Infographic Of The Day: What Are Your Religious Beliefs?

A flowchart lays out the big questions and simple answers that inform many of the world's major belief systems.

Most people, I’ll wager, have a pretty hazy relationship to spiritual beliefs. For example, there are Christians who don’t go to church, Jews who don’t believe in God, and agnostics who don’t really believe in God but also say they’re spiritual. If you know exactly what you believe in, then consider yourself lucky. For the rest of us, this handy infographic, created by Cameron Blair of The Fellowship for Evangelism in the Arts, lays out an astonishingly wide array of religious thought into one deceptively simple flowchart.

Blair and FEVA obviously come from a particular point of view--the goal of this chart, after all, is to convert people to Christianity. And that creates a very obvious problem in that it seems to assume that Christianity is the only way to find God. (The other world religions would beg to differ, of course.) But the chart is interesting nonetheless:


[Click to enlarge]

As you can see, each main strand of religion of philosophy turns on a viewpoint that’s in direct relationship to questions that preceded it--and many create other questions, which in turn spawn new belief systems. For example, does God play a part in the world? Does God even exist? And if he doesn’t, where does meaning come from? There’s about 4,000 years of intense debate summed up here.

But one exception I would take with the chart is that our beliefs are never so simple that questions yield a mere "yes" or "no." For example, you might not know if God exists, but you also might doubt that he does. Thus, it’s possible to believe in very different strands of thought shown here, all at the same time. It’s that vacillation between "yes" and "no" answers that keeps the debate about belief boisterous after countless millenniums.

[Via Visual News]

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24 Comments

  • Noah

    Sam and Cameron, I don't doubt that the chart was useful in getting people talking, and that, on its own, is a good thing.  I doubt whether it does so objectively, and I think making it more objective would make the ensuing discussion more valuable.

    After all, how you feel when someone misrepresents your views?  Do you feel that such actions add to or detract from the quality of the discussion?

    I have a lot of respect for anyone who seeks a consistent, and, where possible, objective worldview.  If one believes that the christian theistic worldview is objective and consistent, as described previously, then might consistency and objectivity can be allies in promoting that view?

    Cameron solicited feedback.  I pointed out some inconsistencies because I believe that addressing such inconsistencies can improve the quality of discussions on what I consider to be a very important topic.  If the inconsistencies don't bother anyone else, that's fine, I'm not going to try to make anyone do anything.  I'm so close to this topic that my views are bound to be more critical that most.  I'm not out to hurt anyone, on the contrary, my only goal in this is to encourage critical thinking.  That pursuit can be painful but ultimately more rewarding than the alternative. 

    Once again, congratulations on the press.  I applaud the desire to discuss important topics.  Best of luck in your search for truth.

  • Sam

    Hello all,
    just reading back through the comments has been really interesting and I am sure Cameron is embarrassed to have such attention!

    I work with Cameron. We used this chart on several university campuses with incredible success. I was so surprised at how easy it was to engage anyone who walked by (we created a giant replica out of MDF so anyone could easily come over and have a look) in deep and meaningful conversation about their own particular worldview and about Jesus' own worldview.

    I'm sad to hear, Noah, that you have so many objections. I talked to a number of philosophy and history students, some in their final year, and even had a long chat with a PhD student who was head of the skeptics society. None of these people had any objection to the terms used, and understood that the chart is a springboard for further conversation. If these well-educated, thoughtful individuals were happy to converse and had little problem with the chart, you would have to have some excellent, well-researched reasons to disagree.

  • Superhexrow

    I think Cameron's chart
    is brilliant and clear.  I'm mystified by the pettiness of the objections.
     The chart is really useful for teasing out the implications of different
    world views.  The labels are ‘discrete’ enough
    to be useful and truthful.

     

    The tone of the
    objections seems to come from the typical 'Oh Christians, by definition, can’t
    be right or clear – they must be treated with condescension’ school of
    thought.   

     

    All power to you
    Cameron.  Your rebuttals are incisive.  I’m a fan.

  • Noah

    Making a chart like this that casts more light than shadow is a difficult thing.  I'm sympathetic to the challenges of the medium.  To my mind, this makes the medium a poor choice for the subject matter. 

    It is probably possible to overcome these challenges enough to make some variant on this chart that is useful and interesting as what it claims to be.

    This one's not holding any water though. Glaringly, either definition of humanism, the one implicit in Cameron's chart or the one given by Cameron in the comments, is inaccurate, and they are different.  That example is fairly clear cut, so I've focused on it, but much of the rest of the chart is similarly riddled with straw men, in the strict sense of the term, i.e., a fallacies based on misrepresentation of opposing positions.  This may have come about through honest misunderstanding, or may be deliberate.

    That makes this chart an interesting curiosity as a diagram of certain logical fallacies, and I could see perhaps using it as a teaching aid in reducing people's susceptibility to manipulation.  It would require significant revision to be useful for any implied objective purpose, however.

  • Cameron

    Thanks for responding Noah. My goal is certainly not to mislead and that is why I said that I am willing to correct any mistakes I have made. One correction that I will make in my previous comment is that I meant to say that the term "humanist" originated in the Renaissance period not the idea itself. You are absolutely right to say that the phrase "Man is the measure of all things" comes from Protagoras. My mistake. Sorry about that.

    I do however need to repeat what I said earlier that people can sometimes be a combination of two endpoints (red boxes). That is why the diagram continues from the Atheist/Agnostic/Apatheist to ask where is meaning found in the world. So a person can be  an Atheistic Humanist or an Agnostic Humanist.

    The definition of Humanism that I have been working with is a Modernist one in which people place their trust in the abilities of humanity to discover the truth of things. This is distinct from Post-Modern Relativism which is a reaction against Modernist thinking which says that we as humans cannot find such a thing as 'the truth' but only what is true for us as individuals.

    We could go on discussing and defining terms but I am more concerned about the implications/merits of these worldviews which the flowchart is meant to be a spring board to discuss. For me as a Christian truth is not found in humanity or in the individual but in the God who has revealed the truth in the man Jesus Christ. I believe that it is the Christian Theistic worldview that provides a far more objective and consistent view of the world than any other worldview on or off the chart.

  • Noah

    Redefinition of terms to suit the purposes of the moment isn't really fair ball though, is it?  Cameron's chart defines a humanist as someone who does not believe in "God" (in whatever sense that term is interpreted), does not believe there is is meaning in experience, but believes there is meaning in the world and in humanity.  Now, I think that definition is inaccurate in several ways, particularly in rejecting meaning in experience, but it's the definition used in the chart. 
    Cameron's comment below introduces a different definition: "Man is the measure of all things."  He asserts that this philosophy originated in the renaissance.  This is not among the definitions I've heard from self-described humanists, but it is a somewhat humanist view that is much older than the renaissance.  That idea was, in fact, voiced by Protagoras about 2,500 years ago.  It may be Protagoras's single most famous pronouncement, and yet Protagoras is more associated with relativism (another term I'd consider misused in the preceding comment), and pragmatism. Now, I'll give that Protagoras was a humanist or perhaps proto-humanist as well, in that he values humans and human concerns.  Reading his statement in context, the "things" (chrimata?) man is a measure of refers specifically to things that are of note to the human experience, and not necessarily to those things not understood by people.  The shade of meaning is perhaps lost in translation.  Also relevant to the discussion at hand is that Protagoras was a pragmatic agnostic.
    In the comment below, we have the doctrine of Protagoras, a pragmatic relativist, used to define humanism, but neither that definition nor the rest of Protagoras's philosophy would lead a person to the "humanist" box in the flowchart, so either the chart is wrong, or the definition of humanism given below is wrong, or both.
    So, if the goal is to shed light and stimulate meaningful discussion, these types of inconsistencies and inaccuracies should be fixed.  If the goal is to mislead, no changes are required.

  • Cameron

    Thanks for responding Noah, Didrikanna,
    Harrison and Matt. Obviously as I said in my first comment we can't include
    every single worldview in an A4 chart much less every variation within each
    worldview. So we have to talk in generalities to keep things relatively simple.
    If we were to continue the conversation (which is the purpose of the flowchart)
    then we could talk more about the specifics. My intention is certainly not to
    label or box people but to start a conversation and in that conversation get
    people thinking about what their worldview and the possible implications of
    that worldviews. I should say that it is possible to be a combination of a few
    of the endpoints like for example an Atheistic Humanist or an Atheistic
    Existentialist.

     

    There are some worldviews, however,
    which are not logically compatible so it is important that I define some of
    these terms.  The word 'theist' which
    comes from the Greek word 'theos' meaning God describes someone who believes
    that God exists and, in distinction from the Deist (which comes from the Latin
    word 'deo' meaning 'god') is in control of the world.  This view includes
    the Jewish, Muslim and Christian worldview but only in a general way and not in
    the specifics of how we know God and the means of salvation.

     

    An 'atheist' which is a
    negation of this Greek word 'theos' is therefore someone who believes
    that there is no God in control of the world. Whereas the word 'agnostic' which
    comes from a negation of the Greek word 'gnosis' meaning 'knowledge', describes
    someone who believes that we cannot know whether God exists or not and even if
    he does exist he is irrelevant to modern life.

     

    The word 'apatheism' is a
    blending of the words 'apathy' and 'theism' and thus describes someone who
    doesn't care whether God exists or not. These four views about God are distinct
    from each other and have different implications for the way you live your
    life. 

     

    The word 'nihilst' comes from
    the latin word 'nihil' meaning nothing. So by definition nihilism is about
    'negation'. According to Dr. James Sire, a lecturer in English and Philosophy,
    Nihilism is essentially a negation of everything. What’s more he says that
    existentialism actually arose in an attempt to transcend the bleakness of
    nihilism by looking for meaning in ‘something’, which in this case is the individual
    subjective self-consciousness.

     

    Humanism,
    is a form of naturalism that originated in the Renaissance period declaring
    that man was the measure of all things. Humanism emphasizes the special value
    of human beings and their aspirations and values. This is in distinction to
    Relativism which finds meaning in the individual.

     

    So
    according to these definitions I can’t see that I have made any mistakes. Can I
    therefore respectfully suggest that if you have problem with any of the
    questions/statements on the flowchart or if you have a problem with the
    answers/endpoints then it maybe because you haven’t fully considered or
    understood the worldview you have taken or it’s implications.

  • Noah

    Cameron, thanks for posting, and congratulations on the press.  A few suggestions: 

    Consider what flowcharts are good for.  Choose a topic for which a flowchart is appropriate.  Flowcharts are
    appropriate if every question is simple and well defined, with a small number of possible answers, and discrete, mutually exclusive end points. 
    This topic is a poor one for a flowchart, for several reasons. The endpoints are not mutually exclusive. For example, a humanist can be a theist or a
    deist too.  The questions are not simple and well defined. For example, I can't answer your very first question (God exists?) without making guesses about what you mean.A Are you asking me whether I believe that there's an omnipitent, omniscient, supernatural creator entity with a literal physical objective existence outside the human noosphere?  Or are you asking me whether I believe that anthropomorphic embodiments of essential ideas exist as meaningful concepts with power to change people and cultures?  I don't know what you're asking, so I have to go digging around through your chart try to second guess you on what question one means - a poor start.  The questions on "meaning" are similarly subject to different interpretations.  They aren't necessarily bad questions, if presented as part of a dialog in which the true intent of the question can be communicated, but the shorter they get on context, the shorter they get on meaning and value.

    Choose a scope for the chart that you can fit on the page.  Perhaps try "What kind of christian are you?" leaving everything else aside.  If you try to fit too much into too little space, it will not work well. A very general chart that doesn't get into specific religions might work too.  The mix doesn't play well.

    Simplify the logic. If something can be an endpoint, then it should only be an endpoint... no looping off of it!
    Don't simplify to the point that you leave out necessary complexity. Even leaving the erroneous categories aside, it's strange to ever send anyone who got to the "meaning in the world" box to an endpoint before asking all of the experience/humanity/nature/self questions, instead shuttling them off to an endpoint as soon as they are affirmative on any one.  Again, non-exclusive endpoints make a mess of this.

    Flowchart design aside, be careful in labelling people.  Too often, labelling someone damns them.  Is this chart going to help anyone in learning meaningful things about someone's beliefs? Or is it just going to stick them in a box, making it easier to start piling on assumptions about them?  How well do you think the people who land in the nihilist box, after a mere two questions, fit in that box?

  • $16223330

    Okay, so let me post some of the mistakes:

    Answering "Don't know" to the question whether God exists makes you an atheist. Answering "don't care" to the same question is like answering "married" to a question about how old you are.

    Apatheism and agnosticism is forms of atheism and theism - not stand-alone stances in the question about god(s). 

    Answering no to "the meaning is found in the world" does not equal nihilism. What I am guess that you mean is "existencial nihilism", which is the opinion that there is no intrinsic meaning of life, which makes it somewhat more accurate but not completely. Other parts of nihilism does, for example, say that there is no objective morals (moral nihilism) or that knowledge does not exist (epistemological nihilism) etc. To draw this conclusion from an answer as shorts as yes or no from the question above is about as wrong as directly categorising someone as christian when they answer yes to the question if god exists or not.

    Humanism can not be a continuation to the answer yes on "the meaning is found in the world". It should neither be there when you answer yes to "meaning is found in humanity". Humanism is about creating meaning yourself.

    I could go on and on and on about this but I don't see the point in spending the time on that - it would really be easier to recreate it from scratch than to fix it as it is flawed in its very basic design. I truly am sorry if I come across as rude - that is definitely not my intention.

  • Harrison Salzman

    That is just a terrible flowchart.
    No categories at all for Jews or Muslims. Any polytheistic religion (Hinduism, Shinto, dozens of others) gets lumped into one catch-all POLYTHEIST label.

    "AGNOSTIC" leads to a question which leads back to "AGNOSTIC". That's just lazy design right there.

    The whole right-hand side of the flowchart is far too obsessed with Christian minutiae as a whole - questions that no-one who is not a Christian would give a damn about.

    The idea of a philosophy flowchart is not a bad one, but the execution in this case is just terribly lackluster.

  • Matt L.

    Agree with AndrewCrocker. This is a great stepping stone. Also, I ended up right where I thought I would. Just another example of how infographics would be a great way to understand the religions/viewpoints of the world if it was taken further. As for the comments, so many people passing judgement or attacking the piece/author without any suggested improvements. Also, just because it may be wrong doesn't justify a personal attack.

  • Cameron

    Hi Cliff and commentors! My name is Cameron Blair and I am the creator of this flowchart and I wanted to thank you for the post and comments. I am happy to admit that chart is biased towards Christianity (as I myself am a Christian) and that it was ultimately created in order to talk to people about the merits of the Christian Worldview. Obviously I could not fit every single worldview that exists on a single A4 page hence the questions at the edges to allow discussion to continue out from the chart.  I have done a lot of reading and research for this chart because I wanted it to portray each worldview accurately and fairly. If I have made any mistakes I am more than willing to correct them. So Didrikanna can I ask what are the mistakes I have made?

  • AndrewCrocker

    Atheist Existentialist here, and the chart may no be accurate but so what?  It's a fun flow chart that may help people who have never thought about this, or not thought about it enough.

    It's a 100-level course in philosophy.  a stepping stone.  

  • Noah

    This works primarily as a diagram of its creator's misconceptions.

    It might also be a contrived frame within which a discussion can be railroaded into the comfort zone of an evangelist.  boo.

  • Someone

    I find it more interesting that someone from a Christian ministry created the chart.  That's probably more telling than anything we can learn from the chart itself.