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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. Thank You Satan

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mhY-CfyL-w&w=640&h=390]

    July 16, 2013 at 10:04 pm |
    • J John

      holly jeez! is that for real? 0.o

      July 16, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
    • Wow

      That was weird.

      July 17, 2013 at 11:10 am |
  2. Stephen

    I notice that most of those that declare they are atheists that have commented above have a common theme; they believe that all Christians are hypocrites. As a devout Christian, I agree with each and every one of you completely. I am a hypocrite. I am a sinner. Those two statements I say without hesitation. There was one, and only one perfect man that has ever walked the Earth, Jesus Christ. A Christian/human being cannot live a perfect life.
    I believe that each and every one of us was made in God's image, even atheists. I respect there point of view and understand there thinking as I have lived as an agnostic myself. I pray for each of you every day of my life. I pray that your hearts will be accepting and your eyes opened. I pray that you will one day find and accept the love of Christ. You will never be sorry or ashamed and you will experience the promise of everlasting life.
    The peace of our Lord be with each of you.

    July 16, 2013 at 10:04 pm |
    • TDM

      Good for you. Good luck trying to convince those that don't believe in ANY gods to believe in yours.

      July 16, 2013 at 10:07 pm |
      • Lawrence

        Well said.

        "I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."...Stephen F Roberts

        July 16, 2013 at 10:21 pm |
    • Austin

      good Job brother!

      July 16, 2013 at 10:09 pm |
    • Ryan

      To me, it has nothing to do with what individual Christians/Muslims/Jews/Hindus/etc do or say, hypocritical or otherwise. The fundamental ideas and the supernatural dogma are where the flaws lie to me. You don't need to believe fantastic and completely unprovable things about reality, the origins of life and the universe and so on in order to be a good person. As humanity's actual provable knowledge progresses, you have to outright reject facts of nature in order to keep believing in the tenets of the major religions. That is not something I am willing to do in any way, shape or form.

      July 16, 2013 at 10:31 pm |
    • Melissa

      The disturbing thing is that you don't find anything arrogant, ignorant and self righteous about what you just said.

      July 17, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
  3. Deborah

    I have the characteristics of 5 out of the six "types". Wonder what that makes me? lol

    July 16, 2013 at 9:57 pm |
  4. Austin

    nice format where did speed read go?

    if moses was disobedient and was not allowed into the promised land, what can you expect from Christians today?

    We are all insane before God, because we choose to sin every day. The topic is God, not people. That is great and mighty topic. There is no one like Jesus.

    July 16, 2013 at 9:55 pm |
    • Tim

      Gandhi, Buddha, MLK, Abraham Lincoln, etc... all like Jesus. Sorry, you're wrong there.

      July 16, 2013 at 9:59 pm |
      • Matthew

        You forgot Criss Angel

        July 16, 2013 at 10:05 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      There is indeed no one like Jesus.

      July 16, 2013 at 9:59 pm |
      • Austin

        when was the last time you heard from "the real Tom"?

        July 16, 2013 at 10:02 pm |
      • Tom, Tom, the Other One

        Real Tom hasn't been on since Daniel the CNN co-editor started acting out against people he didn't care for. Couple of weeks.

        July 16, 2013 at 10:05 pm |
        • Austin

          what? fill me in on that if you have a minute please.

          July 16, 2013 at 10:11 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          Not much to say. Daniel Burke demonstrated his ability to block, edit, rearrange and remove posts at will. After that there was blocking of IP adresses – couldn't post regardless of changes in handle. I was out for only a day or so. Others for longer. Some haven't come back.

          July 16, 2013 at 10:17 pm |
        • Observer

          Real Tom is a very smart person who prefers to insult and name-call rather than debate with facts. She constantly violated the rules for conduct. It's a shame since she has much to offer. Don't blame anyone but her for all the nasty names she called others. Hopefully, she'll be back with a different att-itude and make all the valuable contributions that we all know she is capable of.

          July 16, 2013 at 10:27 pm |
        • OTOH

          Tom, Tom,

          You (and they) were Burked?

          Related to BURKE

          Synonyms
          suppress, cover (up), hush (up)

          Related Words
          black out, censor, gag, muzzle, silence; quash, repress, smother, spike, squash, squelch, stifle, strangle, throttle

          (this is meant to be in the spirit of joshing - please don't send me to Band Camp, Daniel!)

          July 16, 2013 at 10:30 pm |
        • Observer

          Observer
          Real Tom is a very smart person who prefers to insult and name-call rather than debate with facts. She constantly violated the rules for conduct. It's a shame since she has much to offer. Don't blame anyone but her for all the nasty names she called others. Hopefully, she'll be back with a different att-itude and make all the valuable contributions that we all know she is capable of.

          so, u no quite a bit about other posters and y they r banned

          lol

          July 17, 2013 at 1:09 am |
        • Observer

          sam stone is precious

          July 17, 2013 at 1:13 am |
    • TDM

      Assuming one believes. Which is the point of this article: atheists don't. You do. So? YOUR topic is God. Not atheists.

      July 16, 2013 at 10:03 pm |
      • Austin

        on well then we should be able to have a conversation about the reputation of God, instead of the slander about adolf hitler and the crusaders.

        this is a trick.

        July 16, 2013 at 10:07 pm |
    • Vic

      Hebrews 4:15,16
      "15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

      Scripture Is From:

      New American Standard Bible (NASB)
      Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation

      http://www.biblegateway.com/

      July 16, 2013 at 10:21 pm |
      • Austin

        i love the bond we share. Thanks vic!

        July 16, 2013 at 10:29 pm |
  5. sIMON

    3 AND 6

    July 16, 2013 at 9:55 pm |
  6. sIMON

    I'M ON 3 AND 6

    July 16, 2013 at 9:54 pm |
  7. NorthVanCan

    I continued believing in Santa long after I gave up on God.
    Santa gave me stuff.

    July 16, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
    • p

      powerful

      July 16, 2013 at 10:07 pm |
    • p

      powerful!

      July 16, 2013 at 10:09 pm |
  8. NorthVanCan

    ya, what is up with this format?
    I agree with TDM. It blows. Scrap it!

    July 16, 2013 at 9:51 pm |

  9. Why is Saraswati in the penalty box. One of the brightest and most insightful contributors here (not to mention well-mannered).

    And this format does bite big ones.

    July 16, 2013 at 9:51 pm |
    • OTOH

      Why do you say that she's in the penalty box?

      July 16, 2013 at 9:55 pm |

    • You can see that Saraswati posts, but the posts don't appear anywhere. She complained about it earlier today.

      July 16, 2013 at 9:58 pm |
      • OTOH

        Hmmm, well, the "Recent Posts" links are not working, but I haven't see the problem you mention. I'll watch for it.

        July 16, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
        • u

          u do that

          July 16, 2013 at 10:04 pm |
        • u

          u do that

          !

          July 16, 2013 at 10:06 pm |
        • OTOH

          Heh... like it'll do any good..(other than maybe finding that nobody is being targeted - yeah, this format is nuts!)

          July 16, 2013 at 10:06 pm |
        • d

          preach it

          ur lawsuit

          July 16, 2013 at 10:12 pm |
        • p

          Powered by WordPress.com VIP
          | Part of Part of CNN LIVING
          As long as you make no attempt of any kind to impose your religious beliefs or values on anyone else couldn't care less what comforting fairytales you choose to believe

          July 16, 2013 at 10:14 pm |
        • p

          Powered by WordPress.com VIP

          As long as you make no attempt of any kind to impose your religious beliefs or values on anyone else couldn't care less what comforting fairytales you choose to believe

          July 16, 2013 at 10:15 pm |
  10. Karen

    I am a non-theist. Religion plays no role in my life whatsoever. It does not register in my worldview; in fact, I often feel surprised when other people feel the need to interpret issues/events from a faith based perspective. Although I am intellectually curious about many experiences and points of view, I can honestly say that I have no curiosity about religion or it's rituals, although my job does require me to be aware of them at times and respect other individuals or groups relationship to the spiritual. Although I am firm in my perspective, I do not have a particular inclination to preach the word of atheism, as religion seems to fill a need in many people's lives (one that I wish were better filled with reason and action over a hope and a prayer). From time to time, I am open about my atheism in that I refuse to pretend a belief in god simply to make other comfortable. I take activism only as far as correcting inaccurate information about what atheism is or what we believe (i.e.: last year I clarified to a peer that no, atheists as a rule do not hate god because we cannot hate something that we do not believe exits).

    July 16, 2013 at 9:47 pm |
  11. Jessica

    Growing up I was definitely a non-theist. But I think the internet has made me into an anti-theist.

    July 16, 2013 at 9:44 pm |
  12. Tim

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9fC3flXY5g&w=640&h=390]

    July 16, 2013 at 9:44 pm |
  13. Glenn Parker

    There's really only one type of atheist: deceived.

    July 16, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
    • Observer

      Glenn Parker,

      There seems to be only one kind of Christian: hypocrite.

      July 16, 2013 at 9:43 pm |
    • Really Now

      Should be easy for you to provide evidence of such a claim. Let's hear it, Mr. Ad Hominem.

      July 16, 2013 at 9:43 pm |
      • Tim

        You use your rhetoric for harm, not good. THAT'S being a hypocrite. You have NO idea who Christ was because you sure as hell don't act like him.

        July 16, 2013 at 9:48 pm |
    • Observer

      Probably no Christian believes everything in the Bible, but they trash others for not believing everything. Just hypocrisy.

      July 16, 2013 at 9:45 pm |
  14. TDM

    This format blows. Scrap it.

    July 16, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
  15. jack

    We are all atheists. Some believe in one less god than the others.

    July 16, 2013 at 9:35 pm |
  16. Mario

    I'm an Anti-Theist, however, I don't think I am ALWAYS confrontational about it.
    I only get that way when a believer scoffs at me for asking me my opinion.
    So many people always asume I am Catholic, or Christian and immediately label me so during religious or philosophical discussions.
    ie: "Well I follow Islam, and I know he's Jewish, and you're probably Catholic..."
    NO! No I am not! Stop asuming this crap!
    Theists, in my experience, are USUALLY ignorant.

    July 16, 2013 at 9:33 pm |
    • JimK57

      Mario you are doing the same thing you hate done to you.

      July 16, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
      • Athy

        No, he's not.

        July 16, 2013 at 9:42 pm |
      • TDM

        How? he doesn't assume anything about the other people; why do they assume things about him? They assume he's Catholic...why?

        July 16, 2013 at 9:59 pm |
  17. humpty

    I believe a great man said "When I does good I feels good and when I does bad I feels bad and that my religion"
    I 'm with him.

    July 16, 2013 at 9:33 pm |
    • Really Now

      Abraham Lincoln did not speak ebonics.

      July 16, 2013 at 9:36 pm |
  18. Joe

    An agnostic is not an atheist and an atheist is not an agnostic! I bitterly resent the claim that an agnostic is an atheist!

    July 16, 2013 at 9:32 pm |
    • devin

      As a theist I would concur. Were it not for the christian narrative, I would readily embrace agnosticism. Atheism, not so much.

      July 16, 2013 at 9:48 pm |
      • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

        How do you distinguish the two?

        You believe in God, or you don't.

        Except for those who truly cannot form an opinion, agnosticism is largely the recognition that you cannot prove the non-existence of anything. An agnostic atheist is one who doesn't believe in God but cannot prove non-existence. (This is pretty common since the statement is wholly logical.)

        July 17, 2013 at 11:24 am |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Theism and atheism deal with belief or lack of belief.
      Gnosticism and agnosticism deal with knowledge of spiritual matters.
      Most atheists, like me, are agnostic atheists because they neither claim to have spiritual knowledge nor do they believe in any gods. It's similar to how a woman can be a wife and a mother at the same time because they are two completely different things.

      July 17, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
    • G to the T

      They are different, but related.

      I'm an agnostic atheist. I don't believe there's enough evidence (nor will there every probably be) to prove/disprove the "god" concept (agnostic). That being said, I don't have a belief in god (atheist).

      If evidence was ever provided I would be a gnostic theist. See?

      July 18, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
  19. Question for Atheists

    Why can't a person "Cherry pick" there philosophies? Why would that make a person a hypocrite, or what law is there that one can't. You chose "none" shouldn't others be allowed to pick and choose what they want and what they don't want?

    July 16, 2013 at 9:31 pm |
    • Question for Atheists

      Sorry "their" philosophy

      July 16, 2013 at 9:32 pm |
    • Basically

      If you are picking and choosing what you want to believe, then you are creating your own god. And thus it is an invention, imagined, and clearly not real. You can go with it if you like, but it's obviously your imagination.

      July 16, 2013 at 9:34 pm |
    • Question for Atheists

      Fair enough. I've always looked at it like a big game of "what if" for the most part.

      July 16, 2013 at 9:38 pm |
    • Observer

      Question for Atheists,

      You can't cherry-pick from the Bible without being a hypocrite. If you are telling someone to do something "because the Bible says so", you'd better believe all of it.

      The best example of hypocrites is Christians telling others they are going to hell for not believing everything in a book that they don't believe everything in themselves.

      July 16, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
      • Austin

        well it is a bit tacky, but no one is saved until they die and are judged. they are still working out their salvation,and they should direct you to do the same .

        no one can believe everything in the bible and never sin again, but anyone can believe everything in the bible that is true, which is probably all of it. If God can resurrect and have three forms, He can orchestrate the Bible perfectly.

        Could He not if He were God?

        July 16, 2013 at 9:45 pm |
        • Observer

          Austin

          "no one can believe everything in the bible and never sin again, but anyone can believe everything in the bible that is true, which is probably all of it."

          So when you tell people to do something "because the Bible says so", it's because YOU know what is true and they don't.

          Exactly my point. It's all pick-and-choose hypocrisy.

          July 16, 2013 at 9:59 pm |
      • Question for Atheists

        Why would I tell anyone what to do except for not tell me what to do? Furthermore why just the Bible there is the Gita, the Torah, the Tao te Ching and so on. I like some of this and some of that.

        July 16, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
      • Question for Atheists

        I don't know much about the bible but the whole "Judge not lest ye be judged" I remember that one.

        July 16, 2013 at 9:54 pm |
      • Austin

        don't judge someone , but their deeds are all ready categorized by God. a sin is a sin.

        July 16, 2013 at 9:59 pm |
  20. Jeffc

    I may not have the answers, but at least I've grown wise enough to know that I don't know.
    That said, any belief system that insists on strict universality, regardless of the desires of the individual, is corrupt and not worthy of being followed.

    July 16, 2013 at 9:28 pm |
    • Austin

      do you believe that your name is Jeff? is that a system? is a photograph of you a system or a fact?

      July 16, 2013 at 9:31 pm |
      • Really Now

        Do you believe in demon squish-kitties?

        Are you a midnight amateur church-drive-through installer?

        July 16, 2013 at 9:38 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.