They Needed a Study?

Atheist Study Reveals That Non-Believers Are Just As Varied As People Of Faith

We also eat, drink, sleep, and use the can.  True facts.

Snarkiness aside (for a moment), the article goes over the results from a recent study done by researchers at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, which shows that the range of mindsets and world views among atheists are about the same as those of believers … thus substantiating something we’ve said for years:  atheist is one position on one issue, and the rest is up to the individual.

At this point in time, six primary “types” have been identified by the study, but the authors admit that this is a first pass and the next iteration a generation from now may reveal as many as 32 in total.  Here’s the rundown, with the description of each taken right from the article (more detailed descriptions are given at the authors’ website):

  • Intellectual Atheist/Agnostics (IAA) – defined by the report as “individuals who proactively seek to educate themselves through intellectual association, and proactively acquire knowledge on various topics relating to ontology (the search for Truth) and non-belief.”
  • Activist Atheist/Agnostics (AAA) – found to be the least narcissistic [couldn't you have said "most selfless"?  Seriously??] atheists with the highest degree of community involvement, often in issues of social justice.
  • Seeker Agnostics (SA) - characterized as the happiest slice of non-believers. They see themselves as non-believers open to possibility when it comes to belief.
  • Antitheists – defined by their belief that religion is a destructive force in society, and rate highest in levels of anger and dogmatism, according to the survey results.
  • Non-theists- the most non-active group when it comes to religious or anti-religious pursuits.
  • Ritual Atheist/Agnostics (RAA) – who “find utility in tradition and ritual. For example, these individuals may participate in specific rituals, ceremonies, musical opportunities, meditation, yoga classes, or holiday traditions.”  Silver and Coleman observed that many U.S. Jews fit into the model of this group [no surprise here].

I’m honestly more than a little confused at these classifications.  If you’re going to start setting up some kind of taxonomic nomenclature for atheists, I think the first thing you’d want to do is make sure there’s some degree of mutual exclusivity to the individual categories.

For example, I personally see myself in a number of these descriptions.  I’d like to think of myself, in part, as an intellectual atheist because I do a good deal of reading on the topic of religion in public life (specifically for this blog) as well as speaking with people who hold beliefs similar to mine to discuss how to best live and interact among a majority of believers of varying intensity.  I’d like to be more of an activist in the context of doing charity work, but really the only things I do now are boost the signal if something I read about comes along that demands attention.  I really don’t see myself as a seeker.  I understand the need for some people to believe, but I don’t do it myself.

As for anti-theism … I’ll let you guess the answer to that.  Truth be told, I really don’t have much of an issue with most people and their beliefs.  It’s human nature to believe in something divine or supernatural, and even if I don’t agree with them philosophically, I’m not going to be knocking on doors, telling everyone how much their religion sucks and to convert to atheism.  That said, I do believe that on a long-term, absolute scale, religion is a significantly negative force in the world.  All of the good things that can be done through religion can be done by way of another mechanism that doesn’t involve a fanatical devotion to some figurehead or irrational idea of creation or the afterlife.  The funny thing is that I used to be a non-theist.  For most of the “believing” American public, I still am, since the majority of Christians in this country accept science pretty readily and have a decent enough understanding of the Constitution that they also see a problem with Ten Commandment monuments on our courthouse lawns.  It’s only the vocal minority that has basically turned me into an activist of sorts.

We’ve also talked about the last topic of ritual atheists on and off, both here and in other blogs.  I think there is some merit to the idea of creating an atheist “fellowship” of some form or another, in which we can exchange ideas, host guest lectures, and pull together for charitable purposes like blood drives with a little more cohesion than what exists now in local chapters of various atheist or secular humanist organizations.  That cohesion is one thing we lack as atheists that believers – especially Christians here – do very well.  In that sense, I think there’s a lot we can learn from the model of the church, as long we replace the dogma with rational discussion, eliminate the silly rituals (even if we all eventually end up agreeing on one or two of our own), and keep the focus that some churches have on helping those less fortunate.  Personally, I think I could get something useful and fulfilling out of that … even if I end up not going as often as I should to that either.  Old habits die hard, after all.

Overall, I think the study was interesting, but I’d like to see these ideas fleshed out a little more because of the significant overlap among the groups as I mentioned earlier.  Still, I like the fact that there’s a little more light being shed on atheism and its various subpopulations.

Now if we can only get the average person to trust us a little more …

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3 Responses to They Needed a Study?

  1. I wasn’t too crazy about this “study” and grouping nonbelievers into subgroups. Why are we so religious about labeling people? It’s like taking a multiple choice test. People are just not that simple–they don’t fit neatly into categories. I also feel that, it just defeats the whole purpose of moving away from religion. We’re supposed to be separate, unique people, and these researchers are trying to group us by beliefs again. As you said–there’s a lot of overlap. And people change, too, depending on the day or the circumstances.

    • Amen! Get back in your box! I see some sects of Christianity doing this – like, women, get in the kitchen. That’s your job. Men go earn the paycheck. Etc. There are rules to follow and we’ll stick you in a category that you can never escape from. No growing or changing for you, just keep following us.

    • Definitely. At the very least, though, I can see some good in that it dispels the myth that we’re this one monolithic, faceless entity with a hive mind and a chip on our shoulders.

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