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.

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).

  • Michael

    Great article. I often thought that a connection can be made betwween the “me” oriented themes adopted after Vatican II – mass being about “me” feeling good rather than the worship of God and intense prayer through the eucharist – and the present day self absorbed society. This self absorbtion is seen in music, art, movies, the adoration of celebrities, and the pride that seems to influence the decision making (or lack of desicion making) of today’s generation. When the mass turned toward ourselves, so was most of our thoughts. I don’twant to confuse this theory with the creation of introverts. In fact, I think many of todays extroverts are thinking more about the approval of their peers rather than pleasing their peers. My mom used to say “empty barrels make the most noise”. She was right again.

  • hombre111

    Good article. America is an extroverted nation. This helps me predict the next president, who will usually be the most extroverted of the two candidates, no matter his political beliefs. The author didn’t mention the extroverts tendency to just jump in, thinking the water will be shallow. Reminds me of two presidents, one with a lady named Monica, and the other with a long, long war in Iraq.

  • John ONeill

    The truth is that our Catholic Church has been infected with Americanism; a philosophy which is based on extreme self esteem and its “how to win friends and influence people” tendencies. The modern American catholic Church is filled with people thinking about themselves and how they must appear to others hence the liturgy is corrupted beyond belief; any quiet time when a creature can commune with his creator has vanished. Having grown up in the bad old pre Vatican II Church I recall society where men worn out by the grit and noise of working day in and day out in factories and women consumed with the heaviness of work of raising a family of often boisterous children enjoyed their quiet time before the blessed sacrament and their interiour prayer to their Saviour. Silent visits the Blessed Sacrament were encouraged and practiced; today we must have the satanic din of the world echoing in our former sanctuaries. Thankfully there are churches where the ancient liturgy is still practiced and these places can be found if you look hard enough. “Now man’s wars on God begin; at stroke of midnight God shall win”. (Yeats)

  • Declan Kennedy

    A very interesting and stimulating article. Prof. Diarmuid MacCullough has a series of lectures on silence in Christian tradition. They are on YouTube. The first one is at:


    Here in Kenya we have great music and dancing at Mass. Very alien to me at first, but it is a great way to praise God, even if I can’t join in as I have two left feet and can’t sing. Going to Mass when visiting friends and relatives in England and, to a lesser extent, Ireland, is soul-destroying in comparison. Your comment on the “me too-ism” of it all is too spot on.

    Great comments below the line as well. Like John O’Neil, I am also a pre-Vatican II Catholic but I hope that I can reassure him with the news that several parishes, including ours, in Nairobi have “Adoration Chapels” with exposition. Even with the noise of the traffic passing outside, they great places of peace, prayer and contemplation. Haven’t been to a Benediction in years though!

    Once again, thanks for a great article.

  • tamsin

    My parish was built recently, like a theater, “in the round”.

    I think the design team wanted to make everyone feel that we gather around one table, the altar in the center of the circle, and Christ occupies one seat at the table, the western-most point of the circle. The effect is that almost no matter where you sit, you face other members of the congregation. I think it is meant to enforce the theological point that we are the Body of Christ, so behold each other.

    I have taken to closing my eyes during the readings in order to shut out typical visual distractions, to be able to concentrate on the Word. The walls are blank; we have no art yet, probably not ever. There are windows floor to ceiling. I think it is meant to enforce the theological point that we should be looking out into the world, and not closed off from it. But then there is no place to rest my eyes so that I can really hear what the Gospel says.

  • anon

    Great article. I think it is too deep for extroverts though.

  • I remember going to church and the priest criticized a woman for speaking too softly. I was rather troubled by this and thought it strange that extraversion should be considered such a positive quality.

    • Casey

      Oh my gosh, for the Transitus at the Newman Center at my college, the nun who runs the place made me practice what I was to read beforehand. I’ll never forget her awful, incessant, “LOUDER! RAISE YOUR VOICE INTO THE MICROPHONE.” In reality, it was fine, despite that I generally speak softly.

      • Atilla The Possum

        The nun was 100% WRONG.
        Microphones – whether in a studio or elsewhere, especially a church – are connected to faders/graphic equalisers and a metre with a red needle. These buttons/slides have a function: they should be adjusted to ensure you don’t need to shout and cause a screetch into the hearing aids and healthy ears of your listeners.
        How do I know this? I am a trained broadcaster.

  • John

    Thank you, Professor Kainz. If I weren’t such an introvert, I would be more strident in my
    comments. Quietly and gently I will say, that my wife and I, and others of our ilk, are so tired of chatty congregations who seem unable to leave the public square outside as they come into the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. How we wish that we could return to solemn, reverent Masses of the once upon a time variety. They wouldn’t even have to be said in Latin. That would be wonderful but we would settle for the “novus ordo” if said in an atmosphere of reverential awe. The extroverts in charge these days seem to have no time for reflection. A “sister” attached to a local church noted recently that someone had suggested to her that it would be nice to have at least one of the services conducted in a more quiet, respectful way; and she mused incredulously, “What would that be like?” She couldn’t imagine such a thing. We can do better. (We do have a thriving Latin Mass community within 25 miles of us but they, alas, are relegated by the diocese to a cemetery chapel on the edge of a major highway. Again, we can do better.)

    • The one thing that prevents a lot of chatter at our church — other than the good sense of the congregants and their old-fashioned courtesy — is that our organist will be playing some fine organ prelude before Mass, followed by several minutes of silence; and he plays a postlude immediately after the recessional. That’s a signal — this is a special place. People will still greet one another on the way out, but quietly, and conversations tend to take place at or around the door. I wish, though, that we had coffee and doughnuts after the last Mass on Sunday; but that would have to be in the hall in the basement, because we don’t have a convenient area for it.

  • crakpot

    I find I hear the voice of conscience best when I’m alone with my thoughts. It’s harder to think while you’re talking – you tend to play back pre-canned thoughts. Maybe it’s just a guy thing.

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  • poetcomic1

    So THAT is my problem, I too am introverted. It explains so much. Now if I can only teach myself not to despise those bullying extroverts who think that they are so wonderful, so ‘loving’ and ‘feel sorry’ for me.

  • Beth

    On the other hand, I wouldn’t be too hard on the introverts. Hospitality to a brother or sister in Christ is to be encouraged. We also need to care about one another, and to lift each other up in faith. These things can be done in a respectful way without interfering with the dignity of Mass, but I think they’re very important.

    • Beth

      Sorry, meant to see extroverts, not introverts. We all have different gifts, so let’s not knock those who are outgoing. We need both types of personalities in the church.

  • The Triumph of Noise. I detest telling my name to perfect strangers when I’m visiting another church. I hated it when I was a teenager, and I’ll wager a thousand bucks that there’s not more than one boy in a hundred who doesn’t hate it, too. Why? Because it’s phony. Because it’s rude. Somebody ought to tell these guys and gals that the earth doesn’t revolve around them. I can’t stand it when some lector stands up at the pulpit before Mass and declares the names of the “celebrant” or, worse, “presider,” the name of the lector, the name of the Eucharistic ministers, the name of the altar girl or the quietly seething altar boy conscripted into service and despising the whole nice-nice game, the names of the people bringing up the gifts — even, in one church, the name of the old man ringing the bell (who was my good friend and did not want his name to be mentioned, but went along with it, in deference to people he thought knew better). All the words I want to hear announced before Mass are the ones telling me what hymn we’re singing (and a real hymn). I’m trying to pray then, not socialize.

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  • Dave Thelen

    I found a very peaceful, quite and contemplative home with my Lord for mass ( no kiss of peace) with the Passionist nuns who sing like angels. Great article.

  • Beachgirl

    Tyrrany of the extrovert? Hardly…it seems to me when it comes to religion, it favors the introvert. Look at how many Scriptures have negative things to say about people who are extroverted. How many of the Church fathers equate talkativeness with sinfulness…never mind that being passive aggressive can cover a multitude of sins. Question here is why can’t we accept all God’s creatures with their unique personalities whether quiet or more outspoken?

  • Lygeia

    There is a very simple rule of thumb to determine if you are an introvert or an extrovert.

    If you need to get away from people when you are overwhelmed, you are an introvert.

    If, when you are overwhelmed, you feel better if you hang out with people and do sociable things, you are an extrovert.

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