The Tribes of Atheism

by | July 9, 2014

Some of you are probably familiar with this already, but I finally had some time to watch the whole thing, the main lecture lasts about 50 mins, the interesting stuff starting at about 28 minutes in…

It is not the be all and end all, of course, but I found it interesting mostly because it seems to shine a light on a lot of the drama that happens within our little movement.

The tl:dr is that there are 6 (observed) types of atheists(yes, american results, standard grain of salt)

Ritual Atheist/Agnostic
– Those who participate in religion but don’t really believe

– Those who don’t give religion much thought at all

– Those who claim not to know, but think about not knowing alot

Intellectual Atheist/Agnostic
– ‘Academic’ types who like to argue about religion

Activist Atheist/Agnostic
– Social justice minded people

– Those who want religion destroyed… everywhere… in all its forms… forever and ever. Amen.

I should note, I ordered these… from the most connected with religion to the… not so much.
The data seems to show that anti-theism is very different from the others.

As for me, I seem to have made a transition:

Believer – in my early teens
RA – dabbler, also in my teens
SA – late teens
Anti – Early 20s
IAA – Ever since… with some dabbling in Activism

Having moved around a bit, I can see where a lot of the friction comes from. And… well that is also stating my biases.

The Activists are the ‘Social Justice Warriors’ who want change now, and often have a problem with ‘Do nothing’ Academics. When I first got involved in atheism as a movement, I would have lumped the Activists together with the Anti-theists…

But… boy… or golly gee, was that wrong.
I think the feminist flamewar shows they are very different types, even though I think they share what I would call ‘extreme’ disdain for organized religion.

Anti-theists, I think… the often self-described ‘Firebrand’ atheists, tend to be more self-centred than the Activists apparently, which fits in with the ‘free speech’ trollishness that often characterizes their approach to… just about everything they disagree with.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say Activists/Anti-theists probably map to left and right politically, but in more liberal/libertarian ways… as opposed to social conservative.

Anti-theists are also going to be annoyed with pretty much everyone else, especially the ritual and SA types, who they see betraying the cause or being wishywashy accommodationalists. (A view shared by a lot of Activist types too, I think)

The intellectual types are going to want civil argument, ‘don’t be a dick’ above all else, and the Non-theist are probably watching futbol.

I’m not advocating anyone change their position or saying that these groups are definitive. Just found this interesting.

It seems likely to me that people settle into their particular flavour for what they believe are good reasons, but maybe keeping in mind that not everyone thinks the way you do, and that doesn’t mean they are insane, or hateful, means we might be able to get a long a bit better.

My big take away is that where people fit is largely ‘personality’ dependent, as opposed to arrived at by rational/logical/evidence, so MY common sense atheism may clash with yours, as I’m sure it does with most of you.

14 thoughts on “The Tribes of Atheism

  1. billybob

    As a species we certainly like to pigeon hole everything.

    1. Joe Post author

      I’m also somewhat averse to labels myself… but there are definitely different…. camps within atheism, whether you want to talk about it with regards to personality or politics.

  2. Veronica Abbass

    Speaking of classification, I fit the Activist Atheist and Anti-theist classification. I’m proud to be a ‘Firebrand’ atheist

    1. Joe Post author

      Yeah, I would have definitely slotted you into the Anti group.

  3. Ron L

    Veronica, I definitely like “Firebrands” like yourself and you remind me a lot of Madalyn Murray. I’ve always admired her (nice to read in “Every Day…” that Penn feels the same). I’m more of an introverted “Firebrand.” My batteries just don’t last and need to be conserved. I’m more punctuated in my Anti-theism and the other times it runs in the background.

    Have you been told by “the intellectual types”, “don’t be a dick” – similar to what PZ has gone through? How do you respond? I know a few and I still consider them to be good allies. They generally try to avoid me, while I do the opposite.

    1. Veronica Abbass

      Hello Ron L

      I have not been told by “the intellectual types”, “don’t be a dick.” I guess I’m not as famous as PZ, but I’m working on it. I have been called anti-Catholic by a Catholic on Twitter. Does that count?


    2. Joe Post author

      I’d say PZ is more solidly Activist.

      He can certainly be a dick, but he also runs with the ‘safe space’ feminist crowd who demand that you not be a dick…. to certain groups.

      I think the Anti’s are more like Dawkins, if he disagrees with you, he will brand your ass, no matter who you are.

      1. Peter E.

        Joe, you’ve misrepresented Dawkins on these pages so often I’ve come to the conclusion that you must be confusing him with someone else.

        Dawkins fits into the anti-theist slot based on the idea that faith is its clear opposite as anti-theism is grounded in reason. But he has said numerous times that religion should be taught in schools in comparative studies. He has never called for religion’s complete and utter demise. He’s anti-theist in regards to religious belief systems but he wouldn’t try to erase History.

        If in fact you do know who Dawkins is, you have shown yourself to have fallen into the misguided, ‘Dawkins is an angry old man’ camp. This stance only prevents you from really hearing the humility in his words and sharing his awe and wonder of this world. You’re missing out. And Dawkins WOULD let you know it. As Dawkins would say, some beliefs deserve to be ridiculed.

        1. Joe Post author

          The earth spins, the seasons change, but I can always count on you to misrepresent what I have said, in the least charitable way. It is strangely comforting.

          I have no disagreement with the idea that anti-theism is grounded in reason, but I’m not an anti-theist and I think Anti’s overstate their case… because religion makes them angry.

          The difference I see between them and the Activists is about motivation. Anti’s see religion as nonsense and want to eradicate it on that basis, whereas the Activist folks look at how religion is oppressing people, the effects of religion, and since they are fundamentally compassionate people, as opposed to strictly rational, want to eliminate a source of suffering.

          Also, I didn’t say Dawkins was a perfect example, I just said he was more anti than PZ, who I don’t see as Anti at all… based on the definitions from the video.

          Did you watch the video?

          I never said he would erase history.

          “I think the Anti’s ***are more like*** Dawkins”

  4. Tim Underwood

    There is no God, or for that matter, Gods, but really, who cares?
    What I am is an anti Christian.
    I’m not even much of an anti-Judean.
    When Christianity fails, as a historic event, it will take all those other stories down with it.
    The Jews, by in large, only exist as an opposition to the Roman messianic stories. Anyone who reads their tales will be appalled by the content.
    The same holds true for more recent tales such as the Koran.
    It is best to stick to what we know; Christianity is fake.

    1. Joe Post author

      There are 1 billion Hindus on the planet.
      The despicable Hindu caste system has caused huge amounts of unnecessary suffering.

      It has nothing to do with Christianity.

      And the Jews and their nasty little religion predate Rome.


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