For some reason that remains obscure to me, clergy and some church leaders have a particular fascination with personality inventories.
I confess that for a time, in seminary, I was somewhat enamored of the Meyers-Briggs. I think I first took it at a church event in high school or college, and although it was intriguing, I could never quite remember if I was an ESTP or ENTJ, or what those even meant.
Nevertheless, I had to take such inventories as part of my approval process for ordained ministry, and they were supposed to tell me something about myself, and how I work with others.
Flash forward to 2019, and I am now seeing an explosion of attention to another personality inventory, this one much more bizarre and mystical, called the Enneagram.
On the surface, the Enneagram is simply a delineation of nine interconnected personality types. You are a 1, 2, 5, 7, 9, with a secondary number as also strong in some way.
With the Enneagram, like all the inventories, you take a long survey, and you get your results, and then you study your results to understand yourself, and others, better.
However, the Enneagram is a strange beast. “Contemporary Enneagram theories are principally derived from the teachings of the Bolivian psycho-spiritual teacher Oscar Ichazo from the 1950s and the Chilean psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo from the 1970s.”
Although the Enneagram has been widely adopted in the business and spiritual worlds, it has little if no scientific or research backing to support its conclusions.
Additionally, and this is the truly strange part, Oscar Ichizo reports that the Enneagram itself was given to him by the Archangel Metatron.
Yes, for real.
I therefore have some real skepticism re: the Enneagram. And I hold such skepticism for a set of specific reasons
It introduces an unnecessary and obfuscating layer between you and me
This has always been the problem I have with every kind of personality inventory. Even though the tool and the descriptions purport to help me understand myself and others better, I tend to think it does the opposite. Instead of me being me and you being you, suddenly I call you a 3, or a 5, or an IFTP, or I list your strengths from the finder, etc.
These appear scientific. In fact, they appear reliable, because there are inventories and tool and data. But they are about as clear and helpful as the Hogwart’s sorting hat. You do get sorted, but…
I’m a Hufflepuff by the way.
It appears spiritual precisely because it uses quasi-scientific instruments
Lots of us are looking for resources that can deepen our spiritual life. Here comes a tool that helps us do it with the somewhat rational instruments of modernism. What’s not to like?
The tool even has a fool proof way to undermine anyone who doubts it. Anyone who struggles with the Enneagram is an 8 or a 5 or both, challenging and investigating.
In other words, any doubts about the Enneagram aren’t ascribable to its lack of scientific validity. It’s ascribable to your “type.”
How convenient. A pretty impressive form of circular reasoning.
In other words, the Enneagram, and really all the tools, just want you to accept them, to discover your truth in them.
If we’re going to use an ancient mystical tool, why not just use the widely known horoscope?
Lots more people are familiar with horoscopes. You don’t have to teach them nearly as much as you’d have to teach the Enneagram or Meyers-Briggs. In this sense, they’re much less tied to a specific class or academic community or group. Horoscopes are for everyone.
I’m not really a reader of horoscopes, but I do think they can give you about as much insight into your life, or your relationship to others, as any of these other tools.
I’m a Cancer by the way.
Chani Nicholas’s You Were Born for This: Astrology for Radical Self-Acceptance, is probably one of the better representations of the horoscope functioning as a personality (and cultural) inventory. It “consists of a series of prompts meant to help readers interrogate notions about themselves and make practical decisions for their futures, albeit with the help of some guidelines based on patterns and myths associated with various sun, moon and rising signs.”
In the end, my theological conclusions concerning all of these inventories, horoscopes included, falls along the lines of some Roman Catholic inquiries into New Age resources.
“While the enneagram system shares little with traditional Christian doctrine or spirituality, it also shares little with the methods and criteria of modern science… The burden of proof is on proponents of the enneagram to furnish scientific evidence for their claims.”
And a 2003 Vatican document called Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life. A Christian Reflection on the ‘New Age’ said that the Enneagram “when used as a means of spiritual growth introduces an ambiguity in the doctrine and the life of the Christian faith.”
It’s precisely this ambiguity that concerns me the most. Anything that gets between me and you, or us and God, or the beautiful diversity and messiness of ourselves in Christ, ultimately clouds more than it enlightens.
Even with the Hogwart’s sorting hat, your preference was taken into account, after all.