When it comes to answering life's big questions, the World Wide Web offers more research options than you can wiggle a mouse at.
Trying to find the right used car? Doing homework to find an appropriate college for your firstborn child? Are you a cat person or a dog person? What breed?
Perhaps you wake up in the middle of the night wondering if you need a new god or a fresh creed. Are you a liberal Protestant kind of person or a Hindu person, a Baptist or a Scientologist, a Reform Jew or a Neo-Pagan?
Want to find out? Then go to www.SelectSmart.com/RELIGION/ and click your way through Curt and Lorie Anderson's new and improved "Belief System Selector" site that covers two dozen world religions. Then you can tell them how happy or furious you are about the results. But don't ask about their religious ties. You can ask, but they won't tell.
"People have accused us of being part of every imaginable religious group in the world," said Curt Anderson. "A lot of people accuse of being members of their religion, only they think that we've totally messed it up. Or they feel really threatened and they think that what we believe must be the total opposite of what they believe."
Lorie Anderson interjected: "Some people say, 'You must be Scientologists.' Other people think we're a Buddhist front. ... A lot of people think we're Unitarians. It seems that if you go through and click on answers randomly, the test almost always tells you that you're a Unitarian Universalist. Of course, maybe that says something about Unitarians."
Cue the rim shot. One patron even claimed to have received a mixed test score of "100 percent Unitarian-Universalist" and "100 percent Jehovah's Witness." Sure enough, the writer emailed them the old joke: "You know what you get when you cross a Jehovah's Witness with a Unitarian? Someone who knocks on doors for no apparent reason."
The Andersons created SelectSmart.com three years ago, combining her social work and psychology skills with his experience in marketing and advertising. Their Ashland, Ore., home base is near the California border, which means they live in one of America's most complex regions, when it comes to religion and, of course, technology.
So far, they have written or endorsed 200 "selector" programs to help people make choices affecting everything from hobbies to careers, from vacation spots to romance. The site includes links to nearly 2,000 other tests written by volunteers. At the peak of the campaign season, their presidential-candidate selector was receiving 80,000 visitors a day.
Since making its debut last August, the religion selector has been attracting 7,000 users a day and the site now includes advanced quizzes to help Fundamentalists, Jews, Gnostics, agnostics, Pagans, Muslims and others further refine their options. The site includes scores of links to official Web sites representing the various churches, movements and traditions.
Lorie Anderson said she worked on the religion quiz off and on for at least six months and has continued to fine-tune her text, based on user feedback. The goal was to find issues that united the faiths -- creation, evil, salvation, suffering -- in order to provide some structure. Then she had to pinpoint doctrinal differences in order to sift through the users and pin on some theological labels.
The results often yield strange bedfellows. Orthodox Jews, for example, have more in common with Muslims than with Reform Jews. Liberal Protestants have more in common with pagans than with evangelical Protestants. Liberal Quakers resemble Hindus, while orthodox Quakers may hang out with the Mormons.
The test still isn't perfect. In particular, the Andersons have struggled to break the Christian doctrine of the Trinity down into bites of computer data. Is God a "corporeal spirit (has a body)" or an "incorporeal spirit"?
"That's a tough one," said Curt Anderson. "Christians believe that Jesus had a body, yet God the Father does not. Yet they're both in the Trinity. ... We're still working on that one."
"Right," said his wife. "Words mean a whole lot when you start trying to describe who or what God is or isn't. ... When it comes to words, religious people get really picky."