Appreciating Differences - Jack Falt - Ottawa area, Ontario, Canada

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Article for APT Canada by Jack Falt, INFJ

Religion, Spirituality and Psychological Type

One of the interest categories of APT is “F - Religion & Spirituality” and quite a few members indicate this as one of their three main interest areas. This area is regularly featured in the APT Bulletin and there are usually a number of workshops on this topic at the APT Conferences. Currently, there are over thirty books that are partly or completely devoted to this topic.

Before we begin, I would like to say how and why I differentiate between religion and spirituality. To me, religion is a code of beliefs that a group of people accept as divinely inspired and this code is used as a basis of worship and becoming a member in a religious community. Spirituality, on the other hand, allows the individual to strive to make a connection to a higher power in his or her own way. This is not to say that a religion is not spiritual. On the contrary, most religions have a strong spiritual element in them.

Religions have often been formed from the experience of one person or a group of people. Some religions are so old we can only guess at their origins, but for those religions where we do know their history, we often find that the founding people had a spiritual experience and felt divinely inspired to bring it to their people. Peter Richardson in Four Spiritualities suggests that the form of a religion depended on the psychological type of the founder. Moses and the Jewish religion tends to be ST, Mohammad and Islam tends to be SF, Jesus and the Christians are more NF, and the Unitarians, Zen and Native Spirituality are more NT.

Religion creates a basis for our beliefs and nurtures us within the religious community. However, we know that there are 16 different psychological types that seem to be randomly scattered across the world. This means that while four of the types may feel comfortable with a specific religion, it is likely that 12 types probably won’t be. Religion can become a straight jacket if it does not allow for individual differences and the opportunity for people to explore their own spirituality. However, to do so in some religions is to risk the charge of heresy.

What most of us need is a religious foundation that encourages us also to explore our own spirituality, and not be forced to break away from our childhood faith to have the freedom to examine other alternatives. As much as some religions have tried to maintain a strong control over its members, every major religion has had its sects and denominations, indicating that the religion has not satisfied everyone’s spiritual needs.

I have found psychological type to be a useful tool to help people examine their own faith and also to look at other faiths. A number of books give examples of how each of the 16 types will typically behave on their spiritual journey. The individual can read these and gain some insight into their own spiritual growth. It is important that people have a good grasp of psychological type before they move forward to apply it to their spiritual lives.

One big problem that has to be addressed is that it takes time for participants of a study group to become familiar with psychological type. Not everyone is prepared to make that time commitment. I find in our local church that it is the same 15 to 20 people who come out to study groups of any kind. The rest are content to sit in the comfortable pew and get their weekly dose of religion spoon-fed to them.

I have had the opportunity to lead several weekend retreats where I was able to present the MBTI® material in the first half of the time and then spend the remaining time relating it to spirituality. This could also be done in weekly sessions. In a few cases I have used True Colors® and then used church related exercises to get the concepts across. Even in a fairly short time you can help people gain some useful spiritual insights, and hopefully, they will follow these up later.

Quite a bit of research has been done by the Alban Institute of Religious Studies by Roy Oswald and Otto Kroeger and it is described in their book Personality Type and Religious Leadership. This book is a must read for anyone entering into a religious career. A problem in the mainstream churches is that the congregations are mainly SJs (SJs and SPs make up 75% of the general population - SPs are usually playing hockey - here I am only half joking) who want a traditional form of worship and expect the religious leader to behave in a traditional manner. Most clergy are NFs seeking the spiritual path and they have taken their theological courses from NT professors. NTs tend to think of theology in very abstract terms. The NF clergy then go to their SJ congregations expecting them to share their spiritual quest as prescribed by their NT professors. The SJs like their religion in black and white terms and are not into trying new forms of worship. This is usually very frustrating for clergy until they are able to adapt their ministry to better meet the needs of their congregations. Of course, these statements are broad generalizations and don’t necessarily apply in all situations.

The concepts of psychological type can also be very useful in a non spiritual way in the overall operation of the church and understanding people as they relate to one another. Many areas of conflict can be reduced when people understand one another using these concepts. Leaders who have a good working knowledge of psychological type can often use this understanding when there is a dispute to bring the two sides together. Committees using the “S ? N ? T ? F” method of solving problems (also known as the zig-zag method of problem solving) would eliminate many of their costly mistakes.

In every community there are a number of religious and spiritual groups. Many of these would welcome leadership from MBTI® qualified people. This could be done for a fee or on a voluntary basis. It may involve being willing to start with a small group and let it build in size as people tell their friends about it. My own group started with four people with only two coming to the next session. Over its five years of operation over twenty have come for a period of time and usually seven to ten attend each session. Your expertise is needed in these organizations at both the spiritual and secular levels.

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