Sunday, May 06, 2007

BeliefNet Test: a personality quiz

I've really got to start paying Bint Alshamsa for her links to fascinating quizzes! This morning, as I was doing my daily survey of my Google Reader RSS subscriptions, I read her entry about her own test results of the Belief-O-Matic - A personality quiz about your religious and spiritual beliefs. I decided to follow suit and came up with - no surprises here - the following top 5 matches (the links are to beliefnet


Secular Humanism (100%)

Unitarian Universalism (93%)

Nontheist (80%)

Liberal Quakers (72%)

Theravada Buddhism (69%)

If I had taken the test even one or two years ago, the results would have been different. I strongly suspect that nontheist would have been at the top position and Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants higher than its current 7th position (62%). But over the past six months or so, I've been reevaluating the language I use to describe my beliefs or disbeliefs. In doing so, I've decided to pare down, to cut away language which reflects preconceptions.

But this exercise isn't easy. There are always worries that intentionally using non-religious language means I just don't care. That's not the case. It would not be too big a stretch to say that most of my adolescent and adult life has been characterized by searching and reflecting on big issues, what in a mainline, liberal Christian perspective someone like Paul Tillich would have called Ultimate Concerns.

In fact, I still get a buzz when I read Tillich. All religion, according to Tillich is finite and can only point to the infinite, which means, of course, that all religion cannot be taken too seriously. All religious or spiritual knowledge is about the finite pointing to the infinite; all genuine religion is therefore symbolic. If any faith tradition doesn't understand this, then it is idolatrous (again, slipping into traditional language).

Am I a secular humanist? I guess it depends on which day of the week I take the test. It depends on whether I'm feeling sympathetic to the language of symbolism or interested merely in dealing with more mundane, finite realities. One thing I can say for sure is that most self-confessed secular humanists bore me to death. They simply won't relent, even for a few moments, to discuss the value of any religion or spirituality, even if it is self-consciously ironic or symbolic.

On the other hand, I have become convinced that finding a congenial group of nontheists who can escape from religious language on demand and who are willing to distance themselves from fundamentalism (conceived either in terms of belief or liturgical practice) seems a vain hope. I cannot embrace a religious liberalism that somehow thinks literalists are more spiritual than secular humanists. They're not!

Any religion that is worth consideration must respect all aspects of what it means to be human, including our skeptical and rational faculties. Most mainline and liberal Protestant denominations are caught in a cul-de-sac of sentimental piety and half-hearted rationality. Even worse, they get lumped together with fundamentalists because they use almost identical language.

So, what to do? Keep on doing what I'm doing, I suppose. Point to the moon, while reassuring those watching me that my finger is not the moon. Making the sound of one hand clapping, while wondering just how we hear sounds anyway. Contemplating ultimate concerns when time permits, the rest of the time taking care of the ordinary, everyday, wonderful things of life.

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