Tuesday, February 10, 2009

belief-o-matic: hours of endless entertainment

Those "hours", btw, don't come all at once, but due to my continual return to this funny little survey. With all due respect to Aziz's blog, Belief-O-Matic is my favorite part of Beliefnet. The results vary, depending on when I take it and my overall mood, but the following are typical results for me (including only those results above 90%)...

1. Hinduism (100%)
2. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (99%)
3. Orthodox Quaker (92%)
4. Eastern Orthodox (91%)
5. Roman Catholic (91%)


1. Hinduism (100%)
2. Eastern Orthodox (94%)
3. Roman Catholic (94%)
4. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (94%)

For those of you who don't know, my home church is Melkite (which is Catholic), though I quite regularly attend the Orthodox parish immediately behind our house since the closest Melkite parish is about an hr away. Thus at some level, the results are quite satisfying. The tool clearly measures my deep identification with the Catholic/Orthodox tradition.

I do find several things amusing about the tool though. First, while the rankings vary almost every time I take the test (which keeps me coming back), Hinduism is regularly the first or second choice and I can never remember it coming in lower than 90% (unless I was playing with the survey, trying to get a specific result). This is true despite the fact that I have no real interest in or attraction to Hinduism (ok, I love Bollywood, but that never struck me as in any way Hindu-specific). I did my coursework on it when I had to, with a professor I liked a great deal and who really loved India and Hinduism...but for me...nada. So, the survey, while it did describe my own self-understanding with Catholicism/Orthodoxy, is also measuring something I am not entirely aware of and which runs counter to my own explicit self-description.

At one level I know why and how this happens. At the end of the day I am a Platonist who read too much Hegel. I am very comfy with language of the Absolute, etc., and find the answers which explicitly use the word "God" in the survey to be too mythological for my taste most of the time. Moreover, Hinduism, as it is understood by this survey, is compatible with Christian claims, as understood by this survey, concerning the Incarnation and Trinity. In reality I think that the two are theologically fairly distant from one another and that the survey is capturing a possible similarity in language that is fairly thin in reality. If, realizing this, I try to answer the questions, esp. concerning God, in a manner that stresses the One, Hinduism falls down the list, but so does Catholicism/Orthodoxy for whom the doctrine of the Triune God is central. In fact, because Hinduism shows a great deal of flexibility concerning talk about God, Catholicism and Orthodoxy fall even further down the list than Hinduism does, thereby defeating the purpose of changing my answer.

25. Islam (31%)

Ok, so if Hinduism gets overrated by the survey, Islam gets hammered, despite my deep love and active interest in Islam. Again the reasons should be obvious. Say "Incarnation" and watch Islam plummet down the list. Say "Trinity" and watch Islam literally beg the survey to no longer be included for possible consideration. Still...Islam gets ranked, almost every time I take the survey, down at the bottom of the list with the JWs and nontheism (two which definitely belong at the bottom of my list), and it makes me wonder why.

Clearly, at some level, Islam is simply a category that does not contain a lot of nuance in the survey. In fairness, neither is Hinduism. We are all aware how broad religious practice and belief can be in Hinduism and one category covers the whole spectrum for this survey. It is my impression, though, that in the case of Islam, the category is narrow, not broad, i.e., it does not include a lot of variety in religious practice and belief that are clearly also present in Islam.

In any case, we come to one of the fundamental decisions made by the designers of the survey regarding Xty...or at least my Christianity. The fact that I affirm Christ as God (the Incarnation) places me closer to those who affirm various manifestations of God (and this includes neopaganism and new age, etc.) than it does to Islam or Judaism. This strikes me as fairly poor understanding of Christianity and its history, to say the least, even if it does raise interesting questions, e.g., if a Christian decides that, despite their belief in God, Jesus is not God, do they enter into a world where there are many incarnations (e.g., Jesus is one of many beautiful souls who manifest God) or a world where the prophets, of whom Jesus might be one, point to something Other?)

In any case, I left curious about how other people score on the Belief-O-Matic and what unexpected kinships (or distances) they might find.

Lawrence the Hindu, signing off....

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