Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Types of Atheist

Over at Unscrewing the Inscrutable there's an attempt to categorize broad types of atheists. In short, the four categories presented are:
  • Rebel Atheist: Someone who becomes an atheist to piss his or her family off.
  • Revenge Atheist: Pissed off at or hates God so he or she says, "You killed my cat so I don't believe in you any more!"
  • Inherited Atheist: Inherits atheism from atheist parents.
  • Awakened Atheist: Used to be part of a religion but came to realize it didn't make any sense.

Most of the commenters seem to think these categories are pretty dead-on, but unfortunately, I don't fit into any of them.

I'm not an Inherited Atheist because my parents aren't atheists, though they hardly ever talk about religion or go to church, and as such didn't pass atheism on to me. And I'm not an Awakened Atheist because I never had any belief to awaken from.

I just never believed. I tried to believe at points in my childhood and teen years. I actually wanted to believe, but I just didn't. As a child I feared I would go to Hell if I died because God would know that I didn't really believe in Him. (I know it doesn't make much sense to worry about Hell if you don't really believe, but if you think about it, kids are often afraid of things they know don't really exist. I also knew that there weren't any monsters under my bed, but I was still scared of them).

I can't make myself believe in things that clearly aren't true. I don't seem to have much of a capacity for self-deception. I've never really been able to make myself believe something is true just because I want it to be true. There's some part of my brain that's a real buzzkill, because it sternly keeps reality and fantasy separated, never letting me confuse one for the other.

As such, I think I will call this fifth category the Rational Atheist, and I will define it as someone whose reason never let him or her believe in fantasies in the first place.


At 11:18 AM, Anonymous Jay said...

I think your experience describes mine as well. My parents believe, but the subject was not discussed much when I was growing up, and we never went to church.

I never wished to believe (or wished to remain a non-theist for that matter), it was just something that was always part of me.

So lump me into that fifth category -- my over-inflated ego likes the title.

At 6:24 PM, Blogger R. Paul Wiegand said...

I'm disinclined to accept any classification of this sort. They are almost alway pejorative, almost never accurate, and serve little constructive function.

As a scientist, I'm used to categorizing things ... and as am amateur philosopher who is an epistimological relativist, I am used to being reasonably certain that all my categories and ontologies aren't "T"ruth, they are simply organizations of data of varying levels of utility.

But all things do not need classification, and not all classifications are useful. I don't see the function in this case.

Like you, I cannot say where I would fall in such a discretization ... I suppose I could invent a new category or try to shoehorn myself into an existing one, but I'm sure I understand why I would be doing so.

It's like believing Myers-Briggs really does type people. Though personality tests can actually be useful in some ways, it is silly to believe there really are only four properties on which to base people and sixteen distinct types of people. Myers-Briggs is just a model, and the classifications it produces are arbitrary divisions that just happen to be informative in some ways.

Likewise, I'm sure there are people out there that say, "Yeah! I'm an awakened atheist!", but I'd guess most people would just say, "Hmm ... I'm not sure any of these describe me."

Then they should turn around and ask, "What was the point again?"


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