Harm or Help?: Opinion of Organized Religion by Personality Type

For thousands of years, organized religions of all types have been at the center of many positive achievements in society (the construction of awe-inspiring temples and cathedrals; the creation of important works of art, music, and literature; charitable work to address problems like poverty and hunger), and at the center of many terrible events as well (war, persecution, abuses of power). At a time when public trust in the institution of organized religion is at an all-time low – just 38% of Americans say they have confidence in organized religion, according to a 2018 Gallup poll – we at 16Personalities wondered, Which personality types look at organized religion and see more harm than good?

For the purposes of this study, we consider “organized religion” to refer to any institutionalized belief system with a large number of adherents and a set of rules that must be followed, such as doctrine, worship practices, and clergical hierarchies. We also treat it as distinct from broader notions of spirituality. After all, an individual who does not identify as religious may still consider themselves spiritual and see many positive societal benefits of organized religion, and a deeply religious individual may nonetheless be an outspoken critic of perceived flaws or failures of organized religion.

While factors such as culture, family background, and personal experiences no doubt have a great deal to do with our opinion of religion, in this study, we are interested in exploring how certain personality traits may influence our view of the role that organized religion plays in society. We asked our readers to agree or disagree with the statement, “In your opinion, organized religion does more to hurt society than help.”

A slight majority (54%) agreed overall, and we saw notable disparities across all five trait pairings: Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Prospecting, and Turbulent personalities were all more likely than their respective counterparts to agree that organized religion is more harmful than it is helpful. Let’s delve into the data below to understand why.

Roles

Sentinels (44% agreeing)

It’s no secret that, as Judging personalities, Sentinels value tradition, and historically, tradition has been heavily influenced by organized religion. Our research has found that Sentinels are the most likely Role to identify as being religious. Considering this, it’s not surprising to see that the majority of Sentinels don’t consider organized religion to be harmful.

That isn’t to say that Sentinels don’t see a variety of problematic aspects of organized religion – they are Observant personalities, after all, aware of what’s going on around them, and 44% of Sentinels in this study did indicate skepticism or concern about organized religion. The other 56%, however, likely view organized religion as a source of stability and structure, of guidance and comfort in times of trouble. It offers established values and a moral code for society to live by, which together act as a force for good that outweighs the times when certain individuals or practices have gone wrong.

Consuls (ESFJ) were the personality type least likely to agree that organized religion does more harm to society than good (36%). Consuls tend to be pillars of their communities, and many consider worship and fellowship to be a vital part of their social environment. A church, synagogue, mosque, or temple is where people go to interact and learn how to live life the right way, in their opinion. Consuls are often uncomfortable with anything that challenges the authority of long-established institutions, an attitude that predisposes many to take a more optimistic view of organized religion.

Explorers (50%)

Smack dab in the neutral zone, Explorers as a group can go either way when it comes to organized religion. Their Prospecting personality trait may at times pull them away from structure and ritual and toward new points of view about organized religion, yet at the same time, their Observant trait keeps them grounded in the practical habits and facts they already know. Explorers often make decisions based on their personal experiences, and their view of the role of organized religion in society may also be influenced by who is around them and how positive or negative the environment is.

One exception to this take-it-or-leave-it mentality was Virtuosos (ISTP) (67%), who demonstrated the second-highest rate of agreement with our statement. Virtuosos are like mechanics or technicians – they’re constantly testing things, seeing how they work (and if they work) – and for many Virtuosos, organized religion hasn’t operated as smoothly as they’d like.

Diplomats (54%)

Agreeing in a slight majority, Diplomats were more inclined to believe that organized religion is more harmful than beneficial to society. As Intuitive, Feeling personalities, Diplomats seek to bring people together in harmony to work toward the common good. Organized religion often does just that for the adherents of a given faith. But in the bigger picture of society as a whole, Diplomats may see more boundaries, divisions, and hostilities between faiths than they do people willing to establish common ground and work together. As such, many may prefer to take other, nonreligious routes to build community and solve social problems.

Furthermore, for these starry-eyed and romantic personalities, faith or spirituality is often an intensely personal thing. Some Diplomats may feel that imposing rules or institutionalizing faith diminishes or defeats the purpose, constraining individuals and society alike.

Analysts (66%)

Nearly two-thirds of Analysts agreed that religion does more to hurt society than help. With their core Thinking trait, Analyst personalities rely on logic and rationality rather than leaps of faith, which makes them naturally skeptical of organized religion. Many are more likely to focus on objective evidence of its negative effects, like cases of abuse or corruption, rather than intangible, positive ones, such as charitable efforts or emotional experiences like inspiration and strength.

Analysts also value the ability to make their own decisions rather than follow the rigid rules, teachings, and traditions of any institution, including organized religion, and they view this process of self-determination as critical to the success of society as a whole. Like their Intuitive cousins (Diplomats), Analysts may prefer to express their spirituality in their own way, regardless of whether it aligns with any system of faith.

Of all the personality types, Logicians (INTP) were the most inclined to agree with our statement (72%). Often considered the most logically precise of the personality types, Logicians may be the most skeptical too. They tend to view the world as a big, complex system where everything is interrelated, so it makes sense that they may see flaws in organized religion as machinations that are harming society or holding it back from making progress toward a better future. Additionally, when presented with the vast diversity of the religions of the world, curious and open-minded Logicians may have difficulty feeling confident in the beliefs, practices, or “truths” of any one faith.

Strategies

People Mastery and Social Engagement (48% and 50% agreeing) 

When it came to the two Extraverted Strategies, both Assertive People Masters and Turbulent Social Engagers were split pretty evenly. Those who did not agree that organized religion does more to hurt society than help likely believe that the community aspect of faith is a highly positive influence. Extraverts may be drawn to the opportunities to commune with others, to build faith-based networks, to get feedback on how to live their lives, and to give back. People Masters and Social Engagers who did agree with our statement are likely influenced by the Energy, Nature, and Tactics personality aspects discussed above more than anything else.

Confident Individualism (54%)

Confident Individualists agreed with our statement in a slight majority. With their Introverted and Assertive personality traits, many Confident Individualists prefer to do their own thing and trust in themselves. Valuing self-reliance as highly as they do, it’s natural for Confident Individualists to see the potential for a society to come to harm when it is overly dependent on any sort of institution, including religious ones. Even those who do follow an organized religion may find the idea of sharing their faith in social settings with so many others somewhat unappealing.

Constant Improvement (60%)

Constant Improvers were the most likely Strategy to agree that organized religion hurts more than it helps, and that could be because they see the flaws in the system – just as they see the flaws in themselves. These Turbulent personalities always see room for improvement. Stress and worry are also common emotional reactions for Constant Improvers that may outweigh thoughts of the positive aspects of organized religion. Their Introversion comes into play too: the regular social interaction and adherence to doctrine can seem forced and inauthentic to Constant Improvers.

Conclusions

Our readers’ opinions concerning the role that organized religion plays in society are mixed, to say the least. Some people – particularly those with the Observant and Judging personality traits – believe that organized religion provides society with necessary structure and a strong moral framework. Others, especially individuals with strongly defined Thinking and Intuitive traits, may view this structure and morality as restrictive, illogical, divisive, or out of touch with modern times. This will always be a topic of debate, and there will always be several different sides.

What about you? Do you believe organized religion plays a vital role in today’s society, or does it do more harm than good? We invite you to join the conversation in the comments below!

You can see the full set of data, including correlation coefficients, in the Academy. Please also consider participating in our Member Surveys!

3 days ago
I'm kind of surprised that INTJs didn't top the list here; are we supposed to be the type least likely to believe in religion? Though I suppose that's not quite the same as believing it's a detrimental force. For myself, I see it as being much easier to build a position of harmful fundamentalism when you have a God (or gods) to decree that any form of disagreement is evil (or sinful) as opposed to more atheist ideologies which, having been built from human reason, are subject to reason's scrutiny (though that hasn't stopped tyrants from playing the same mandate as God) and might view disagreement as dumb, even insane, but rarely evil (or sinful). [As you might be able to tell, I was raised a fundamentalist Christian but my study of theology led me to see all the contradictions in Christian monotheism and I abandoned the faith.]
5 days ago
INTJ here, It definitely does more harm than good.
1 week ago
I think it's interesting that you asked the question in a negative format, as opposed to "I believe religion has done more good than harm." ISTJ here.
1 week ago
Joey, I thought the same thing (though the question isn't 'negative' per se; I think it's more 'apophatic' from the philosophical/rhetorical usage). The framing of the question caused me some pause, but it doesn't affect my response (I'm INTJ), whereas I can see the phrasing of the question actually causing other personality types to trip on this... ;-)
1 week ago
Religion and politics are the untouchable subjects for me talking to anyone outside of family and close friends. So, I can only say that the good moral aspects behind most religions is something to try to incorporate into your life but, people can twist words and thought around to give themselves a right to do what they want.
M
1 week ago
I grew up in a Russian Orthodox Church (from my fathers side). As a child, I was rather invested in the idea of good and evil, rather than supposed methods to follow the “good” path. I am now an adolescent and although my skepticism may partially be because of teenage angst, I have adopted the mantle of the cosmic nihilist, choosing to see the world in a way where I can induct the possibility of said god, and all I know is that whatever entity may be up there, it cares for us just as much as we care for a single neutrino passing through our armpit hair. We may or may not be aware of it’s existence, but we couldn’t care less.
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