Tyranny of the Extroverts, In Church and Out

Jung’s theory of extroversion/introversion in his book, Psychological Types, may be the one holdover from the era of “analytic psychology” and classical psychoanalysis which has actually had a practical effect on contemporary psychology and culture.  I think especially of the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI) test based on Jung’s book. The test, various versions of which are used in universities and Fortune 100 companies throughout the country, was first published in 1962. The MBTI is not concerned with pathologies, but is geared to revealing basic aptitudes and interests.

According to Jung, extroversion is a primary personality orientation to things, events, and persons external to oneself—a basic attraction which leads extroverts to prize “facts,” social networking, and commonly-held values.  This general orientation may make attempts at self-reflection and self-discovery, and the analysis of one’s own motivations, difficult, if not completely uninteresting.

Introversion, on the other hand, is a primary orientation to, and interest in, one’s own conscious insights, feelings, intuitions, and logical conclusions.  This inward gravitation may be accompanied with a difficulty in working and conversing with others, a suspicion of commonly-held opinions, and/or fear and awkwardness in expressing oneself. According to Jung’s theory, introversion and extroversion are coordinated in various degrees with four basic functions which can become predominant or subordinate—thinking, sensation, feeling, and intuition.

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In teaching courses on ethical theory to juniors and seniors at Marquette, I often used a shortened form of the Myers-Briggs test, which I obtained from our Psychological Services Center, in a section of the course devoted to the relationship of an individual’s temperament to Aristotelian “natural virtues.” The idea was that a person’s knowledge of his/her natural strong points would be an asset in making choices—even career choices, choices of marriage partners, etc.

I took the test with the students. In normal classes of 35-40, at the conclusion of the test, I would ask the students to divide themselves up in corners of the classroom according to their E-scores or I-scores.  What happened typically is that I would be standing in one corner with one or two self-conscious students who were the “Introvert-thinking” type, and we would be facing a massive amount of extrovert types on the opposite side of the room. This may be a fairly accurate reflection of the culture in which we live.

Susan Cain’s recent book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, explores the considerable amount of research that is still taking place by psychologists, neuro-scientists, and others, concerning the two personality types.  She focuses on the dynamics and problem-areas that emerge in social and business life, schools, friendships and marriages, from the interaction, or opposition, of extroverts and introverts, and misunderstandings stemming from temperament.

The general picture Cain draws is of the strong evidence in Western cultures of a preference for extroversion.  Our K-12 schools, and very often the parents who send their children there, want students from the earliest ages to be able to fit in with their peers, socialize, be able to express themselves and work with the group. In the academic sphere and higher education, breaking up into groups for brain-storming and problem-solving is often given priority. Most corporations now are doing away with cubicles and offering various versions of the “open office” concept to encourage teamwork. (All this in spite of the fact that most of the great creative advances in science and the arts have been made by individuals working on their own.) In politics, we might add, the successful politician is one who loves to meet people, “press the flesh,” establish instant resonance, get out in front of people and shine.

A very common side-effect of this emphasis on extroversion is the less than pleasurable experiences of many introverts, who may have difficulty in overcoming painful shyness, difficulty in meeting others, or feel the dread that emerges involuntarily before attending a social gathering or cocktail party—just the sort of occasions that extraverts for some reason find energizing and even exhilarating!

There is even a religious variation that Cain brings out.  She gives the example of ads for new pastors and assistant pastors:

“The priest must be … an extrovert who enthusiastically engages members and newcomers, a team player,” reads an ad for a position as associate rector of a 1,400-member parish. A senior priest at another church confesses online that he has advised parishes recruiting a new rector to ask what his or her Myers-Briggs score is. “If the first letter isn’t an ‘E’ [for extrovert],” he tells them, “think twice … I’m sure our Lord was [an extrovert].”

I think of a local pastor who seems to celebrate Mass as a performance, constantly adding and changing words, not just (as is common) to find alternative phrasings for “he,” “him,” “man,” and “his,” but also continual ad-libbing, apparently to make the Canon of the Mass more relevant, with gesticulations and dramatic variations on pitch and volume; and manages to offer frequent homilies on “inclusiveness” even for extremely unlikely Gospel readings (e.g. the parable of the wheat and the cockle [Mt. 13:29-30]). At another local church in our archdiocesan “cluster,” the deacon goes up and down the aisle with a microphone before the Offertory, asking individuals what they want to pray for; and the pastor at the “kiss of peace” again goes up and down the aisle greeting parishioners.

I think I have heard more homilies on inclusiveness than any other subject.  At the Sunday Mass on Jan. 27, a visiting priest, in his homily on St. Paul’s description of the Mystical Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-30), extolled Vatican II for showing that the Mystical Body included everyone—Jews, Hindus, Muslims, etc.—so that the notion of “converting” non-Christians is outdated. I spoke to him afterwards, and he promised to address my objections on his next visit.

As a classics scholar, and a former teacher of Latin, who had memorized much of the Mass, I was biased in favor of the traditional Latin Mass when the novus ordo Mass was introduced in 1969. But a lot of people seemed to like the renovations.  And I was reminded that the Church is “not about me.”

But isn’t the introvert-extrovert difference a major source of the problem that a considerable number of Catholics have with the novus ordo Mass? I can remember the time prior to Vatican II, when liturgical experts were decrying the “passivity” which the faithful were demonstrating at the Latin Mass—the priest facing ad orientem, the congregation quietly following translations of the Latin in their missals, non-participation in singing.

The new approach involved all sorts of lay participation—people doing things—not just ushers and greeters, but Eucharistic ministers, readers, volunteers to bring up the gifts to the altar; songs geared to encourage maximum participation—lyrics about how everyone is welcome, our mission in changing the world, some Negro spirituals, some hymns with a lilt reminiscent of the Irish Eyes are Smiling genre, etc. Also, even though there was no mandate from the Vatican to change from the sacrificial mode (with the priest facing the altar)—the “Lord’s Supper” mode, common among Protestants, with the priest facing the congregation, was soon adopted. And, to banish any rigidity left over from pre-Vatican II liturgies, at Marquette University and other venues, “Clown Masses” and liturgical dancing were offered to enhance participation of the congregation.

The “kiss of peace” became a prominent addition. Occasionally one finds resisters to the “kiss of peace” (possibly some introvert thinking to himself, “I just don’t want to do this”). Personally, I am friendly enough, for an introvert, so I would never think of being a conscientious resister.  And I am not usually spiritually caught up in intense contemplation. But at Communion time it can be … a distraction.

I recently received some enlightenment on the probable source of the present “kiss of peace” liturgical rubric.  There is an excellent biographical movie, Paul VI: the Pope in the Tempest, which describes the relationship of the future pope to previous popes and the various social and political problems that he and the popes were faced with during the Cold War era.  When the future Pope Paul VI, Giovanni Battista Montini, was appointed Archbishop of Milan, Marxist agitation and worker unrest and disagreements among themselves were paramount, and churches were emptying.  Archbishop Montini made an unprecedented response.  He held Mass in a factory, and at one point turned around, mentioned the ancient custom, and asked everyone for the first time to greet those next to them. This may have set the ball rolling.

In Milwaukee, we had a brief cessation of this practice, and also ceased from Communion under both species, during the outbreak of the “swine flu” a few years ago. Hand sanitizers are still de rigeur for Eucharistic ministers. On the other hand, may we not take it as a bona fide miracle that no one has ever been reported getting the flu or other disease from shaking hands at Mass, or from partaking communion from the chalice?

The conclusion seems to be that the Western world (Cain cites studies which show that Asians don’t fit into this schema) is an extrovert’s world, both for secular society and the Church.  The danger is that both realms have gotten so noisy and/or busy that there is hardly any space for reflection and meditation—let alone occasional flights of the spirit, for those wanting to be airborne. Even St. Joseph of Cupertino, famed for unintentional levitations during Mass, might be prevented from this anomaly if he were subjected to our novus ordo rubrics.

Editor’s note: The image above was obtained from Shutterstock.


  • Howard Kainz

    Howard Kainz is professor emeritus at Marquette University. He is the author of several books, including Natural Law: an Introduction and Reexamination (2004), The Philosophy of Human Nature (2008), and The Existence of God and the Faith-Instinct (2010).

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