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.
They're also well-versed in books and articles about religion and atheism, and prone to citing those works frequently.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Gosh I guess if all the cool kids are atheists then I ought to be one too! Thanks CNN–you've done another terrible job at trying to make me lose my faith! Jesus is LORD!
dont worry williamgoodwin, we all know who's the coolest kid of them all, jesus!!! :/
if your faith is that easily manipulated by an article than you didnt have that much faith in your lord in the first place
There is another type of Atheist, called "forced Atheist". Many people living in Communist countries belong to this group. They may want to believe there is God or at least some sort of Super Power, but they are not expected.
these "forced" atheists, how exactly does that work? "you say you are an atheist, or ELSE!!" if they are not expected to be believe in a god, what is stopping them from wanting to? you make no sense. if anything comes close to "forced", it's the religious indoctrination that is going on with children.
You probably haven't asked the right questions to answer this, but I wonder if there's a pattern and connection, and evoloution, between the different "types" as different phases of growth.
or personality types.
Absolutely right. There is a pattern for evolving atheist belief, and I quickly touch on it in the above comment.
1-2-4 are usually the same group, myself included.
Non-theists actually seem to be the majority among atheists I know, that would also make sense given the usual proportions between more and less dedicated members of any community or cause. They need a bigger sample. How were the people chosen anyway? Looking for atheists explicitly would seem to cause massive under-representation of non-theists.
The six main types of atheist is clearly not a scholarly work. There are also atheists who believe we naturally continue, and this group is the fastest growing amongst atheists. I project it to represent the majority of atheists within several decades and then go on to successfully outcompete the largest world religions.
HAHAHA I actually KNOW one of the researchers because he was my teacher. He almost has his doctorate. I don't know you internet shaman. Did you graduate from high school?
If in your mind knowing someone equates to them being right and not knowing someone equates to them being wrong then it is your intellect that is in question- not my education level. And how do you explain away such a glaring omission and still think it a scholarly work?
Perhaps a closet atheist group #7 is needed, as well. This person could keep his or her views quiet. Perhaps they do not want the prejudice common against atheists, or feel that others should make this mental journey themselves, but who adamantly feel that religion is a crutch and God/gods are not real. This person might have type #1 views, but would not be a debater or confrontational in any way. #5 is a quiet atheist, but the closet atheist #7 (still not exposing his/her views) wishes everyone were atheist, able to face the world and take the existential and humanistic challenge, but knows that most people are not willing to challenge their strong beliefs and need for religion. (This is a shortened version of a very long idea about the psychological needs for religion in the world and the fact that many people do not examine their lives or opinions.) The closet atheist may also realize that religion cannot be ignored, since the majority of the world is religious, so would look at the historical importance of religions and not ignore religion as in #5. I believe this is another category to add to your other 6.
Any of these "types" can be in the closet.
Here is 1 type of Real and Sincere Invitation to the 6 types of atheists.
For GOD is absolutely Real.
UNIVERSAL MAGNIFICENT MIRACLES
I'd like to say "Nice try!", but that effort wasn't even that.
We are entering the beginning of the end of the domination of theism in society. Call it an "Age of Reason" or "An Intellectual Awakening" but it is happening.......and it is divine......Pun intended
I think we should call this new age the age of justice, and for good reason. It will involve finding a state of highest equilibrium between two sentient ideals in reasonability and desirability; this kind of justice.
I guess I'm a #6 atheist but a category doesn't really cover me. I'm a non-dogmatic religious atheist. I come at atheism from a scientific background. Once you understand how unlikely your own birth is, it's hard to believe in any God, let alone a personal God. That particular sperm from a particular male happened to combine with that particular egg from a particular female to make this person who lives on a tiny planet that spins around a small sun in the suburbs of a modest galaxy which is one of billions of other galaxies. Being a speck of dust on a speck of dust on a speck of dust doesn't bode well for a God to be involved. But as a scientist, I revel in the incredible odds of my existence within an amazing universe that is so beyond awesome that there are no words to describe, nor any human alive who can fully understand just how awesome the universe is. That is my religion. About 20 years ago they did a survey of Canadians and their religious beliefs and based on their findings, they came up with two categories for atheists. One was called a religious atheist. That's what I am. I grew up in a church and I understand spirituality which I think is important for people. I also observe that churches offer a sense of community and support to people which is incredibly important. That is their most positive aspect. I sometimes wish I could belong to a church so that I could be a part of a community but I just can't get past the religious requirements. I am completely non-dogmatic. Part of being an atheist means thinking for myself. When I was a graduate student, someone tried to start an atheists student organization and I had no interest in signing up. For me, being an atheist was about going against the grain, not belonging to groups who told me how I should believe as an atheist. It's about independent thought. I'm also very compassionate about people and animals and do whatever I can to help others. Which is proof that you don't have to be religious to be a good person. Some of the worst people in history have done their evil deeds under the pretext of religion. And I respect the religious beliefs of others Because ultimately, atheism is another belief system and since the non-existence of God is as impossible to test scientifically as the existence of God, then really, my lack of belief is no more justified or unjustified than the next persons. So call me a religious atheist.
Hey, sjcork, I'm with you, bud, another Canadian who has found that he cannot believe in a supernatural being but stands in awe of the wonder of the Universe. Don't know where you are, but you would probably find a welcoming home at West Hill United Church in Toronto, where Rev. Gretta Vosper has created a vibrant community that celebrates creation without involving God.
How is atheism a belief system? Please elaborate.
I guess I should have just said belief since atheism isn't organized like a religion. I don't believe in God. Some do. It comes down to an unprovable belief, either way. To Uncle Benny, I grew up in Toronto but have lived in the U.S. for many years. If you have found a church where it's OK not be believe in God, I think that's very rare. I'm happy to hear that you have found a church that fits you.
Nearly any Unitarian Universalist church is a place those who don't believe in Jesus or a personal God but do believe in the wonder of the Universe would feel comfortable.
I also fail to see how it's a belief, it's a rejection of a specific belief.
A rejection of a specific belief can still be a belief. I don't think there is a God but I'm not so dogmatic to demand that everyone else think so too. We're all trying to find our own way in this world. What we know and believe comes from our own personal experience. Everyone is different. I only hope that whatever one believes, that they came to that belief after a lot of thought and questioning. If it leads you to God, fine. If it leaves you to believe there isn't a God, fine too. What I don't like is anyone who blindly believes in God or doesn't believe in God without any serious thought or questioning. As I said, I'm a non-dogmatic religious atheist. My beliefs are important to me. If you don't share them, fine. Your beliefs are important to you. It is not for me to tell you that you are wrong if you came to your beliefs through your experiences. An ant's reality is very different from a bird's which is very different from an elephant's. It's all a tiny piece of a huge, unknowable puzzle. Some people interpret that as the existence of a divinity. I just revel in my own personal nanoscopic existence.
sjcork, you are part of what i believe to be a very specific group of "atheists", i will leave it to the experts to give us a name. I too, was raised in a religious family, and of all that could be said, the end result is the same. I see the value of moral, ethics, and law, I see the inefficiency of anarchy, greed, corruption and apathy. I'm not from Canada, but I think Rush, and Neil Peart's literary work in particular, are awesome. Sadly, I'm from Arkansas. I did live most of my life in a trailer. God, guns and cows, lol. Irish, blue collar redneck. I was even nicknamed bubba. I'm not kidding. But I just could not help but to see the hypocrisy, the fallacy, the inconsistency. You know, the one good thing about being "down here"... in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.
I've lived in Maryland for the past 18 years. It's not the heart of the bible-belt but it's much more outwardly religious than growing up in Canada. Canadians tend to be more quiet about their beliefs. Perhaps that's why I consider myself to be non-dogmatic. I would think it must be quite difficult sometimes as an atheist surrounded by people who are very vocal about their belief in God.
Prayer changes things .
The Bible is full of God killing children.
Read one someday.
But, the Hebrews prayed for those babies to be killed, right?
(Psalm 137:9) “May the Lord bless everyone who beats your children against the rocks!”
How do you get from a man's prayer for the Lord to bless something to a God who kills children?
Why, by the way, as an atheist do you have something against killing children? Dawkins after all would say that the universe doesn't owe you happiness, comfort, etc. and I would add to that justice or kindness. What is, simply is! You can't even say What is, is right – because right suggests that there is a standard for measuring the progress of human history. You have no reason to say it is wrong if there is no God. For all of these things atheist are dependent on the fact that people have been influenced by God's law, the golden rule – given by Jesus Christ, etc, in order to experience any kind of moral outrage over your suggestion about "killing children."
I don't believe in God, but nonetheless feel this is an accurate statement. Typical atheism is unhealthy in that it fails to state anything desirable or joyful. What we want is a hopeful reality. Having said that- theism is not the answer, for joy if partaken of non-truth is equally unhealthy for children (and adults).
be a humanist then
I don't see anything really promising in Humanist doctrine, apart from some good ideas on morality. These groups tend to be overrun by hardline skeptics with no concept of or intent to infuse joy. Thanks, though.
Your statement that atheism is unhealthy is way understated. It is much, much more than just unhealthy. Forgive me for quoting the Bible but is says that the fool said in his heart there is no God. Atheists are indeed fools because they do not see the implications, the logical conclusions of what they are saying. Atheists do not give a definition for God for good reason. They would then have something to negate. This is too much for them. A little help! God is love. God is righteousness. Where there is no God there is none of these. Love and righteousness is God manifesting himself into the world. There is always some degree of these present even in the worst conditions due to preventive grace – God sends rain to the just and the unjust. If God withdrew his presence – the world would be a very, very dark place indeed. So Dawkin's suggestion that the supernatural (by that I think he means God, however weak that description may be) adds nothing to the universe, is wrong.
Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.
An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.
The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!
I don't think you understand prayer. God is not a genie who is at our command....to make all our wishes come true. God tells us His purpose for prayer is to help us remember just Who is in charge. We forget over & over again if we are not reminded from time to time. Self-centeredness seems to be our default. God doesn't say not to seek medical care....in fact there are many surgeons & nurse's who invite God into the operating rooms....through prayer. Religion is supposed to "represent" God, not "replace" Him. Sometimes it doesn't do a very good job I'm afraid.
"Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things"
That's why the data, has shown that atheists have happier and healthier lives than conservative Christians. Your post is built on a lie!!
6, 5, 2 and I'm an ESTJ. So there's that.
I struggle with my faith - I suppose I am a "seeker-agnostic" since I cannot sustain the level of genuine conviction that makes one a genuinely religious person.
However, I strongly oppose those atheists who aggressively seek to deny others the consolation of their beliefs.
I confront these types of atheists on internet forums often, and remind them that they are as much "believers" (in their unprovablely-negative faith that there IS NO higher power) as are any other people of faith.
This always sets them off. However, it's really the only logical position. We can be certain of nothing until death finally takes us.
Shouldn't you just as strongly oppose those believers who aggressively seek to deny others the consolation of their non-belief? Many people are relatively happy until some religious person convinces them that they're actually miserable without their Savior, or other beliefs. Why not also target those church signs viewable to the entire public that condemns non-Christains, and judges them unworthy of something like heaven? If atheists who voice their opinions publicly offend you, then a lot of Christian behavior must really upset you a lot more.
Are you agnostic about Skeletor?
Yup, think of how many millions of people were perfectly happy with their lives and beliefs before missionaries ever reached them.
You must be having huge knowledge about faiths and other stuffs which may have made you what you are today.
How do you define the truth? because 2 or more can not be true but just 1... out of these thousands or millions of understanding about faith how would you chose the truth? I am for sure that you are intellect enough to find the truth...
Peace be upon all of you!!!
Education changes things.
One can not exist without other... both are connected to each other... without knowledge you can't be religious and without religion you can't live ur life.... now how you want to live ur life, it varies person to person... some ppl come up with their own listings to follow and some ppl follow others.... now the important thing here is how to identify the truth and follow it...
It's education vs indoctrination, my friend.
The real education has no place of being brainwashed concept... education should elevate ones status in order to be good to others human or creatures....
"The real education has no place of being brainwashed concept... education should elevate ones status in order to be good to others human or creatures...."
Religion is supposed to do that, too. Instead we find people using it to deny equal rights to gays and using it as an excuse to shoot doctors and call people "murderers".
Prayer changes things,
Atheism and religion should not necessarily be regarded against each other. Buddhism doesnt believe in God. Someone asked Gautam Buddha "Does God Exist?" He answered "I dont know. But what I am about to tell you is far greater than the answer to that question"
In fact, Buddhism should not properly be considered a "religion", if by that word we essentially mean "theism", which I submit is how religion is normally understood - or ought to be. Otherwise, any philosophy or other mode of thought could be labeled as "religion", and the word loses meaning. For example, some people are fond of asserting that Science or Atheism are also "religions". They are not, for there is no deity in them! In the same sense, neither is Buddhism, though it's a common, erroneous misconception to lump it into that category. That's only a result of the fact that some "populist" caricatures of Buddhism have supernatural overtones, unlike actual Buddhism, which is much more like rational observation of reality.
So, I'm just cautioning against muddying the waters by referring to Buddhism as a "religion". In the proper use of the word "religion" to mean "theism", yes, religion and atheism are definitely opposed. Rationality will win because it has actual explanatory and predictive power - it works, while religion does not.
Consider for a moment the possibility that our time on earth is only scraping the surface of our existence – that their is so much more that our earthly minds are simply incapable of comprehending. Like being a goldfish in a fish bowl thinking that this is all there is, and not realizing that a vast ocean existed outside your window. This is how I liken the atheist mindset. It is simple minded thinking that keeps them imprisoned in their small world because its the only thing their eyes can see. It is nothing less than a tragedy because their small mindedness is preventing them from experiencing the ocean while those who venture to explore beyond themselves are rewarded for their willingness to broaden their minds beyond their limited experiences.
I would actually liken your comments to the theistic mindset. The idea that a book or story is the only possible explanation is very closed and simple minded. Atheists tend to accept that there are multiple answers to any given question and choose the answer that best fits. This is the reason that science changes and grows as we progress and learn more. Atheism is standing on the shoulders of our ancestors with every generation constantly exploring and learning more about the world around us. Theism is sitting in a circle with a book just looking through it for the answers to their questions. It is because of this that science and religion have so much friction because the book is supposedly the word of a deity and cannot be wrong. Therefore atheism starts with a question and searches for an answer while theism starts with an answer and makes questions fit into their model.
As a theist, would you entertain the argument that there must be existences beyond your heaven and hell? How about the idea that God himself will die some day and be judged by his creator? If you insist that we are being closed-minded, then you cannot deny these possibilities, yes?
I appreciate the authors shedding light on our rational alternative. I respectfully suggest, however, you haven't met all types of Atheist. Therefore, I feel it necessary to chime in. I am an Atheist who is very deeply connected with the the Majesty of this very Earth. Our Earth has all the resources necessary to provide an absolute Utopia for all of man and beast. Only Man and his greed and beliefs stands in the way. I've been told that an existence without a belief in an afterlife is "bleak". I respectfully suggest that living a life so arrogant as to suggest that you, a privileged soul, get to somehow live in glory for eternity while others don't. Do mosquitos go to Hell? Does your cat go to hell? I don't have all day so I leave you with just one of countless questions the Bible raises; where were the Chinese while all this creation was happening? In China, that's where. Be Kind, Be Worthy, End of Story.
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.