Do you have Calvin on the brain?

Swiss journalists develop playful test to measure Reformer's influence

June 24, 2010

Headshot of Michael Kocher

Swiss journalist and theologian Michael Kocher was one of the creators of the Calvin Neuron Factor test. —Photo by Erick Coll/UGC

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.

As a lifelong Presbyterian, I approached the Calvin Neuron Factor test with fear and trembling. Would I be exposed as a pagan? A heretic? A Baptist?

As part of the celebration of 16th century Reformer John Calvin's 500th birthday last year, two Swiss journalists have developed the online test as a way to "detect traces of Calvin in your brain," says journalist and theologian Michel Kocher.

Kocher and the Calvin Neuron Factor test’s co-creator, Jean-Christophe Emery, are here this week, promoting the test during the Uniting General Council of the World Communion of Reformed Churches, which brings together the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Reformed Ecumenical Council.

The two-stage, 12-question test playfully determines whether the test-taker is an "avowed Calvinist," a "pseudo-Calvinist," a "Calvinist oblivious of it" or a "Calvinist in disguise."

"Our premise is that if Calvin had not lived, everyone’s life would be different somehow," Kocher says, "so everyone is a Calvinist to an extent, even if they don’t know it."

The first stage of the test calculates whether Calvin's personal influence is "secular" or "religious." In stage two, those deemed secularly influenced are divided into those for whom the influence results in community-orientation or individualism. Those deemed religiously influenced are divided into those for whom the Bible "is the only true standard" of faith and life and those who follow the Law and commandments "as a spiritual key."

"In our scheme there is a place for everyone," Kocher says, "and no place is better than any other."

More than 1,000 Genevans took the Calvin Neuron Factor test when it was introduced in two public settings in Geneva last year. Fifty-four percent were identified has having a greater religious inheritance than secular one. And fully two-thirds of respondents exhibited a "let's do it together" attitude rather than an "I do not do it like you" relationship to others.

Kocher says nearly everyone who has taken the test has reacted positively to it. "They take the test, get a specific answer and say, 'Oh, that's interesting!'" he said.

So, how did I fare? Religiously influenced in the "Zone of Pleasure," which means I'm "not crushed by the Law: the commandments of God are a figure of Christ. I follow them like Jesus did — with a free spirit."

That makes me a "Calvinist in disguise." No surprise there.

Jerry Van Marter is serving as English-language reporter for the Uniting General Council. For complete coverage, visit their website.

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