6 Types of Atheists

This article‘s been out for a week or so, but I hadn’t seen it until today. Two researchers at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga have just published a study they’ve compiled from a survey of 59 atheists and agnostics. I recommend reading the article (it’s not long), especially because it has a slide show at the top that runs through 31 atheist celebrities. I was unaware of a few of them. And the blurbs given for each one are actually very interesting.

Here are the categories, along with their descriptions. I think I most identify with number 1, though I’m not sure it’s a perfect fit. Where do some of you fall? And can you think of any types they missed?

1) Intellectual atheist/agnostic
This type of nonbeliever seeks information and intellectual stimulation about atheism. They like debating and arguing, particularly on popular Internet sites. They’re also well-versed in books and articles about religion and atheism, and prone to citing those works frequently.

2) Activist
These kinds of atheists and agnostics are not content with just disbelieving in God; they want to tell others why they reject religion and why society would be better off if we all did likewise. They tend to be vocal about political causes like gay rights, feminism, the environment and the care of animals.

3) Seeker-agnostic
This group is made up of people who are unsure about the existence of a God but keep an open mind and recognize the limits of human knowledge and experience. Silver and Coleman [the researchers] describe this group as people who regularly question their own beliefs and “do not hold a firm ideological position.” That doesn’t mean this group is confused, the researchers say. They just embrace uncertainty.

4) Anti-theist
This group regularly speaks out against religion and religious beliefs, usually by positioning themselves as “diametrically opposed to religious ideology,” Silver and Coleman wrote. “Anti-theists view religion as ignorance and see any individual or institution associated with it as backward and socially detrimental,” the researchers wrote. “The Anti-Theist has a clear and – in their view, superior – understanding of the limitations and danger of religions.” Anti-theists are outspoken, devoted and – at times – confrontational about their disbelief. They believe that “obvious fallacies in religion and belief should be aggressively addressed in some form or another.”

5) Non-theist
The smallest group among the six are the non-theists, people who do not involve themselves with either religion or anti-religion. In many cases, this comes across as apathy or disinterest. “A Non-Theist simply does not concern him or herself with religion,” Silver and Coleman wrote. “Religion plays no role or issue in one’s consciousness or worldview; nor does a Non-Theist have concern for the atheist or agnostic movement.” They continue: “They simply do not believe, and in the same right, their absence of faith means the absence of anything religion in any form from their mental space.”

6) Ritual atheist
They don’t believe in God, they don’t associate with religion, and they tend to believe there is no afterlife, but the sixth type of nonbeliever still finds useful the teachings of some religious traditions. “They see these as more or less philosophical teachings of how to live life and achieve happiness than a path to transcendental liberation,” Silver and Coleman wrote. “For example, these individuals may participate in specific rituals, ceremonies, musical opportunities, meditation, yoga classes, or holiday traditions.” For many of these nonbelievers, their adherence to ritual may stem from family traditions. For others, its a personal connection to, or respect for, the “profound symbolism” inherent within religious rituals, beliefs and ceremonies, according the researchers.

The full study seems to be here, if you’re interested. I plan to read it, but haven’t had time yet.

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14 thoughts on “6 Types of Atheists”

  1. I think I’m a mixture of all six… I dont like labels.

    I did find this comment on in the original article:

    “Dyslexic doG
    This morning there was a knock at my door. A pleasant and enthusiastic young couple were there.

    John: “Hi! I’m John, and this is Mary.”

    Mary: “Hi! We’re here to invite you to come kiss Hank’s ass with us.”

    Me: “Pardon me?! What are you talking about? Who’s Hank, and why would I want to kiss His ass?”

    John: “If you kiss Hank’s ass, He’ll give you a million dollars; and if you don’t, He’ll kick the guts out of you.”

    Me: “What? Is this some sort of bizarre mob shake-down?”

    John: “Hank is a billionaire philanthropist. Hank built this town. Hank owns this town. He can do whatever He wants, and what He wants is to give you a million dollars, but He can’t until you kiss His ass.”

    Me: “That doesn’t make any sense. Why…”

    Mary: “Who are you to question Hank’s gift? Don’t you want a million dollars? Isn’t it worth a little kiss on the ass?”

    Me: “Well maybe, if it’s legit, but…”

    John: “Then come kiss Hank’s ass with us.”

    Me: “Do you kiss Hank’s ass often?”

    Mary: “Oh yes, all the time…”

    Me: “And has He given you a million dollars?”

    John: “Well no. You don’t actually get the money until you leave town.”

    Me: “So why don’t you just leave town now?”

    Mary: “You can’t leave until Hank tells you to, or you don’t get the money, and He kicks the guts out of you.”

    Me: “Do you know anyone who kissed Hank’s ass, left town, and got the million dollars?”

    John: “My mother kissed Hank’s ass for years. She left town last year, and I’m sure she got the money.”

    Me: “Haven’t you talked to her since then?”

    John: “Of course not, Hank doesn’t allow it.”

    Me: “So what makes you think He’ll actually give you the money if you’ve never talked to anyone who got the money?”

    Mary: “Well, maybe you’ll get a raise, maybe you’ll win a small lotto, maybe you’ll just find a twenty-dollar bill on the street.”

    Me: “What’s that got to do with Hank?”

    John: “In this town, Hank is the same as good luck. All good things are attributed to Hank'”

    Me: “I’m sorry, but this sounds like some sort of bizarre con game.”

    John: “But it’s a million dollars, can you really take the chance? And remember, if you don’t kiss Hank’s ass He’ll kick the guts out of you.”

    Me: “Maybe if I could see Hank, talk to Him, get the details straight from Him…”

    Mary: “No one sees Hank, no one talks to Hank.”

    Me: “Then how do you kiss His ass?”

    John: “Sometimes we just blow Him a kiss, and think of His ass. Other times we kiss Karl’s ass, and he passes it on.”

    Me: “Who’s Karl?”

    Mary: “A friend of ours. He’s the one who taught us all about kissing Hank’s ass. All we had to do was take him out to dinner a few times.”

    Me: “And you just took his word for it when he said there was a Hank, that Hank wanted you to kiss His ass, and that Hank would reward you?”

    John: “Oh no! Karl has a letter he got from Hank years ago explaining the whole thing. Here’s a copy; see for yourself.”

    From the Desk of Karl
    1. Kiss Hank’s ass and He’ll give you a million dollars when you leave town.
    2. Use alcohol in moderation.
    3. Kick the guts out of people who aren’t like you.
    4. Eat right.
    5. Hank dictated this list Himself.
    6. The moon is made of green cheese.
    7. Everything Hank says is right.
    8. Wash your hands after going to the bathroom.
    9. Don’t use alcohol.
    10. Eat your wieners on buns, no condiments.
    11. Kiss Hank’s ass or He’ll kick the guts out of you.

    Me: “This appears to be written on Karl’s letterhead.”

    Mary: “Hank didn’t have any paper.”

    Me: “I have a hunch that if we checked we’d find this is Karl’s handwriting.”

    John: “Of course, Hank dictated it.”

    Me: “I thought you said no one gets to see Hank?”

    Mary: “Not now, but years ago He would talk to some people.”

    Me: “I thought you said He was a philanthropist. What sort of philanthropist kicks the guts out of people just because they’re different?”

    Mary: “It’s what Hank wants, and Hank’s always right.”

    Me: “How do you figure that?”

    Mary: “Item 7 says ‘Everything Hank says is right.’ That’s good enough for me!”

    Me: “Maybe your friend Karl just made the whole thing up.”

    John: “No way! Item 5 says ‘Hank dictated this list himself.’ Besides, item 2 says ‘Use alcohol in moderation,’ Item 4 says ‘Eat right,’ and item 8 says ‘Wash your hands after going to the bathroom.’ Everyone knows those things are right, so the rest must be true, too.”

    Me: “But 9 says ‘Don’t use alcohol.’ which doesn’t quite go with item 2, and 6 says ‘The moon is made of green cheese,’ which is just plain wrong.”

    John: “There’s no contradiction between 9 and 2, 9 just clarifies 2. As far as 6 goes, you’ve never been to the moon, so you can’t say for sure.”

    Me: “Scientists have pretty firmly established that the moon is made of rock…”

    Mary: “But they don’t know if the rock came from the Earth, or from out of space, so it could just as easily be green cheese.”

    Me: “I’m not really an expert, but not knowing where the rock came from doesn’t make it plausible that it might be made of cheese.”

    John: “Ha! You just admitted that scientists don’t know everything, but we know Hank is always right!”

    Me: “We do?”

    Mary: “Of course we do, Item 7 says so.”

    Me: “You’re saying Hank’s always right because the list says so, the list is right because Hank dictated it, and we know that Hank dictated it because the list says so. That’s circular logic, no different than saying ‘Hank’s right because He says He’s right.'”

    John: “Now you’re getting it! It’s so rewarding to see someone come around to Hank’s way of thinking.”

    Me: “But…oh, never mind.

    from Jhuger.com”

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  2. I wondered of you’d comment on this article, Nate. I favor #3. (Though not to the exclusion of the others, and more from a position of faith than doubt, if that makes any sense at all, which I doubt. 😉 )

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  3. I don’t know what number I am…I actually hate to think I am number, but I would consider myself non demonstrative, open to all rational arguments about religion, believe Jesus probably did some really neat things with wood; nests of tables, flying duck carvings, lamp-stands, miniature arks that really float with closing window and assorted animals included, and suchlike.
    I just have to remember to take my tablets in case I read the word ”unklee ” and then things start to go a bit haywire.
    Otherwise..I’m fine. Honest.God bless.

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  4. #3 definitely describes me best by far, and partially #1 and #6.

    I don’t have any of #4 in me.

    There are times when I get burnt out on thinking too much about this stuff and fall into #5 (apatheism).

    While I also am not a huge fan of labels, I do find it interesting to think and talk about the different aspects of the way I believe.

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  5. William, that story is fantastic! I think I may have it printed in a nice script and framed. 🙂

    Seriously, it really is a fair representation of Christian dogma.

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  6. I probably lean towards #4, but definitely not as “hardcore” as the description indicates. I would say the first and last sentence describe me best.

    Actually, as I’ve stated elsewhere on this blog, for me, Scientific Pantheism seems to “fit” based on the following description: Scientific or natural pantheism … deeply reveres the universe and nature and joyfully accepts and embraces life, the body and earth, but does not believe in any supernatural deities, entities or powers.

    I love the story posted by William. I think I’m going to add it to my own blog. 🙂

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  7. paarsurey, well said. in fact, i would suggest the same be applied toward the religious.

    stay thirsty, my friend.

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