Tuesday, July 16, 2013

What Kind of Atheist Are You?

A team of researchers at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has completed some preliminary research into the nature of the Nones.

One of the fastest growing groups in the United States, the nones are those who put themselves down as having no religion on surveys. One popular statistic is the "thirty under thirty", referring to the fact that the younger you are, the more likely you are to have no religious affiliation, as demonstrated by Pew Research. As you can see by following the link, roughly 30% of those aged 18-29 (the Millennials) have no religious affiliation. Just as important, they aren't looking for one. This is one of many reasons why Dan Dennett said at Imagine No Religion 3 that evangelical christianity is in the midst of a serious crisis in the US, and that within a generation will have collapsed and/or transformed drastically.

However, a question remains: who exactly are the nones?

Not quite, but I like her style. If you're not at work, I recommend you do a quick search for "satanic nun".

Getting non-believers to agree on who and what they are is... difficult. There are so many damned labels: freethinker, atheist, agnostic, humanist, apatheist, antitheist, skeptic, humanistic freethinker, Bright, and more. And they don't even all agree on what the labels even mean. Go on, ask a group of atheists whether being an atheist means you believe there is no god. Bring a chair and some popcorn; you'll be there for a while, as they throw around labels like "dictionary atheist" and "dogmatic antireligionist".

So these researchers did what they admit is preliminary research to try and get the rather monolithic "none" or "no religion" tickbox to be a bit more nuanced. They hope this can form the basis for further research, elucidating further characteristics, further subtypes. I also don't see any indicators here as to race, gender, sexuality, or parents' religion. Then again, this was only an interview of 59 people. Hence the label "preliminary". They identified six kinds of atheists. Follow the link above for more complete descriptions, but here's my brief synopsis:

  • Intellectual Atheist/Agnostic (IAA) - A reader, a debater, a discusser. Primarily engaged in atheism as an intellectual exercise; continues own education through a variety of formats and seeks out others who do the same.
  • Activist (AAA) - More socially pro-active than the IAA. Seeks out other social agendas, such as feminism or anti-racism (list not exclusive), and acts socially and politically. Such acts can range from educating friends and acquaintances, petitioning, boycotting, marching, or promoting legal action.
  • Seeker Agnostic (SA) - Embraces scientific, spiritual, ideological, and epistemological uncertainty. Aware of the limitations of methods of knowledge and experience, deliberately seeks out both for fulfillment and pleasure. Values the opinion and experience of religious, spiritual, and antitheist positions without holding to them.
  • Anti-Theist - What may be viewed as the "aggressive atheist", sometimes attacked as the "dogmatic atheist". Views religion as fallacious, outdated, and detrimental. Some seek to undermine, weaken, or fight institutions and standards of religions through social and political activism, some through individual discussion and debate.
  • Non-Theist - Apathetic or disinterested in religion. Does not concern hirself with religious opinions, statements, or discussions. Is not concerned with the religious, agnostic, or antireligious views or positions. Doesn't seek out further information.
  • Ritual Atheist/Agnostic - Unbelievers, open about it, who see utility in tradition and ritual. Religious practices and spaces aren't paths to perfection or enlightenment, but to human flourishing and happiness on earth. May attend ceremonies, may express respect for symbolism and tradition. Often confused with "spiritual", called "An atheist but...". Likely to identify as a cultural or racial member of a religious group while disavowing belief, ie. a non-practicing Jew.

It depends on how I'm feeling, but I'm mostly an Activist, who when lazy falls back on Intellectual, but my basic opinions are those of the Anti-theist. How about you? And where do you think this kind of research should be aimed?
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