4 Kinds of Movement Atheist (Secularist Atheists, Identity Atheists, Evangelical Atheists, and Constructive Atheists)

We can classify atheists many ways depending on our interests. (For good examples: In the summer PZ had a good post on the different entrance points people have to atheism. In an interview a year ago I classified six general kinds of atheists along the lines of their attitudes towards religion primarily. Earlier still I distinguished atheists by their epistemological views. Greta has an influential post that sifts atheists by temperaments and strategies.)

In this post, my interest is to classify specifically those atheists who are, in one way or another, on board with the atheist movement and ignore the various kinds of atheists who are uninterested in it or hostile to it. I see four kinds of atheism, each with unique goals that are spurring both activism and more general participation in the atheist movement. These kinds of atheism are far from mutually exclusive. Many movement atheists fit 3 or 4 categories, even. On the other hand, some movement atheists are quite adamant about only fitting 1 or 2.

Sometimes movement atheists conflict with each other precisely because they do not fit all (or any) of the same categories as each other and so wind up being quite at cross purposes with each other. Sometimes I think there are serious confusions when atheists do not clearly separate the four kinds of atheist concerns from each other when making arguments, relating to theists and religious people, or simply staging events or engaging in activism. Even if one is all four kinds of atheist, there are times and places to emphasize or deemphasize one, rather than another. In future posts, I will likely explain some of the complications that are created by the overlap in the four kinds of atheism and how we should be alert to what is going on when these complications arise so that we can avoid some serious traps.

As for me, I am all four kinds of atheist described below. My main conflicts are with atheists who opt out of any of the other categories rather than with members of any specific category itself.

1. Secularist Atheists

Secularist Atheists are those very focused on the separation of church and state. Nearly everyone in the atheist movement seems to be a Secularist Atheist. Not all Secularist Atheists are comfortable with the other kinds of atheists I will be enumerating, but at minimum all (or nearly all) movement atheists are political secularists. They want a secular society. They do not want religiously derived laws, they do not want either science or science education to be hindered by religious meddling, they do not want public institutions to be used as vehicles for the promotion of religion (whether specific religions or religiosity in general). They want the government to be strictly neutral on religious questions and not to favor religious people over irreligious people or religious ideas over irreligious ideas.

Some movement atheists are only concerned with political secularism. Some of these atheists are outright averse to Evangelical Atheism, Identity Atheism, and/or Constructive Atheism. Others are just indifferent to them. Secularist Atheists are comfortable to one extent or another teaming up with religious people who also want a strong separation of church and state. Some Secularist Atheists don’t care at all about whether religions are true or false, good or bad, just as long as they don’t meddle with law or science or otherwise impose themselves on the general public using the government. Such Secularist Atheists are the ones who will profess to hardly caring at all what their neighbor believes about religion, as long as the neighbor keeps it a private matter and doesn’t hurt anybody. These atheists may be relatively ambivalent about the value of religion in people’s private lives. They may quietly hold contempt for religious beliefs or admire their value for particular individuals but just want it out of government. Of course, many other Secularist Atheists are not so indifferent to religion and are actually either Identity Atheists, Evangelical Atheists, and/or Constructive Atheists as well.

2. Identity Atheists

Identity Atheists are acutely aware that being an atheist makes them, in some significant way, different from other people. This could be because they feel like differences over religious beliefs would, or already do, put an alienating strain on their relationships with their religious family, friends, employers, colleagues, acquaintances, or peers. This could be because they had a traumatic deconversion experience in which becoming an atheist was a major part of their personal narrative of self-discovery and/or led to major ruptures in their life, including in relationships that were important to them. This could be because of cultural or political or legal discrimination that has outraged or insulted them. They resent all the careless ways that atheists are demonized, Othered, mistrusted, excluded, or put on the spot by religious people. They want to make absolutely clear that being a good person does not require being religious. They may even get offended by arguments that atheists cannot ground morality and take them as personal, insulting accusations that atheists are necessarily immoral people.

Not all Identity Atheists want to make other people atheists. While they may see their atheism as an important matter of truth, their atheism matters to them because it is something about who they are that they feel alienated over. It’s something that separates them and they want to connect with others who share their feelings and sense of the world. It is for them something akin to being from a minority ethnic group or sexuality as much as, or more than, it is just a matter of sharing a philosophy with others. It is an identity issue. They want to be understood and respected for what they are as an atheist and they want to connect to others they share this bond with.

While Identity Atheists are almost always Secularist Atheists since they are very concerned that the government treat people with atheist identities with equal respect and acknowledgment to what religious people receive, Identity Atheists are more concerned with the positive importance of being an atheist than are some other Secularist Atheists who just want the religious to leave them alone. To Identity Atheists, being an atheist is not just a negative, it’s not just a matter of being free from government imposition of religion, it’s a matter of carving out social space to be an atheist.

While Identity Atheists are not always Evangelical Atheists who want to make new atheists, Identity Atheists often do want to raise the consciousness of existing atheists who are closeted, apathetic, or overly deferent to religious hegemony. Identity Atheists often want to inspire other atheists to own their atheism, be proud of it, and not let religious culture and personal religiosity be assumed as the cultural default. Some Identity Atheists want, essentially, a truce with religious people: “You have your religious identity, and that’s fine, and I have my atheist identity and that’s fine too. Let’s peacefully coexist with mutual respect.”

3. Evangelical Atheists

Some movement atheists go beyond Secularist Atheism’s desire for removing religion from government and Identity Atheism’s consciousness raising and attempts to create the social latitude to be proud and respected as an atheist. Evangelical Atheists want to win the battle of ideas and the values culture war against theistic religions. They want to deconvert people. They want to oppose religious ideas and identities as based on falsehoods and delusions. They are often anti-theists who argue that theisms and religions are not only false but significantly enough harmful to oppose as a matter of moral, intellectual, and social principle. Since all, or nearly all, Evangelical Atheists in the West at present are currently Secularist Atheists rather than Supremicist Atheists, they want to limit their attacks on religious beliefs and practices to intellectual, moral, and cultural arenas. The only places that they seek to curb religious influence politically is where religious people try to take over public schools and hospitals and militaries and government institutions, all in order to impose religious beliefs and values on the general populace through basic public resources and institutions.

Evangelical Atheists are content to defeat religious beliefs and institutions fairly and squarely in the private arena of free and open criticism and debate, without trying to legislate any kind of discrimination against religion. In legal matters they fight as Secularist Atheists looking to curb religious encroachment into public institutions.

Many Evangelical Atheists are Identity Atheists, but also many are not. For Evangelical Atheists who are not Identity Atheists atheism is primarily a philosophical issue that matters relatively little to them as a social category or identity marker. Simple desire for truth or desire to oppose the influence of potentially harmful religious beliefs matter much more to them than either seeing themselves as an atheist or identifying with other atheists on account of their shared viewpoint does.

4. Constructive Atheists

Some movement atheists are focused on constructively filling voids left by religion and/or creating social justice. Their concern is to build new philosophies, new communities, and/or reform social institutions and practices and values. While they are almost definitely going to be Secularist Atheists too, in some cases this may not be much of a focus of their energies. They may be hostile to religion and want to deconvert people like Evangelical Atheists do, but they may not. They may be primarily happy to be a part of something positive that works parallel to religious communities. They may be to one extent or another interested in developing rituals, parenting resources, and charities. They may even be open to “interfaith” dialogue with religious communities. And while they may be concerned with helping to create positive identity and community among non-believing people, they may not be Identity Atheists. They may positively eschew the label “atheist” altogether and instead be content with “Humanist” or “Unitarian” or something else. They may consider themselves religious–maybe religious naturalists, Unitarians, pagans, secular Buddhists, or secular Jews, etc. Or they might be hostile to any or all of these alternative variations of constructive atheism.

They may be more interested in feminism or environmentalism or other matters of cultural and social change than they are in atheism. They may be wholly open to coordination with theists on common causes of eradicating poverty, creating equality for all people, or preventing the disastrous effects of climate change. Others may be interested in philosophical issues about post-religious ethics, metaphysics, meaning without gods, coping with grief without gods. Some may be concerned with reclaiming meditation techniques from spiritualist frauds.

And of course many of these Constructive Atheists are also Identity Atheists who want their constructive alternatives to religious institutions and philosophies to be ways to express and bolster their atheist identities. And of course many of these Constructive Atheists may be passionate about the separation of church and state and be strong Secularist Atheists. And some Constructive Atheists may be Evangelical Atheists who think that it’s a good thing to try to deconvert people and to try to combat the social, moral, and intellectual influence of theistic religions in the private sphere as well as in the public sphere.

While some Identity Atheists embrace Constructive Atheism, others are suspicious of it. These Identity Atheists are afraid of Constructive Atheists threatening to subsume their atheist identity within their Constructive Atheism. They sometimes fear the mixing of atheism with things that Identity Atheists associate with the opposite of atheism or things ancillary to atheism.

Some Secularist Atheists like neither Identity Atheism nor Constructive Atheism because their interests in religion and atheism basically stop at the point of rejecting religious influence over public life. They do not see the point of creating specifically atheist identity or philosophies or communities. As long as religions just leave them alone they will be happy.

This is a basic schema. The relationships between these four kinds of atheists and their goals are complex and surprising. In future posts, I hope to tease more of them out, but in the meantime it was important to get this classificatory start. See my posts “How Is It Fair To Question Other People’s Identity-Forming Beliefs While Demanding Respect For One’s Own Belief-Formed Identities?” and Why Was The Reason Rally An Atheist Rally, Instead of Just a Secularist One? for examples of potential moral dilemmas and goal confusions that arise from these kinds of atheism being mixed without clarification of how or why they are being mixed.

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Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://www.heresyclub.com/author/alex Alex Gabriel

    I think I’d classify myself primarily as an Identity Atheist and an Evangelical Atheist. I’m only a Constructive Atheist to the extent that I want ‘atheist culture’ to develop and enable spaces for identity-atheism; I’ve very little time for ‘filling voids’ etc etc. While I am a secularist atheist, I don’t think I put enough time, energy or focus onto that aspect of my position – as I’ve said before, I’m about skepticism more than secularism – that in practical terms I could be labelled a Secularist Atheist. Perhaps the schema is more useful as a way of classifying people’s practical approach to activism than as a way of describing their theoretical positions?

    I’d be interested to see examples given of prominent atheists from each category, as in PZ’s post.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      Perhaps the schema is more useful as a way of classifying people’s practical approach to activism than as a way of describing their theoretical positions?

      Well, that’s one of the differences. It’s really what matters to people and different things matter both theoretically and activism-wise. To me all 4 are very important. There’s nothing unusual or wrong about that.

  • http://songe.me asonge

    Something that might be interesting here to cover is how the context may create the kind of atheist you are…acting on other factors like personality as well, and sometimes overriding them. The main reason I’ve seen myself as an Identity Atheist is exactly because I’m invested in being with what I see is my tribe. If someone’s getting shit for being an atheist, I’m going to be there to help them out even if that means I’m no help at all except someone to split the burden with for a short period of time. I’m an Evangelical Atheist mostly because I think that because there is probably no God, that people would do well to fulfill their moral duty and take full responsibility for their lives. That requires me to represent my “tribe” in the marketplace of ideas. Now, I do share some of my evangelism with evangelicals of faiths, but there is no tribe of evangelicalism that crosses the different faith communities (though apathy seems to be its own tribe). I’m aware that I’m in some ways a Constructive Atheist. I run a local group, I help out the local campus group, and I’m trying to think about what a “build-a-worldview kit” might be for an atheist once they’ve left a conservative religion that provided them with a monolithic worldview. However, while there are few, there are a few of the constructive atheist projects I don’t really care for and one or two I actually oppose–one of them being the National Atheist Party because clouding values and politics is something that’s destroying the right and I don’t want that to happen to the progressive cause. That said, each of the things the constructive atheists take on should probably be argued on their own merits…and people are going to find the things that they need in a marketplace of ideas.

  • Rebecca Hensler

    In my actual work, I am clearly a Constructive Atheist, since founding Grief Beyond Belief and speaking and writing about secular grief support is my only real contribution to the godless world. Politically, however, I would classify myself as a Secularist. The First Amendment is just about the only thing I hold sacred :-)

  • James Croft

    All of the above.

    • http://www.heresyclub.com/author/alex Alex Gabriel

      But don’t think we don’t know which one is most important!

  • http://starkreal.blogspot.com/ Todd I. Stark

    “My main conflicts are with atheists who opt out of any of the other categories.”

    I like the category scheme, and I find the above comment interesting.

    The categories all appear to be political, that is they are all defined in terms of what sort of action they motivate or are motivated by in the political realm. Why does an atheist’s identity have to be political in your view such that you have issues with people who opt out of all of these categories? Can someone just not believe in anything remotely theistic without taking a political stance about it? Why does that cause conflict for you? Do all atheists have to be “movement atheists,” and if they are not, then are there “movement atheists” who still opt out of all of those categories and cause you a conflict?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      The categories all appear to be political, that is they are all defined in terms of what sort of action they motivate or are motivated by in the political realm.

      Only the first category is necessarily political. The others are different social or intellectual spheres.

      Why does an atheist’s identity have to be political in your view such that you have issues with people who opt out of all of these categories?

      Atheism has to be treated seriously not just politically, but socially and philosophically by atheists. Socially, because other atheists need support and community, philosophically because religious beliefs are false and sometimes harmful on that account and we should be people who care about truth and goodness. If we are atheists because we believe religious beliefs are false and in some ways distinctively bad, then our atheism has consequences that should matter to us and should motivate us to speak up to at least some extent.

      Can someone just not believe in anything remotely theistic without taking a political stance about it? Why does that cause conflict for you?

      It’s not just political stances. It’s philosophical and social stances. If you believe those around you are being systematically deceived and misled about how to live a good life and what the basic realities are, then I think you should care about countering such influences. I think it’s a moral matter whether or not people have truth and rationally defensible ethics.

      Do all atheists have to be “movement atheists,” and if they are not, then are there “movement atheists” who still opt out of all of those categories and cause you a conflict?

      Not all atheists are movement atheists–not by a long stretch. But, yes, I would hope most would be. I don’t know of any movement atheists who do not fit any of the categories I discussed. There are other atheists though, like the silencing silent atheists, accommodationists, faitheists, apatheists, etc. My problem is with them is that their indifference to truth. Being a New Atheist is a morally conscientious way to be an atheist–at least on the issues New Atheists care about. It sadly doesn’t make us necessarily moral in a number of other respects we should be also.

    • Jon Moles

      If you read the article with the caveat that Daniel including near the beginning that it was focused on “movement atheists” your questions are rendered moot. I didn’t read it as Daniel having a problem with those who aren’t movement atheists, particularly as he states that he has written other articles defining and categorizing types of atheists. I think you are creating conflict where none need exist.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      I didn’t read it as Daniel having a problem with those who aren’t movement atheists,

      Well, I do have problems with them but that’s for another post. As you say, this is a post about the atheists who are interested in promoting atheism related issues in some shape or form.

    • Kodie

      If you believe those around you are being systematically deceived and misled about how to live a good life and what the basic realities are, then I think you should care about countering such influences.

      Personally, I fit into a couple categories, but this sentence stands out to me. That’s not the definition of an atheist. That would be the definition of an activist of one of your categories. I don’t think every atheist even thinks about their atheism in the scheme of things. It is what they arrived at personally and has nothing to do with social activism, protest, or context within society and its over-representation of religion and one religion in particular.

      My grandfather was something I would call an obnoxious atheist. He died before I ever got on the internet, so I never really had a conversation about it with him that he didn’t start and finish with no input from anyone else in the room. I was raised in a secular home mostly determined by his financial support and we never talked about religion. Still, at some point, I did conclude (or assume) I was an atheist as well and I never believed in god but I did suffer some confusion about a few things outside of Christianity in my late teens.

      When I was growing up, I had an impression that religion was something most people had, and most people kept pretty personally to themselves. As a matter of pride, they might announce themselves with a piece of jewelry or special garment, and I felt in the era and environment where I grew up, that atheism was nothing to be ashamed of. So without being an activist, if someone asked me what [religion] I was, I’d say I was an atheist. Just totally unaware that means I’m the devil to whoever’s asking. It wasn’t until I had gotten on the internet, and with my shield of anonymity, I had encountered people who took religion way more seriously than I had ever been aware of. And I got into arguments about it with them. But it wasn’t until a few more years after that that I happened upon UF and started directly having topical arguments with people much more out of touch with reality than I had even previously realized. And like that, I have come to understand if someone is interested what religion I am and asks me that question, it’s a really unsociable question, it’s not like how many brothers and sisters do you have or where did you grow up. They’re not just curious, and whatever their religion is is serious enough for them to be socially unaware what that question means. Are they going to bother me about Jesus if I answer truthfully? Will I have to get into debates with a person I work with, who won’t cooperate with me?

      Being online and specifically reading atheist blogs, I find that atheism online is a different thing than just being at home coincidentally not believing in god. People who escaped religion are different than people who were not raised in one, for one thing. People don’t seem to imagine the flexibility involved, though they do comprehend the lack of coherence – what is really an atheist. It’s someone who doesn’t believe in god or gods. It is not someone who has assessed all the information carefully and arrived at a logical conclusion in every case. These are people who may be online in other forums talking about other things they’re interested in and could not care less about activism. I don’t think that’s the best, but I don’t urge them to take up any causes either. I guess I’m not that much of an activist myself if I’m not trying to draw people to a cause, as in to say, you’re an atheist but why don’t you care about X? Why isn’t your atheism important enough to care what’s really going on in the world and do something about it, learn the arguments, solidify your understanding of why there really is no god, etc. I mean, that’s what I did, and I do care, but interfering in people’s one life is not something I try to do either.

      We have sort of an unfortunate task. It does come across as zealous, but I think it’s important to keep religion from its perception of truth and privilege. It doesn’t seem to be a big deal where I live (I live in Boston now and have always lived in the Northeastern US), but I guess it is if you find an instance of religious privilege, they will come out to defend so we have to come out too, to explain the 1st amendment again. Otherwise, people are proud of their religions without getting evangelical ever. So I would not count myself as evangelical in any case – it is an unfamiliar concept to me.

      Yeah, so until I got on the internet, I had no idea what the rest of the country was like, or what growing up in a religion was like, or the infinite ignorant exclamations made by religious people would have sounded like. I would not hold it against atheists for arriving at the correct conclusion by accident or by learning or by thinking a little, and not having the inclination to wonder if there are others. To many people, those feelings are personal and inconsequential to the society at large.

      The other perception of the silent atheists in your other thread is different. I would say when I call my grandfather obnoxious, it plays more into custom and propriety. One becomes accustomed to the culture that surrounds them, even if overtly religious, one learns the rules of a peaceful society, and one of them is, at least to me, let religious people have the floor. I have come to understand that as privilege they did not earn, but so anyway, being exposed to a vocal, irreverent atheist from a young age – rather than just being secular, or Catholic which I probably would have been – was definitely outside the norm. Even as a young atheist (as I had always considered myself to be), I knew what norms were. Where few people around me really talked about their religion more than my grandfather talked about his atheism, it did stand out. I am not averse to society becoming much more comfortable and accepting of atheism as one of the possible answers of the category of religion. In fact, like I said earlier, I sort of assumed we already were before anyone asked me and I opened my mouth, and all I said was that I was an atheist. They weren’t impolite or direct either, they didn’t try to help me find Jesus, or call me a devil, but they treated me as a lesser human being. In one case, I almost definitely lost my job because of “some other reason” two days after I had said I was an atheist. Everyone has some kind of culturally interesting thing about them and that’s mine, that’s how I would treat it socially, but I found out it’s a different category altogether.

      I just don’t know what other people’s experiences are, to tell them what kind of atheist they have to care enough to be. If they aren’t working with us, if they aren’t up on all the science and political and social issues, and they don’t believe in god, that’s fine. Online we get a different view, purposely congregating in blogs and forums to discuss issues that matter to them. Voluntarily, they get awareness, support, and may take up causes because bloggers are informing them, and other posters are encouraging them. Us. There are a lot more atheists out there who don’t come, whose atheism isn’t motivated by religious oppression either in society or from their childhood. And I think they count! They definitely count. Religious people have different definitions of atheists, and yes, mostly they are considered a “rebellion” so there are people who never had to go through the casting off of their born and raised religious beliefs, who aren’t in essence rebelling against anything, and that’s an important and valid category, if only to counter the religious perception of how or why atheists exist when god is so obvious to them.

    • Kodie

      “coherence” – if you can find it up there, I think I mean something more like cohesion. Vocab-rehab is on my list of New Year’s resolutions.

  • qbsmd

    You seem to picture your 4 categories as a dartboard shaped Venn diagramm. I would bet most atheists have all 4 motivations. but see each as having a time and a place. With little agreement and much argument about where and when those are.

  • http://dododreams.blogspot.com/ John Pieret

    I didn’t read it as Daniel having a problem with those who aren’t movement atheists …

    Well, I do have problems with them but that’s for another post.

    Ah, as someone who self-identifies as an agnostic but have often been told I am an atheist (by what PZ has called “Dictionary Atheists”), I was wondering if “movement” constituted a distinction. I guess not.

    I am a secularist because (being a lawyer) I respect the Constitution.

    I do not identify as an atheist (at least in part) because I have never really felt different from other people. I have never had a conflict (except once with my father when I refused to take communion at my mother’s funeral and that was not long-lasting). I suppose that’s partly due to the fact that I’m not an Evangelical Agnostic. I don’t challenge others’ religious beliefs as such, though I’m happy to challenge their attempts to violate the Constitution.

    Needing to replace the “voids” left by religion seems rather incoherent, except as an admission that religion really has a value.

    Anyway, I’ll be interested find out if I am considered an atheist who isn’t a movement atheist and, if so, what the problems you have with me are.

  • CBrachyrhynchos

    Hrm, I’m a pretty hardcore lumper rather than a splitter in general. But I’d recommend against the use of “Evangelical” in this context because it has a fairly specific theological meaning that categorically can’t apply to non-Christians. There are other terms which more precisely carry the intended meaning.

  • Niemand

    My first thought was “wow, judgement much?” “Constructive” atheists? As opposed to all the normal, destructive kind? This may not have been your intent-on reading the full post, I very much doubt that it was (though you do seem to have a particular fondness for constructive atheists)-but it’s going to be at least some people’s first reaction to the term.

  • Chuck Doswell

    Humans seem to have a strong urge to categorize things … to put things in neat little mutually exclusive boxes. Categorization normally generates immediate problems, because people inevitably find things that don’t seem to fit in any one box. This essay has provided an escape from the usual categorization dilemma by allowing membership in multiple categories. However, at this point, I wonder just what purpose this classification scheme is designed to serve. I’m not convinced it serves any useful purpose. Perhaps some rationale describing the need for this scheme can be offered and a demonstration provided that it in fact satisfies that need?

  • ctcss

    “If you believe those around you are being systematically deceived and misled about how to live a good life and what the basic realities are, then I think you should care about countering such influences.”

    Daniel, please explain how this kind of comment makes an atheist (of this particular stripe) any different than a religious believer who also might believe their neighbor is being “misled” and thus want to counter that “false” influence. I am rather disturbed by the idea that someone else wants to self-righteously “correct” what they think is wrong with me.

    All of us (believing or non-believing) may be incorrect as to what we consider to be “true”. It would seem that simply loving one’s neighbor as one’s self and adopting a live and let live stance would be the best way to go.

  • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

    Daniel, please explain how this kind of comment makes an atheist (of this particular stripe) any different than a religious believer who also might believe their neighbor is being “misled” and thus want to counter that “false” influence.

    The atheist reasons with the believer based on logical inferences, rational consistency, careful semantic distinctions, conceptual analysis, philosophical argumentation, evidence, and scientific and historical facts. We do not (or should not) rely on emotionalism, irrationalism, attempts to manipulate people into belief through family or community identity, etc. Religious appeals fundamentally require irrationalism because they’re not grounded in reason. They fundamentally open up to dishonest and abusive manipulation. All we evangelical atheists need to do is pay you the respect of making arguments, nothing more invasive than that.

    I am rather disturbed by the idea that someone else wants to self-righteously “correct” what they think is wrong with me.

    There is nothing self-righteous about believing you are wrong about both facts and practices, based on extensive philosophical considerations all of which can be rationally articulated and defended and appealed to your reason.

    All of us (believing or non-believing) may be incorrect as to what we consider to be “true”.

    Yes, or we may be correct. I want to debate it. There’s nothing self-righteous about that. If you are correct, then your arguments should bear that out. If they do not, thenmaybe you should change your mind. What’s so offensive about that? Do your beliefs require that they never be challenged? If so, how is that good for either you or anyone affected by your unexamined prejudices?

    And why do you put the words true and false in quotes. Do you not believe the things you say are true? Do you think nothing you believe could possibly be actually false? Do you think everyone is just bullshitting themselves? Do you have any evidence or argument for that? Why should I accept that?

    It would seem that simply loving one’s neighbor as one’s self and adopting a live and let live stance would be the best way to go.

    Best? Are you telling me how to live my life? Does that make you self-righteous? You know, for having an opinion about how to live that you want to persuade me of? And what does “loving one’s neighbor as one’s self” mean? If we are talking about how I like to be loved, I REALLY APPRECIATE the atheists who wrote things that corrected my former errors of religious belief. I want to do that for you believers. I AM trying to love believers as I want to be loved. I want to be reasoned with until I come closer to the truth about how the world is and how best to live in it. And, tell me, are you making sure, as a believer, to go rebuke the ministers and missionaries and other proselytizers indoctrinating people into all sorts of beliefs and trying to win converts? Are you telling them to stop telling others what to believe? Are you preaching this doctrine of only loving people and never discussing theology or philosophy the world over? Or do you just try to impose it on atheists. You know, as a way of loving us as yourself?

    For a fuller explanation of how I think evangelical atheists should go about conscientiously avoiding the more despicable behavior that has given proselytizing a bad name, read my post on what I think about Evangelical Atheism and the posts linked there.

    • http://www.smidoz.wordpress.com smidoz

      “Rational consistency”? The absence of evidence argument, the most common argument against the existence of God/s has been proved a poor arguments, after all, the origin of the universe was ruled out by secular science for from Hume until Hubble on no evidence. Absence of evidence is pretty useless to beings that aren’t at least near omniscient, and we know this, we have proved it, so rational consistency would be that atheists never use this argument, particularly when they write off any evidence without much though, which seems to be the case. As an example, when prophect is used as evidence, particularly something like a historisist approach to Daniel, which is pretty compelling, it’s written off (most commonly) as an interpretation. Well duh, that’s what people do, you’d hardly accept someone ruling out evolution because the data was interpretted. Still on absence of evidence, you wouldn’t accept an absence of evidence for there being an origin for the idea of deity as an argument for the existence of deity (no origin for the idea, then a mind was carrying it prior to the universe) or the lack of evidence for an origin for life as an argument for life pre existing the universe (that’s deity). Most argument s for the naturalistic origin of life seem to rest on an appeal to probability anyway, yes it’s improbable, but given the time and space involved it could happen. Surely rational consistency would dictate that atheists would be against using the absence of evidence argument in any form?

      Not using emotion Christiantiy certainly seems homophobic, but that does speak to the truth value of what they are saying, maybe they are correct, I doubt being homophobic is morally right, but I can’t prove it either way, so to bring up the homophobic nature of the Bible seems to be an emotional appeal. We know that all sorts of thing cause wars, most commonly rescources, and religion is often used to motivate people, as is patriotism, there are religious wars, yet somehow I have been told that all or most wars are caused by religion, by many atheists, this is an obvuously false emotional appeal, and none of these atheists are against owning land, yet land seems to be the resource that has cause the most wars in human history. Surely if they are rationally consistent they’d be against any form of resource ownership. Surely the false claim that all or most wars are caused by religion is an emotional appeal?

      I could probably go on, but the point is, rational consistency and not using emotional appeal are ideals that I have not seen in actual real atheists I meet. To say that rational consistency is the case among atheists is actually disproved by the vast majority of atheists.

      BTW, I found the post quite enlightening, and think you could have made it a bit clearer with a diagram. Something like a window with the 4 approaches and some kind of an elipse which covers all one or some of the areas to represnet the real person.

  • Carys Birch

    Interesting. I normally don’t identify as an atheist, which is a complicated story in its own right and heavily bound up with my own deconversion… which is still intensely in process. But your description of the constructive atheist is something I can get behind.

    I usually self-identify as pagan, but over the last year or so I’ve been sliding from a sort of default nominally polytheistic paganism toward a non-theistic humanist paganism that pretty neatly fits your description of a constructive atheist.

    It’s no coincidence that the blogs I read the most are atheist blogs. At the very least, we’re natural allies in secularism.

    (Thank you for knowing we’re around, btw. It’s nice to have one’s existence validated.)

  • smrnda

    I’ve definitely never felt like an identity atheist, mostly since my family wasn’t very religious at all and I never felt like the people around me were particularly religious or that ‘religious’ was the default, but if I’d grown up somewhere else I realize I might feel very differently.

    I guess that’s the reason why I also don’t see myself as a constructive atheist; I’ve always had the good fortune to live places where the social and cultural scene did not seem built around religion and so the need for atheist or secular or non-religious alternatives has never seemed so necessary, so it’s again a question of place. I think that in more religious area this is more pressing work. If you feel that you can’t go to any sort of club or volunteer organization without finding that the members pray and are overtly religious, you might need to build alternate structures.

    I think a lot of what type of atheist a person might be will depend on similar factors. I see opposition to religion as part of an ‘opposition to other bad ideas and power structures’ thing – it’s like opposing corporate irresponsibility, racism, or any other bad thing, and I don’t see it as separate. I’m certainly not trying to persuade people to abandon religion because I don’t know many religious people, and those I know who claim a religious faith mostly think like totally secular people and just give a nod to the faith on occasion, so it’s like telling a person to quit some bad habit they barely do.

  • http://callmeem.wordpress.com (e)m

    I don’t really know where I stand as far as your categorizations. I’d be interested in your thoughts.

    I became an atheist because I care about truth, and accepted where the evidence lead me. This is why I’m not an accomadationist. But I’m not an evangelical atheist because we have ample evidence that atheism alone does not make you a good person. Also, I see the fight as not being against religion, but against bad thinking, especially faith. Unexamined ideas that are followed with fervor are harmful. So instead of specifically fighting religion, I fight for better thinking. This is a big reason why I don’t consider myself part of the atheist movement. Devotion to truth is why I’m an anti-theist, but religion is not my biggest concern. I’d rather work with a religious person to fight against sexism, cissexism, oppositional sexism, heterosexism, and racism than with an atheist that doesn’t care about any of that. At the same time, I’ll vocally dissagree with the believer because they value faith, which I find to be a poisonous idea, so it puts me out with everybody. I’m a secularist, but that isn’t specifically an atheist ideal. I was a secularist when I was deeply religious too.

    You could call me an identity atheist, because I care about anti-atheist discrimination, but I also care about discrimination against other minority religions like paganism. Now, I’ll disagree with their beliefs all day long, but I still think that they should be treated equally, just like we are. I do feel as if atheism is something very important to my sense of identity, but it doesn’t mean that I feel like other atheists are my family or tribe. This might be because the only other atheist that I know outside the internet is a misogynistic, racist, homophobic guy who has repeatedly harrassed me.

    As far as being a constructive atheist, I mostly care about values, but I don’t care about building institutions, and I am not a part of any movements. I work on my own, in what ways I can to fight against all forms of oppression, and bad thinking.

    So where exactly does that put me?

    • http://callmeem.wordpress.com (e)m

      clarification: I see religion as a symptom of bad reasoning, not the problem itself. If we take care of bad reasoning, the symptom goes away.

  • http://alessandrareflections.wordpress.com/ Alessandra

    “Evangelical Atheists”
    I really liked this label. Along the same lines: Orthodox Atheist, Mainline Atheist, Reformed Atheist…

  • http://www.ironicschmoozer.wordpress.com Pastor Cranky

    Wow, this has generated a lot of comments! What I didn’t see was a description of passive atheists, that is, those who don’t believe in the God of monotheism but who don’t have a strong agenda regarding public life. This does include some atheists who are contributing members of Unitarian Universalist congregations; perhaps these would fall into the category of constructive atheists, as they are active in their communities.

    • baal

      The OP is on movement atheists and not the universe of all atheists (which would then include the passive atheists). I don’t see passive atheists as movementarians.

  • abb3w

    Like PZ, you appear to be neglecting the “Bandwagon” atheists — who join because of other people they know. From what I can tell, though they’re far less common than evangelical commentators like to claim, there do appear to be a few, and perhaps a gradually increasing fraction.

  • Mb

    Why? What is the point in defining identities like this – at best it is self limiting at worst people will use it against you – and more importantly me .