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  • Writer's pictureCourtney Heard

Are There Different Types of Atheists?

I don’t really care what Richard Dawkins says. I know this might shock you that I, as an atheist, do not worship the ground Dicky Doc walks on, but I do not. I never did. Even back in the days when I enjoyed his tweets and read his books and found value in them, I couldn’t have worshipped him if I tried. This fact doesn’t do anything to stop the hateful trolls online from presenting things that were uttered by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Ricky Gervais, Christopher Hitchens, and more, as though they apply to me simply because we share a position on the existence of gods.


Richard Dawkins Tweet
Tweet reads: So if as Richard Dawkins says there is no right or wrong, no morals, just pitiful indifference. Why would atheists bother going to war?



Of course, what these trolls are missing, is that atheists are nearly as varied and diverse as life on Earth. Even though Richard Dawkins and I are both atheists, we couldn’t be more different. I, for instance, will fight to the death to uplift my trans friends while he likes to cut them down. The point is that atheists differ from each other. We don’t all revere the same people; we don’t all share the same beliefs and worldview. There are so many different types of atheists that listing them all would take the rest of my life. In fact, I would go so far as to say that you would be hard-pressed to find two atheists whose worldviews, opinions, and beliefs are entirely alike. It’s just not a thing, really.


However, there are some broader categories that atheists might fall into, and we’re going to jump into those below. This list is, as you might have already guessed, not remotely exhaustive, and there is absolutely zero requirement for atheists to identify with any of these. Most atheists reject dogma, which means you define what being an atheist is to you, and no one gets to tell you that you’re wrong. This is just a brief glimpse into some of the more common subsets of atheists.


Former Christian Turned Atheist:


Many atheists were once practicing Christians who have since renounced their faith and now identify as atheists. These individuals often undergo a personal journey of introspection and critical thinking that leads them to question their religious beliefs and ultimately reject them. Christian-turned-atheists draw from their experiences within Christianity to shape their perspectives and understanding of atheism.


For many former Christians, part of the process of shedding their religion is recovery from religious trauma, which is a real thing and should be taken seriously. I will post resources for this in a later post.


Former Muslim Turned Atheist:


Similar to ex-Christians who have left their religion and now identify as atheists, former Muslims who now identify as atheists also go through a period of personal introspection. They examine their beliefs closely, applying critical thought, and come out the other end of it with no reason to believe any part of their religious worldview was true.


This is a challenging and sometimes grief-filled process for any former religious person turned atheist, and it deserves respect.



Secular Humanists:


A secular humanist is an individual who embraces a philosophy and worldview rooted in reason, ethics, and human values while rejecting religious or supernatural beliefs as the basis for understanding the world. Secular humanists prioritize human welfare, well-being, and flourishing, emphasizing the importance of reason, science, and critical thinking in shaping personal and societal decisions.


By default, secular humanists are atheists, though some may choose not to identify as such because the term “secular humanist” says so much more about what they believe and value.


Satanists:


No, you’re not going crazy. Satanism, surprisingly, is not the worship of a literal Satan. It is, rather, a religious organization focused on religious liberty. From the website of the Satanic Temple,


“Do you worship Satan?
No, nor do we believe in the existence of Satan or the supernatural. The Satanic Temple believes that religion can, and should, be divorced from superstition. As such, we do not promote a belief in a personal Satan. To embrace the name Satan is to embrace rational inquiry removed from supernaturalism and archaic tradition-based superstitions. Satanists should actively work to hone critical thinking and exercise reasonable agnosticism in all things. Our beliefs must be malleable to the best current scientific understandings of the material world — never the reverse”

Satanists often identify as atheists. This is a philosophical and symbolic movement that employs Satanic symbolism as a means of expressing individualism, skepticism, and rebellion against religious dogma. Atheistic Satanists often emphasize personal freedom and secular values while rejecting religious authority.


Satanists do not believe in a literal Satan.
Satanists do not believe in a literal Satan.


Wiccan Atheists:


Wiccan atheism is a unique perspective that combines elements of atheism and Wicca, a modern pagan religious movement. Wiccan atheists do not believe in deities or supernatural forces but are drawn to the cultural, symbolic, or community aspects of Wicca. They may participate in Wiccan practices and celebrations for their metaphorical, psychological, or social value rather than a belief in the supernatural.



Atheist Unitarian Universalists:


Unitarian Universalism is a movement that embraces diversity and welcomes individuals with different beliefs, including atheists. Atheist Unitarian Universalists find value in the community, ethical teachings, and social justice work of Unitarian Universalism while rejecting belief in a higher power. They actively engage in interfaith dialogue and participate in the activities of Unitarian Universalist congregations.


Atheist Jews:


Atheist Jews are individuals who identify with Jewish culture, traditions, and heritage but do not believe in the existence of a deity. They may participate in Jewish cultural events, celebrate Jewish holidays, and maintain a connection to the Jewish community while rejecting the religious aspects of Judaism. Atheist Jews often embrace their Jewish identity as an ethnic, cultural, or historical affiliation.


Atheist Buddhists:


An atheist Buddhist is an individual who identifies as both an atheist and a Buddhist. Buddhism is considered a non-theistic religion, as it does not revolve around a belief in a creator deity. Instead, it focuses on the teachings of the Buddha, who emphasized personal spiritual development, understanding the nature of suffering, and attaining enlightenment.


Agnostic Atheists:


Agnostic atheists believe agnosticism is a position on the knowledge of a god, while atheism is a position on the belief in a god. While some people, agnostic theists, believe in a god while fully admitting they cannot know for certain, agnostic atheists do not believe while also suggesting they cannot know. Someone who does not believe in god is an atheist, and someone who does not know if there is a god is an agnostic. Therefore, if you don’t believe and also admit you don’t know, you may describe yourself as an agnostic atheist.


This is a hotly contested term, with many people suggesting you can’t be an atheist and an agnostic at the same time. People who argue this point reject the idea that atheism is merely the lack of belief in a god and insist that atheism is, instead, the claim that there is no god. As for myself, I prefer to listen to what the majority of atheists say, as they know best how to describe their atheism. I myself identify as an agnostic atheist.


Agnostic atheist

Strong Atheists:


A strong atheist, also known as a positive or explicit atheist, is an individual who actively asserts or believes that no gods or deities exist. Unlike agnostic atheists who lack belief in gods due to insufficient evidence or consider the existence of gods unknowable, strong atheists make a positive claim that gods do not exist.



Strong atheists may base their position on various reasons, such as the lack of empirical evidence supporting the existence of gods, perceived contradictions or logical inconsistencies within religious claims, or philosophical arguments against the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, and benevolent deity.


If you decide to be open and outspoken about your atheism, you will encounter a number of disingenuous people who insist that this is the position of all atheists. It’s not. Most atheists just lack a belief because they have no reason to believe in a deity and make no claim to know that zero gods exist.


Anti-theists:

An anti-theist is an individual who actively opposes the concept of belief in gods or the existence of any deities. While atheists typically lack belief in gods, anti-theists go a step further by actively opposing or criticizing religious beliefs and institutions.


Anti-theists often view religion as detrimental to society, claiming that it promotes superstition, dogma, and irrationality. They may argue that religion has historically been a source of conflict, oppression, and the suppression of scientific progress. They may also criticize religious institutions for their perceived interference in secular matters or their negative impact on individual freedoms and human rights.


These are some of the larger sub-groups of atheism, but the truth is, atheism can’t really be divided into denominations like religions can. Every atheist is different; every atheist has different values and beliefs. When someone tells you they are an atheist, it reveals very little about who they are as a person. As you get used to the idea of being an atheist, don’t feel as though you need to fit neatly into any one of these categories. The beauty of being an atheist is being free of dogma. You don’t need to love Richard Dawkins. You don’t need to follow all the famous atheists. You do not need to choose a label you’re not comfortable with. You get to define what atheism means to you, free of the influence of anyone else.


Here are some frequently asked questions I get when I talk about all the different ways atheism presents itself. Hopefully, these can help you understand your own worldview and values a little bit better as you leave your religion behind.


Do Atheists Believe in Ghosts?


Belief in ghosts is not a tenet of atheism itself. Atheism solely concerns the rejection of belief in deities. However, individual atheists may hold various beliefs about supernatural phenomena like ghosts. Some atheists may reject the existence of ghosts based on the lack of empirical evidence, while others may hold agnostic positions, acknowledging the possibility but withholding belief without sufficient evidence. Some atheists do believe in ghosts and spirits. You can be an atheist and believe in ghosts. I, personally, do not because the evidence that exists for ghosts is as questionable as the evidence for gods.



What is the Difference Between an Atheist and an Anti-Theist?


While atheism and anti-theism share a skepticism toward religious claims, they differ in their approaches and beliefs. Atheism simply denotes the absence of belief in gods, whereas anti-theism actively opposes the influence of religion in society. Anti-theists view religion as harmful, divisive, and impediments to human progress. They often criticize religious practices, institutions, and doctrines, highlighting what they perceive as negative consequences of religious belief.


What is the Difference Between a Humanist and an Atheist?


Humanism is a philosophical worldview that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings. While atheism focuses solely on the rejection of belief in gods, humanism encompasses a broader ethical and moral framework based on reason, empathy, and the pursuit of human well-being. Humanists prioritize critical thinking, education, and social progress and may or may not identify as atheists.


What is the Difference Between a Pagan vs. Atheist?


Paganism refers to a diverse set of religious beliefs and practices that often involve the veneration of nature, multiple deities, or the celebration of ancient traditions. Atheism, on the other hand, rejects belief in gods. While Pagans believe in or worship deities, atheists do not. However, it is worth noting that there are atheistic forms of Paganism that focus on the cultural, symbolic, or metaphorical aspects of Paganism rather than the belief in supernatural entities.


What is the Difference Between an Atheist vs. Nontheist?


While the terms "atheist" and "nontheist" both denote a lack of belief in gods, there can be nuanced differences in their usage based on who you're talking to. Many choose the term nontheist when they don't want to accept the stigma that comes with the label "atheist." Essentially, they mean the same thing. One just doesn't pack as much punch.


What Kind of Atheist Am I?


Determining your specific type of atheism depends on your personal beliefs, experiences, and individual values. Reflecting on your stance toward the existence of gods, involvement in specific communities, and your philosophical or moral worldview can help you understand what kind of atheist you identify as. It's essential to explore different perspectives, engage in thoughtful discussions, and be open to evolving beliefs. You do not need to fit any of these labels or categories to be an atheist. You are free to be yourself and make your atheism just as unique as you are.


I’d love to know what kind of atheist you are. Let me know in the comments!


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7 Comments


Jim Balter
Jim Balter
Aug 02, 2023

I'm the sort of atheist who points out that Mountford's tweet completely misrepresents Dawkins, rather than implicitly endorsing it by talking about being his opposite.


(And this comment is no endorsement of Dawkins--while he's done excellent work communicating the science of evolution, and helped many non-believers to come out, his bigotries have seriously marred his reputation.)

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Deborah Levitan
Deborah Levitan
Jul 27, 2023

I am a combination of Secular Humanist, Atheist and Non-Theist. The more religion is injected into our government, the stronger my non-theism becomes as it is a dangerous threat to democracy. Out of respect for my religious friends I do refrain from overt criticism or insults towards them as individuals, but most of them know full well the extent of my strident rejection of god, the bible or any organized religion.

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Scott Carpenter
Scott Carpenter
Jul 27, 2023

Great post - from the age of about 7 I was an atheist, as the whole "God thing" just made no sense to me once I started to read books for kids on science topics like electricity and magnetism, etc. I still went to Sunday school - to please my Grandmother who I loved very much. But there were problems :-) So I was a plain atheist and have been for the last 50 years, but probably about 25 years ago I realised the Secular Humanist world view fit with my way of seeing things. All the best, Scott

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Benin Oakland
Jul 27, 2023

You left out my favorite kind of atheist: ME..


I am and It-Doesn't-Matterist-- it simply doesn't matter what I believe about the infinite creator of the entire infinite universe, or even if there is one. It has absolutely no effect on the reality or non-reality of that entity. My favorite deity, who also doesn't exist, is Koschei the Deathless, Who Made Things As They Are. Koschei is a character in a series of remarkable books by James branch Cabbell. Koschei the Deathless, Who Made Things As They Are, says truly: "what are your beliefs about ME to ME, who Made Things As They Are?"

you can't argue with that.


It doesn't matter what I believe about this infinte creator…


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Rob Maguire
Rob Maguire
Jul 27, 2023

Excellent work... As you have so eloquently and succinctly described, the word 'atheist' is a very inadequate word to describe the spectrum of thoughts, beliefs, theories and arguments of those of us who fall under that banner.

I too identify with the term 'agnostic atheist' but I do also wear the badge of an anti-theist and believe that those two terms are compatible.

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