Over the past several months, a certain type of questionnaire has proliferated on Facebook and other social media platforms. These quizzes are ostensibly designed to help us discover who we are.
All of them begin with the same kind of seemingly rhetorical question: Which character from Harry Potter are you? Which city should you actually live in? How much would Ron Swanson (a misanthropic character from the NBC series Parks and Recreation) hate you? Which mid-twentieth century Anglican theologian are you? (That last one is, astonishingly, not a joke).
Following this initial question is a series of multiple-choice tasks that are only vaguely related to the premise of the quiz: Pick a midnight snack. Choose a hashtag. Select a first date.
After responding to these, you are given the answer to the title question: Hermione. Portland, Oregon. Ron would have a grudging respect for you and might even shake your hand. William Temple.
These quizzes are bizarre in a variety of ways. Of course, the answers have no bearing on reality; there’s no way that a random computer algorithm can know where I am actually supposed to live. The most surreal aspect of these quizzes, however, is how many people take them. Some of my friends on Facebook seem to take every single one of these quizzes, whether or not they are acquainted with the subject matter. There always seems to be someone who posts their results with some version of this comment: “I have no idea who Eminem is, but he apparently encapsulates my identity.”
I think there are two primary reasons for the popularity of these quizzes. On one level, they indulge the Internet generation’s twin passions: non sequiturs and nostalgia. The answers to these questionnaires allow one to say, “Remember Shaggy from Scooby Doo? Apparently I’m just like him. Isn’t that way out of left field?” On another, much deeper level, however, these quizzes are symbolic of the fact there are many people who struggle with their sense of identity. Much of the sociological research of the last decade or so indicates that more and more, people are grappling with questions of identity and are turning to a wide variety of sources to help them understand who they are. And it seems that these questions are becoming more and more of a challenge, as traditional markers of identity gradually lose importance and relevance in the wider culture.
Lent is a chance for us to engage these questions of identity in a more meaningful way. On Ash Wednesday, we are reminded that we are part of God’s creation. After we hear this reminder, the rest of Lent becomes an opportunity to renew our understanding of our place in the world God created. The only question of identity that ultimately matters is who we are in God. So instead of taking an online quiz to tell you who you are, I invite you to look at yourself in the mirror every morning during this holy season and affirm your true identity: “I am a beloved child of God.”