No idea if this will be interesting / helpful to anyone else, but this is by way of an exorcism – Ephphatha! Religion in relation to the functions of INFJ. I’ve been thinking about this for years and this is going to be long as shit. Basically I want to talk about why an INFJ might be attracted to religion, where religion can go wrong for us, and how it could help to serve as a means of healing via Fe.
First, a touch of personal history. Religion has been kind of an obsession for me for most of my life. My parents divorced when I was young, and taking an interest in religion was an easy way for me to get close to my dad, a fundamentalist Baptist (and a contradiction – he hasn’t voluntarily darkened the doors of a church in 20 years). Religion seemed (and seems) almost intoxicating for me, and I think that’s in no small part due to
Fi id Our esteemed host has described Fi in the id as creating a maelstrom of guilt, shame, self-recrimination, judgment, hostility. Religion can offer a way to identify and articulate this, can give a language to that which seems mysterious, evasive, unknowable: original sin, the wheel of samsara, the fragmented soul . . . here’s why you feel fucked up on the most fundamental level and you get these inexplicable surges of volcanic emotion. And in its Piscean manifestation (I think I’m using Blake’s terminology right), Fi represents the pure and perfect height of experience promised, in this life or the next, by the major religions: the vision glorious, nirvana, satori, the heavenly Jerusalem, union with the Dao. Hell and Heaven, damnation and salvation; I think an INFJ gets these things on a visceral level and religion speaks to that part of us.
I was raised Protestant and converted to Catholicism a few years back. The churches of my childhood (Lutheran) were pretty bland. I don’t mean this as a criticism – I mean, I couldn’t stand it personally – but it’s true: there was this warm blanket feeling of togetherness and the emphasis of the preaching was on kindness, gentleness, family unity, etc. Non-fundamentalist religion in America is often like this. Most Catholic churches are this way too, but I started attending the old Latin Mass: agonized Christs, seven sorrows piercing the heart of the Blessed Virgin, Domine non sum dignus (Lord, I am not worthy), the Dies Irae – it was dark and moody and heavy and I loved it. And then by contrast the promise of Heaven, the Saints in glory, the feeling after taking Communion, gilded icons and the Easter Exultet and in May a crown of flowers for the statues of Mary. I don’t know if these references are too specific, but hopefully you get the gist of what I’m trying to say. I think all the traditional religions have this about them: highest highs and lowest lows. It’s one of the reasons I can’t take New Age anything seriously – it’s too fucking pastel, there’s no stakes, nothing bad can happen so how do you know when you touch the transcendent?
On the other hand . . . Nothing like religion to push you down a poison well and cover up the hole. Have you ever read those tracts on the putrescence of human evil? Buddha describing the corruption that comes on all flesh, your body filled with dung, worms devouring it in the grave? Some Baptist preacher thundering on about your sinful nature, Hell-bound but for the grace of God? Ecclesiastes on the futility of anything you could ever do? For Chrissakes, a medieval Pope wrote a book literally entitled “On the Misery of the Human Condition”. Religion offers a diagnosis of your problem, which is great, but it also gives you more refined means of self-loathing. “I’m not just a piece of shit, I’m a blasphemer, a fornicator, hater of parents, envious, gluttonous, vain, mea culpa mea culpa mea maxima culpa.” Even the Eastern religions, which I’ve heard described as contrasts with Christianity in this regard, have this shit: human life is painful, pointless, and so very very long, hundreds or thousands or millions of lifetimes long, and the only solution is e.x. to give all of it up and attain the Brahman through asceticism. This stuff can become an addiction, chasing the high of uncovering the next veil over your own depravity. And taken that way it’s absolute psychological poison. At least a drunk usually knows he’s a drunk and he knows in a general sense what he needs to do to get his shit together (stop drinking by hook or crook), but the zealot thinks his addiction is virtue and won’t even entertain the idea of a cure.
Of course, for an INFJ the fall into the id often comes about from
The Ni-Ti Loop I think of Ni as the Platonic or Neoplatonic function par excellence. What is The One? How do you transcend time and space to touch the face of God “ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, ever existing yet ever the same”? I’m sure there are atheist INFJs, but I think even they will be chasing after sublimity, the image of an inhuman perfection. Even Nietzsche was this way, for all that he despised Plato. And on its own it’s amazing; I get high on this shit. But then the pull of the tertiary – “I bet there’s a closed system somewhere that will explain all of this and offer a roadmap to perfect understanding, have you read the Acts of the Council of Chalcedon, and what about the Vedas, and the writings of St. Macafritzus of the Holy Hut are really illuminating in this regard, and did you know Spinoza wrote volumes on the subject, and Thomas Merton tried to synthesize East and West, and Cicero’s De Natura Deorum is interesting in relation to Marsilio Ficino’s Neoplatonic mysticism” and on and on and on until I want to gouge my eyes out. But even that won’t help because I can still go on YouTube and listen to 9 hours of Alan Watts lectures. At which point all I can think about is how much of a goddamn (literally) narcissist I am for caring about my spiritual growth so much and really, isn’t that the thing that will keep me from enlightenment / condemn me to Hell / cause me to be reincarnated about a million times / necessitate a billion years in Purgatory blah blah blah Fi id nonsense.
In my personal experience there are generally two routes that one goes from here:
Abortive attempts at Se hedonism Oh God I feel just awful darling why don’t you hand me about 5 liters of Coke and a bottle of port and I’ll just munch on Oreos with Doritos shoved in the middle as I read erotic fiction and then tomorrow I’ll throw up and feel right as rain and never will I ever contemplate suicide throughout the duration of this process. Then I lament my putrid flesh and its sins and vow to be better until next time.
Si hell I’ll be honest, I’ve never completely understood what people mean by this, and maybe I still have it wrong. But I think I remember Blake saying that Si is interested in narrowing down something specific about the world as it is. And I think I’ve felt this before. Just a flood of perception about the way things are without any meaning behind it at all, no concept of how it relates to me or my feelings or eternal verities. “Origenism was formally condemned in the 6th century but continued to exercise tremendous influence on theological reflection until our own time, most notably in the East, but sporadically and sometimes covertly in the West, in such varied figures as John Scotus Eriugena (8th century Irish monk), Meister Eckhardt (14th century German mystic), and Hans Urs von Balthasar. It is characterized by” etc. etc. Just a wall of objectivity, a void where I have no orientation and no preferences and no sense of what’s beautiful or true or desirable: a cold and endless field of "is"ness.
A lot of this has been pretty negative. Mostly by way of venting about this stuff, which I haven’t let myself do because I’ve been trying to be spiritual and pious. But also because, while I suspect religion can definitely provide some pretty beneficial Fe outlets, I haven’t figured out what I want my own relationship with them to be. But here are some reasons I think religion could be fantastic for at least some INFJ’s:
1.) Te minimums Traditional religion can sometimes pile on Te maximums in a way that’s extremely unhelpful for the INFJ. But religious Te minimums I find extremely refreshing. “Stop freaking out about all this extreme shit and just do these small things.” I read a book on Confession by an American priest that took this approach: business-like, practical, but also simple and healthy in a clean crisp way. Good stuff. “List your sins, say the Act of Contrition, and do your Hail Marys” – no more, no less. Unobtrusive but clearly delineated expectations can provide much-needed structure, especially if you have a priest / guru / imam etc. that takes a gentle, pragmatic approach. Just pray or meditate for a couple minutes a day and stop calling me to find out if you’re the most depraved or only the second most depraved person I’ve ever met. Goddamn – I mean, God bless you my child.
2.) Connection to the Divine However you define it, and I’m not quarreling with anyone’s concept of Divinity, I think there’s something powerful and right for an INFJ in hearing that they are, now, in this moment, connected in some way with the Eternal. Especially since most traditional religions make this at least somewhat “objective” (by which I mean, not contingent on sorting out the flood of changing feelings coursing through our bodies) with rituals, sacraments, initiations, etc. Like #1, this is something spirituality alone can’t give you – you need at least a little old time religion to really get this. Unless you want to buy or make your own vestments and start conducting sacrifices in the park. In which case, DM me – I’m there in a heartbeat.
3.) Possibility for Pure Fe Flow Your mileage may vary here. I know it’s popular to talk about religion as a repressive, controlling thing, and it definitely can be . . . but there’s a reason a majority of the world’s great poetry was written for religious use or by religious people. Religion (most religions anyway) allow you some kind of intimacy with the Deity, however you conceive it. And there are so many different conceptions that you can choose the one that attracts you most! You can really pour out some sublime stuff this way: e.x. the Psalms, the poetry of Hafiz, the Bhagavad Gita, the motherfuckin Divine Comedy. And if you want to express how fucked up you are in a sublimated way you can do that too: e.x. the Confessions of St. Augustine, the prayer to Isis in The Golden Ass, etc. etc. The Sacrament of Confession terrifies the living shit out of me, but I’m pretty sure that’s what a lot of people get out of it and similar practices.
I know people can do some of this without religion, but with a religion you have the assurance that someone or something is listening, you’re not just shouting into the void – and if you feel like you are you can express that too! (My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?) Which leads me to the last point
4.) The sense of a harmonious and loving Reality I say Reality here – for a lot of people it’s going to be God or gods. In Hinduism there’s the concept of Bhakti Yoga: finding the personal form of the divine that most appeals to you and devoting yourself to God in that form. I think that’s an absolutely fantastic idea – although I wonder if Fe expression would be better for an INFJ if they were devoted to many gods / saints / devas. Maybe our religious expression is, at its healthiest, polytheistic, just as our dominant function inclines us to monism in our perception of the world. But I think that one can have this sense even if one doesn’t believe in any kind of personal higher power. “The great Dao loves and nourishes all things but does not lord it over them.” Or some form of pantheism: Emerson or Bruno or Spinoza, God is Everywhere and Everything and you can meet Him wherever you turn.
Regardless, I think this conviction can act as a kind of healing balm for the wounds we suffer from the id. Of course, this will probably work best if we incline towards lighter, freer expressions of the spiritual life. Blake has talked about Venus the planet in relation to INFJs, but I think we could find soothing the Venusian spirit in religion: Venus is the “laughter-loving lady”, and is often associated with love as delight rather than as duty or sacrifice (I don’t remember if this is fact or rumor, but it’s said there was a temple in antiquity to Venus of the Beautiful Buttocks). On the Catholic side, the spirituality of Brother Lawrence or Therese of the Child Jesus. Krishna talking to Arjun as an equal. The fat and happy Buddha. INFJs may find it helpful to conceive of themselves, not as the slaves or servants or lovers of God, but as friends of the Divine.
So I think there’s a lot to be said for INFJs at least exploring the idea of religion as an outlet for Fe and a part, significant or otherwise, of healing our souls and finding joy and release. For those that try it, I think it’s important to be clear about one’s relationship to the religion(s) of choice. I tried to be an SJ-style “submit to the authority of the Church in all matters” type and it damn near killed me. Likewise with the “summarize all of reality in a closed system” stuff. (St. Thomas Aquinas tried, but decided at the end of his life that everything he had written “was as straw”) Really I think we’re best suited to be poets and artists, philosophers and mystics, operating within some structure greater than our own ever-shifting impressions of reality but not so bound by it that we shut down and stop freely expressing our insights. Faithful weirdos, pious sinners, jack Mormons and bad Catholics, ready with equal fervor to kiss the Buddha’s lotus feet or to kill him. The kind of assholes that, if sufficiently notorious, are condemned by religious authorities for a couple decades or centuries but cherished covertly until people realize we were right, or at the very least interesting, all along.
Or something like that. Fuck me this was long. But I loved writing it, so . . . benedicamus Domino!