Quantcast
Connect with us

Atheism study authors: Congratulations, non-believers, you’re just like everybody else

Published

on

This article was paid for by Raw Story subscribers. Not a subscriber? Try us and go ad-free for $1. Prefer to give a one-time tip? Click here.

A report released Monday by University of Tennessee at Chattanooga researchers is one of the first comprehensive studies into the types of individuals who are categorized as non-believers of any particular religious faith. The project, conducted by doctoral student Christopher F. Silver and project manager Thomas J. Coleman III, found that atheists as a group are as varied among themselves as people of faith can be different from each other.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Congratulations, non-believers,” said Coleman in an interview with Raw Story, “you’re essentially normal,” with personality types that break down just like the rest of society. Research revealed that atheists range across “a normal distribution of personality types,” and that the aggressive, confrontational stereotype of atheism only applies to a sliver of the people who identify as non-believers.

“Previous research and studies focusing on the diverse landscape of belief in America have continually placed those who profess no belief in a God or gods into one unified category infamously known as the ‘religious nones,'” reads the report’s overview. “This catch-all category presented anyone who identified as having “no religion” as a homogenous group in America today, lumping people who may believe in God with the many who don’t.”

The University of Tennessee researchers found that, on the contrary, religious non-believers actually break down into groups. The study identified six types of non-believers: Intellectual Atheist/Agnostics (IAA), Activist Atheist/Agnostics (AAA), Seeker Agnostics (SA), Antitheists, Non-theists and Ritual Atheist/Agnostics (RAA).

The project was born out of Silver’s dissertation research and consisted of two study phases. Study One was qualitative and involved 59 personal interviews with non-believers from a wide range of religious and class backgrounds. In Study Two, the quantitative phase, more than 1,000 non-believers from around the U.S. took an internet survey with more than 300 questions, establishing where they fell along a set of metrics including autonomy, positive relationships with others, narcissism and other traits.

“These categories are a first stab at this,” Silver said. “In 30 years, we may be looking at a typology of 32 types.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Silver warned that many atheists may read the label “Anti-Theist” and immediately think that applies to themselves, but both researchers urged people to read the definitions of each type fully before categorizing themselves.

“The definitions are what matters here,” Coleman said. “The descriptions are the important part. We don’t want people to say, ‘Hey, anyone who says they’re an Anti-Theist is this,'” because the definitions carry a more nuanced view of the types involved.

Intellectual Atheist/Agnostics were the largest group among those surveyed, people the report defined as “individuals who proactively seek to educate themselves through intellectual association, and proactively acquire knowledge on various topics relating to ontology (the search for Truth) and non-belief.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Education, said Coleman, particularly college education had a more deleterious effect on religious belief than any other single factor.

“College was certainly a huge theme that popped out in this,” he said. “Quite dramatically, people would say, ‘Hey, I was a Christian going in the first year, after the second I was agnostic, and by the time I graduated, I said I was done with all this.'”

ADVERTISEMENT

Activist Atheist/Agnostics, the study found, were the least narcissistic and the most community involved of atheists. Their atheist activism often sprang from other forms of activism and an interest in social justice, like women’s rights, LGBT rights or wealth inequality.

Seeker Agnostics are non-believers who see themselves as open to a number of possibilities. Silver said that these people tended to test out as the happiest of non-believers, interestingly.

“Seeker-Agnostic typology consists of individuals attuned to the metaphysical possibilities precluding metaphysical existence, or at least recognizes the philosophical difficulties and complexities in making personal affirmations regarding ideological beliefs,” said the report. “They may call themselves agnostic or agnostic-atheist, as the SA simply cannot be sure of the existence of God or the divine. They keep an open mind in relation to the debate between the religious, spiritual, and Anti-Theist elements within society.”

ADVERTISEMENT

The most “empirically visible” type of non-believer is the Anti-Theist, who believes that religion is a destructive force in society. According to Silver and Coleman, these are in fact the least common unbelievers, but there are the most strident. They rate highest in levels of anger and dogmatism, according to the survey results.

A growing group are Non-Theists, people who have never made religion a large part of their life and don’t even give much thought to the question. “(A) few terms may best capture the sentiments of the Non-Theist,” read the report. “One is apathetic, while another may be disinterested. The Non-Theist is non-active in terms of involving themselves in social or intellectual pursuits having to do with religion or anti-religion.”

And finally a type emerged from their research that neither Coleman nor Silver had first thought to study, the Ritual Atheist/Agnostic, who the report describes as individuals who “find utility in tradition and ritual. For example, these individuals may participate in specific rituals, ceremonies, musical opportunities, meditation, yoga classes, or holiday traditions. Such participation may be related to an ethnic identity (e.g. Jewish) or the perceived utility of such practices in making the individual a better person.”

Silver and Coleman both mentioned that many U.S. Jews fit the model of Ritual Atheist/Agnostics.

ADVERTISEMENT

Dave Muscato of American Atheists, the group who erected the nation’s first atheist monument on government property in Starke, Florida on Saturday, spoke to Raw Story about the study, saying, “I think it’s pretty clear that the bloc of people who call themselves ‘non-religious’ is not a monolith.”

“American Atheists,” he said, could be seen as “focused on the Anti-Theist crowd and that type of activism, people who are against religion specifically and want to fight it.”

But, he said, the group is expanding and finding itself increasingly aligned with activist causes and Activist Atheism out of a common interest in social justice and the betterment of society. This year, for the first time, representatives of American Atheists officially attended Netroots Nation, the annual liberal internet activist gathering.

Muscato welcomed the study’s findings saying, “It’s useful to understand that atheists are not all the same, in the same way that religious people aren’t all the same.”

ADVERTISEMENT

“There are atheists that are totally against religion and think that these rituals are just superstitious and there’s no purpose to them and that we have better things to do and that religion is dangerous, which is kind of the position that American Atheists takes,” Muscato continued, but others believe “that there are useful things in some traditions and that you can find utility in different teachings.”

Silver said that he hopes this study is just a beginning, that the destruction of the idea of atheists as being all one type of angry, confrontational person will lead to a lessening of social stigma on atheists.

“You’re a unique snowflake just like everybody else,” he said cheerfully. “There’s just one small group that are the loudmouths” who are potentially making it more difficult for other constituencies of non-believers.

For the most part, he said, non-believers constitute “majorly socially engaged groups,” especially Activist and Intellectual Atheist/Agnostics “who are out there having these intellectual conversations and the Ritual Atheist/Agnostics whose lives are rich in community and symbolism.”

“They really want to create and promote social change for everyone, not just atheists and agnostics,” he concluded.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Most of the non-believers we researched,” added Coleman, “they’re looking to affect the world, to make the world better. They do care, and they care about everyone.”

[image of diverse people’s hands together via Shutterstock.com]

This article was paid for by Raw Story subscribers. Not a subscriber? Try us and go ad-free for $1. Prefer to give a one-time tip? Click here.


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

WATCH: Franklin Graham tells Jeanine Pirro coronavirus pandemic is because of people sinning

Published

on

Franklin Graham blamed sinners for the COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic during a Saturday night appearance on Fox News.

Host Jeanine Pirro noted the growing death toll and wondered how God could let that happen.

"Well, I don't think it's God's plan for this to happen," Graham said.

"It's because of the sin that's in the world, judge," he argued.

"Man has turned his back on God, we have sinned against him, and we need to ask for God's forgiveness and that's what Easter's all about," he continued.

"This pandemic, this is the result of a fallen world that has turned its back on God," he added.

Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

Drought causing water shortage amid coronavirus crisis in Chile

Published

on

With historically low river flows and reservoirs running dry due to drought, people in central Chile have found themselves particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic.

Years of resource exploitation and lax legislation have allowed most reservoirs in that part of the country to run dry.

"There are now 400,000 families, nearly 1.5 million people approximately, whose supply of 50 liters of water a day depends on tankers," Rodrigo Mundaca, spokesman for the Movement for the Defense of Water, the Earth and the Protection of the Environment, told AFP.

One of the main pieces of advice to protect people against coronavirus is to wash your hands regularly.

Continue Reading
 

Breaking Banner

Trump warns of ‘tough week’ ahead — after the United States surpassed 300,000 coronavirus victims

Published

on

US President Donald Trump warned Americans on Saturday to brace for a "very horrendous" number of coronavirus deaths in the coming days as the total number of global fatalities from the pandemic soared past 60,000.

As confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States surpassed 300,000 with more than 8,300 deaths, there was some encouraging news in Italy and Spain.

Europe continues to bear the brunt of the epidemic, however, accounting for over 45,000 of the worldwide deaths, and Britain reported a new daily high in fatalities.

There are now more than 1.17 million confirmed coronavirus cases around the world and there have been 63,437 deaths since the virus emerged in China late last year.

Continue Reading
 
 
You need honest news coverage. Help us deliver it. Join Raw Story Investigates for $1. Go ad-free.
close-image