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The Meming of Life is back in the saddle after the third and final family reunion of the summer. The blog’s new look should be online shortly. Nine days from now, we will hear an alarm clock for the first (damn) time in three months as school resumes. Today my boy comes of age, beginning a year-long project that (should he choose to accept it) will culminate in a celebration, special gifts, new rights, and new responsibilities as he enters high school.

Posts to come on all of the above — but for now, let’s ease into August with something I’ve wanted to feature for some time…


beliefnet59984

I suggest in the seminars that nonreligious parents do what they can to make beliefs a normal topic of discussion in their extended families. Not that it is in mine — my poor dear relatives seem positively constipated on the topic of religion since my book came out. I think they’re hoping to avoid offending me, not realizing that (1) I am pert near unoffendable, and (2) I would be delighted if our differences could be openly acknowledged and we could talk to / joke with /challenge each about something more interesting than truck transmissions and Dancing With the Stars.

One guaranteed conversation starter is the Belief-O-Matic Quiz at Beliefnet.com. Take the quiz, talk about your results, and invite other family members to do the same.

The quiz asks twenty multiple choice worldview questions, then spits out a list of belief systems and your percentage of overlap with each system. In other words, it doesn’t tell you what church you go to, but it might tell you what church you should be going to. If any.

Email all family members the link before your next gathering.

My most recent result:

1. Secular Humanism (100%)
2. Unitarian Universalism (92%)
3. Liberal Quakers (76%)
4. Theravada Buddhism (73%)
5. Nontheist (73%)
6. Neo-Pagan (65%)
7. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (59%)
8. New Age (49%)
9. Taoism (47%)
10. Orthodox Quaker (43%)
11. Reform Judaism (41%)
12. Mahayana Buddhism (41%)
13. Sikhism (32%)
14. Jainism (30%)
15. Bahá’í Faith (30%)
16. Scientology (28%)
17. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (27%)
18. New Thought (25%)
19. Seventh Day Adventist (22%)
20. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (20%)
21. Hinduism (20%)
22. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (20%)
23. Eastern Orthodox (18%)
24. Islam (18%)
25. Orthodox Judaism (18%)
26. Roman Catholic (18%)
27. Jehovah’s Witness (13%)

Now tell me that’s not a fun and interesting conversation starter.

In addition to being awfully Buddhist, I’m apparently less Jewish now (18 percent) than I was three years ago (38 percent) but slightly more Catholic (18 vs. 16 percent). And this is the most interesting feature of the quiz — the revealed common ground.

Even so, comparing results between people can carry a very different message. Just for sport, I took the quiz answering as if I were a Baptist evangelical:


1. Eastern Orthodox (100%)
2. Roman Catholic (100%)
3. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (99%)
4. Jehovah’s Witness (87%)
5. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (83%)
6. Seventh Day Adventist (80%)
7. Orthodox Judaism (79%)
8. Islam (70%)
9. Orthodox Quaker (67%)
10. Hinduism (59%)
11. Sikhism (51%)
12. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (40%)
13. Bahá’í Faith (37%)
14. Jainism (37%)
15. Reform Judaism (30%)
16. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (21%)
17. Mahayana Buddhism (21%)
18. Theravada Buddhism (21%)
19. Liberal Quakers (20%)
20. Scientology (19%)
21. Nontheist (18%)
22. Unitarian Universalism (16%)
23. New Thought (15%)
24. Neo-Pagan (8%)
25. New Age (4%)
26. Taoism (2%)
27. Secular Humanism (0%)

Have the heart pills ready when Born-Again Grandma finds out she’s 70 percent Islamic.

It might seem surprising at first that Catholic and Conservative Protestant come out so close, but the differences in the two, like the devil himself, are primarily in the details. The quiz goes after foundational worldview questions, not the piles and piles of minutiae that kept the two at each others’ throats for so many centuries.

But take a look at the gap between conservative Christianity and secular humanism. It’s true that the churched and unchurched share an incredible amount of common ground as human beings, but when it comes to the worldview questions around which the quiz is built, a chasm opens. In the great metaphysical Q&A, my conservative relations and I share between zero and 20 percent.

So while we’re celebrating the humanistic ties that bind us, it doesn’t hurt to recognize the challenge faced by bridge builders on both sides.

Perhaps the most revealing result of the two lists is where mainline-to-liberal Christianity falls on each. I share 59 percent with the average liberal Christian, while our hypothetical conservative Baptist shares 40 percent with the liberal Christian. Mainline-Liberal Christians have a good deal more in common with secular humanists than they do with Pat Robertson and Benedict XVI. Both humanists and liberal Christians would benefit enormously from recognizing, and building on, this large overlap.

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.