July 15th, 2013
02:50 PM ET

Behold, the six types of atheists

By Dan Merica, CNN
[twitter-follow screen_name='DanMericaCNN']

(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.

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.

Daniel Burke

- CNN Belief Blog

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

soundoff (9,518 Responses)
  1. Himanshu Shukla

    No belief can be considered complete truth (and has to be trusted) unless verified by scientific and statistical methodology. Religion has great influence over our lives not because it is true to its depths but because it is old, organized and well established. Religion is beautiful, elaborate, detailed and mesmerizing but so is the Harry Potter Novels! I bet after finishing a novel or a movie, at least for a moment the most sane and intelligent minds would also think about magic and its beauty. If from now every child were told that there are flying brooms, witches, magic wands and that 'no one' can question this knowledge, Harry Potter would become the new Christ.
    I learn. No matter how ridiculous, religion is man made. There is some Genius in it, here and there. One can learn from it the good things and reject the rest( the evil side of organized religion and faith).
    I don't know where I would categorize myself. I am a pursuer of Science, I am just a truth seeker.

    July 17, 2013 at 4:09 am |
    • lol??

      Science promises a lot. History shows it helps the rich to rule. It even helps the backlash from the mobs.

      July 17, 2013 at 4:34 am |
      • Oregon Jeff

        "Science promises a lot. History shows it helps the rich to rule. It even helps the backlash from the mobs."

        Says a pleb using the Internet.....

        July 17, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
  2. R.M. Goodswell

    Islam.... A guy (Mohammad) didn't like following..so he created his own take on Judaism...he created his own religion just like thousands before him...and thousands after him have done.

    July 17, 2013 at 3:50 am |
    • lol??

      Everybody wants to be the seed of Abraham. Sorry, that promise has been taken by Jesus and His bride, Israel. You must be born again.

      July 17, 2013 at 4:09 am |
      • HotAirAce

        Why must anyone be born again? There's no evidence to support any religious cult. Believers are mentally ill, liars or both.

        July 17, 2013 at 4:40 am |
        • lol??

          Why ask a question if you already have your answer??

          July 17, 2013 at 6:37 am |
        • HotAirAce

          I might have been wrong and thought you might be able to enlighten me. Apparently you can't.

          July 17, 2013 at 7:03 am |
  3. Bilal

    I suggest for you disbelievers to read about ISLAM and all the facts that told and tell about, , beleive me you will find your way there. Remember that ISLAM is perfect Muslims are not.

    July 17, 2013 at 3:40 am |
    • Debbie

      You're delusional. But that's okay. We're all crazy in some way

      July 17, 2013 at 3:48 am |
    • Tyler

      Yeah, you have a problem stemming from your God complex in your brain. It's all chemical man. Biology and science are where you'll find answers not by a philosopher nor a theists.

      July 17, 2013 at 3:51 am |
      • michael

        you will die in your sins. receive Jesus Christ and you will receive the gift of eternal life. all you have to do is receive him

        July 17, 2013 at 5:15 am |
        • Truth Prevails :-)

          You poor gullible fool. Jesus, if he existed, was nothing more than a regular man. Nothing was written about his life until 30-40 years after he apparently died...so outside of the buybull what makes you think anything about him is accurate?

          July 17, 2013 at 5:59 am |
        • sam stone

          "sin" is as much a human invention as heaven, hell and god.

          grow a set and get off your knees, mikey

          July 17, 2013 at 6:51 am |
        • sam stone

          also, mikey, do you seriously desire ETERNAL life?

          i find it amusing that the pious desire eternal life with a being from whom they feel they have to be saved

          sort of a spiritual Stockholm Syndrome

          the all loving god has to have his followers attempt to threaten people into belief

          fvcking slaves

          July 17, 2013 at 6:56 am |
        • Oregon Jeff

          "you will die in your sins. receive Jesus Christ and you will receive the gift of eternal life. all you have to do is receive him"

          Sin is an imaginary disease created to sell an imaginary cure. Thank you for so perfectly illustrating this.

          July 17, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
    • Oregon Jeff

      "Remember that ISLAM is perfect Muslims are not."

      Islam is just as insane as every other religion.

      July 17, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
  4. FreedomAgnostic

    They left out:

    7) Freedom Agnostic

    Believes in Frida and Agnetha, the lead singers of ABBA. Can often be heard saying "Oh My God! Those women are hot!"

    July 17, 2013 at 3:06 am |
    • Diego Rivera

      Frida was the surrealist Mexican painter. The ABBA hotty is Anni-Frid.

      July 17, 2013 at 3:20 am |
      • Diego Rivera

        Ooops, I guess she goes by Frida too. Nevermind.

        July 17, 2013 at 3:24 am |
  5. Meg Pierce

    I consider myself an agnostic humanist. I don't believe that the existence of or lack of a god or gods is pertinent to my life. I believe in helping other people, making the world a better place for today's people and future generations. I am knowledgeable about world religions and think that you can find good and bad in all of the world religions, but when people start advocating one religion over another as being better than other religions or the one true religion, that's when I feel an obligation to point out the nonsensical and negative teachings of religion. I think it's funny how people see God as an insurance policy, they figure it's best to believe and get into the big, exclusive party in the sky, simply because they are afraid of being left out. I am motivated by my love for others rather than my fear of a divine being. I have to admit though, I love holidays, giving presents, Christmas trees, Hannukah candles and chocolate candy, feasting after Ramadan, the Easter Bunny, trick or treating, purple paint and food, Mardi Gras and Carnivale...I love these holidays not for their religious symbolism, but because they bring people together. Only problem is when you bring the people together of a particular religion, well you're leaving all the other people out, and I don't really like that. I don't believe in God's chosen people. If "He" created them all, well why would he like some better than others or punish people for being the way he made them? It doesn't make sense. Plus, whose idea was it that women leak blood once a month, there's no intelligent design in that. 🙂

    July 17, 2013 at 3:06 am |
    • atomD21

      That's great. I firmly believe that God would be far more concerned with how we are helping our fellow humans and improving the world than how many religious things we do. The lack of love and compassion in religion is scary. And yeah, while I'm not a woman, the monthly flow just seems like a mistake...

      July 17, 2013 at 3:22 am |
    • lol??

      humanist:those that worship dried up dust balls, very humorous creatures of the humus on a trip to a purging fire.

      July 17, 2013 at 3:51 am |
    • lol??

      You're griping about a woeman's lunar cycle??

      July 17, 2013 at 3:56 am |
  6. Claudius

    God exists but it is religions that are a problem..

    July 17, 2013 at 3:04 am |
    • Oregon Jeff

      "God exists but it is religions that are a problem.."

      No, the problem is the belief in god(s).

      July 17, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
  7. Anonymous

    I find this quite a funny article because I am a technical atheist who finds himself outside of all of these categories. I personally hold a firm belief in the lack of a good or evil side to anything. I also firmly take to my belief that their may be a religious type eternity, but it will be explained scientifically and that their is no deity that will determine fate and that should be looked to for guidance. Furthermore I find no need–generally–to voice my opinion. This, of course, is an exception because CNN asked me. I find that religion will exist regardless of efforts, so why act outwardly to try and change people. Returning to my form of atheism I do find that religion is simply a man made creation to fill his/her biological and psychological need for a small reproductive group–thus yielding offspring at a higher rate. Religion remains to create a protective barrier and "morals" that will protect the human's drive to stay alive, and possibly prevent death by coming to agreement that it is "wrong" to kill. In a nutshell my belief is strong but not spoken, with no belief in moral doings, and contains the hatred of the church with an overbearing scientific truth.

    July 17, 2013 at 2:56 am |
    • The Reverend Marcus Goodswell

      If you are an atheist im the bloody Easter Bunny:

      "Religion remains to create a protective barrier and "morals" that will protect the human's drive to stay alive, and possibly prevent death by coming to agreement that it is "wrong" to kill. In a nutshell my belief is strong but not spoken, with no belief in moral doings, and contains the hatred of the church with an overbearing scientific truth."

      Try again.

      July 17, 2013 at 3:11 am |
      • Anonymous

        No, that's what I believe. If you don't like it, don't associate with me or my comments. Not really something I have to discuss or "Try Again," it's there to stay.

        July 17, 2013 at 3:20 am |
        • The Reverend Marcus Goodswell

          My apologies...

          I mistook that line for the work of a poe.

          July 17, 2013 at 3:26 am |
      • The Reverend Marcus Goodswell

        my apologies..

        I mistook you for a poe....

        July 17, 2013 at 3:24 am |
        • The Reverend Marcus Goodswell

          having issues with cnn....

          July 17, 2013 at 3:27 am |
    • Oregon Jeff

      "Religion remains to create a protective barrier and “morals” that will protect the human’s drive to stay alive, ..."

      Religion isn't the source of morals, however.

      "... and possibly prevent death by coming to agreement that it is “wrong” to kill."

      We can come to that agreement without religion. In fact, by leaving religion out of the discussion, we can actually reduce the number of justified, immoral deaths that happen.

      July 17, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
  8. Jobin

    I wrote the Tesimony of Women Living in India.

    July 17, 2013 at 2:53 am |
    • Me

      I hope you had a really good editor, because your posts here are stunningly illiterate. And if your posts are any indication, you aren't much in the intellect department.

      July 17, 2013 at 2:56 am |
      • *

        C'mon, Me, it's obvious that English is not Jobin's first language.

        July 17, 2013 at 3:00 am |
        • Me

          Did you perchance read her claim that Europe is in decline, then admit she has never been there and based that assertion on reading newspapers about Greece? Greece isn't mostly secular – it's 81% Christian. She quoted a Christian country as evidence of the declining morality of non-Christian countries.

          July 17, 2013 at 3:08 am |
        • *

          *That's* what she needs to be told and criticized for, Me... go get 'em!

          July 17, 2013 at 3:23 am |
      • Jobin

        Me hope your Intelligence help You in your life.Good Day

        July 17, 2013 at 3:03 am |
      • Jobin

        Me In ur native Jobin is the name given for ladies..

        Do you think being born in a Christian family/country make you a true christian?

        Christian means those who live for Jesus and live a life according to Jesus Words & Life

        July 17, 2013 at 3:28 am |
  9. Vinnie

    I I am definitely a ritual atheist for sure lol any excuse to party 😀

    July 17, 2013 at 2:49 am |
  10. marti

    I can't really explain it, I can only feel it, live it and be content with it. the closest I can describe it is possibly (the force) or the connectedness of everything, the space between. there are no rituals involved except awareness but any ritual would do in order to achieve and maintain focus.

    July 17, 2013 at 2:45 am |
  11. Jobin

    Tim it was in the past..with decling moral Life in Europe region where is the prosperity now..now there is struggling to create jobs or a better life

    July 17, 2013 at 2:43 am |
    • Tim the Enchanter

      I just got back from Europe, and you are totally full of it. Declining morals and less crime. Right.

      You did know that the percentage of women in those secular countries that get abortions is noticeably lower that the percentage of Christian women in America who get abortions? Yeah, lower morality.

      You are lying. Bet you have never even been to Europe.

      July 17, 2013 at 2:52 am |
      • Jobin

        No i didnt visited..

        But read in newspapers.

        Dont tell me newspapers are writing the wrong picture.

        Situations in Greece,Spain...Closing churches...What all this news indicate..

        July 17, 2013 at 2:58 am |
        • Tim the Enchanter

          Too funny. I will let your words discredit you.

          Congratulations on finding the reply button.

          July 17, 2013 at 3:00 am |
        • Oregon Jeff

          "Situations in Greece,Spain…Closing churches…"

          Nothing immoral about closing churches.

          July 17, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
      • Jobin

        Thank You..

        So you started walking from the first day & stared blogging on the day you are born.

        Congrats for that.

        July 17, 2013 at 3:08 am |
  12. chaitanyaiimc

    Reblogged this on Towards Better Life.

    July 17, 2013 at 2:40 am |
  13. GO_GOP

    What matters is atheists are evil. They reject our Lord and will pay the price when the time comes. I think they are not to smart either. They stand to loose everything if our Lord exists but gain little if he does not. I wish we could ban atheism.

    July 17, 2013 at 2:39 am |
    • Mal

      And your hatred of someone for their religious beliefs isn't evil?

      July 17, 2013 at 2:41 am |
    • EscoMedia

      I wish we could ban people who don't know the difference between loose and lose....idiots

      July 17, 2013 at 2:43 am |
    • ActuallyPrettySmart


      July 17, 2013 at 2:49 am |
    • The Reverend Marcus Goodswell

      George H.W. Bush, is that you?

      July 17, 2013 at 2:56 am |
    • Justme

      How very Christian of you.

      July 17, 2013 at 3:03 am |
    • Anonymous

      LeVey satanist over here =D you're stupid =D

      July 17, 2013 at 3:03 am |
      • Anonymous

        Lolz misspelled LaVey, now I feel stupid too =D

        July 17, 2013 at 3:05 am |
    • Oregon Jeff

      "What matters is atheists are evil."

      By what measure? Because we don't believe in your god? You have a peculiar way of describing evil.

      "They reject our Lord and will pay the price when the time comes."

      Yes, we will become worm food, just like everyone else.

      "I think they are not to smart either."

      Based on what evidence?

      "They stand to loose everything if our Lord exists but gain little if he does not."

      And what happens if the one true god is Cthulu? How will your pathetic Christianity save you then?

      "I wish we could ban atheism."

      If there were no religion or claims of supernatural deities, atheism wouldn't be necessary.

      July 17, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
  14. Jobin

    In deathbed the intelluctual ability will not help.Since u alreday heard about belivers all athiest will be in delimma is am i right..in moment of death

    July 17, 2013 at 2:39 am |
    • Me

      I think Jobin left the room and her cat is running back and forth across the keyboard, resulting in these mangled bizarre illiterate posts.

      Bad kitty! Baaaaaaaaaaaaaad kitty!

      July 17, 2013 at 2:44 am |
    • Oregon Jeff

      "In deathbed the intelluctual ability will not help."

      In deathbed, make believe sky wizards will not help.

      "Since u alreday heard about belivers all athiest will be in delimma is am i right..in moment of death"


      July 17, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
  15. Jobin

    Madeleine are you paroud of saying this..

    July 17, 2013 at 2:36 am |
    • Tim the Enchanter

      Considering that the secular democracies of Europe have significantly lower crime and higher prosperity than more religious countries or regions (like the Bible Belt), she has every right to be "paroud."

      Their health care system is much better too.

      July 17, 2013 at 2:40 am |
      • lol??

        Guns or butter. Americultians pay for their guns, silly. That leaves em with money to buy butter. Clear enuff??

        July 17, 2013 at 3:20 am |
  16. Breeze

    The word, "atheist" exists solely in the context of religion. If there were no religion, there could be no atheists. So, I prefer to think of myself as an intelligent, educated and thoughtful man who has no use for ancient mythology.

    July 17, 2013 at 2:35 am |
    • lol??

      The modern type is fine??

      July 17, 2013 at 3:23 am |
  17. Jobin

    Dear Friends That is the Testimoney of Wowmen Called Ms.MinI From India.

    Love You Jesus

    July 17, 2013 at 2:33 am |
    • Me

      TestiMONEY of a wowmen called Ms. Minl?

      Religious people are just too funny!

      July 17, 2013 at 2:42 am |
      • *


        I know his/her writing does sound a bit comical, but obviously Jobin is not a native English speaker....

        July 17, 2013 at 2:58 am |
        • Me

          Obviously. But her content, deciphered, is atrocious as well.

          July 17, 2013 at 3:04 am |
        • *

          Agreed. Better to focus on that, though, or ignore it altogether.

          (I did chuckle at the cat-on-the-keyboard one, but that was probably enough IMHO)

          July 17, 2013 at 3:08 am |
        • Me

          Yeah, you are probably right. I couldn't help it though. She got some linguistic whoppers out there.

          July 17, 2013 at 3:12 am |
  18. Madeleine Asgard

    In Sweden we're about 70% atheist country (the ethnic Swedes of course). And most I would say would classify as 1) Intellectual atheist/agnostic (80%). And 2) Activist (20%). And Sweden is a very secular country, we don't have God in our money, schools, or government, so we're relatively content atheists. 🙂

    July 17, 2013 at 2:32 am |
    • Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Film

      I thought I might trei a høliday in Sweden this yër. See the løveli lakes, the wøndërful telephøne system, and mäni interesting furry animals including the majestik møøse.

      A Møøse once bit my sister...

      No realli! She was Karving her initials øn the møøse with the sharpened end of an interspace tøøthbrush given her by Svenge – her brother-in-law -an Oslo dentist and star of many Norwegian møvies: "The Høt Hands of an Oslo Dentist", "Fillings of Passion", "The Huge Mølars of Horst Nordfink"

      Mynd you, møøse bites Kan be pretty nasti...

      July 17, 2013 at 2:37 am |
    • lol??

      When ya gonna give back all the loot the Vikings stole in the Dark Ages?? That was quite tricky blaming the Christians for the pandemonium you caused. It's an old trick.

      July 17, 2013 at 2:40 am |
      • Me

        And you don't have lolly in Sweden either. Well done Sweden!

        July 17, 2013 at 2:46 am |
    • lol??

      And your woemen are still up to no good stealing loot from Americans. Let me bring to your remembrance a certain thief named Elin Maria Pernilla Nordegren who has ripped off a very famous American, Tiger Woods. Your gubmint didn't teach her how to share, so quit bragging about your iniquities.

      July 17, 2013 at 3:01 am |
      • Me

        Wow, that was even more clueless than usual for you. After Tiger Woods' admitted infidelity and reported anger issues, a divorce is not only understandable but admirable. And that was community property, so you theft comment is a libelous lie. Which fits you.

        Nice one!

        July 17, 2013 at 3:18 am |
        • lol??

          I see. You think the Beastie pharisees are in charge of marriage. How avant-garde!!

          July 17, 2013 at 3:28 am |
  19. Jobin

    Yet my faith in God was unshaken and I prayed constantly for Divine mercy. I had great confidence in my own abilities and I wanted to accomplish whatever I had planned earlier. But God revealed to me my foolishness. I realised that I was trying to evade like Jonah and ultimately I surrendered myself to the will of God. A complete surrender brought me peace and tranquility. Thus I came to experience, the peace and justice in God's kingdom and the immense joy brought through the Holy Spirit. My intimate relationship with God helped me to pray more intensely especially for the needs of others. Gradually Jesus began to grow in me while I became weaker and weaker. I saw myself being crucified with Jesus and sharing in the agony of the crucified Christ. If someone was empathetic enough to say, 'Oh God' by seeing my condition, I thought that I was becoming instrumental in bringing 'God' into somebody else's mind. I felt that I was becoming God's ambassador on earth.

    I have the 'Abba' experience because I know that I am his daughter and that he wants to work through me. So my disease and weakness are no more problems for me. Suffering is what God demands of me and so that is my vocation.

    July 17, 2013 at 2:29 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111
About this blog

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.