also made it quite clear that there are "rules".

I think in the end, we should truely only worry about ourselves. Though it is facinating and intriguing to ponder the fate of others, what really matters is our own state.