What Kind of Atheist are You?

AtheistIt’s no secret that I’m believer in a higher power. In discussing belief one day, a friend admitted that she’d never consider dating someone who wasn’t also an atheist; another friend wondered if it were possible for an atheist and a religious practitioner to date at all.

With new research out showing that about half of the LGBTQ community identifies as “atheist, agnostic, or unaffiliated with any religion,” these “none’s,” as they’re sometimes called, often get lumped together and are known to get a bad rap as dogmatic and belligerent (think Bill Mahar) — but is that really the case?

Researchers at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga decided to poll non-believers and find out what kind of people abandon religious faith and why. What was discovered is that the diversity that exists among believers is mirrored in the non-believing community. Six categories of non-belief emerged, with some distinctions that were surprising. So, what kind of non-believer are you?  Read through the six categories below and see what fits:

1. Intellectual Atheist/Agnostic. By far, the most common kind of non-believer, at nearly 38 percent. You might fall into this category if you enjoy debating religion and non-belief, but don’t get into heated arguments about it. You’re well-educated in science, philosophy, theology, and common socio-political dialog — which of course makes women find you irresistible. You sometimes get mistaken for a dogmatic atheist because you surround yourself with other skeptics and groups who like to discuss non-belief.

2. Activist. You’re on the front lines of the culture war, fighting for gay rights, feminism and the environment, so demonizing believers is hardly your first priority, though you often get accused of being dogmatic.  The truth is, you’re more intellectually flexible and would love to see more of an egalitarian atheist community — which means that you often take abuse from both believers and a vocal minority of atheists who disprove of linking secularism with larger social issues. Stand strong sister, the numbers are on your side. You belong to the second biggest sub-category of non-believers, making up 23 percent of non-believers.

3. Seeker-Agnostic. You embrace the fact that you don’t have the answers — and neither does anyone else! You’re part of a small group — only 7.6 percent of non-believers fit into this category, which tends to be among the least critical of religion as most other groups. You come across as non-committal, which hopefully doesn’t bleed over into your personal life as well, but it might, and you probably get shit for being somewhat of an intellectual coward from other atheists.  Nonetheless, you embrace your uncertainty.

4. Anti-Theist. This group tends to get conflated with all atheists by believers, but they only constitute 15 percent of non-believers. You are the quintessential aggressively angry atheist, who actively seeks out believers to pick a fight with, or at the very least, inform them of the idiocy of their beliefs. Yeah, that was you that posted a tirade of a comment on that New York Times article about the Pope. Personally, you feel that religion is evil, and you’d like to see an end to it on earth.   You may have had a very bad personal experience with religion yourself, and are working some stuff out. Being combative with believers may be helping you establish your own sense of self and right to non-belief, which could be psychologically healthy for you — but perhaps not for those around you.  Many see you as the flip-side of a religious fundamentalist, and that’s probably not the image you’re shooting for. For you, dating a believer would be totally out of the question.

5. Non-Theist.  In atheist circles, you may get referred to as a “shruggie” because you simply shrug when asked your opinion about religion. In such a religious society, it seems nearly impossible (which is why only 4.4 percent comprise this group) not to care much one way or the other, but you’ve somehow managed to remain unconcerned and hang on to your total indifference. Some might find that bubble that you live in rather intriguing — can we come in for a visit?

6. Ritual Atheist/Agnostic.  You planed a Seder meal for Passover, and are already thinking about what you’ll give up for Lent this year with your Catholic friends. Believe it or not, you’re part of the group that scares the living crap out of Christians more than the angry and aggressive Anti-Theists — because they might find themselves sitting next to you at a religious service. You’re part of 12.5 percent of atheists who don’t believe in a higher power, but do appreciate the community aspects of religious tradition and feel some personal betterment from religious rituals enough to continue participating.  Kind of like Edward Norton going to Cancer support groups in Fight Club? Maybe a little.  Just remember, not everyone is participating in these rituals just to meet their personal needs, so be respectful.

While the non-believing community may not feel like it has much community sometimes, with about three-quarters of non-believers falling into the Intellectual, Anti-Theist and Activist categories, that’s a lot of common ground that can be harnessed for good. No one can deny that outspoken atheists are changing the world around us in tangible ways that matter. On the political stage as the intersection of politics and religion confronts us on an every-increasing basis, atheists add an important voice to the dialogue.

Let us know here where you fell on the atheist spectrum.

How can atheists within the non-believing community foster greater communication?

Are you an atheist with religious partner?

We want to hear about it!

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About Val

Valency was born in San Francisco to hippie parents, but is a Chicago girl through and through. Ten years of Catholic school helped her develop a finely-tuned bullshit detector, as well as a love of all sorts of Catholic kitsch. Valency isn't fond of labels. She is, however, fond of embracing her many paradoxes, and walking the fine lines between religion and politics, with an eye turned toward postmodern religion, feminist theology, and challenging patriarchy from inside religious institutions. She lives on the northside with her two daughters and two female cats, and is always looking for more ways increase the estrogen in her household.


2 Responses to “What Kind of Atheist are You?”

  1. I’d say 1 and 5. I don’t mind discussing and/or debating religion, but generally I find those debates and discussions exhausting. No one is going to change my mind about there not being a god, just like I probably won’t change a theist’s mind about there being a god.

    I’m open to dating a theist; it’s generally the theist who has a problem dating an atheist.

    Posted by Courtney | August 8, 2013, 9:10 pm
  2. I’d agree with you that’s it’s not always the non-believer with the “problem” with dating someone with differing beliefs. It could be a deal-breaker for either party.

    Posted by Val | August 10, 2013, 9:36 am

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