You’re scrolling through Facebook and you find a slew of new posts: Your college roommate is engaged. Your sorority sister just got a puppy. Your little brother is kinda hungry but maybe he’s just bored. An article entitled, “Take This Quiz To Discover Your Most Attractive Quality” goes by. Your uncle’s dog—WAIT MY MOST ATTRACTIVE QUALITY? THAT SOUNDS LIKE SUPER USEFUL INFORMATION.
The next thing you know, you’ve found out your most attractive quality is your cunning intelligence, your celebrity husband is Jimmy Fallon, and your next big move should be to Austin, Texas. Buzzfeed just nailed you as a smart, hilarious, and adventurous free-spirit. Who could argue with that sort of flattery?
Well, if you’re being honest, the first time you took the quiz it said you should move to Boston. But that sounds way too Northern and way too cold. So you refreshed the page, and manipulated your answers until you got a satisfying result. A hip, outdoorsy, adventurous city that loves dogs and queso?! Much better.
In a matter of two-and-a-half minutes, Buzzfeed defines us to be exactly who we want to be. Choosing your favorite pizza topping, your favorite picture of Leonardo DiCaprio, and the donut to which you can relate the most is a fairly easy path to take when it comes to identity-forming and soul-searching. The popularity of these quizzes is in direct correlation with our culture’s need for self-understanding and definition.
To be certain, the types of assessments found on Buzzfeed and similar websites are not necessarily novel or surprising. The first personality test to hit the scene in the United States was the Woodsworth Personality Data Sheet, implemented in 1917. This particular test was designed to measure emotional stability in workers throughout various industries. This assessment analyzed “personal adjustment” via 75 yes or no questions, including: “Do you ever get so angry you see red?” and “Do you get tired of people easily?” Because of its nature, the WPDS has been called “the grandfather of all present-day personality tests.”
Today, you’ll find the influence of the WPDS in several personality determiners, including Myers-Brigs, Enneagram, Love Languages, StrengthsFinder, and the Intelligence Quotient. Some of these personality tests are validated through the classroom and workplace as placement tools; others are used in medical settings for diagnosis. These instruments of self-definition range in question style and quantity; some may be upwards of 100 questions, while others may only be two. Regardless of multiple choice, yes or no, or fill in the blank, the results of the assessments will typically provide participants with strengths, weaknesses, and a word or title to cling to for identity formation.
One of the most common examples? The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. The assessment determines you as one of 16 very distinct personality types, using your answers to discern if you align with introvert or extrovert, sensing or intuitive, feeling or thinking, and perceiving or judging. The website claims that the purpose of taking the assessment is to receive a “concrete, accurate description of who you are and why you do things the way you do.” Once one receives his or her label as an INFJ, an ESTP, or anything in between, he or she is presented with a user-friendly guide on how he or she should approach work, home, and relationships in reference to the standard strengths and weaknesses of the specific type determined. The personality types are meant to be easily recognizable and labeled. Even Paul was labeled an ESTJ through the studies of his letters to individuals, while the Paul of Colossians and Ephesians is recognized as an INFP.
It might sound like I’m taking it to the extreme by calling Buzzfeed a personality indicator. However, they are certainly providing the same sorts of labels and self-definition through the quizzes the site hosts—just on much more informal terms. Whereas Myers-Briggs is based off of more qualitative research, and Buzzfeed utilizes freelance entertainment writers, the same components are found in results: strengths, weaknesses, protocol for behavior in certain situations, and a distinct label. Consider the result of the quiz, “Which Character from ‘The Office’ Are You?”
“You got Jim Halpert! You joke around and push people’s buttons, but that doesn’t mean you’re not serious about your goals. You tend to want to escape your problems, but you always end up pushing through.”
The quiz has produced a convenient and self-confident verdict—a verdict that matches the pace of the world in which we live.
Our culture today thrives in convenience. In every city in America you can find a restaurant on nearly every corner that will hand you food without requiring you to even stop the car. Convenience has become a hallmark and core value of contemporary America. The dictionary will define this hallmark as something that increases comfort and decreases work.
Although timely and easy, convenience leads to an inconvenient truth. This truth comes about when we look at convenience through a Christian lens. Kevin Vanhoozer, an expert on cultural texts and trends says, “There are no quick and easy steps to the Christian life; in many respects, it is one of patience and waiting…Our salvation was not wrought by an act of convenience and cheap grace.” In 1 Peter 4, we see that to follow Christ is to endure suffering, a conviction that is easily overlooked in a world of vending machines and cyberspace.
Author Andy Crouch is quick to assert, “We moderns certainly can’t be accused of lacking self-confidence.” His context is in reference to our human thinking that we are capable of changing and defining our world, defining who we are. We are confident that by defining ourselves, we can change our circumstances. After all, why else would an estimated 2 million people take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator annually?
Not only are we self-confident, but our culture has also seen a shift in confidence in various authorities. Authority has been decentralized from a handful of experts, to just about anyone who feels like participating in the conversation. For example, Buzzfeed is bolstered through community contributors—a position that is available to anyone who creates an account. A calculated result of Jim Halpert feels personal. I can connect to the character and description provided—as if the contributor got inside my head. However, I’m only able to feel this genuine connection, because I’ve placed my trust in the source. Because we live in a society that is arguably rooted in virtual life, it is easy to find authority and confidence in that authority within the world of Buzzfeed.
This shift in authority compromises the Christian tenet that, “We are confident of all things because of our great trust in God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 3:4). When we gain trust in something so arbitrary, it becomes increasingly easy to lose trust in the One who truly defines us, the One in whose image we have all be created.
In no way am I suggesting that you swear off Buzzfeed and it’s various polls and quizzes. However, I do assert that many of us could use a major perspective change. I’ve definitely been guilty of taking a quiz and being upset with the result—upset about what it said about me and who I am. This is the type of response that I would discourage. While it’s undeniably fun to discover which Taylor Swift song you are, or which Taco Bell menu item speaks to your soul, it’s important to note Buzzfeed’s primary title: An entertainment news source. It’s not a soul-searching source, or identity source.
When God created us, He created us in a way that no other creature on earth was created. We were distinguished, because he created us in His image. We have been created to spend a heavenly eternity with God our Father and Creator. However, from the moment sin entered the Garden, we were sentenced to live in the world, and in no way was it promised to be easy. Living in our culture requires the willingness to sit in the uncomfortable, the unknown. Sure, it can be a scary thing to not have your exact strengths, or plans, or future hometown nailed down to a pretty picture in your mind. However, personality assessments, even the more credible ones, are not a one-size-fits-all solution (although, Austin is definitely the dream). We are broken, imperfect humans that are not meant to know everything.
We have so much hope in where we are going and how to get there because God sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to take on human form, live among us, lay down His life, and then rise again. Our purpose and our identity is found in the Gospel, and in the Gospel alone. We can rejoice, because we do not need to define or understand ourselves on this world’s terms.
So go ahead. Take as many Buzzfeed quizzes as you’d like. And if you get Kevin from The Office? Don’t take it personally—it’s literally just an algorithm created by a human. There is absolutely nothing that can separate us from the truth that there is a good Father working in our lives. We are wholly, completely, and eternally defined by His image and by the blood that was shed on the cross for us.
Megan Richardson is a graduate of Belmont University and staff writer for Kingdom Tribe Press.