Does Personality Type Influence Religious Belief?

Simply interacting with others--or reading a variety of comments online--clearly shows that people think differently. If you've noticed that there seem to be some distinct personality types, you are not alone. Psychologists have often tried to categorize personality types, and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is perhaps the most well known method. What can your MBTI type say about the way you think? Could it be a driving force behind your religious belief, or non-belief?

The idea that personality type may influence religious belief or spirituality is not a new one. A quick Google search turns up many online discussions and several theories about which religious or spiritual beliefs are most common for certain types. There are even a variety of books that claim to match personality types with their ideal religions or spiritual paths.

While many of these books look for spiritual preferences among personality types, none of them seem to address the question of whether personality type can also be related to a person not being religious or spiritual. The set premise appears to be that all people need spirituality, even if they do not believe in a personal god or adhere to a specific religion.*

However, it is relatively easy to find informal, online discussions which do wager guesses about some personality types being linked to atheism. One common theory is that INTPs (or NTs in general) are prone to atheism. This immediately caught my attention, because I am an INTP who is also an atheist.

Before discussing the possibility of a link between personality type and religious belief, it helps to understand some of the theory behind the Myers-Briggs approach. Essentially, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is based on psychiatrist Carl Jung's basic personality archetypes.

On the MBTI, answering a series of questions indicates where you would fall in four separate areas: Extraversion (E) vs. Introversion (I); Sensing (S) vs. Intuition (N); Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F); and Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P). This leaves you with a combination of four letters (INTP, ESFJ, etc.). There are 16 possible combinations and each corresponds to a particular MBTI personality type.

Understanding the tendencies associated with your MBTI type is said to help you in many areas of life. You can discover more about the way you think, learn and interact with others. Your MBTI type can help you find a career that is suited to your way of thinking, or help family members have better relationships. So why not use MBTI type to find religious or spiritual tendencies?

For those familiar with Myers-Briggs personality types, it's easy to imagine a relationship between INTPs and atheism. David Keirsey, author of the popular book Please Understand Me II, labels INTP as "Architects." In his description of INTPs, Keirsey says:
"For Architects, the world exists primarily to be analyzed, understood, explained - and re-designed. . . . What is important for Architects is that they grasp fundamental principles and natural laws, and that their designs are elegant, that is, efficient and coherent."
INTPs are often said to be pragmatists who have little tolerance for nonsense or non-precise language. They are natural skeptics who look for truth in everything, and will only call something "truth" if it has been adequately proven. Furthermore, even "true" concepts are still open for further analysis and redesign if new evidence is presented.

All of that may sound suspiciously similar to some of the more vocal atheists in our society. Keirsey also presents another point about INTPs, which might sound like common interactions with some atheists (myself included):
"Architects regard all discussions as a search for understanding, and believe their function is to eliminate inconsistencies, which can make communication with them an uncomfortable experience for many."
While some of these points may seem to indicate a possible connection between INTPs and atheism, that observation is in no way enough evidence to prove that a correlation exists. There are INTPs who believe in some form of god. There are atheists whose personalities fall into any of the other 15 MBTI types.

In addition to wondering if personality type influences religious belief, a second interesting question is whether religious belief influences personality type.

When taking tests to determine your MBTI type, you are asked to choose your preferences between given statements. It's possible that the way you interpret the test could be influenced by your religious upbringing, or by your current search for religious answers. If you have been taught to disregard your own self-assessments in favor of the preferences that religious leaders impose, you might even have trouble completing the test at all.

A lifetime of religious indoctrination certainly influences your outlook, experiences and later life choices. But can it change your basic personality? Jung believed that distinct personality types are present at birth and unchangeable. If that's true, could the cognitive dissonance that some believers struggle against be caused by indoctrination into a religion that is at odds with their fundamental personality and their inherent approach toward thinking itself?

Identity is a complex subject. It involves your physical and mental abilities, your experiences and many other factors including your cultural identity and religious identity. Personality typing may not hold all the answers, but, at the very least, it does show that there are fundamental differences in the way people think. And that, in turn, could have some influence on the way people believe.


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*I personally disagree with this premise. I find wonder and beauty in the world around me. I'm often amazed by the actions of other people, and feel acute empathy for all life (humans, animals and even plants). I even enjoy the clarity and calm that comes with meditation. But none of this feels like "spirituality" to me. It simply feels like a reasonable reaction to the natural world and everything in it. 

39 comments:

  1. I'm an INTP and an agnostic. Some may say I'm a fence sitter, but although I tend to believe there's no god, I can't prove it one way or the other.

    Part of the reason I'm an agnostic is that I tend to examine everything for logical consistency. I don't generally like to follow the crowd and prefer making my one conclusions. I was raised Presbyterian, but after years of indoctrination I came to the conclusion that I just didn't buy into christianity. I looked at several other religions and while many of them bring their adherents inner peace and satisfaction, they're based on faith in something that can't be proved.

    I appreciate a beautiful sunset as well as the natural world. I too have a sense of empathy for others and sometimes wonder what lies beyond human understanding, but I don't ascribe any of that to a deity. I'm ok with not knowing and wondering. Making guesses based on our need for a cosmic mommy doesn't help gain knowledge or make me a better person.

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    1. Atheism and agnosticism are separate axis and aren't mutually exclusive. Theism addresses the issue of belief, a theist is an individual who accepts (or positively believes) a claim and an atheist (literally, "one without theism") is someone who does not. Gnosticism (in the general sense) addresses the issue of knowledge, a gnostic is an individual who claims to know that the assertion (acceptance or rejection) is true and an agnostic (literally, "one who lacks knowledge") is someone who makes no such claim.
      http://wiki.ironchariots.org/index.p...t_vs._agnostic

      "...although I tend to believe there's no god, I can't prove it one way or the other." That's pretty much the definition of agnostic atheist, which is what any open minded, intelligent thinking atheist is.

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  2. I'm very intrigued by the connection between personality type and belief/non-belief. In the past, I've always thought of myself as very 'spiritual', and was indeed a very devoted Christian for several decades. It came as no surprise, therefore, to read that INFPs are among the most spiritual of the types. Highly intuitive, we'd rather go with our gut than with facts. I've always hated facts; they make me squirm. The way I see it, there is no such thing as black or white, just multiple shades of grey. We are the ones who are often out of touch with the 'real' world, genuinely thinking we can create our own reality.

    Fortunately, after living as an INFP for nearly 50 years, I evolved to the point where I found balance. Searching for meaning in a life wrought with dissatisfaction and frustration, I finally realized I was sabotaging myself with my fantastical thinking. I decided to embrace REALITY, and eventually walked away from "faith" altogether. I've often wondered if INFPs are under-represented in the atheist community because of their penchant for the mystical and intuitive.

    INFPs are pretty laid back until their value-system is violated. I'm becoming very outspoken about my atheism. A victim of religious abuse, my mind has been pillaged and plundered by religion since birth. Untold heartache, abuse, dysfunction, and mental health issues were the result of my religious brainwashing. Now, I'm as passionate about my unbelief as I once was about my belief...probably even more so.

    Interesting conversation. Thanks :)

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    1. I can relate to your experience very much, as I am an atheist INFJ. As INFs we may be underrepresented in the atheist community, but we're not alone!

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    2. Well said, ACR. I share in your experience somewhat as an INFP who has been tied up with spirituality and religion for many years but who is finally becoming quite a passionate non-believer.

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  3. @Eyegor - True, when I explore various religions, I also see that they bring many people inner peace and satisfaction. I try to be careful not to interfere with that, while still reaching out to others who share my non-belief and appreciation of the wonders found through science in the real, physical world. It can be a difficult balancing act.

    My main problem with religious belief is when it is used to gain power over other people or promote blind faith over critical thinking. As a society, we are still standing in the shadow of the Dark Ages, and I'd like to see more people stepping into the sun.

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  4. @A Clifford Roy - You have an interesting background, and it sounds like it has been quite a journey. I'm sorry some of it was bad, but glad to hear you are finding peace.

    My oldest son is INFP, and he is passionate in his un-belief. Though I think you have an interesting point about INFP's who are raised in religious homes being comfortable with the mystical aspects of theism.

    There are times when I wonder if I wander into more of an INFP mindset, particularly when on an existential kick. Or maybe physics is a better example. I read about space-time or special relativity and my concept of reality (facts) gets interestingly squishy. I have fun with some wild ideas for awhile. But then the math grounds me and I feel reassured that fantastical ideas and realistic facts are all part of the same amazing dance. :-)

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  5. I'm an INTP and I find the organization present in the natural world and the laws governing it beautiful and representative of a greater existence. Existence can be understood and explained rationally, and that to me is God talking to us. Whether in mathmatics, biology, chemistry, or physics, there is an order, and a language unto itself :). No offense meant, I just thought another veiw might be appreciated.

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    1. Aw, I'm an Atheist INTP and I find it saddening that you would find this to be good evidence for god, although I must ask if you're Deist or Theist.

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  6. Kaitlin, not offended at all! Differing opinions are always welcome. Especially when posters (like you) are thoughtful and polite about it. Thanks for adding to the discussion. :-)

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  7. I am an INFJ and was a very religious child (fundamentalist) but found the inequalities of life to be very upsetting. My questioning soon caused my family to cast me out entirely, which gave me a fresh, honest start. Marrying an atheist sealed the deal.

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  8. Anonymous, I'm sorry that you had such a difficult time with your family. Thank you for sharing, and I hope you and your spouse will be very happy as you form your own family together. :-)

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  9. I am an INTP and atheist. I just did a survey online called godsurvey that is trying to connect the two. It seems like they put a little Meyers-Briggs test in there as well. I am patiently waiting the results!

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  10. Hi. I just started to look into this connection between Jung types and atheism. It seems to me it can't be a coincidence that so many atheist are INTPs. I am one more

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  11. i used to be atheist , until i realise i am GOD

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  12. "i used to be atheist , until i realise i am GOD"

    LOL I can't believe this is the first time I've heard someone make this quip. I'll have to use this with my family - the first part will excite them, until the second part offends them. I'm nearly 30, and they are still condescending toward my atheism whenever the subject arises. My parents made me go to church with them as a kid. I was baptized Episcopal, went to Lutheran grade school, and attended a high school run by Catholic monks. My father ran the acolyte program at our church while my mother ran the Sunday School; naturally I had to participate in both. When I was 13 my mother pushed our Episcopal priest to re-institute the defunct Confirmation program. I went through the whole program and, when the time came to choose to be confirmed, I was the only student who opted out after having attended all the sessions, declaring my atheism to all. I was a good son and gave their fairytale time of day, but it was time to get real.

    I too am an atheist INTP. My mother is INFJ and was raised Catholic and can't quite break her mental training; my father is INTP but believes as a true Episcopal would... very liberally. My father's indicators (I, N, T, and P) were all moderate though, whereas each of my indicators are in the extreme - above the 90th %ile. My siblings became atheists during their rebellious teen years and reverted to theism afterwards, which I regard as one intellectual failure following another. In contrast, every open-minded re-examination of my own belief system leaves me increasingly resolute in my atheism as I grow in knowledge and maturity. My family used to call me Dr. Spock in good humor even when I was quite young, somewhat owing to my favored bowl haircut and pointy ears.

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    1. That's funny because Dr. Spock is a child psychologist. Mr. Spock is the character from Star Trek.

      Oh yeah, and I'm an atheist INTP as well.

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  13. I have been thinking a lot about this recently and googled it (which is how I ended up here. I (as a psychotherapist) would operate under the assumption that people have their personalities formed before they would be able to be indoctrinated and certainly before they have the intellectual capacities to understand the systems of belief in any religion. That being my assumption, I would guess that all types of personalities are atheists but that certain types will have more difficulty "converting" to atheism or any other religious system once they have identified as a believer in the first place. I would say that in the dichotomy of N or S, either could conclude from intuition or a lack of concrete evidence (concrete evidence typically preferred by a S)that there is no god. I would say that in the dichotomy of T/F the person who lies more strongly in an F category might have a tougher time as there is (bias to follow)a fair amount of feeling oriented material in most religions. Keeping decisions open (characteristic of a P) would be advantageous to one being able to later reject a conclusion about god/religion, whereas preferring having matters settled (J types) would make changing one's mind more difficult.

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  14. Don't forget the most famous INTP theologian of all...St. Thomas Aquinas! An almost Mathematical approach to theology. INTPs rock!

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    1. That guy was an INTP? I am an Atheist and I think that guys kinda a doofus. Not too bad of arguments for the time but they're about as good as Aristotle's philosophy today, which is not great, to say the least, modern science has disproven a lot he said.

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  15. I think the relationship between personality type and religious preference is a fascinating subject!

    I am an INFJ atheist. I definitely think that personality type has an influence on an individual's approach to religion. As an NF, I have a need to feel connected to the world and others, and I am prone to a more mystical approach to religion. That being said, I consider myself an atheist because I don't believe in a literal god, but I very much enjoy studying religion and culture. To me, the religion of a culture is representative of the way that that culture views life itself and its connection to the universe. Things like evolution and the big bang theory are a source of wonder and awe for me because they show how connected we really are to the world and each other. In that way, I feel like I am fulfilling my personality type's "need" for mysticism while also allowing myself to see the world in a logical way.

    I was raised in a fundamental Christian community and became an atheist during my college years. Fundamental Christianity didn't resonate with me because of its focus on rules (rather than wonder), its belief that it is the ONLY way to truth (rather than being accepting of and finding truth in other religions), and it's disregard of science in certain instances.

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  16. I'm a Christian INTJ.

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  17. Here's how I thnik it goes: If you have Si or Se as your dominant function, and grew up with religiom, you're very likely to become religious yourself. I guess Fe, as a dominant or secondary funvtiom, would also make you more prone to religion. Overall I think Ti makes you prone to atheism.

    An interesting case would be an ESTP who was brought up in a moderately religious home. Their Se would take in all the religous content, without much critical analysis, and their Fe would push them away from religious rebellion. But their Ti might, if being sufficently developed, make them an atheist.

    - INTP atheist who thinks it's very annoying when people call themselves agnostics.

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    1. Dude, I hate it when people call themselves agnostics, to Christians it just sounds like you're saying you think Christianity is valid when you ask any Agnostic they clearly think it's bullshit - Fellow INTP Atheist.

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  18. I'm INTP and Atheist

    Interesting partial list of least likely careers for INTP from http://www.intp.org/job.html

    1) Director of Religious Education
    8) Religious Educator: All Denominations
    13) Priest

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  19. I'm an ISFJ and an atheist. I was raised Catholic, and attended Catholic school from preschool through fourth grade. As a young child I firmly believed everything I had been taught. I received my confirmation when I was 15. A few months later, after a lot of thinking, I decided that I didn't, and couldn't, believe in God, or any god for that matter. It logically didn't make any sense to me.

    I'm definitely an ISFJ, but I'm close to the s/n line as well as the j/p line. When it comes to cognitive functions I have strong Si and Fe, and fairly strong Fi as well (my Fe does trump it though). My Ne is moderately high as is my Ti. It must have been my developing Ti and Ne of my teenage years that led me to my atheism.

    Both because I'm introverted, and that knew I would have disappointed my family if they found out my atheism, I kept my new non-religion to myself. In college a couple of my closest friends were also atheists, and for a while I just assumed most people were. It wasn't until I had graduated and entered the workforce, where I encountered many people of many backgrounds, that I realized I was in the minority.

    I'm an open and accepting person, who just wants everyone to get along (my Fe at play). I will respect anyone's beliefs if they keep them to themselves, or at least fairly quiet. The only thing that *really* gets me is when people refuse to believe in science, particularly evolution (I majored in anthropology in college). Or if someone tries to shove their beliefs at anyone else. Fortunately I've encountered little (unfortunately not none) of both in my lifetime.

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  20. Just for the record, I'm an INFP Christian, of a very NON fundamentalist sort, accepting of other spiritual perspectives as well as that of science, at odds with fundies of all sorts (both religion and science) and very much open to the mystical.

    Long journey from traditional Protestantism, to agnosticism bordering on atheism, to generally non caring semi-Christian, to where I am now, contemplating my Masters in Theology and Divinity, once I finish up my Bachelors (first thing I am going to do, once I exit the US Army after 14 years).

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  21. It's certainly possible. I always test INTP on these MBTI tests, but I believe in God. Not trying to start any debates, but I do believe in a God, but not organized religion, and let's leave it at that. However, this was only after some very powerful experiences in my life, I was an atheist for most of my life. Does anyone know if there has been a cohesive test about this?

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  22. I'm an INTP that is non-religious, but believes in a "prime mover" or "omnipotent force". Something that is at the very highest tier of existence and is the driving force behind existence itself. Not a man in the clouds or some magical being, but a force of nature so far beyond human comprehension that we have no alternative than to refer to it as "God". That's what I believe in.

    I went from Christian, to militant Atheist, to whatever it is I am now. I have done much introspection and much observation of the universe and its working. I really delved into mathematics and particle physics with some chemistry on the side and I came to the conclusion that there MUST be an intelligent, structured force behind it all. I just cannot ignore the indicators of design and structure.

    Now, I make no claim as to WHAT exactly that "prime mover" is. It could be anything from a natural law to a sentient hyper-intelligence. It's impossible to know. But what I do know is that I can see signs of it in everything. Using empirical science as my guide of all things. This is just the personal conclusion I have come to. Just putting it out there. We all draw our own conclusions on these matters. There really is no "absolute truth" and it would be foolish of me to claim that there is. I guess I just dragged it out of the realm of metaphysics and into the realm of possibility. Even so, any wise man would know and accept that the human mind can only ever go so far when it comes to understanding its own existence and origin. We can only ever truly comprehend the physical because we are ourselves purely physical beings. Our minds are quite literally incapable of making sense of anything that falls outside the physical. That is what makes it all rather exciting, isn't it?

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  23. intp just need to be a big part on how religion is supposed to be viewed and practised, and intuitive people need to help them! we live in a world with more sensory input and not enough intuitive input. Becasue intutitive input is not always logical and thats hard to understand if you dont have this awarness that some do. intuitive have more of a insight on how its supposed to be done becsaue they understand easier how people are feeling.

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  24. I am an INTP. A very old INTP actually. For my entire live I believed in god, at 17 I actually became a christian. Until about 50 when something terrible happened to someone that I love. Some things happen to everyone, ie death. But other things should not happen to anyone. And yet those things happened to me and to my family. I very suddenly realized that in a universe with a god, these things could not happen to those god said he loved, and who had innocently lived for god for their entire short lives. More importantly i suddenly realized that around the world, these unthinkable things happen to many people, every day. I had been operating under some kind of terrible delusion for decades and that crack in my worldview really rocked me. The cognitive dissonance from this threatened to overwhelm me completely, to the point of suicide. I tried to gather more information so that I could again believe, i wanted to, it was much comfier when i was deluded.Family members, NONE of which are NTs of any sort, plied me with scriptural "facts" like freewill of human beings, "we don't know everything", "we trust god in all things","god will work this for the good" even when this was no longer plausible or even possible, etc. Finally i decided that in fact, the christian god could not exist, as laid out in the bible, at least as worshiped by modern protestant christianity.

    it was a rough transition but I am actually much comfier acknowledging the truth. i feel much stronger about reaching out and helping those afflicted because now i know that no god will help, we have to help each other. i know i am a better person. i don't bandy this information about with my family too much because they are missionaries, etc and they will be heartbroken. I also leave a window open for the possibility of a creator because as an INTP in the medical profession and focusing on immunology and toxicology, i do see enough evidence of order and complexity that i am not willing to say absolutely that nothing or no one created this universe. thanks for this post.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your story.

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  25. I thoroughly enjoyed this post! I was just thinking about this very subject today and a fellow atheist blogger Life After Doubt brought the subject up again (http://lifeafterdoubt.com/2015/10/20/give-me-the-pieces-that-fit/). So I decided to do some research and this was one of the first posts that I found!

    I too am an INTP, and I used to be a theist, but now am an atheist, so this was of particular interest.

    I especially liked the question near the end about whether cognitive dissonance could be a clash of one's natural personality with the personality a religion has tried to superimpose upon an adherent. Fascinating. I do remember reading somewhere about MBTI personalities and cult leaders. One of the things that was mentioned was that certain personality types were more prevalent in cult leaders and they tended to slowly morph their followers into another type (not necessarily their own). I wish I could remember where I read that though...

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    1. I didn't find the article you were talking about, but my search was cut short when Google returned this amusing interpretation of personality types:

      https://www.xeromag.com/fun/personality.html

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    2. Ya, I really wish I could remember where it was! I want to say it was on one of the actual testing sites, or a site providing exposition on the personality types. I'll dig through the ones I remember reading and try to find it because it was fascinating!

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  26. I am INFJ but I am definitely an agnostic atheist with strong anti-theist leaning. In my case, going with my gut feeling leads me to intuit there is no God or divine presence. My intuitive instincts are very sciency and although I love philosophy and have been intrigued by Buddhism, I do not seem to have it in me to practice anything that looks spiritual.

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  27. As an INTP I am amazed at how many if my same MBTI do not believe in God. I know from experience, the best teacher aside from from failure and pain, that everyone worships something. As I examine religions I, as a logical creature, can see the difference between religions that are born of men's desires and only one that is of a different calibur. Jesus was the only messenger of a god that conducted himself as a real god would. Other religions prize elements that men already prize such as wealth, sex, power or knowledge. Jesus was the only one to express what a god should, which by its very nature is above men's thoughts or desires, above and removed from what we are bound by: humanity. Everything he taught was from a perspective above hormones, above finite reasoning, and above human ability. He taught that each and every one of us is a precious jewel. A diamond does nothing to earn it's beauty and can do nothing to diminish it but somehow it is seen as precious. This is how to the triune God sees each of us. We cannot earn or unearn the free gift of God, which is his son Jesus Christ. We just have to admit that we are infinitely loved by a God who is omniscient, and omnipotent and who sent his son into the world to be THE example and to be the focal point. As an INTP I bathe in the out-of-the-box thinking and see that humanity will self-destruct unless something perfect is introduced into the equation. That perfection is Jesus.

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  28. Also to the ones who believe that God should stop all bad things from happening because he's God and supposedly loves, us I say this: would you if you were God? If you stopped your child, especially forcefully, from making any and all bad decisions what would that do? That would negate free will and would only make humanity into robotic entities. Love must be a choice, but with that comes the possibility of 'not love' or else the entirety of it is a lie. With the possibility of truth comes the possibility of lies when free will exists. We, as INTPs, complain that the world is not logical and orderly but would a world full of free will be that way? Since we can assume there is free will, we can also assume the possibility of good, evil, love and hate existing as well.

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    1. A true God would and is able to be able to work alongside free will and not be surprised or undone by it and still be all that he says he is.
      An actual god would not be defeated by free will but be able to bring all things to good despite it. The God of the Bible is just that and cannot be diminished just because you don't believe in him.

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