Measuring Testimony

Perhaps you’re familiar with the Wong-Baker pain chart, used by nurses for assessing pain. It looks like this:


I saw one of our youth teachers has altered the chart a little bit for use with her students:


It reminds me of the “spirituality assessment” that my MTC teacher had our cohort take. We were asked to grade ourselves on several dozen questions about testimony, morality, and integrity on a scale of 1 to 10. Then we took the same assessment at the end of our time at the MTC, with the hope that our self-assessment scores would have increased. These assessments were just for our own personal use, not something we turned in to the teacher.

So what do you think? Can spirituality be measured? Should it? And if so, how?

37 comments for “Measuring Testimony

  1. I think spirituality can be spoken of as “righteousness,” and yes, it can be measured. That’s why the scriptures often talk about certain people being “more righteous” than others. (See 3 Ne. 10:12 as an example.)

  2. As an I/O Psychologist, I pretty much have to say that spirituality can be measured. There are a number of professional quality assessments designed for that purpose, all of which vary widely in what they are measuring.

    From a psychometrics standpoint, the real problem lies not in measuring spirituality, but it coming up with a solid definition. For any given definition of what it means to be spiritual, I can create an assessment that will measure that. What I think is a MUCH harder task is coming up with an operational definition that would be widely accepted (and that’s just within the LDS Church, let alone the wider spectrum of religions!!!). I suspect that challenge is the real showstopper, not measuring it once assuming any potential definition is given.

    Of course, that definition needs to address such things as to whether or not spirituality is a state (like an emotion that passes) or a trait (like a personality characteristic that generally does not change except incrementally). This is important because traits almost inevitably have a neurological component that can be measured with fMRI scans (most emotional states show up fairly clearly on an fMRI as brain activity). Traits, on the other hand, seem to be buried deeper and are going to rely largely on questionnaires of some sort (it could be self-ratings on behavioral frequencies, other ratings of (actual or predicted) behavior, or a simple opinion survey).

    But generally yes, we can measure it. Now what is IT?

  3. Ben, I think I see what you’re talking about. For example, on the teacher’s chart #8 is “Pretend to be converted”. In my experience, that’s an important step, not a problematic one. I’d probably move it up to the #4 box, since “pretend to be converted” is essentially “live the gospel even though you’re not sure you really believe it”, and to me, that’s faith.

  4. “Spirituality” is a virtually meaningless word. It is the equivalent of “smurfiness”. I don’t think intelligent people should ever use it.

    I do think one could self-evaluate conversion levels on the scale you noted though.

  5. Of course it can be measured. That’s what judgement is about. Whether or not we’re very good at judging is another matter. Still, we have to be willing to try to assess our condition — spiritually and otherwise — if we want to improve. (And we must have an idea of what “improvement” would look like.)

    While I don’t necessarily agree with the chart included, I really don’t see pretense at conversion to be an “important step.” I don’t think those who doubt but live the gospel anyway should be deemed pretenders. There are myriad reasons people do things without complete conviction.

  6. Dane, that’s certainly part of the issue.

    We can’t even begin to measure something that we don’t have a good definition for. It’s one of the very frustrating things I’ve found in my exposure to Autism diagnostic procedures–the disorder manifests in distinctly different ways across children (with some common but not universal characteristics). It’s hard to diagnose a disease without having a solid understanding of what it is and what it is NOT.

    So, lets say we have a list of behaviors that indicate spirituality.
    1. Studying sacred texts
    2. Attending religious meetings
    3. Adhering to tenets of a religion
    4. seeking communion with the divine


    For each of these, they can be an indicator of spirituality. They could also be indicators of something else.
    1. There are lots of reasons to study sacred works. Perhaps one is just curious, one might be an atheist attempting to prove the texts wrong, one might be a scholar seeking to do an intellectually fueled comparison of the texts.

    2. One might attend worship services simply for socialization, a false show of piety (think a politician being photographed for the media as they enter the national cathedral for Easter worship), or one might be going to intentionally disrupt the meetings.

    3. This one is trickier, but it really does happen that people will make an outward show of faithful living while secretly doing things that are not allowed by the faith. One might also just happen to have a moral code very similar to that of the faith in question.

    4. It is a known phenomena that schizophrenics (among others) will attempt to commune with divinity. That doesn’t make them spiritual or any less crazy. The reverse is also true.

    So, with each marker of spirituality, one must also provide contraindicators to differentiate between spirituality and anything else that would result in the same behavior.

    This is similar to diagnosing someone with certain behavioral disorders, like AntiSocial Personality Disorder, which require that there not be a medical condition that better accounts for the behavior. A good source for seeing how this is done is the DSM-IV-R (or later).

    So, give me a good set of indicators of spirituality, and it will be easy to write a measure.

  7. I’m sure the youth teacher had good intentions, but by that chart, if God weeps then he doesn’t want to be converted, and if the devil laughs then he is totally converted.

  8. I thought you were going to say that strength of a testimony can be measured by the amount of tears you shed while bearing it. In which case, the crying face should be “Totally Converted.”

  9. Sorry, this youth teacher has it wrong. Everyone knows that the strength of your testimony is directly proportional to how much you cry in testimony meeting. You’ve got to reverse the order of the captions.

  10. I think we should spend a lot of time evaluating our own spiritual state.

    I think we should spend no time evaluating other people’s spiritual states.

  11. Our fifteen-year-old daughter doesn’t “have a testimony” and doesn’t particularly want one. Fortunately, she’s pretty secure in this and open about it, but she’s fairly unusual in not really caring what her peers think about her. I can’t help but wonder what effect this sort of thing might have on her if she were a more typical teenager. Would it make her feel loved, or would it make her feel marginalized and unwanted? I don’t think it would in any way motivate her to try to gain a testimony. If anything, it would make her more likely to feel that religion isn’t for her and stop participating altogether.

    Yes, it’s reasonable for us to take periodic assessments of our spirituality (and other qualities we want to develop). But I’m not sure I would be comfortable circulating this kind of chart with young people.

  12. My problem with it is that it is much more multivariate than the simple linear chart shown in the OP. Who is “more spiritual”

    1) The “deep” scriptorian who loves the Bible and Book of Mormon, who spends many hours studying them, who honestly tries to incorporate them in his/her life, but who doesn’t really care for/have the aptitude for “high level” Church positions

    2) The “administrator” who always has on a white shirt and pressed suit, who magnifies all of his callings, going above and beyond, who avoids even the appearance of drinking a Coke, who knows all the Church policies, but who is so busy that he doesn’t really have time to get too in depth with the scriptures or the fellowman

    3) The person who honestly and truly cares about everyone around them, who gives countless hours providing true service to his community, who takes the commandment “Love God and your fellowman” to heart, who truly is selfless with everything he/she has and would (and does) literally give the shirt off their back, but might drink an occasional glass of wine or skip their home teaching thinking the artificiality of reading an Ensign article to be able to “check a box” is not really what God was looking for.

    I would argue that all of these people are “spiritual”, but that they might not consider the others as spiritual. Some might look down on the person drinking a glass of wine, even though Christ did. Some might look down on the bishop neglecting his family. Some might look down on the scriptorian for ignoring the “real world”.

    So, while spirituality certainly has “grades”, it is so multifactorial that I don’t know anyone can ever come up with a grading scale with INTEROBSERVER reliability. That is why only God can judge us.

  13. John (#13) – I agree, that’s probably my biggest concern with something like this. I remember a dance instructor complaining once that when she tells her students to plié more deeply, the ones who were already plié-ing deeply enough were the ones who would try to follow her instructions and the ones who needed to plié more deeply would ignore her instructions. I can see spirituality assessments working out the same way, where the kids who are already committed will berate themselves for their failings while the ones who aren’t especially committed will brush it off.

  14. My own understanding of “spirituality” is receiving communication from the Holy Ghost. This is something that is difficult for anyone else to measure, except to the extent that the information you get this way turns out to be (a) meaningful in the religious life of you or others and (b) not something you could have known through ordinary means. The kind of promptings that Thomas Monson gets to go see specific individuals are “spirituality” to me.

    I recall reading (perhaps here on T&S or in Dialogue) a person recount how, at a time when he was a teenager just beginning to take living the Gospel seriously, he received, and obeyed, a prompting to go up to a girl at school whom he had never spoken to before and tell her that God loved her and did not want her to take her own life. and it turned out that she had in fact been planning to do exactly that within the hour, and that this timely intervention, with its miraculous source, was sufficient to not only save her life but also her soul.

    There are all sorts of other causes for our behaviors, but to me it seems that if a specific cause of important aspects of our behavior, especially our unusual, non-rote behaviors, is what we would consider as promptings from the Spirit, then we are, in my understanding, more “spiritual.” And I understand the covenants we make each sunday wehn we take the Sacrament to include the promise that we will seek to always remember Christ, and try to live up to His name and obery His commandments, specifically so that we can maximize the influence of the Holy Ghost in our lives. In other words, each time we take the unequivocal action of taking and eating the broken bread, we are promising to try to increase our spirituality.

    So obedience, and faithfulness and integrity are not ends in themselves, they are especially means to the goal of having our hearts and minds reflect more accurately the mind and heart of Christ. And that is the reward we get for all of that mental and emotional and physical effort and even sacrifice: We get to be more like God, and with God.

    I agree with Dane that those who have made the most progress on this path are also more likely to realize how much farther they have to go. Realizing our shortfalls and being humble about them is the first step toward having God fill the gaps in our character with Godstuff.

  15. #10

    Everyone knows that the strength of your testimony is directly proportional to how much you cry in testimony meeting.

    No, no, Orwell. It’s directly proportional to the size of your house. You decide which direction that flows.

  16. Funny you should mention this. I am an early morning seminary teacher and last week our class took a two day ‘assessment’ (producted by S & I f/k/a CES) which included 20 – 30 questions of belief and application which called for answers very much like these, ranging from ‘don’t believe’ to ‘believe with all my heart’ or something like that, and self-evaluating how much that belief made a difference in the test taker’s daily life. It was all very standardized test-like with bubble sheets and #2 pencils—made the kids feel right at home.

    So somebody in management thinks it is can be measured and they are doing it.

    The test also included around 40 substantive questions of word and concept definitions and gospel principles. When I suggested that we pass it out and take it in Sunday School too, the idea was not warmly received. I even volunteered to grade it myself.

  17. I still think Truman Madsen’s 20 Questions, in Christ and the Inner Life is the best rubric around.

  18. This questions can be observed at many levels. What people don’t understand is that others aren’t simply “fallen away” when they are excommunicated or when they decide the church isn’t for them. Every person has moments of falling away daily. They may be just as fallen away as their less active neighbor. This is why our inspired leaders encourage us to read and pray daily. It’s essential or else you may “fall away” that day. So the Faces work…but they change from hour to hour.

  19. Kristine, I agree. They proved invaluable for some important discussions in our ward.

    Raymond that experience was, I believe, Blake Ostler; and it is taken from a Sunstone presentation that was also given at FAIR.

  20. I think there is such a thing that might properly be considered “spirituality”, but I don’t think it can reliably be measured by any external indicators, and especially not by the compliance level with the dictates of one faith or another.

    If anything it is more of a personal thing about the quality of a person’s relationship with God and with others and about his or her efforts to improve that relationship by striving to keep what we know of as the two greatest commandments. I don’t think there is an objective test that can properly measure that.

  21. Geoff J.’s comment #4 I find very interesting – mainly because he makes a point that had never occurred to me – but I think he is right in a certain way. It occurs to me that “spirituality” and “spiritual” are not scriptural words.

    I wonder if we should re-consider what we mean by the word “spirituality” – a more appropriate word might be “righteousness.” Still, it is easier to say “I think so-and-so is a very spiritual person” as opposed to saying “I think so-and-so is righteous person.”

    In that kind of communication context, we may know very well what we mean to be saying, even if it would be hard to define the word “spiritual”.

  22. For some reason when I post a comment, the link associated with ‘danithew’ becomes a link to “Times and Seasons” – even though I did not enter the url for Times and Seasons. Why is that?

  23. A kernel of truth in this. The problem is in the assessment and perception. The scriptures are full of ambivalence on this subject, like the last shall be first and the first, last. And the whole beatitudes. How can you judge perfection? Jesus was judged very harshly.

    Because of these effects it is hard even to assess yourself.

    One of the interesting concepts to come from modern psychology is the idea of steps or stages. In order to grow we must progress through stages, in general, which are similar for most people. For example there is the multistage measure of spirituality going from 1 through 6 (Fowler, )

    In the Fowler progression stage 4 seems like a retrogression in terms of spirituality but is essential for progression to stage 5.

    There is only one possible gauge of spirituality or your spiritual progression, which is by revelation. Ask, “How am I doing?” and “What should I do?” These are legitimate questions, particularly the first. It is here that the old anodyne holds, after you ask you have to listen very carefully. It is easy to fool ourselves.

    I submit that progression in some “spiritual” measure is open ended, in distinction to Fowler. I also believe it is linked to our progress in how to love, which is the ultimate goal of any spirituality.

    I heard a really good Sunstone lecture in SF about 10 years ago by a psychologist who presented an eight step progression in our ability to love, which seems to me to be at least as important as spirituality. The movie, “Into Great Silence,” ( ) shows people of great spirituality, but, in my terms, of empty lives. If they show their spirituality by their self-abnegation, we will show our spirituality by our capacity for love.

    How can you measure the Carthusian monk’s spirituality on the same scale as we normally accept?

  24. I disagree with the notion that spirituality and righteousness are synonymous. Righteousness (particularly as I read it in the Book of Mormon) deals with performance, and is much more akin to the three different scenarios that Mike S outlines. And each of those three is righteous in different ways (and unrighteous in different ways, too, perhaps).

    Spirituality, on the other hand, and RTS suggests is much more personal, much more about an individual’s experience with the spirit, with the Holy Ghost. As a result, I agree that measuring it in a comparative way between subjects is difficult (but I’m no social scientist).

    Participants in 12-step programs refer to those programs often as being spiritual but not religious. Most 12-step programs in the tradition of AA are not linked to a particular definition of God or a particular religion (the LDS ARP and Family Support Group programs are notable exceptions; there may be other exceptions), but does guide one on a path of self-discovery. From my LDS perspective, it is a 12-step process toward applying the atonement, but even if one does not accept atonement language, one does go on a spiritual journey as a result of the steps.

    Can one be spiritual without being righteous? Since I am not perfect, I certainly hope I can be spiritual on my path to righteousness.

  25. I will avoid the semantics debate and the complaints about the appearance of spirituality and just offer my simple thoughts.

    I would evaluate my spirituality based on how close I feel to Heavenly Father, The Savior, and the Holy Ghost. IMO, these are directly linked to meaningful prayer, scripture study, pondering, prayers in my heart, etc. And of course my obedience and willingness to respond to guidance is a multiplier for those variables.

    When I hear the word ‘spirituality’ the scripture ‘draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you’ comes to mind.

  26. The temptation is to measure things of another world by the methods of this world. Our problem is one of understanding. The Lord speaks to our limited understanding and we get it as well as we can. From D&C 29:33-34 “Speaking unto you that you may naturally understand. . . verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual . . .” So I would be wary of a tidy system one us us constructs.

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