Atheist.The word says one thing, and one thing only: a non-believer in god(s). It says zilch beyond that. As someone who was completely fresh to meeting atheists (after having lived in a Christian bubble from 16 years of age until 26), I had a whirlwind experience learning the newness of having atheist friends, who operated very differently about their unbelief. Some are (ironically) mirror reflections of the personality types of believers, though manifest differently because of the belief set. It is also interesting that there are generally judgmental and non-judgmental versions of each of these, which is a reflection of maturity and personality more than nonbelief.
Also note that in the FAQ, I go over the labels that atheists often give themselves; This is not the same list, although some atheists may fall into multiple categories.
Here I use faith not as a derogatory term, but to point out that someone who has never researched any religions whatsoever, nor read any atheist literature, somewhat accepts that there is no god on faith. While this is not a bad thing, because it is the conclusion most in line with reality, it is somewhat prideful in the same way that theists who accept things on faith have never bothered to read the atheist side: “I think I am right therefore I am right.”
Oftentimes these nonbelievers will be very quiet in their nonbelief, and would never call themselves atheist for fear of attracting attention. However, there is also a significant risk here that is similar to hyper-fundamentalists: because many have never taken the time to examine the other side (at all!), they just see it as a stupid, ignorant position (ironically their doppelgangers see them). This means that they may be prone to engage in flashy ad-homenim, rather than reasoned debate.
Of course theism is wrong, but it certainly isn’t stupid. Many theists are extremely intelligent, but knowing just a smidgen about psychology shows that we’re all prone to blind spots in our own perspectives.
This is an actual term used to self describe many atheists, and can be summed up in two words:
This position perceives atheism as the default, so why would anyone care what anyone else believes, and may have some overlap into the previous category. Atheism is an aspect of their life like their grandfather’s name is Doyle; it does not affect their life. For a picture of one style of apatheist, one need only look to Europe to see it in full swing, though in typical psychological fashion, Europe’s New-Age believism is growing all the time.
The ironic point here is that sometimes apatheists get vocal in their call to apathy. It shows up in Reddit Threads or blog comments as “Why are you so vocal? Pipe down! Atheism doesn’t matter that much!” They think that because they see no reason to react as an atheist, the same should be true for everyone else. They have a case of (thanks Dan Savage) YDIW, You’re Doing It Wrong.
Ultimately these folks make amazing friends, unless of course they have YDIW written on their sleeves. The line here is whether they are a judgemental person or not.
Many atheists respond to their arrival in atheism all the while wishing atheism looked like religion. Alain de Boton is one such example, whose M.O. is trying to create an atheism that looks like religion. This style of atheist manifests itself in other ways, as many atheists who try to court the respect of churches for praising and lauding them when they ‘do right.’ Other atheists go as far as to be ashamed that they are atheists, even though it is the correct position. Think S.E. Cupp.
While I think it is okay to work together with churches on social issues, I think it is silly as a lover of truth to attempt to love falsehood. I don’t know many atheists like this personally, so I cannot speak to the topic well, and while I recognize there are many things I miss about the church, there are infinitely many more things I love about having intellectual honesty, being dogma-free, and not having imaginary friends.
Philosophy degrees are a double-edged sword. Many atheists pursue these degrees and become lofty apatheists, that fall victim to an atheist’s version of the courtier’s reply, in which no one who has read Spinoza, Kant, Nietzche, Plato, Hume, etc., has the authority to comment on atheism. There are also those who look down on anyone who would attack positions held by theists with any sort of passion with disdain, for stooping to such a human, emotional level.
Then there are those like Daniel Fincke or Chris Hallquist, who use their philosophical background as leverage towards calling out problems in theism regardless of how well-read (or unread) the objections are. These ladies and gentleman (though it is sadly mostly gentlemen) can engage philosophical theists at the level of discourse they exist at, in a way that I can only hope to in several years.
I also here include people like Richard Carrier or Bart Ehrman, who are both deconverts very familiar with biblical history, criticism, and critiques, making them uniquely suited to engage in Christian scholarship at that level. There are contemporaries in Islam, Mormonism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and other schools as well. Because of the foundation of these religions on their historical and literary “truths,” these atheists help provide a necessary answer to an important question: Is it true?
New atheism is the term coined for Harris, Hitchens, Dennett, and Dawkins, whose books were focused at reintroducing skepticism to our discourse. New atheists have been around for some time, and are generally well-informed of the issues of religion and its harms. This makes them great bloggers and writers on the subjects of religion and history.
There is also a danger here, however, of what I call Zealous Deconverted Asshole syndrome: that once you deconvert, you turn a blind eye to other problems of character, like mysogyny or unfair judgement, all because you got the big question right. This has caused a recent sort of divide in the atheist community, between what I perceive as those who want to stop at religion, and those who want to get rid of the social baggage religion has caused as well.
This is a relatively new set of ideas, introduced first by Jen McReight, identifies the need for those social-issue minded atheists to positively identify themselves to separate from the more vitriolic or faith-minded apathetic versions that seek not to evenly apply skepticism to every area of inquiry but only to the question of Gods.
I happen to find much in common with this group, as some of the issues I have faced as a deconvert of the bible belt opened my eyes to privilege and the loss of it. This gives me solidarity with people who also suffer from being de-privileged by their gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or race. If the pain I felt as a white guy in america going from Christian to Non is anything like what others experience, I want to fight alongside them as well.
There is a natural tension between apatheists and social justice anti-theists, as well as the new atheists. Atheism+ says that stopping at one issue is not enough. I agree, but I also understand that fighting the social justice fight isn’t for everyone, and it might be a bad thing to create an us vs. them mentality for something that you don’t necessarily want everyone to be a part of.
I’m sure there are a million different categories of atheist that I didn’t mention here, and many atheists fall into multiple categories. I have tried to give an overview of some of the possible pitfalls of each category, and point out that atheists are an inhomogeneous mixture of humanity, all with our own faults and preconceptions. I urge anyone who is deconverting to not fall into the trap of thinking that just because you got one thing right, you’re always right. This is ultimately the deliniation between atheists that can help humanity, and atheists who everyone wants to punch in the face.