By Nicholas C. DiDonato
“You’re not religious because you never go to church!” accuses one friend. “Well, you only go to church to socialize with your friends!” comes the retort. Is the person who goes to church in order to socialize more religious than the person who doesn’t go to church at all? If only there were some way to measure a person’s religiosity! In fact, there is – the religiosity scale designed by C. Daniel Batson and W. Larry Ventis captures what it means to be religious with three poles: religion as means, religion as ends, and religion as quest.
Those who see their religion as means see their religion as a means to another end. Religion is not something performed, followed, and revered for its own sake but for other benefits. For instance, politicians may attend church religiously, not because they are pious. Instead, they attend because they know it will help them in the upcoming election. In many cultures, being part of a religious community is intimately tied with being a part of the community as a whole; those who participate in religion primarily for social acceptance, for example, are people who see their religion as a means.
Religion as means does not stop at worldly advantages. If someone is religious simply out of fear of hell, then that person also sees religion as a means to an end. The same applies for religious observers who attend to all their religious observances so that when they pray their prayers will be fulfilled. In short, anyone who follows religion for any other purpose other than purely for the sake of the religion itself primarily has a “religion as means” outlook.
In sharp contrast, those who see their religion as ends see it primarily for the sake of the religion itself. Winning elections, social acceptance, avoiding damnation, and fulfilled prayers may be nice and all, but nothing of the sort drives the motivation for religion in the “religion as ends” person. It’s very much like a scientist who does science not for fame and possible fortune but for the sheer pursuit of knowledge. The problems and wonders of the physical world engulf and captivate this scientist, who eagerly seeks to unravel the world’s mysteries. In exactly this way, the universe has engulfed and captivated the person who sees religion as an end, but in a different way: rather than exploring the universe through science, this person explores the universe through religion. Religion provides key answers to deep questions.
Finally, there is religion as quest. Those who see their religion as quest embark on a never-ending journey. While “religion as ends” people see their religion as the final destination for their religious questions, religion as quest people see no final destinations at all. Sure, they have a religion, but they’re open to other religions and are willing to say there are truths in other religions. They may even experiment with those other religions. Further, they cherish the ambiguities, doubts, and uncertainties in their religious life and allow their religious views to change (sometimes drastically) over time.
It’s important to note that all three of these poles are independent of each other. That is, being high on the external scale does not guarantee that one will be low on the internal scale or on the quest scale. All three are separate scales, and Batson and Ventis measured them as such.
So who was more religious: the person who never attends church or the person who goes primarily to socialize? According to Batson’s and Ventis’s three-dimensional scale, the former may have a quest or ends religious orientation while the latter has a means orientation. Batson and Ventis are quick to point out that no pole is superior to another, i.e., scoring high on quest does not make one somehow the purest or truest religious follower. It would be just as wrong for the ends person to condemn the quest person as the quest person to condemn the ends. They are merely different ways of being religious. Which pole best describes you?