Faith Without Extroversion is Not Dead

Let me start by relating a story unrelated to the book I’m about to review. There was an article in the Washington Post some years back that mentioned Louis Perry, a 61 year-old in South Carolina, who, a lifelong Southern Baptist, read Sam Harris’ book The End of Faith, a book promoting atheism. According to the article:

Thanks to Sam Harris, he had a religious epiphany in reverse. He was raised a Southern Baptist but never really connected to any of the doctrine. Everyone around felt a deep spiritual nourishment from church services, and Perry always left feeling as though he’d missed the point.

“For years, I thought there was something wrong with me,” he says. “I was always asking ‘Why don’t I get this? Why don’t I get this?’ And then last year I read ‘The End of Faith,’ and Sam basically explained it to me — there is nothing to get.”

 

I did a fairly exhaustive follow-up search on the internet, and could not find any additional information on Louis Perry. Thus, I can’t speak for him. I don’t know the guy. However, with this disclaimer out of the way, I’m going to make a bold suggestion: I wonder if Louis Perry was an introvert, trying desperately to fit into a world of Evangelical Christianity dominated by extroverts, and the accompanying styles.

Such is what is discussed in the book Introverts in the Church. This book is a look at the church, and the vocation of Christian ministry from the perspective of Adam McHugh, a self-professed introvert.

I was particularly impressed with the manner in which McHugh establishes his premise: that perceptions of what makes a good Christian, particularly in evangelicalism, are primarily pictures of extroverts. He cites a 2004 psychological study in which 97% of participants rated Jesus as an extrovert on the Myers-Briggs personality test. It goes without saying that Jesus is whom Christians look to as their ultimate example. McHugh further notes how most institutions in American culture, such as schools, businesses, government, etc., extroverts tend to be very successful. He provides numerous examples of introverted individuals who felt as though something was wrong with them because they did not fit into this norm where expressiveness and heavy participation in social events were the expectation.

He provides a convincing three-point explanation via the emphases of evangelicalism of why extroverts are at an advantage: emphasis on a personal relationship with God (manifest as emphasis on interpersonal relationships), biblical authority (people like to talk extensively about what the Bible means to them), and the emphasis on evangelism (current understandings of it are very extrovert-bent).

McHugh wisely notes that there are, however, limitations to using one’s personality as an excuse. God will use people for whatever purpose, and Scripture is full of people being used by God in ways completely outside their strengths, including in the realm of social interaction (Moses).

The one chapter I found a bit sketchy was where McHugh discusses introvert spirituality. He puts a good deal of emphasis on mystical experience, via the argument that introverts are more likely to feel the presence of God through contemplation. I was not personally a big fan of this, though perhaps that is my own preference talking.

The chapter that resonated with me the most was the one that detailed experiences of introverts in the church. It was with some amount of built-up anger that I recall some of my own experiences as an introvert. I can recall all too well the times in bible studies where, at the end, it was customary to go around the room and everyone would be expected to discuss “what God was doing in their life.” As an introvert, I chafed against this. It was never easy, and no matter how much I did manage to pull off, the more extroverted personalities would always have more apparently “spiritual” things to say, and I would feel an implicit comparison between them and myself being made. Similarly, I remember, which the book mentions, being drilled with questions about very personal feelings, almost feeling as though I was being examined by a prosecutor. Being compared to others, being scolded for not being “open” enough, and feeling stared at when not having sufficient answer can be very draining. Such was my experience being an introvert in evangelicalism.  And that ended up being part of my draw towards Anglicanism, as it allows for more personal reflection, and places less emphasis on visible experience.

Ultimately, I love the basic conclusion of the book: that while evangelicalism is indeed biased towards extroverts, and needs to address this issue, the main focus for all people should be how God is using them. God is all-powerful, and you can serve Him doing things you never believed possible. However, the church must still determine how to make it more conducive to more people. As stated, I have found solace in Anglicanism, as the “high church” is very conducive to an introvert. I suggest all introverts read this book, as it will probably speak to you about your own struggles, and offer creative solutions. I also suggest extroverts read it, as it is very important to get a view from another point of view, and understand what some might be going through.

This was a great book. Also check out Adam McHugh’s blog.

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The Election-Afterthoughts

 

 

On Tuesday, Barack Obama was re-elected as president of the United States. Congratulations to him. However, he has a huge challenge before him, with the budget, the “fiscal cliff” and what to do about the war in Afghanistan.

Mitt Romney’s loss has likely caused the Republicans to re-evaluate their strategies, and standpoints. His loss reflected shifting demographics, and the increased role of ethnic minorities in our democratic process, as well as, in all likelihood, the gay community. With several states approving same-sex marriage, our culture is probably headed towards a post-Christian era, and I doubt there’s all that much we can do about it.

I decided not to vote for either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama. In the case of Barack Obama, I feel that he is pursuing policies detrimental to religious freedom (i.e. the contraception mandate), that he very well may be causing us to go the route of state-provided abortions, and does not seem to truly understand that deficit spending is a dangerous thing (though neither does Romney, arguably).

Romney, on the other hand, was the ultimate political chameleon, with his actual opinions being extremely difficult to determine. I came to the point where I completely and utterly could not stand his tendency to take a good idea that Obama had, and claim it as his own, then turn around and oppose it. And many of his ideas were truly preposterous, such as balancing the budget, but with an increase in defense spending and an enormous decrease in taxes, some putting it at $6 trillion. He was antagonistic, particularly towards Iran, Russia, and China, even though he had benefitted from China through his previous business.

With these complaints made clear, I reveal here that I voted for neither of these men. I wrote in Jon Huntsman, one of the Republicans who dropped out of the primaries fairly early. While I fully realize that our ideal candidates will almost never be available, and that we must often be realistic, I felt that the ways in which both candidates ran contrary to my ideals as a Christian could not be overlooked. As stated, the Obama administration’s views on limiting religious freedom, while FAR from being persecution, are nonetheless cause for concern, as is his apparent belief that taking the life of an unborn infant is a fundamental right.  But conversely, I have a hard time seeing how a Christian can support someone who has no apparent regard for the needs of society’s needy (note the 47% comments), and seems to prioritize economic success over care for God’s creation, and human welfare in general.

I wrote in Huntsman because he combined a moderately conservative approach with a willingness to work with the other side. His foreign service in the Obama administration was impressive, and also proved he was knowledgeable about foreign policy. And this right here shows he is willing to compromise and work out differences, a skill almost lost from the Republican party. In short, a conservative pragmatist.

What do I ultimately want in a candidate? That requires a fairly long answer. The best way to say it is that as a Christian, I want a president who supports the protection of human life in all ways. I certainly tend to agree with the Republican position that abortion is the taking of an unborn life, and that it is justifiable to impose reasonable legal restrictions on it. I find it horrifying that this is viewed as part of the fundamental rights of women. However, I also want a candidate to think realistically about how contraception would in some ways solve the problem.

I’m tired of opposition to legal abortion going hand-in-hand with opposition to making life easier for women, on issues such as equal pay, maternal leave, domestic abuse, etc. I feel that Republicans have a history of opposing initiatives that bring about these things. Women have a history of suffering discrimination in this country, and when we don’t advocate for help for them with such things, it’s hard for people to believe that being pro-life isn’t really just a cover for the desire to oppress women.

But “pro=life” doesn’t stop with abortion. What about the wars our nation has involved itself in, in the name of “freedom”? The war in Iraq has killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, as well as thousands of our own soldiers. At some point, “freedom isn’t free” becomes an empty platitude that gives license to the worst kinds of barbarism that somehow becomes OK because “we’re America, and this is the price of freedom.”

I’m not a full-scale pacifist, so I want this understanding coupled with a comprehensive understanding about how other countries in the world function. I would want him to show wisdom about the use of the world’s strongest military. I would want him to use force against other countries only when it is TRULY the only remaining option, and he has exhausted diplomacy (how Augustine intended his just war doctrine to be used). Drone strikes that continue to kill civilians are unacceptable, and weapons must be made more and more precise to be sure innocent bystanders’ deaths are virtually non-existent. We must use non-violent means to fight terrorism whenever possible, while reserving the worst for heinous circumstances.

On the domestic front, I believe that fiscal responsibility is a biblical value, and that we must avoid the habit of spending money we don’t have (largely impossible now).  I generally favor lower taxes, but this must be viewed realistically in terms of fiscal realities. I don’t like high government spending, but I also feel that caring for society’s downtrodden means that there ought to be some safety nets. The church is always the one that does such things best, but there are sometimes limited resources in the church. The Scriptures are very clear that society must care for the elderly, the poor, the homeless, etc. For this reason I believe it is important to invest in good education, and try to reform the healthcare system so that it does not discriminate against poor people. How about programs for cancer, AIDS, and other terrible illnesses? Again, private compassion is the best route, but sometimes this has limited resources.

The environment must also be protected, as God provided it for us to be its stewards. I feel it is extremely naive to assume that the private, profit-driven market will self-monitor its own ecological footprint. Reasonable environmental protection must be balanced with economic innovation.

I recognize that these are vague, generalized ideas. But I also believe that our first priority as Christians involved in the civic process, should be a commitment to a pro-life attitude, but a multidimensional pro-life, not the one-dimensional type so prevalent in conservative politics. Achieving this in politics would be very difficult. But the life Jesus calls us to is difficult, and I am, at least at this time, completely and utterly dissatisfied with the use of Realpolitik, or conservative or liberal dogma to justify some of our country’s domestic and foreign policies. Yet, I simultaneously, perhaps paradoxically, value compromise, particularly on economic and fiscal issues, and the means by which to achieve them. However, once it becomes clear that certain policies contribute to human suffering and/or death, that is where I draw the line in the sand, and contend that Christians must stand firm.

Thus, in summation, I felt that there were certain issues important to Christians that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney took positions on that made me uncomfortable voting for them. I felt that Barack Obama adheres to ideas on the definition of religious liberty, though themselves rather insignificant, that could have significant implications for the future of the concept, as well as some of his social views, and his being a terrible tactician. Mitt Romney, in contrast, had absolutely NO apparent sense of what life is like for the poor, the low-wage workers, minorities, the elderly, and other groups. I don’t find that very Christlike. He also pandered to popular Republican ideas on the budget and the economy that are completely out of touch with 2012 realities. Yet, I did not feel these problems were comprehensively answered by Jill Stein, Rocky Anderson, Virgil Goode, or Gary Johnson.

Call me naive. Lecture me about “throwing away my vote.” But on Tuesday, my conscience felt too bothered to be complicit in a choice of two candidates that I felt was completely at odds with certain aspects of my Christian faith. I felt Jon Huntsman was the best candidate I could think of who espoused the things I was talking about. Is he perfect? Far from it. But I hope that dissatisfaction will continue, and gradually persuade more people that they don’t have only two choices, which is often framed that way thanks to corporate donations, media manipulation, and the propagation of a false realism.

I hope to have better choices in 2016.