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.