Have you always believed in a higher spiritual power; a being who, for some reason we can’t really fathom, created and loves us and will provide a glorious home for our souls after we die? Perhaps you feel that you are seeing this being’s handiwork every time you look at an intricate flower or snowflake, or see breathtaking mountain scenery. To you it makes perfectly logical sense that the existence of such marvels in our world is evidence of a powerful, loving creator who is responsible for them.
But your beliefs mesh with those of your family like the colors orange and red when they touch each other in a modern painting. When you express your beliefs your relatives roll their eyes at what they think is no more than a silly notion. What logic can be found in the idea that a supreme being created the world around us, and how could an educated person believe in one? To them it makes far more sense and is easier to believe that our environment and everything in it came into being by chance. After all, how can anyone believe in something that can’t be seen?
Or perhaps you’re a keen observer of current events and history, and while you find them to be fascinating, you are baffled by the idea that they form some type of pattern. You just can’t fathom some people’s apparent need to ascribe the events of history to some powerful, invisible hand moving people around like pieces on a chessboard. You believe that events are nothing more than randomly placed, isolated dots and that the invisible line your friends see connecting them to create patterns of the past leading to the present and future is just nonsense. You see coincidences while your friends see purpose.
Do you call yourself spiritual, but not in the sense of most people you know? You are confused by the attraction some people feel for organized religion, to worship with others inside a building. Isn’t it just as meaningful to worship by yourself under a tree? Or maybe you don’t believe in a traditional God at all, but do believe there is something out there working behind the scenes and giving life to all things. Sadly, though, it seems like everyone around you believes in the God of church and Sunday School and insist on worshiping him in the traditional way.
Do any of these scenarios touch a nerve? Sometimes it seems to me like there are as many forms of spirituality as there are human beings. Some people just seem wired to believe in the unseen, to the bewilderment of those who lack that special wiring, don’t they? Why does faith in a supreme being seem to come naturally to some people, who believe they see his hand wherever they go? Equally puzzling is the question of why some find it impossible to detect the presence of a supernatural force, no matter how much beauty they experience or how many amazing or even miraculous events they witness.
Of course, there could be many reasons for such differences in viewpoint. But could it be that one of the factors in our spirituality, our inclination to see or not see a higher power at work behind the scenes of our lives and of the world in general, is personality type? Have you ever wondered what role your type preferences might play in your beliefs or lack thereof?
I’m certainly not the first person to ponder the mysteries of our spiritual makeup! In a study of 3,036 people, although the majority of each type answered that they do believe in a higher power, interesting differences in belief were found among types. The top ranking types who said they definitely did not believe in a higher power were:
- INTJ (23.1% say they do not believe)
- ENTJ (14.6%)
- INTP (11.1%)
- ISTP (9.9%)
The top ranking types who said they were “not sure” were:
- ISTP (19.2% “not sure”)
- INTP (16.2%)
- ENTP (14.6%)
- ENTJ (14.6%)
Finally the top ranking types who said they did believe in a higher power were:
- ENFJ (91.4% do believe)
- ESFJ (90.2%)
- ENFP (89.8%)
- ISFJ (89.7%)
As you can see, INTP, ISTP and ENTJ are on both the “no” and “not sure” lists.1
Notice that all the types in the first two categories have a preference for Thinking and all but one also prefer Intuition. In contrast, all the types listed in the “yes” column show a preference for Feeling, and three fourths of them also prefer Extraversion and Judging.
Wow, this sounds pretty interesting! Is there a connection between personality type and spirituality? If so, what? Is it possible that our type preferences actually cause our particular brand of spirituality, or is it a coincidence that so many NTs, for example, are not religious?
There is much more to us than our personality types, of course. Factors such as our families, how we were raised, our cultural background, what type and level of education we had, and personal experiences will all have an effect on our religious beliefs and practices. But I believe there is a connection between type and spirituality and that it’s not a coincidence. Many type practitioners would agree. In fact among the Interest Areas offered by the Association for Psychological Type International to its members is one called Religion and Spirituality.
Personality type can affect both the nature of our faith, if any, and our preferred methods of feeding and expressing it. With preferences for INFJ, belief in a higher power has always come naturally to me. I was not raised in a Christian home, but after studying the Bible and attending church while in college, I became a nondenominational Christian. It seems that all I need is to drive up Interstate 10W while drinking in the serene Texas Hill Country views to remind me of my conviction that God exists and of how powerful and loving He is.
In contrast to how natural it is to some of us, the “no” and “not sure” categories show us that a preference for Thinking is apparently related to a decreased likelihood of belief in a higher power. This may be because the Thinking preference is more likely to look at traditional religious beliefs with a critical and analytical eye. When added to the mix, Perceiving may play a role in openness to off-the-beaten-path beliefs and viewpoints.
Feeling types seem to see things differently, especially FJs which make up three fourths of the “yes” category on the table. With preferences for Feeling and Judging, once I found what I was seeking in the spiritual realm, Christianity, I was no longer very open to new beliefs. While I am open to learning new things about Christianity, I am not open to a wholesale switch to a different belief system.
It is reported by the Center for Applications of Psychological Type, Inc. in their 1996 table “Estimated Frequencies of the Types in the United States Population,” that 65% to 70% of the U.S. male population has a preference for Thinking. Perhaps the critical, questioning nature of Thinkers has something to do with the fact that, according to Church for Men, only 39% of a typical church membership in the U.S. is male. Perhaps these are the Feeling type men?
A male friend from my church with INTP preferences enjoys focusing on the similarities between religions more than their differences. He told me that in regard to religion, it’s “...hard to settle on any one thing,” whether it be a denomination or major religion. This is thanks to his Thinking preference imbuing him with such a strong need for facts, and his preference for Perceiving convincing him that anything can be true until proven wrong. He believes that INTPs need to experience God for themselves. In contrast, another friend told me that her preferences for ESFJ fit “very neatly into Christianity.”
Personality type might not only be related to whether someone attends an organized worship service at all, but also to whether he or she chooses to stay with the group being worshiped with. People who prefer Introversion might be more comfortable in smaller houses of worship than those who prefer Extraversion, for instance. People who prefer Thinking, like my INTP friend, might prefer a style of preaching that, rather than just presenting facts, resembles a debate where a statement is made for worshipers to respond to, leaving things up to their own interpretation. According to my friend, this energizes listeners more and gives them more to digest.
Of course, worship has personal, as well as social components. There are many aspects of personal worship which may especially appeal to different types as well. A friend with ISFJ preferences and Catholic beliefs has delved deeply into several extensive forms of prayer. With preferences for INFJ, I particularly enjoy good Christian literature, both fiction and nonfiction. But someone with a preference for Extraversion might find the disciplines enjoyed by my friend and I to be cruel and unusual punishment rather than worship.
My friend with ESFJ preferences, mentioned above, stated that “My favorite spiritual disciplines are worship and service and in-depth study. I struggle with solitude and other disciplines that require a significant amount of alone time, with no possibility for interaction. (Bible study helps me to teach others about God which means even when it’s a solitary activity it has an ‘E’ end goal).”
These are just a few flakes in the snowdrift of spiritual beliefs and practices. Sometimes we may shake our heads and wonder just what it is about a belief or practice that could possibly be meaningful or attractive to anyone. We may be just as likely to shake our heads in amazement when we see how many types of spirituality there are and how many types of personalities. Coincidence? I think not! Connection? Definitely! Cause? Maybe…
Tell me what you think. I’d love to hear!
1. Source: MBTI® Manual. Myers, Isabel Briggs, Mary H. McCaulley, Naomi L. Quenk and Allen L. Hammer. Mountain View, CA: CPP, Inc. Table on p. 238, “Top-Ranked Types Rating ‘No,’ ‘Not Sure,’ or ‘Yes’ Regarding Belief in a Higher Spiritual Power.”