And are there more types than these?  This is apparently from sociological research out of the University of Tennessee, but I'm reporting from the Salon article.  The researchers identified six categories of non-believers in the U.S., with estimates of their relative size.

1. Intellectual Atheist/Agnostic. By far, the most common kind of non-believer, at nearly 38 percent. This group enjoys intellectual discourse, and while they’re often very certain about their beliefs, they’re not belligerent about it. These types often get mistaken for dogmatic atheists, however, because they have a tendency to join skeptic’s groups or otherwise find avenues to discuss non-belief with others. However, as researchers note, these non-believers “associate with fellow intellectuals regardless of the other’s ontological position."  They like debating religion, but aren’t particularly interested in chasing down believers to give them a hard time.

2. Activist. This group also gets commonly accused of being dogmatic, but like the intellectual atheist, while they’re firm in their beliefs, they’re intellectually flexible and don’t prioritize attacking believers. Instead, they are motivated by a strong sense of humanist values to make change in the world, often making related issues—such as feminism, gay rights, or the environment—a priority over simply advocating atheism. They are the second biggest sub-category of non-believers, making up 23 percent of non-believers.

3. Seeker-Agnostic. This group, which makes up 7.6 percent of non-believers, are unlikely to be as critical of religion as most other groups. They prioritize not-knowingness. If you ever come across people saying, “I don’t know, but neither do you!” regarding religious belief, you’re dealing with a seeker-agnostic. They don’t really believe in anything, but they are uncomfortable committing to non-belief completely.

4. Anti-Theist. This group tends to get conflated with all atheists by believers, but they only constitute 15 percent of non-believers. Like the Intellectual Atheists, they like to argue about religion, but they are much more aggressive about it and actively seek out religious people in an effort to disabuse them of their beliefs. While most atheists limit themselves to supporting a more secular society, anti-theists tend to view ending religion as the real goal.

5. Non-Theist. They don’t believe in any gods, but don’t think about those who do very often. In such a religious society, simply opting out of caring much about religion one way or another is nearly impossible, which is why this group is only 4.4 percent of non-believers. “A Non-Theist simply does not concern him or herself with religion,” researchers explain. In some skeptical/atheist circles, this group is disparagingly referred to as “shruggies,” because they simply shrug when asked their opinion on religion.

6. Ritual Atheist/Agnostic. This group, making up 12.5 percent of atheists, doesn’t really believe in the supernatural, but they do believe in the community aspects of their religious tradition enough to continue participating. We’re not just talking about atheists who happen to have a Christmas tree, but who tend to align themselves with a religious tradition even while professing no belief. “Such participation may be related to an ethnic identity (e.g. Jewish),” explain researchers, “or the perceived utility of such practices in making the individual a better person.”


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Liking unicorns, is not the same as 'believing' in them. I wonder if 'liking' atheism more, over chocolate cake, could be a #7 group? I guess I would be between #1 & #6, but would rather not dwell on it too long...  

Would 'wishy-washy' be group #8, with only about 3 members on the planet at one time? Another member of the 'rounding errors' class...?

I'm an activist, very slightly verging on anti-theist. I won't actively seek out theists to try and convert them (mainly because I don't want them to do the same to me) but I do believe a world without religion all together would be a much better one, provided that the gap left by religion is replaced with a basic understanding of valid human morality, a skeptical perspective, and an eagerness to learn.

I'm the type who doesn't believe in gods.

Ditto that .

As far as one could BE a type of atheist as an identity, I don't really fit into any of these types.  Organizing atheists is like herding cats and I would imagine organizing us into rigid groups would be just as problematic. Much of what is described in those descriptions are more or less behaviours as opposed to types.  I often act like what is described in types 1-5.  When I lived under my parents' roof, I could be described as type 6 as well.

There is a time and a place for all of the traits described.  

I don't believe the researchers are making a claim that the types are static.  I shortened the descriptions considerably from the original article, and if I recall correctly some of the "types" were associated with timeframes, like one or the other was more prevalent shortly after "deconversion", or more prevalent while atheists were living in culturally hostile locations like the former Confederate states in the U.S.

Interesting post.

Of course some here have interpreted this as an attempt to define sects of atheists and point out that this is absurd (which it would be if that were the intent)... but I think they misconstrue the point, which is to enumerate different ways in which the atheism affects someone's behavior.

I tend to vary all over the map.  Sometimes I get furious at the goddamnfucking fundamentalists and their constant, relentless, evil attempts to impose their horseshit on everyone else.  (*waits for pulse rate and blood pressure to return to normal*) but I try to remember that, just as we get caricatured as *all* fitting in the very worst part of category 4, we should NOT caricature the theists the same way.  Many is the time when one theist at work would very quietly tell me that so-and-so was way off the deep end.

I do have my moments of category 4--but it's not category 4 on the offense.  I don't go buttonholing people in the street spreading the gospel of no gospel.  But I do get furious at the fundies' depredations and I do think the world would be better off without them.

But I do get furious at the fundies'

Us too, sometimes.

Apparently not enough to do anything about them...

What exactly would you like us to do about them?  Summon the Inquisition?  Even in its heyday, the Inquisition only applied to Catholics.

All we can try to do is educate.

Professor Bob, is this an attempt to divide & conquer we silly atheists?

Atheist has become  yesterday's label to me. I strongly prefer Freethinker.


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