What kind of atheist are you?
News reaches me from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga that a study of non-belief has identified six common categories within the unhelpfully broad category of “religious nones”. I doubt it’s the last word on the subject – the categories were formed based on interviews with just 59 people – but I rather like the idea behind it, although I think there’s a lot of overlap and I identify with at least three or four of their descriptions.
You can read the full details at their website, but here’s my attempt at a brief summary of the different sorts of atheist they’ve identified:
1. Intellectual Atheist/Agnostic: Thinkers with interests in discussion, debate and arguments for and against the existence of a god. They’re happy to discuss the issues with anyone, regardless of what they believe, as long as they know what they’re talking about. Often found online, reading blogs and forums and leaving their thoughts.
2. Activist: Campaigners for specific issues related to their (non) beliefs, such as feminism, secularism and LGBT issues. The degree and nature of involvement in these campaigns can vary, and may involve alliances with other related movements.
3. Seeker-Agnostic: Those who are aware that they don’t know everything, recognising the limitations of both their own knowledge and human knowledge in general, and seeking to rub along with other people of different viewpoints. They may miss many aspects of belief, without being inclined to return to it.
4. Anti-Theist: Strongly opposed to religion, viewing it as nothing more than ignorant fairy-tales and generally being very keen to share those views. Will probably be involved in public campaigns to some extent, but unlike an Activist, this is about the evils of religion per se, rather than working towards specific secular goals.
5. Non-Theist: Not active, and not greatly concerned by religion either way. This probably includes apatheists or meh-theists as people who just can’t get that worked up about it, and have no interest in any sort of atheist movement or common aims.
6. Ritual Atheist/Agnostic: Despite a lack of belief in any deities, they find value in some religious teachings and rituals. Religious holidays may be marked, meditation techniques adopted, or ceremonies joined, either for cultural reasons or because they draw a distinction between what’s true and what’s useful.
I see myself mainly as an Intellectual within this model, but with strong elements of both Seeker-Agnostic and Ritual Atheist/Agnostic, especially given my occasional feelings of loss on leaving the church and my view that rituals and practices can have value and significance regardless of the truth of the claims behind them.
I know I have quite a lot of readers who would fit within the survey sample of “Nones”, and I’d love to know where you think you fit into this, but I rejected the idea of running a poll because I don’t think it’s likely to capture the complexity of people who sit between two or more categories, and that’s what comments are for.
So, what sort of atheist are you?