Different Kinds of Atheists

You meet a person who identifies as an atheist. But what does that mean? Obviously it means they don’t believe in God. But it is actually much more complicated than that.

How do I know? Because I am a former atheist and I often meet atheists that are so different from the way I was. Just because someone identifies as an atheist doesn’t mean you know where they are coming from. The same is true for someone who identifies as a Christian.

There are philosophical ways of categorizing atheists but that is not what I’m going to do here. This is more of a practical list based on experience. I should also say that people can belong to more than one category.

  • Atheists who grew up with a nominal church background.
  • Atheists who had a serious faith and perhaps had even been pastors.
  • Atheists who grew up in atheist families and have never questioned it.
  • Atheists who never give a thought to religion.
  • Atheists who believe religious people are foolish but harmless.
  • Atheists who believe that religion is dangerous and should be actively opposed.
  • Atheists who admit that there may be evidence for a god but because of suffering (or some other objective), that god is not worth worshiping even if he or she exists.
  • Atheists who disbelieve because of intellectual inquiry.
  • Atheists who disbelieve because of an emotional reaction.
  • Atheists who disbelieve because it is convenient for their lifestyle.
  • Atheists who are proud of their atheist identity.
  • Atheists who pretend to believe because they are afraid of the reaction.

Did I miss anything?

This is important because motivations and perspectives matter. Don’t assume that every atheist is a Richard Dawkins and don’t assume every atheist is like I was, not caring what others believed.

People, religious or atheist, are diverse and deserve the opportunity to tell their story.

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