Friday, July 19, 2013

The six kinds of atheists

A column by Andrew Brown directed me to this fascinating study looking at different flavors of non belief (also on Facebook).

 Intellectual Atheist/Agnostic (Academics) ... 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. They enjoy … healthy democratic debate and discussions, and are intrinsically motivated to do so… 
Activist (AAA) Activist Atheist/Agnostics… seek to be both vocal and proactive regarding current issues in the atheist and/or agnostic socio-political sphere. This sphere can include such egalitarian issues, but is not limited to: concerns of humanism, feminism, Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgendered (LGBT) issues, social or political concerns, human rights themes, environmental concerns, animal rights, and controversies such as the separation of church and state. ...
 Seeker-Agnostics (SA)  recognize the limitation of human knowledge and experience. They actively search for and respond to knowledge and evidence, either supporting or disconfirming truth claims. They also understand, or at least recognize, the qualitative complexities of experiences in the formation of personal meaning. Seeker- Agnostics do not hold a firm ideological position but always search for the scientifically wondrous, and experientially profound confirmation of life’s meaning....  
 Anti-Theists view religion as ignorance and see any individual or institution associated with it as backward and socially detrimental. The Anti-Theist has a clear and – in their view, superior – understanding of the limitations and danger of religions. They view the logical fallacies of religion as an outdated worldview that is not only detrimental to social cohesion and peace, but also to technological advancement and civilized evolution as a whole. They are compelled to share their view and want to educate others into their ideological position and attempt to do so when and where the opportunity arises. …  
Non-Theist non-active in terms of involving themselves in social or intellectual pursuits having to do with religion or anti-religion. A Non-Theist simply does not concern him or herself with religion. Religion plays no role or issue in one’s consciousness or worldview; nor does a Non- Theist have concern for the atheist or agnostic movement. … 
 Ritual Atheist/Agnostic (RAA) ...perceives ceremonies and rituals as producing personal meaning within life. This meaning can be an artistic or cultural appreciation of human systems of meaning while knowing there is no higher reality other than the observable reality of the mundane world…While RAA may celebrate their association with ritualistic organizations or call themselves cultural practitioners of a faith-based practice, they are open and honest about their ontological position and do not hide their lack of belief in the metaphysical or divine… 
Here's the breakdown of their sample (which was skewed towards the south so may not be accurate more broadly):

I can see aspects of myself in several of these.

They also looked at various psychological and behavioral traits.
Fortunately, one of the many questions our empirical research was able to address was, “are all atheists angry, argumentative and dogmatic”? Our results lead us to answer that question with a resounding “absolutely not”! If any subset of our non-belief sample fit the “angry, argumentative, dogmatic” stereotype, it is the Anti-Theists. This group scored the highest amongst our other typologies on empirical psychometric measures of anger, autonomy, agreeableness, narcissism, and dogmatism while scoring lowest on measures of positive relations with others.
For example,
Scale Lowest Score Highest Score
Positive Relations with OthersAnti-TheistsRitual Atheists
Dogmatism Ritual AtheistsAnti-Theists
Multidimensional Anger InventoryAcademicsAnti-Theists
Agreeableness AntitheistsMultiple

Notice that the Anti-Theists describe an extreme in EVERY category.  And in 2/6 cases are diametrically opposed to the Ritual Atheists, who are probably the most religiously-friendly.

 What do you think?


Erika Baker said...

It's not easy to know what to think. It's one of those fields where people ought to self identify rather than being labelled - and I don't even know whether atheists would agree with those particular labels.
Would they? Would you?

In that scale, what does "autonomy" stand for?

IT said...

Hi Erika,
In the response to the article, lots of people are saying, "well, I could be type 1 and 2" or something like that -- what they did is interview people and draw commonalities. Tomorrow I'll talk about a recent study that does the same sort of "grouping" with religious/social viewpoints.

Autonomy, I assume, reflects some sort of community independence. They are using some sort of psycho-social metric for each of these categoreis and did not elaborate much.

One thing I find interesting is that there are enough nonbelievers who are nevertheless attracted to religious practice, that there is a substantial group.

I see myself as pretty much a combination of Ritual, Activist, and Academic. As I get older, I think I'm less Academic and more Ritual.

Erika Baker said...

Yes, I was surprised how many of the people of my father's generation who I always thought were Christians because they went to church actually only started going because it was what one did, and stayed because they liked the ritual, the structure, and even the opportunity for reflecting on life and on morals and responsibility etc... without a shred of belief in God.

Strangely, for me, ritual is the one off-putting thing about church. I used to find it helpful I now find it rigid and man-made rather than God-focused and I'm moving more and more away from it.

I look forward to tomorrow's study!

JCF said...

JoeMyGod: where Anti-Theists reign. Vituperatively.

Erp said...

Hmm, JoeMyGod seem to have had a pretty positive article about the TEC National Cathedral ringing bells.

And you got to admit that a lot of theists out there need to be opposed and not just by other theists.

Personally he seems to be more in the activist camp

JCF said...

I'm sorry, Erp, I should have clarified: it's a preponderance of JMG commenters who are so strongly Anti-Theist. Not Joe Jervis himself (I agree, he's an Activist).

The commenter who called me an "Enabler" for being a member of a LGBT-AFFIRMING church, would never have posted that story about the bells! [Then there's the "Isn't He Special?" case of Bill Purdue, who regularly says that ALL religious people should be criminally tried&convicted and/or mandatorily (head-)medicated. (Yet strangely enough, kvetches some more when I call him a Stalinist, go figure.]

Counterlight said...

Like Erika's parents, mine too were church-going non-believers, or at least doubters. They were hardly anguished seekers, they just didn't buy any of the stuff regularly doled out from the pulpit. They went to church because it was expected of them (mostly by their ferociously pious mothers, but also by neighbors, friends, and business associates; respectable people with good credit always went to church in those days).
I like to think we are mostly past that now, and people go to church because they want to.
As for atheists who come to church for the show and the gemütlichkeit, I say "the more the merrier."