Enneagram Horney groupsThis blog entry is more of an “interesting tidbit” than anything else. It may well be an example of one type of metaphysics squeezing into another … although it’s too soon to tell how far it might go.

It seems American churches are opening themselves up to something new (to them, anyway), called the Enneagram. It’s a personality-typing model, symbolized (and supposedly explained) by a 9-pointed figure (hence its name, derived from Greek εννεα or ennea meaning “nine”). Religion News Service explains the Enneagram’s early seepage into American Christendom (WebCite cached article):

What’s your number?

It’s not a pickup line. At least, it wasn’t at the pre-conference portion of an event called “Why Christian?,” which was back this past week for its second year at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago.

No, this inquiry is actually just a standard part of the Enneagram, an ancient personality typing system that recently has exploded in popularity in Christian circles.

Ian Morgan Cron, who co-led the Enneagram Conference on Thursday (Sept. 29) with Suzanne Stabile, called it “disruptive spiritual technology.”

But it may not be as modern as it sounds, or as alien to the faith as some might fear.

In fact, some trace the Enneagram to a fourth-century Christian monk and ascetic named Evagrius, whose teaching later influenced the formation of the seven deadly sins, according to Cron and Stabile.

Others detect elements of the Enneagram within Sufism and Judaism.

As someone who knows about early Christianity, I have to call B.S. on the idea that Evagrius Ponticus had anything to do with inventing the Enneagram model. He did no such thing. He didn’t even invent personality typing. Not even close! Evagrius was an early Christian mystic, that much is true; he also taught that humans were prone to eight types of malicious thoughts, which all descend from a ninth, i.e. love of self, hence his association with psychology and the number nine. But none of that has anything to do with personality typing; it actually has much more to do with the subsequent Catholic notion of “seven deadly sins.”

No, this business about Evagrius supposedly inventing the Enneagram is a lie intended to make it appear native to Christianity. The truth about the Enneagram model is that it’s the product of 20th century Jungian mysticism, not the mysticism of a 4th century Desert Father.

This interested me because, around 20 or 25 years ago, I’d briefly looked into personality typing. I investigated the Myers-Briggs model, the Kiersey Temperament Sorter, and other personality-typing models. (Most, if not all, were based on Jung’s list of psychological types.) I took tests, which sometimes produced what seemed to be different results. Looking more closely at the questions, I realized that it was possible I might have answered some of them differently, at different moments. There was no way for any given test to actually pin me down to any particular one of its personality types; not consistently, anyway, without me making a concerted effort to recall the questions I’d seen already and ensure I answered them the same.

It turns out that, aside from introversion/extroversion distinctions (which may have at least some basis in reality), personality types are pseudoscience, plain and simple. Bullshit. A steaming load. The reality of human beings is that they can act in varied ways, at any given moment, based on dozens of factors at the time. Their minds aren’t locked into particular “types” of personalities, temperaments, etc. which dictate their words and actions. People may tend to act and speak in particular ways more than others, but that’s a far cry from the notion that their personality types define what they say and do at all times.

At any rate, this may be an example of one type of metaphysical nonsense (i.e. the Enneagram) being grafted onto another (i.e. Christianity). For anyone who wants to see an example of nascent syncretism, this may well be one.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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  • Test – please ignore.