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July 15th, 2013
02:50 PM ET

Behold, the six types of atheists

By Dan Merica, CNN

(CNN) - How many ways are there to disbelieve in God?

At least six, according to a new study.

Two researchers at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga found that atheists and agnostics run the range from vocally anti-religious activists to nonbelievers who still observe some religious traditions.

“The main observation is that nonbelief is an ontologically diverse community,” write doctoral student Christopher Silver and undergraduate student Thomas Coleman.

“These categories are a first stab at this," Silver told the website Raw Story. "In 30 years, we may be looking at a typology of 32 types.”

Silver and Coleman derived their six types of nonbelievers from 59 interviews. We're pretty sure we've spotted all six in our comments section.

1) Intellectual atheist/agnostic

This type of nonbeliever seeks information and intellectual stimulation about atheism.

They like debating and arguing, particularly on popular Internet sites.

(Ahem.)

They're also well-versed in books and articles about religion and atheism, and prone to citing those works frequently.

2) Activist

These kinds of atheists and agnostics are not content with just disbelieving in God; they want to tell others why they reject religion and why society would be better off if we all did likewise.

They tend to be vocal about political causes like gay rights, feminism, the environment and the care of animals.

3) Seeker-agnostic

This group is made up of people who are unsure about the existence of a God but keep an open mind and recognize the limits of human knowledge and experience.

Silver and Coleman describe this group as people who regularly question their own beliefs and “do not hold a firm ideological position.”

That doesn't mean this group is confused, the researchers say. They just embrace uncertainty.

4) Anti-theist

This group regularly speaks out against religion and religious beliefs, usually by positioning themselves as “diametrically opposed to religious ideology,” Silver and Coleman wrote.

“Anti-theists view religion as ignorance and see any individual or institution associated with it as backward and socially detrimental,” the researchers wrote. “The Anti-Theist has a clear and – in their view, superior – understanding of the limitations and danger of religions.”

Anti-theists are outspoken, devoted and – at times – confrontational about their disbelief. They believe that "obvious fallacies in religion and belief should be aggressively addressed in some form or another.”

5) Non-theist

The smallest group among the six are the non-theists, people who do not involve themselves with either religion or anti-religion.

In many cases, this comes across as apathy or disinterest.

“A Non-Theist simply does not concern him or herself with religion,” Silver and Coleman wrote. “Religion plays no role or issue in one’s consciousness or worldview; nor does a Non- Theist have concern for the atheist or agnostic movement.”

They continue: “They simply do not believe, and in the same right, their absence of faith means the absence of anything religion in any form from their mental space.”

6) Ritual atheist

They don't believe in God, they don’t associate with religion, and they tend to believe there is no afterlife, but the sixth type of nonbeliever still finds useful the teachings of some religious traditions.

“They see these as more or less philosophical teachings of how to live life and achieve happiness than a path to transcendental liberation,” Silver and Coleman wrote. “For example, these individuals may participate in specific rituals, ceremonies, musical opportunities, meditation, yoga classes, or holiday traditions.”

For many of these nonbelievers, their adherence to ritual may stem from family traditions. For others, its a personal connection to, or respect for, the "profound symbolism" inherent within religious rituals, beliefs and ceremonies, according the researchers.

-

The authors of this study have graciously agreed to field questions from our commenters. If you're interested, please post your question below or tweet it to us at @CNNBelief. 

We'll take the best questions to the authors and the Q&A will be posted in a follow-up article. 

Please try to keep your questions related to the study itself.

Thanks,
Daniel Burke

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Holidays • Lost faith • Nones • Spirituality • Trends • United States

soundoff (9,518 Responses)
  1. La Tun

    I happily believe in God.

    July 16, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
    • Ready Freddy

      I happily believe in reality.

      July 16, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
  2. Chris

    Definitely #1. As a study of humanity, I have read all the major religious texts (Bible, Torah, Talmud, Koran, various Vedas and Buddhavacan), as well as studied the prevalent "extinct" ancient religions (Greek/Roman, Egyptian, Norse), to try and grasp an understanding of what commonalities religions reflect across various cultures and time periods. While not personally religious in the slightest, there is a lot to be gleaned from these texts in regards to what drives individuals and societies.

    July 16, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
  3. Paul

    I do consider my self as an athiest because I do believe in god and the afterlife, but I do not believe in organized religion all a preacher’s sermon is his/her interpretation of the gospel as he / she comprehends it. Moreover, if I / you do not believe in his /her interpretation does not mean I / you are going to hell as some will tell you. Therefore, I do not attend church. If you need or want to talk to your god then just do it no matter where you are or what you are doing at the time. He will always listen to you.

    July 16, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
    • Paul

      supposed to be I do not consider my self as an athiest.

      July 16, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      What's an athiest. Is that the most athy you can be.

      No one says you have to be an atheist. You are however, one of the "nones".

      July 16, 2013 at 6:41 pm |
    • The real Methaphor

      That's is very dangerous paul, very dangerous. as a preacher, I need people to use my line to god, they can not just call on their own or someone else will answer on the name of god. that's is why people how to get to god by me. flat 10%.

      July 16, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
      • me

        why are you the only one with a line to God? How did you get that line? through AT&T? A person should be able to talk to God whenever they need to. A person can worship HIM anywhere. it does not have to be in a church! Christian, atheist, agnostic, whatever ... as long as you strive to be a good person, believe in humanity, do not judge others blah blah blah, what does it matter?

        July 16, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
      • me

        Amen!

        July 16, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
  4. JJ

    Number 6. I use to be number 1, but then I found the teachings of Buddhism to be beneficial to my life. Though, I do not believe in any of the supernatural related to it. I meditate daily, and attend a Buddhist temple.

    July 16, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
  5. MEHKOR

    Well you seem to be forgotten the ones who believe in higher power( god, nature you name it) but don't believe in religion

    July 16, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
    • Jay

      what you are referring to is called a deist, what several of the nation's forefathers were.

      This is what atheism essentially was until the dawn of enlightenment.

      July 16, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
    • Polly Purebred

      Absolutely. I was wondering myself where I fit in.

      July 16, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
    • John

      Mehkor – an atheist is, by definition, one who does not believe in a god or higher power. A theist does believe in something.

      July 16, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
    • Ready Freddy

      As religion is the service or worship or god or the supernatural, believing in a higher power is religion. I think you mean "organized religion," and even then, if you are taking any part of your believes from an organized religion, having your own understanding of Jesus for example, then you have accepted enough of the organization to not have escaped that either.

      July 16, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
  6. Desman

    you missed bill maher

    July 16, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
    • Observer

      Bill Maher is NOT an atheist.

      July 16, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
      • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

        We'll let you tell him.

        July 16, 2013 at 6:37 pm |
      • lol??

        He's an old guarde liberal with roots all the way back to Cain and Abel. A veggie like Cain, he stilll thinks it's OK to kill a bro.

        July 16, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
  7. Dvimsi

    I can't really put myself into a box, but since I am a Non-believer, I am therefor an Atheist. My whole family are Atheists, but that does not necessarily mean that I have a short mind, neither does it with any other of my family-relatives. We're very open, my Mom has had amazingly high grades in Religion as a subject in her studies, and have always been very interested and eager to seek into people's mindsets. I know I am. I kind of feel the same eagerness to know what goes on inside other believers minds. Why do they believe? In what do they believe. And where to, do they believe that their faith gets them. Last but not least I respect them for their own faith that is not likely the same as mine, but I devour all the diversity because that's what's beautiful. The right to believe in anything we want. And the respect of it. For me it's all spiritual. But over the years I most definitely started feeling that there is a higher purpose to everything that I can't always be in charge of. I don't know in what category that puts me?

    July 16, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
    • lionlylamb2013

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpvlTVgeivU&w=640&h=390]

      July 16, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
      • G to the T

        AHHHHH IT BURNS!

        July 18, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
  8. cordovarains

    I am a perfect blend of 4 & 6. What do you call that?

    July 16, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
    • 10 / 2 =

      5

      July 16, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
    • lol??

      An average 5??

      July 16, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
    • lol??

      5 it is. Door prizes at the door on your way out.

      July 16, 2013 at 6:33 pm |
  9. lol??

    Gubmint servants that play together, stay together. Voting is a myth.

    July 16, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
    • Elise

      You have a poor understanding of government. Were you homeschooled?

      July 16, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
  10. mai k

    6th. But increasing number of atheists in one religion is not at all balanced. That will lead to bad consequences. Really bad.

    July 16, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      "But increasing number of atheists in one religion is not at all balanced."

      Surely there are zero atheists in any religion. (Excepting Buddhism and that's really a technicality.)

      July 16, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
  11. What if

    What if there is a God just hanging out in a dimension that isn't something we can perceive. What if there's something/someone in the multiverse that we haven't met yet. These thoughts make me wonder.

    July 16, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
    • Ready Freddy

      You may as well wonder if he is having a nice ride on his unicorn as he chases leprechauns.

      July 16, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
    • What if

      What if all these things we imagine actually exist somewhere and we just haven't caught on to that fact yet. What is non-existence exactly?

      July 16, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
  12. Nimba

    I I'm a Non-theist! Number 4. I read that and got really excited that there's an word that actually describes me! YAY!

    July 16, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
    • Jae

      II know, right!?

      July 16, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
  13. Norlynda

    But non-believers will call upon God on their deathbed.

    July 16, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
    • jazzguitarman

      What a silly and immature POV. Just because you worship and fear a spiteful and hateful god doesn't mean others will fear the afterlife.

      July 16, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
      • Jae

        I agree with you! This is always the weakest argument for a "later-on" conversion of Athiests. There is no proof they change their entire way of thinking while on their deathbed. LOL!

        July 16, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
    • Johnny Noir

      I've actually done a number deathbed/passings, and never once did I see that.

      July 16, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
    • Observer

      Norlunda,

      Hoping there is a God is very different from believing there is a God. Learn the difference.

      July 16, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
    • lol??

      If the gubmint sticks a needle in my arm I don't want no robe wearing kooks near me.

      July 16, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
    • MARK

      That is a rumour spread by the religious to make them feel better. It is not true. Which one? Will an islamic call out your god? How about a Hindu? Religion is learned from your parents.

      July 16, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
    • ToxicKomquat

      Live without God in this life, you live without him in the next!

      July 16, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
      • Edward

        I hope that is true....weeeeee!

        September 2, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
    • reincarnato

      Toxick...and the one after that, and the one after that, and the one after that...

      July 16, 2013 at 6:33 pm |
  14. Samantha

    "It's a trap" for all of the intellectuals!

    July 16, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
    • Agnostic monster

      It's all a trap. 🙂

      July 16, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
  15. Lauri Bliss

    If people want to base their lives off of one of the most historically and factually inaccurate books to ever hit print, that is fine. But, I won't tolerate such ignorance being touted as fact. AND, when the kind, loving Christian threatens me with their imaginary hell because I don't believe, it only confirms the conflicting message that book delivers. Your all loving god kills an entire planet because the imperfect beings he made turned out to be imperfect.....Really? You want intelligent people to buy into that?

    July 16, 2013 at 6:16 pm |
  16. TheSportsGuy2015

    As a Christian I believe that: An atheist is an atheist... there is no need to have 6 different types of them.

    July 16, 2013 at 6:16 pm |
    • Ready Teddy

      You must be very blissful Ignorance. Bliss.

      July 16, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
    • Jonathan LeMaire

      With all of the other silly beliefs you hold dear, it's not hard to understand why your mind cannot deal with the reality at hand.

      July 16, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
    • Agnostic monster

      What if he's not ignorant? What if he has already realized that deciding if there is a God or not is in reality a non-provable point and found favor in one religion for his own emotional reasons. Theism is as much an opinion as atheism.

      July 16, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
      • Ready Freddy

        He wasn't commenting on his own beliefs; he was belittling atheists.

        July 16, 2013 at 6:33 pm |
  17. Jonathan LeMaire

    Religion in any form written by man is myth, as man has been writing fiction since writing was invented. All of the stories in the Bible can trace its roots to much older Sumerian, Egyptian, Vedic, and Mithra-tic sources. I believe in the infinite, but mankind's writings do not amount to a tenth of a percent of what the infinite is. What would lifeforms across the galaxy call God and are they wrong too? Looking at the three religions written by warring desert tribes to obtain control of their masses it is painfully obvious to see the fallacy inherent in them. Believers are programmed from birth to never question those fictional words, and even kill to keep their faith intact. Relief from belief is what we need, if God is real it will make an appearance and change our minds.

    July 16, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
    • lol??

      Why do you accept gubmint budgets from your servants??

      July 16, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
  18. Maia

    Wow. I'm shocked that this is news. It's bad enough that CNN has an entire category for "Royal Baby", but now this? What an insult. CNN, let me know when you start reporting news again.

    July 16, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
    • jazzguitarman

      This is a belief blog and not a news website. Are you really that confused and clueless?

      July 16, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
  19. Badda Bing

    I always have found religious people to be number 2.

    July 16, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
  20. Elise

    I really detest this new format with only 10 responses per page.

    July 16, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
    • Ready Freddy

      Agreed. No fan of the new reply trees or the way you end up elsewhere after you post.

      July 16, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
      • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

        nested replies are a big enhancement, but everything else needs to work too.

        July 16, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
        • Ready Freddy

          I'm not enjoying the nested replies, but I imagine I could get used to them. It's definitely not the worst change. I rather figured others liked that part, but I can't imagine anyone liking the rest.

          July 16, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      The worst part is not so much the 10 posts per page but the problems displaying posts correctly – not linking to posts from clicking on recent posts, linking to the top of thread after posting, displaying null pages.

      There are a lot of navigation/display operations that are broken.

      July 16, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
      • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

        Page navigation is off by one page. If a recent post is on page 90, the link is to page 91.

        July 16, 2013 at 8:15 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.