Horoscopes from Camelot

Horoscopes from Camelot December 11, 2014

An @woofboy responding to a friend’s Twitter comment pointed us both to this editorial from Theology Today in 1982: Meyers-Briggs and Other Modern Astrologies.” As described by the writer, Thomas G. Long, it began (this is my summary) in a utopian hope combined with a modern American faith in technology and desire for the easily applied and painlessly effective technique. Plus the experts say it’s not actually very helpful. Plus it gives people an excuse for being jerks, as Long suggests without saying (“This makes MBTI-styled talk vaguely deterministic: ‘This is my personality; it’s just the way I am, probably always will be’,” he notes.)

Why, asks Long, have Christians fallen for it so hard? It helps supply a sense of identity, he argues.

Add to this Isabel Myers’ tendency to describe each personality type in unfailingly optimistic terms and the possibilities for self-flattery abound. For example, ESFPs are, she tells us, “outgoing, easygoing, accepting, friendly, enjoy everything and make things more fun for others. . . ” while ISTJs are “practical, orderly, matter-of-fact, logical, realistic, and dependable.” Nowhere do we encounter the harder truth about ourselves and others, namely the possibility that our personalities include not-so-admirable traits like greed, envy, selfishness, or a propensity toward violence. Myers was aware, of course, that personality formation can go awry, that “bad type development” does happen, but even here she tended to speak in the meekest of terms, admitting that certain personality types may “fail to finish anything,” “neglect their feeling values,” “become too sensitive and vulnerable,” or “burden themselves with a sense of inadequacy.”

In short, the MBTI profiles read like horoscopes from Camelot.

The result is a tool seductively attractive and easy to use but that gives us information more likely to be misleading than helpful. “It is far more fruitful to think of a ‘personality’ in relational terms, as the way one tends to behave with certain other people and under certain conditions,” Long concludes.

Some aspects of a personality persist from setting to setting, but a relational view opens up the possibility of true complexity, unexpected change, repentance, even conversion. . . . Thus, whatever use it may wish to make of instruments like the MBTI, the Christian church needs to make some protest as well, to refuse to accept that people can be known in any serious way through a pencil and paper questionnaire dashed off in a few moments, to insist upon knowing people in the only way they can genuinely be known-in costly and messy relationships that endure

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