Friday 19 September 2008

Of MBTI and "impossible religious beliefs"

Of MBTI and the “impossibility” of religious belief

Yet again it seems to be a couple of months since I have written this blog. As I discovered over the summer that one person actually had read it – hallo there, Andy, if you’ve come back again – perhaps I should make an effort to be more regular. But my thoughts don’t seem to work that way. An idea may arrive of its own volition one day, oblivious to the fact that there simply isn’t any time or energy to devote to it that week, owing to pressure of work or family disasters or exhaustion owing to lack of sleep. And the next week, when there is time and energy, no ideas of any worth present themselves. Sounds familiar? Probably – I think everyone has this experience of resources available but no time to use them, or time available but no resources – it happens in the material realm as well, in terms of having money to spend but no time to spend it, or vice versa.

Perhaps it is my Type that is to blame. I am a firm devotee of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, of which no doubt some of you may have heard. This divides humanity into 16 different types, using Jungian ideas of dominant mental function based on four different ways of taking in and processing information. MBTI was developed by a mother-and-daughter team in the United States during and after World War II, and many books and much research has been devoted to investigating it further, as it has turned out to be surprisingly powerful (and for many people, including myself, personally liberating). For those who understand about Type, I am an INTJ, an Introverted Intuitive with Thinking subordinate function. Introverted Intuition is a strange animal. My husband, who introduced me to MBTI and is qualified to administer the Type Indicator, describes it as like a coffee percolator, gently simmering away in the background and sometimes throwing up splendid bubbles with wonderful rich coffee smells. I myself think it’s more like a soup pot. You stir in all manner of ingredients, tasting all the while, and you end up with some unexpected but (sometimes at least) delicious results made out of them. The tastes cannot be predicted, though you can test them and adjust them a bit as necessary.
Thus the ‘soup’ of my experiences and the ideas I have gleaned from a fairly eclectic reading programme – currently I have an Alexander McCall No.1 Detective Agency novel on my bedside table, a book on the Black Death, a book on Islam and a book on the meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls all on the bookshelf in the sitting-room, and have recently finished reading a book on climate change in the Little Ice Age and Pope Benedict’s book on Jesus of Nazareth – can quite suddenly throw up some new idea I want to explore. The Times is also a fruitful source of ideas, often in reaction to its comment pages or some feature or other.
Indeed, there was an article a couple of days ago, somewhat tongue in cheek, I thought (though clearly some readers took it seriously, and perhaps it was intended that way) about the impossibility of intelligent modern Westernised people actually believing in religious dogmas. I found this article so completely wild that I only just managed to engage with it. Was the feature writer (Jamie Whyte) suggesting that all religious believers are liars, who pretend to believe but in their heart of hearts don’t? Does he really think that life today is so materialist that it is impossible to hold any non-materialist belief? If so, it seemed an extraordinary suggestion, reminiscient of Richard Dawkins’ apparent conviction that the fact that he himself has rejected faith of any kind (in favour of an aggressive atheism that seems to me quite as intolerant as any fundamentalist belief) must mean that anyone else who disagrees has to be lacking in basic intelligence. What is it about the over-enthusiastic embrace of ‘science’ that makes it so intolerant? – I don’t mean the real science, which depends on honest enquiry and respects all such enquiry wherever it leads, but a quasi-religious idea of science that invests it with all the trappings that would be unhestitatingly condemned in any recognised religion. Is it the fear, perhaps, in the corner of the atheist’s mind, determinedly shied away from, rigorously excluded from conscious thought, that those who hold a religious belief might just have discovered another dimension to living? Or is it simply an inability to imagine anyone having an awareness of a non-material reality?
It is fashionable these days to scoff at sincely held religious beliefs, to make out those who hold them to be stupid, old-fashioned, or unwilling to face scientific facts as we of the 21st century perceive them. This is a pity. No one would deny that religion can breed bigotry and intolerance, or that religious wars have often been the most bitter. But at the same time almost all of what we now see as enlightened human care for one another has been born of religion – from the Abrahamic faiths in particular. And where they replaced animist and naturist beliefs, those faiths, and Christianity most of all, were welcomed in earlier ages as the rescuer of people from superstition, not as its purveyor.
Some very twisted views of religious belief are being put about in the media just now in this country. I wonder who we might see as being behind that, in the heavenly realm (if you believe in one)? Who benefits – the forces of good or the forces of evil?