Surveying Your Spirituality


The other day, in response to a meme, I confessed to being a theist. I seem to have chosen a good time to do this, as many of my (non-theistic) fellow ScienceBloggers are discussing the matter. (Here and here are just a few examples.) I suppose I should explain. Since the holidays are approaching and, whether you are religious or not, there is a surplus of stress about, I'm going to try to keep it on the lighter side.

My brother, Tristan, ran across this quiz a few months ago, which attempts to match a person with the nearest spiritual beliefs. I'm usually rather skeptical about web-based quizzes in general, but, on close examination, I thought this one pegged me pretty well.

The top few matches were, for the most part, rather accurate:

1. Unitarian Universalism (100%)

2. Neo-Pagan (99%)

3. New Age (94%)

4. Liberal Quakers (93%)

I included the links to their descriptions of the various faiths, as it seemed to me they chose only certain aspects of each faith as qualifiers. (I'm going with their definitions, in this case, rather than past experience.) The top result, Unitarian Universalism seemed to be sort of a catch-all category for any non-fundamentalist. I think it could have been left out... it's more of a philosophy, than a religious belief. So, tossing that aside, the test labeled me (99%) neo-pagan.

In general, I like the description:

Some believe in a Supreme Being. Many believe in God and Goddess--a duality. Many believe there are countless spirit beings, gods and goddesses, in the cosmos and within all of nature--God is all and within all; all are one God. The Great Mother Earth, or Mother Nature, is highly worshipped. Divinity is immanent and may become manifest within anyone at any time through various methods.

This fits. I like to think of the universe itself as a divine being. In the same way that my body is simply a vast collection of parts, yet I am whole, the universe is a vast collection of parts, yet it is whole. I believe that sense of wholeness of the universe is, for lack of any better term, God. (Just as folks say "Karmen" when talking about my personality.) In this sense, everything contains "spirit" ...even including so-called imaginary things, which may only be brought into existence through a song or poem by something complex enough to create it. I even fancy that someday, our imaginary constructs will become complex enough to be creative on their own... like, AI meets the storybook. I believe in a creator... but not just one.

This doesn't conflict with science in any way, as far as I see it. Science gives us a way to understand the ways of the universe; religion gives us a way to appreciate it. When a particular religion goes beyond reverence into fundamentalist doctrines, which prevent parishioners from being curious, unique, complex individuals, I back away quickly. That sort of power-hungry fight against diversity and change just seems contrary to the idea of worship. Unfortunately, most faiths I've looked into are like this, to some degree, so I sort of keep to myself, and follow my own faith.

I take the Joseph Campbell appraoch--I've picked bits and pieces from various religions, ideas or practices that seemed to harmonize with my beliefs. I follow some aspects of Christianity, some of Buddhism and Taoism, and some of the pantheons of ancient Greece and Egypt. (Actually, I'm particularly fond of Greek myths, and the subtle "divinations" of the Oracle at Delphi.... but that's unimportant here.)

So in general, the neo-pagan title suits me well. One part of the description, however, made me cringe:

Neo-Pagans are a community of faiths bringing ancient Pagan and magickal traditions to the modern age--including mostly Wicca...

First, I'm not a Wiccan. As I mentioned above, I like to do my own thing. That's not the trouble, though. I have nothing against the Wiccans (bless their hearths) but they are not an ancient religion.

My other rankings didn't surprise me too much. I come from a fairly long line of Liberal Quakers, so that fit well. I did raise an eyebrow when Scientology ranked higher than Taoism or Mahayana Buddhism. Again, I think some of their qualifications were a little too selective. Anyways, here is the rest of my list:

5. New Thought (78%)

6. Scientology (75%)

7. Mahayana Buddhism (75%)

8. Reform Judaism (72%)

9. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (69%)

10. Secular Humanism (68%)

11. Taoism (64%)

12. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (60%)

13. Hinduism (59%)

14. Bah '¡ Faith (56%)

15. Jainism (54%)

16. Theravada Buddhism (52%)

17. Sikhism (50%)

18. Orthodox Quaker (48%)

19. Nontheist (43%)

20. Orthodox Judaism (43%)

21. Islam (40%)

22. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (22%)

23. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (20%)

24. Seventh Day Adventist (18%)

25. Eastern Orthodox (14%)

26. Roman Catholic (14%)

27. Jehovah's Witness (12%)

Notice my "non-theist" score was rather low (43%.) I'm looking forward to seeing how my fellow non-theist ScienceBloggers will score ...will it be as accurate as it was for me? Will they be 99% non-theist? Or will there be more shocking confessions? ("Communion wine? What communion wine?" or "I just bought the Tarot cards but I didn't read them, I swear!") Take the test, and find out.

I'd like to respond to some of the other articles on ScienceBlogs which challenge theism, but I must admit, this is a pretty busy time of year for a neo-pagan. On that note, allow me to offer a warning for anyone considering a conversion:

Participating in spring fertility rituals may increase the chances of having a child whose birthday party is painfully close to Christmas.

Now you know.

Image note: I chose a "Buddhabrot" fractal to accompany this image, in memory of Joseph Campbell and his 10 commandments for approaching mythology: "Myths can be generated anywhere, anytime, by anything: the Buddha also lives in the computer chip." The fractal was made using ChaosPro.

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When I've previously taken that quiz, I scored pretty close to you. I think including UUs on the results is fundamentally unfair because it's going to be high up for almost anybody, just because of the huge variety of beliefs and philosophies they encompass.

For the heck of it (who am I, anyway?), here are my results:

1. Secular Humanism (100%)
2. Unitarian Universalism (100%)
3. Liberal Quakers (85%)
4. Theravada Buddhism (79%)
5. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (78%)

See what I said about the UUs? I'm an atheist (secular humanist suits me fine), but I scored 100% for Unitarian anyway. ;)

Ditto for UU for me. And why exactly, is secular humanism (which is a moral and political position rather than a belief system) distinguished from the other views? One can be a Catholic and a secular humanist.

That quiz is a joke. I answered "none of the above" or "not applicable" to everything and came up "main line protestant". Pah.

It's funny that people are coming up 100% UU. When I was in middle school, I had a lot of friends who were UU. The joke was always that UU beliefs were completely compatible with other beliefs -- you could even be UU and Jewish or UU and Buddhist at the same time, or so the minister said. You could be UU and not believe in God at all. So I guess it's only fitting that in the quiz, UU 'goes' with everything else.

By Katherine Sharpe (not verified) on 12 Dec 2006 #permalink

The quiz is funny in that "doesn't exist" and "don't know" are made essentially equivalent. It is definitely one of those quizzes with bad answers forcing you into slots you don't agree with, biut there is no other answer.

I've had the same issue. I answered strongly against every question that posited a deity and somehow came up for UU. It's seems that the test already assumes you're looking for a religion and skews you towards one. The options for atheist and agnostic don't even factor in or require mentioning. bleh.


There were a lot of others further down the list, but I just wanted to post the Top Ten. Then I saw that the religion in which I was raised was number 11.

BTW, you can be a UU and be either theistic or non-theistic. It's not necessarily a "religion," in the sense of believing in a God or Supreme Being. I'm generally agnostic, because I can't imagine any way our limited human minds could encompass such a being. There might be one, but I don't see any way we can know for sure.

1. Unitarian Universalism (100%)
2. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (99%)
3. Liberal Quakers (97%)
4. Secular Humanism (82%)
5. Neo-Pagan (78%)
6. New Age (73%)
7. Theravada Buddhism (70%)
8. Mahayana Buddhism (68%)
9. Bah�'� Faith (68%)
10. Taoism (63%)
11. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (58%)

By Liz Craig (not verified) on 12 Dec 2006 #permalink

I don't get it. You are claiming to be a theist.
You have previously hinted that you were an atheist, or at least agnostic.
What was that all about?

Of course the vote is irrelevant. For exampel, the Christian god either exists or doesn't. No middle ground.
And if he does, even if the whole world turned against him except for a handful of followers, it wouldn't change a thing.

Gaulin, it's actually that all-or-nothing approach of many Christians--and atheists--that turns me off. Regarding your question, though, while I've taken a very anti-creationist stand, I'm not sure I've ever indicated that I was an atheist or an agnostic. If anything, I've avoided discussing it, directly. (After a comment on the following post, I remember why I was reluctant.) Still, the hints have been there. If you look back at some of my posts, the theism shows... for instance here, looking to understand the "apple", or for a more pagan approach, this story, although disguised in fiction, is heavily laden with it.

Thanks for the comment Steve. I actually wrote in a comment here a few weeks ago asking what was happening with this blog after the announcement that O'Reilly was dropping the Digital Media division. It's really refreshing to get an honest comment on what's happening. I really hope the blog picks up again.