Saturday, January 2

Engineers and religion

A Slate article explores why so many terrorists have engineering backgrounds. (link) It could have to do with some of the personality types that gravitate toward engineering -- people with a low tolerance for ambiguity, who feel most comfortable when everything is reduced to black and white categories.

Harold Camping is an American example of an engineer who has tried to use rigid mathmatical categories to get a handle on the will of God. He is now saying that he made a math error the last time he predicted the return of Christ. The radio Bible teacher now calculates that the rapture will be May 21, 2011. ~ link

It would be interesting to study why certain personality types gravitate toward particular theological systems or organizations. For example, why is it that so many engineer-types seem to end up in organizations like the Navigators -- a group which stresses discipleship through well-developed systems and formulas?

I'm certainly not suggesting that all engineers are the same nor that they're the only people who see life in extremely well-defined and rigid categories. But I wonder if there is a real correlation or if it is only my personal perception.


Susan Gillespie said...

And what then does that mean when a conversion of one kind or another happens? When someone moves from or toward a more rigid system?

Beth B said...

My experience has been just the opposite. Most of the engineers and scientific types I have known tend to compartmentalize the other direction. They see faith as irrational, a mystery. It's an either/or with them, a la Kierkegaard. Truth is a matter of reason, and reason is a matter of logic. Moreover, meaning and truth are two separate categories; so for God to be meaningful for them, He must be held APART from the understanding/reason.

Of course not everyone has been this way, but I wonder if those engineer-types who have been attracted to the Covenant don't tend to find it easier to fasten onto the feeling/practice part of our heritage, which helps reinforce their bifurcation of faith and reason.

lindaruth said...

This post made me think of one of the extension engineers I've edited publications for - he's a Mormon. I'm not sure if he grew up in the Mormon church or converted later. But I understand he's been very active in the church. He's retired from the university now but still does a lot of work for his church. That's another religious system that focuses on rules and behaviors. (Another interesting fact -- apparently he never liked to write but he wrote a lot of extension pubs over the years and was pretty good. Very precise and he hated to let something go, but he always wanted to be sure that useful information was available to the public.)

vainjangler said...

One of my facebook friends is unabashedly an engineer and a five-point calvinist. On the other hand I am employed as an engineer but have never been comfortable with the reducing effect of applying the label to myself.

The comfort of rigid and systematic categories is obviously due to the ability to move quickly through the system. The downside is the tendency to become lost in the system and disconnect from the rest of the world.

My own faith journey has been one of moving away from a rigid either/or idealism. I think treating faith as if it can be sorted out from reason is naive. While I can appreciate that one might choose to latch onto a rigid theology over the arduous task of deconstructing one's preferred way of thinking, once I recognize that "Jesus" ought to be the primary "category" for being, rigid modes of thinking become less fundamental and must always be tempered by God's love.

What has kept me with the Covenant is the "non-rigidity" of the denomination and the genuine openness toward diverse views among people I've met.