What World Do You Live In? Part 2

(Read Part 1 first.)


Source: the LAMP at flic.kr/p/ejNXiW

Having read his book, I had expectations about which theological world(s) W. Paul Jones’s Theological Worlds Inventory would place me in. World 3—that of T. S. Eliot’s “hollow men,” of people who feel like they might be wearing a mask over a personal emptiness—had most appealed to me in the book. Immediately on reading about it I felt an overwhelming recognition that I felt when reading about neither World 1 or World 2. (This was itself a bit of a surprise: based on the book’s introduction, World 3 did not look promising.) I had expected World 2 (animated by a conflict between violent chaos and small bastions of peace) to follow it fairly closely, and then World 4 (concerned with personal sin and forgiveness) a bit after. I did not expect to have much in common with World 1 (haunted by the universe’s apparent meaninglessness) or World 5 (characterized by unremitting suffering and endurance).

So while I was not surprised that the Inventory placed me high in World 3, I was surprised that it placed me just as high in World 5. (World 2 followed close, and Worlds 1 and 4 were equally and very far behind.) Indeed, the results are a bit flat and I think there might be problems with the Inventory itself, but on reading the descriptions in the Inventory I’m inclined to agree that I’m just as much an inhabitant of World 5 as World 3. I’ll discuss this in detail toward the end of the post; first, I want to look at the Inventory itself and the reasons I think it has problems.

The Inventory

The Inventory has 63 questions, which seems like a lot when you’re answering them but is to the best of my knowledge quite low for a personality inventory (or whatever this is). The questions are multiple-choice with five choices each and you are asked to rate the top three answers rather than choose just one. After answering the questions, you are then asked to read short descriptions of the theological worlds and rank them according to their application to you; if your results are markedly different from your prediction, it is supposed to indicate low spiritual self-awareness. Finally, you are given an answer key in which you tally your answers; this gives you a score for each world, and the highest is closest to yours. Of course, as Jones insists, “There are as many Worlds as there are persons.” The five worlds Jones offers are types; yours may vary from the types in some particulars.

Besides the low number of questions, I think the largest problem is with the specificity of the questions. You are free to skip any questions that make no sense to you, but the more such questions there are, the fewer answers you give, and the poorer the accuracy of your results. Some of Jones’s questions rely heavily on prior knowledge of Christian (and likely Western Christian) ideas and terminology. For instance, take a look at question 38:

38. Who is the Christ?:

____a. redeemer
____b. Messiah
____c. revealer
____d. suffering Servant
____e. teacher/example

I think even most Christians would not be able to tell you what “Messiah” actually means, and both “redeemer” and “Messiah” are such common titles for Christ that I suspect many readers would choose one of those over the answer which best suits them. Indeed, I wonder how many people consider “redeemer” or “Messiah” to already mean whatever their epiphania is. And although this is the most glaring example of reliance on Christian theological jargon and concepts, there are many questions which will shut out certain readers. Personally, there were two questions which I did not answer: one question made no sense to me at all and one gave no answers which appealed to me at all.

As I will discuss in the third post of this short series, it is probably impossible to write an Inventory that is agnostic to the user’s a/religious tradition. However, there is a tension between the need to be comprehensive in the questions on the one hand and the need for the questions to make sense to a wide variety of people on the other; the more questions you include, the harder it will be to form broadly-applicable ones.

The mechanism, then, to test your spiritual self-awareness is flawed insofar as the rest of the quiz is. I prefer the Myer-Briggs attitude that self-assessment is more important than the technical results of the quiz; if you feel strongly that you should belong in a different category than the one the inventory supplied, you are probably right. Perhaps I am fortunate in that I am somewhat more self-aware than average, but it seems that careful informed self-assessment is more reliable than a 63-question inventory. However, I also appreciate Jones’s concern that many people do lack self-awareness. Perhaps it is like the TA’s maxim: the students who are good enough to break the rules do not need to be told that they are, so in general do not tell the class that there are exceptions to the rules. Perhaps someone who is sufficiently self-aware will know the results are wrong and will not need to be told so.

My Results

I got mid-nineties in both World 3 (Emptiness and Fulfillment) and World 5 (Suffering and Endurance), and I scored mid-eighties in World 2 (Conflict and Vindication). Both World 1 (Separation and Reunion) and World 4 (Condemnation and Forgiveness) came out in the mid-forties. The top three results look really flat to me: the slight difference between 3 and 5 is certainly nothing but error, and World 2’s ten-point lag isn’t much, either. The only thing I could say with confidence based on these results is that World 1 and World 4 hold little appeal for me. However, despite how surprising these results seemed, when I read the final descriptions it made a certain sense: I do have more World 5 traits than I had realized on reading Theological Worlds, and now that I look at it I think World 2 does deserve to lag behind a bit.

I hope you don’t mind if I look more carefully at my results. The rest of the post will be extraordinary navel-gazing, but I think it’s most helpful to work through specific examples and mine is the only example I have to hand.

As much as I felt immediate recognition reading the chapter about World 3 in Theological Worlds, the description in the Inventory is less familiar to me. Jones writes, “Inhabitants of this world tend to have a healthy regard for eros: for vitality, for feelings, for deep sharing for a lyric love of living [sic].” I think this is only somewhat true of me; the phrase “a lyric love of living” alienates me. He also notes that “Dualism is opposed, insisting, for example, on integrating right and left brain thinking, and regarding mind and body as a whole.” The first part of that is true, but I tend to live in my mind at the expense of my body most of the time. I do not, contra Jones, see growth “as the natural state of things.” I do, however, have “a keen sensitivity […] to how socialization can scar and marginalize the person” and I am “fascinated with the new and imaginative.”

Although I resisted acknowledging it at first, many of the weaknesses Jones attributes to World 3 are mine: I hope that I do not “neglect or even exclude persons who are not part of one’s support,” but I do bear an “excessive pride in one’s stage of ‘maturity.’” In particular, I can be disdainful of people who are absolutists or multiplists according to Kuhn’s personal epistemology, and my recent interest in Kegan’s developmental psychology, and David Chapman’s expansion on it, has been tinged with an anxiety about my own place in that development. Jones writes that people in World 3 tend to “identify ‘winners’ with personal effort, ‘losers’ with failing to try enough”; while I had thought myself mostly innocent of the Just World Fallacy, I now realize I do blame people when they don’t mature, even if I don’t blame people for any lack in material success. I can be quite blind to the structural reasons a person might not develop as I have. The last weakness, then, is ironic: “the optimism often characterizing this world can lead to a discounting of one’s shadow side, blind to one’s own motivations for advantage even when denying all interest in power.” I do not deny personal interest in power and I am not optimistic at all, but that blindness nonetheless seems a real risk for me.

World 5 is a much different story. I had thought World 5 was in a sense inaccessible to me: Jones describes residents of this World through the Appalachian miners with whom he grew up, and the poverty and precarity of those lives are not like anything I’ve experienced. And yet this is true of me: “This sensitivity [to “the way things are”] can bring a deep empathy for others.” I realize this sounds like bragging, but I think it is no exaggeration to say that every moral impulse I possess is grounded in compassion; there might be logic making my ethics effective, but there is no concern for “truth” or “principles” in the engine that drives them. (In the taxonomy of sortinghatchats, I am a Hufflepuff Primary almost always modelling a Ravenclaw Primary.) I think most people who know me would say that “Deep loyalty and dependability” characterize me whenever I’m not crippled by depression. Although I don’t know if I’m “surprisingly open to share what they have” or “more concerned for the quality of the little than the quantity of the much,” but I’d sure like to be those things.


Source: Tiago Cabral at flic.kr/p/9ZdcYc

And the weaknesses are just as much my own. As Jones indicates, I can become overextended and burned out, and as a consequence “around the edges can lurk the shadows of depression or immobilization, even a tinge of masochism.” The only inaccuracy here is that there are no shadows nor tinges but rather the full thing of each. Jones warns that “apathy toward change can become a defense mechanism,” and that is clinically true of me. I recently learned I have a reputation at work for putting up with inconveniences, even significant ones, rather than ask for help. My mother has chastised me for choosing to suffer medical ailments rather than try to cure them. It may be that my response to bad things in my life is to suffer them (noisily), not fix them. In retrospect that is an obvious trait of World 5.

And although I am fluent in the language of World 2—structural evil, justice and freedom, social conscience—I do not possess its virtues. I am rarely “willing to risk personal security and gain in order to join God in the fight for […] what is right,” much to my shame. Although I hope to “finely hone” my “social conscience,” I cannot claim to be “committed to the cost of discipleship.” At the same time I am distressed more than tempted by the typical World 2 flaws: I hold no anger toward death and am less likely than average to avoid or deny it. I am not insensitive to “the ecological whole” in my desire for economic justice, and I am increasingly aware of the inward sin that produces the “corporate and systemic injustice” which is the exclusive focus of World 2. Everyone, likely, is tempted to tribalism, but I seem more aware of it as a temptation than many people who I would identify as living in World 2.

For this reason, whereas I previously thought I lived in World 3 with forays into World 2, based on the Inventory I would now say that I live in a hybrid of World 5 and World 3, with an intellectual appreciation for World 2. Although I am motivated by a deep sense that I am failing to live up to my potential and moreover that I ought to live up to my potential—a self-defeating anxiety, in my case—my experience of life is less one of impotence and more one of misfortune, and my response to most problems is first to endure them, and only afterwards to fix them. The compassion of World 5 helps me avoid some of the selfishness of World 3; the sense that people can and do grow, that maturity is a real thing, helps me avoid some (if not most) of World 5’s fatalism. Indeed, because the two are fused, endurance and compassion appear to me as marks of maturity. Meanwhile, I find the language of World 2 useful not because I care at all about “vindication” or even “what is right,” but because I care about anyone I perceive to be suffering and I appreciate, as a factual matter, the way in which systemic problems cause suffering. I also tend to understand participation in systemic evil as a form of immaturity—death-denial and/or absolutism, for instance. I can speak quite well in the World 2 diction, then, but I’m still mostly conveying World 3 and World 5 ideas.

What I hope this discussion shows is the way in which the Inventory can be helpful—or, at any rate, was helpful to me—despite its problems. Unfortunately, “helpful to me” is not the same as “helpful generally,” which is the subject of my next post. More specifically, what use can someone who isn’t well-versed in Western Christianity make of it?


One thought on “What World Do You Live In? Part 2

  1. Pingback: What World Do You Live In?, Part 3 | Accidental Shelf-Browsing

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