Varieties of atheist experience | The Washington Post


There is a link in the full source below to a recent article by Herb Silverman in Free Inquiry God-Talk for Atheists

A recent blog in the London Guardian entitled “The six types of atheist” has created quite a stir among atheists. The six types are based on a study at the University of Tennessee. Curiosity has led many an atheist to consider if he or she really belongs to any of them. Please bear with me, as I explain why I’m not contradicting myself when I call the study both meaningless and constructive.

The so-called six types of atheist, listed here alphabetically, are: activist (vocal about issues), anti-theist (assertive and outspoken), intellectual (philosophical and scientific), non-theist (apathetic), ritual (enjoy culture and ceremony), and seeker(open to different views).

Even the authors acknowledge that separating atheists in this way is arbitrary, and atheists can fall into more than one category. Many atheists prefer different labels, including agnostic, humanist, and freethinker. Depending on context, I put myself in these as well as all six of the atheist categories.

Most of my life I was a non-theist because I didn’t much care about my atheism. I became an activist atheist after moving to South Carolina and learning that the state’s Constitution prohibited atheists from holding public office. I worked for eight years to change that unconstitutional provision. As a curious intellectual who questions all religions, you could call me both a seeker and an anti-theist because I have the audacity to challenge religious belief. I also appreciate some religious ritual through godless Humanistic Judaism.

My biggest disappointment about the study is that it left out the largest category:closeted atheists. They are the elephants in the room and the ones most likely to change the culture by coming out. However, many of them feel they have good reasons not to, including potential ostracism from family and friends as well as loss of income or employment. Another unmentioned category is what I call functional atheists, those who may or may not have vague supernatural beliefs that play no practical role in their lives. They live as if there is no god, just as all atheists do.

An atheist is simply someone without a belief in any deities. But disbelief in gods doesn’t describe individual atheists any more than disbelief in the divinity of Muhammad, Krishna, and Zeus describes individual Christians. Everybody disbelieves in some gods; atheists just disbelieve in more gods than theists do.

Written By: Herb Silverman
continue to source article at


  1. Atheism is not dogma. You can reading RICHARD Dawkin and Michel Onfray. It s different way of atheism, and not (totaly) incompatible. It s just life way and understanding. Just one thing is ok for atheis: God(s) isn tone explanation for this world.
    Fabien M, french athee

  2. You don’t have to want to belong to a group if your an atheist. You just don’t believe in factually unsupported dogma. A ‘christian’, by contrast, usually belongs to one of 36,000+ versions/sects/churches. Its the community feeling that attracts, not the rationality.

  3. I guess it is important to some to get people into groups, sub-sets. And of corse labeling is fun for many. I hate group activities as they usually involve a singular leader. No, I don’t want to get on my knees & fold my hands like everyone else. I think I’ll pass on saluting you just because you have a title.

  4. I found the part of the original article where using a religious cliché like “Jesus Christ” to be problematic for an atheist quite interesting as Christians are opposed to the use of their lords name in vain, which even extends to the non-godly but associated such as saying “Jesus, Mary …. and Joseph” so, if anything, atheist utilization of these religious clichés would be something Christians would frown upon and be considered anti-religious.

  5. I began describing myself as a functional atheist quite some time ago. It doesn’t hurt to let people know where you are coming from.

    Something that struck me the other evening when I saw an ad for the Christian Mingle dating site was that the people going there really don’t have any faith themselves. Think about it, you think that “the Lord” had your “soul mate” picked out but you are going to have to go on the internet and pay to find them?

    I laughed

    • Christian Mingle is exactly the for profit kind of bullshit that some people of faith engage in that should demonstrate (to them) just how lacking their belief system actually is. “Find God’s match for you”… What? You do not have the faith that God would pair you without a pay service?

      Same fuckin thing as that plate being handed around every Sunday morning.

      BTW,the small catholic parish that my wife patronizes publishes their weekly fleecing. They average $17,000 a week. That is almost $900,000 a year in tax free money.

      According to the USCCB website (United States office of Catholic Bishops), there are18,992 parishes
      If I round the number of parishes up to 19,000 and the average haul at 1 million a year, you see that America generates
      19,000,000,000 dollars a year in tax free money for the CEO of this government sanctioned pyramid scheme. Who then shuts down schools and parishes and somehow manages to have part of his domain declare bankruptcy a week before sex abuse victims file an 88 million dollar lawsuit (see Baltimore Archdiocese Sex Scandal and 7 OTHER INSTANCES). How the fuck on earth is this true or fair or LEGAL???? Oh, that’s right the politicians who are busy snorting every drug they can find and fucking everything that moves protect the religious and vice versa. The difference being the “holy men” are fucking children and the politicians are fucking the rest of us.

      There are a couple assumptions there (one is that I live in an average grossing parish)… Also, we are not including universities, hospitals, or the 8,000 school that they run at roughly $3,000 a student.

      Wow, Sorry, I went off there… Gotta reel it in.

      In reply to #9 by wdbailey:

      I began describing myself as a functional atheist quite some time ago. It doesn’t hurt to let people know where you are coming from.

      Something that struck me the other evening when I saw an ad for the Christian Mingle dating site was that the people going there really don’t have any faith themselv…

  6. Christianity works off the donation system where the plate is passed. In the church my parents went to the church mails envelopes with your name printed on it to the people who are registered as members of the congregation. You are expected to put your contribution in the envelope and place it in the plate with the expectation that bills, or checks, would go in the envelope, and, since it had your name on it you would be embarrassed if you gave too little, plus, they could track your donation and approach you with a friendly suggestion if they felt you weren’t giving enough.

    Judaism requires a percentage of your yearly income declared each year plus you have to pay a fee for your seat in the Synagogue on the high holy days.

    Jehovah Witness also require a percentage of your income but have their own twist as they make you buy the equivalent in pamphlets that you then try to get people to buy (with donations) at an slight increase so they can try to make their money back..

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