Apatheists: The People Who Just Don’t Care About Religion

This issue is hard to contemplate since (I assume) most of you who read this site have a particular view about religion. Maybe you want to convince people God exists… or maybe you want to cure people of that irrational belief.

But what about people who just don’t give a shit either way? Not self-described agnostics who have concluded you can’t know whether or not god exists, but the people who choose not to think about the issue at all.

Cathy Lynn Grossman of USA Today has an article about those people in today’s paper — the ones who don’t get into religious debates, who may not have an opinion on the matter, or who have an opinion but prefer to keep it private.

I’ve referred to them before as “Apatheists”:

Ashley Gerst, 27, a 3-D animator and filmmaker in New York, shifts between “leaning to the atheist and leaning toward apathy.”

“I would just like to see more people admit they don’t believe. The only thing I’m pushy about is I don’t want to be pushed. I don’t want to change others and I don’t want to debate my view,” Gerst says.

This trend may have been leaving subtle tracks for years.

The hot religion statistical trend of recent decades was the rise of the “Nones” — the people who checked “no religious identity” on the American Religious Identification Surveys (ARIS). The Nones numbers leapt from 8% in 1990 to 15% in 2008.

The So Whats appear to be a growing secular subset. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life’s Landscape Survey dug in to the Nones to discover that nearly half said they believed “nothing in particular.”

As much as I’d love to see more people take on the cause of many atheists — fighting against religious indoctrination, the merging of church and state, irrational thinking as a whole, etc. — I don’t mind people who don’t care at all.

With one caveat: As long as the Apatheists appreciate that many of us take the issue very seriously (and for good reason) and don’t go out of their way to stop us from advocating our own positions, I don’t care if they don’t enter the arena of public discourse on the issue.

Of course, we’d be even better off if they didn’t believe in god at all… but considering the alternative, I’d rather they just ignore the issue altogether than harbor some latent belief that “god is good.”

It’s weird for me to support ignorance (or active avoidance) of the issue, and I’m sure there are plenty of people who would rather see people care about religion (regardless of their beliefs) than to avoid the topic completely, but the Apatheists aren’t the ones who give us trouble.

It’s the vocal believers — the ones who proselytize, who try to change the laws to favor Christian ideals, who tell you you’re going to hell if you don’t agree with them — who are the problem. They’re the ones we need to go after. If people don’t want to join our side, then step outside the ring and let those of us with good arguments and strong convictions take control of the debate.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Jess

    Well I guess that would make me an atheistic apathist, since I don’t believe in gods but I also don’t give a crap what anyone else believes either. I’m not interested in debating or defending my viewpoint to anyone, much to the eternal annoyance of my uber religious parents who try to bait me into a “discussion” at every opportunity. I believe what I believe, and that’s good enough for me. Everyone else can go suck on some lemons.

  • Melanie

    I actually started a blog with that name, but don’t update it regularly. Probably because I just don’t care. I call myself an apatheist because I don’t make religion or believing in God(s) a priority. What I do make a priority is upholding the First Amendment, and I will absolutely participate in making sure laws aren’t passed that benefit any one religion or discriminate against those who hold minority viewpoints. I don’t self-identify with a religion or as an atheist, but that still makes me part of the population that everyone expects is Christian but isn’t.

    • Liyan

      That makes you an agnostic secular humanist actually.

  • http://codemonkeybryan.com Bryan Elliott

    I was an apathist for a long time (and even used the term, thinking myself to have coined it).  So if you want the reasoning, it’s simple: why should I think so goddamned hard about a condemnably stupid question?

    The answer, of course, is: to counter the very hard thinking done in misguided support of a very wrong answer.  Took me a while to figure that out, but it was mostly in the form of Thunderf00t’s “Why do people laugh at Creationists?” series.  At that point, I didn’t know such stupid existed.

  • stephanie

    I am fine with those who don’t care. Since I’m very moderate, I don’t identify with strong atheism any more than I do with fundamentalists.If you asked me to describe myself, I’d probably get fifty other adjectives out before I came to anything about religion- although skeptic might make it a bit higher. While I do not believe in any god or gods, I just don’t care about any of these made up god or gods enough to make it my purpose in life to deny them vociferously- I tend only to react when people push the issue of faith and religion  where it doesn’t belong. 

  • http://stochasticscientist.blogspot.com/ Kathy

    I think the rise of the apatheist is a good thing.  People who don’t care about god aren’t likely to push for legislation that will make them shun products or actions that only god disapproves of.  I think our culture has to become more secular as fewer people care what god might think of them.

    This is assuming that the apatheists are true to their own lack of convictions.  There is the risk that some of them think, ‘well, I don’t care one way or the other, but YOU should go to church.’

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1003383897 Brad Tankersley

    As a die hard Apatheist I’ll leave a comment but only because it is about Apatheism. I agree with Melanie that the First Amendment should be upheld. One opinion should never rein supreme over another and no opinion should ever be suppressed.

    Apatheism comes for me out of a desire to think less about religion. As much as I love pondering the mysteries of the mind, I have found that taking a position on either side of the religion debate is too hard to think about. It requires too much mental effort. Atheism for a time was the simplest answer but that to became burdensome as I was often required to defend my non-belief.

    I found that the simplest answer to all the questions was to never ask the questions. Essentially I don’t care about either sides positions upon the matter. It seems for the most part a moot point to argue whether supernatural deities exist or not.

    I will continue to uphold and defend the First Amendment Clauses regarding separation of Church and State. I will continue to advocate against religions attempting to remove human rights. I will also always feel a sense of disgust when I hear about forced indoctrination of children.

    But to the argument against or for the existence of deities…Frankly my dears I don’t give a damn.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1082225690 Robert Solomon

    I agree with Bryan Elliott: why should I think so hard about a stupid question.  But then, religion is an interesting human phenomenon.  Religion is almost universal across human cultures.  Religions are intricate, the way Mozart and Vivaldi are intricate.  Their persistence in the post-Industrial age is curiously intriguing.  For all these reasons, I care quite a bit about religion.  It is fascinating!  But  to get caught up in questions about the TRUTH of religion?   . . . (yawn) . . . whatever.  I don’t have any reason to change your beliefs until (1) you get rude, (2) you get disrespectful of others, or (3) you want to kill or go to war over it.  Then I feel compelled to get in your face and make you listen to reason, and I lose my apathy.
     

  • Newavocation

    In the case of religion, it seems that beliefs lead to actions. So it’s hard for me to be apathetic toward it. Was Hitler more responsible for the holocaust than the Germans that didn’t care about the Jews either way?

    • Anonymous

      Not sure you will be able to understand this but YES, of course he is more responsible by committing the act. You fail to understand the whole human interaction thing. In most cases having an opinion and getting involved only brings problems. Not all people should or need to stand against the bad, and it doesn’t make them bad if they do not.
      According to your theory anyone who doesn’t tell you hitler was worse for doing the act then a human who stood by is now a bad person because they didn’t bother to let you know how stupid your idea was? I don’t think so pal.

    • SDP

      I find the issue pretty similar to politics. I don’t call myself the supporter of any party, and pretty much just like to see the trains run on time. Religion is not part of everyone’s life, but it is part of theists and atheists lives.

  • Andrew Morgan

    To quote Rush,

    “You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice.
    If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

    • Anonymous

      Yes it’s true, they have made a choice and it’s a good one. To not follow any religion that is false and to not bother to argue with the nuts that do follow with no proof. Good for the Apatheists. I on the other hand am an Atheist and use my big human brain to see what a joke blindly following a faith is, and I’m more then willing to tell the religious nuts to jump off a cliff, or just shoot themselves.

      Rush also sang lyrics that said “The meek shall inherit the earth”
      They, the meek, also made a choice, to not get involved.

      Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities.[1] In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities.[

  • PJB863

    I guess I fit into that category.  I am not locked into any belief system.  Truth be told, I just don’t care one way or the other – whatever floats your boat:  just don’t expect me to board it!

  • Trina

    I’m an atheist, but I can relate to where at least some of the apatheists are coming from.  I’ve been subscribed to atheist sites, and read comments elsewhere, long enough now to know that there are some technically on ‘our side of the fence’ who are petty and regularly resort to the lowest, emotionally-driven insults.  Their method is as bad as that of the worst religionists.  It’s (perhaps not surprisingly) similar to what happens in politics – the ‘us vs. them’ mentality that seems to be part of so much of human nature, and so gleefully-enjoyed by many.   

  • Natasha Gow

    As an atheist of course I don’t believe in God, but I also don’t view myself as apathetic. I respect other peoples religious or non religious tendencies but clarification on ideas and the reasonable discussion of what results from religion or non religion is of great concern to me.

    Example; I generally think that arguing with a religious person about the existence of god is a waste of time. But I will argue with them about things like gay marriage or abortion, if only to simply get them to think about why they are reasoning the way they are, and if a different view might be more acceptable.

    Its also pretty entertaining and a way to fill the slow days.

    Tash- http://bethecog.blogspot.com/

  • http://www.txwatson.com/ T.X. Watson

    I have a lot of labels I like for myself, but apatheist is one of them.  I think I tend to mean it, though, less in the sense, “I don’t care about religious views,” than in the sense, “I don’t care about god’s views.”  

    I don’t happen to believe a god exists, but even if I did, I can’t imagine that it would affect the way I make any of my decisions in life, because I think morality is about how you affect the things you can affect, so I should worry about the well being of my fellow living creatures.  

    If there’s an omnipotent god up there angsting about my sex life or political views, they’ve got way more power to change their emotions than I do, so I don’t see how it could possibly be my problem.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

    Apathetic Agnosticism: I don’t know, and I don’t care, I’m just gonna live my life while I have the time.

  • http://twitter.com/Garmandude GaR

    I know quite a few people who probably fall into the apatheist category.  Definitely better than religioes, but they’re also among the atheists I know (warning: anecdotal evidence) who are more likely to believe pseudoscientific bullshit, “spiritual” crap like astrology and have weirdly strong discriminatory opinions like non-biblical homophobia.

  • Eivind Kjorstad

    I think many, perhaps most, people are apatheists. They don’t feel religion is very relevant to them except as a venue for holding ceremonies at birth, weddings and funerals. Many are members of church – because they’ve always been and it’s old habit, but they don’t really care one way or another.

    Is there something you do – that  you wouldn’t do if you didn’t believe ? Or something you *don’t* do that you would if not for your belief ?

    Surprisingly many says “no” to both of these, i.e. they claim that their beliefs neither induce them, nor prevent them from doing anything they’d otherwise (not) do.

    • Anonymous

      I think the most interesting statistic in the ARIS is that “27% do not expect a religious funeral at their death.”   This is in contrast to the 15% Nones.   I think these are a lot of apathists are in this category:  They say they are pick-a-religion, if asked, but are so uninterested in religion that they don’t even see a role for religion in their own death.  If 10% are atheists and another 20% are apathists, we are doing just fine as a movement, especially given that numbers will probably double in the next 20 years.

      • Eivind Kjorstad

        I’m from Norway. It’s a strong example of just how unreligious people need to be before they’ll actually actively leave church. Something like 80% of the population here is a member of the protestant church. Nevertheless, only 36% answer “yes” to the question: “Do you believe that there is a God?”

        That’s right, more than half of the church-members will point-blank answer “no” if you ask them if they believe in God. If you asked what religion they are though, you’d likely find that most cross “christian”.

  • Apostatexp

    The goal of New Atheism, our little war on religion, is to try and move society to place where it becomes increasingly easy to be apathetic on the question of god.  But we’re a long way from that point.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1814576232 Javier Fonseca

    Well, I guess my husband is an Apatheist or maybe something between this an Atheist. He doesn’t believe, but he won’t engage in reading any of the New Atheism Horsemen’s books… he doesn’t give a shit! But he’s very supportive towards me. Sadly, he’s not that Skeptical I wish he was, in his Apatheism sometimes he would make assertions with no evidence. In those cases, with love and patience, I try to help him rethinking what he has just said… He’s Apatheist, and I love him!

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    I view the number of apatheists living in a society as a measure of how success secularism has become. I’m glad there are so many apatheists. Living on the edge of the bible-belt, though, I also see first hand the pressure to be religious and discrimination against those who “are different”. As long as there are societal injustices that still exist I like to take some small steps to make things better (even if those actions only help some other group of people). It is only natural, though, that as the injustice diminishes, that people become apathetic about it.

    For example, at one point in American history, the Irish immegrants were great discriminated against. Now being of Irish descent won’t even raise an eyebrow. We all want to get to the place were being an atheist (or gay) doesn’t raise an eyebrow. I appreciate the atheists that take time and effort to “fight for the cause” and I also appreciate

    • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

      My iPhone wouldn’t let me finish my comment. I also appreciate the fact that the number of apatheists are increasing in our society.

  • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

    One thing to keep in mind is that a lot of the people who are apatheists are probably just ignorant. The same Pew Study 
    http://pewforum.org/Other-Beliefs-and-Practices/U-S-Religious-Knowledge-Survey.aspx  that found that atheists and agnostics had high religious knowledge levels showed had a category for people who when given the choice between “atheist or agnostic” and “none”  choose none. This is a grab-bag category, including people who might not care, people who who are “not religious but spiritual”, people who don’t like the negative connotations of the word “atheist”, people who don’t know what the word “atheist” means, and people who claim to not be Christian but have a personal relationship with Jesus. So,  looking at this category doesn’t give us a great snapshot of the apatheists but it does do a decent approximation (there’s other evidence which suggest that the plurality of the nones are functionally apatheists). Now, one thing that jumps out here is that while atheists  had one of the highest religious knowledge levels, the nones have one of the lowest. 

    This is one piece of evidence among a variety that shows that nones look demographically very different from atheists and agnostics (who look demographically very similar). 

  • Catgirlthecrazy

    I think a lot of people who do adopt religious labels are effectively Apatheists. I’m talking about the ones who don’t go to church and don’t adopt any of the beliefs or practices unique to their religion. For example, people who never go to church and only celebrate the secular aspects of Christian holidays (e.g.: Santa and the Easter bunny). The kind of people who only use religious labels out of habit, and possibly social/family pressures.

    Also, I like to use the term “meh-theist.”

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    It would seem that there are degrees of apatheism. Several people here have expressed a lack of pathos for general issues like the existence of gods, or debates with theists, but they have also said they do show caring and get active for specific things like church/state separation or civil rights.  It all depends on what buttons or triggers our personal experiences leave us with.

    The most deeply apathetic apatheists probably never visit or even think about blogs like this.

    I suppose, as a couple of others here have alluded to, universal apatheism will be the natural consequence when, in one or two more centuries, theism has faded away into a curious and rather unpleasant historical memory. When there are no longer any theists doing lunatic things to other people, or interfering with scientific inquiry, or limiting people’s civil rights, There will no longer be any need for active, pathos-filled atheists.

    But we ain’t there yet, and without a diligent effort to keep moving forwards, it is quite possible for society to go backwards into very dark places. So while widespread apathy might some day indicate that the madness is finally over, in the meantime we should take inspiration and renew our pathos from the famous maxim,

    “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

  • Anonymous

    I’m an atheist and I don’t believe in things like “spirituality.” There are a lot of people who are not religious but are spiritual; I’m not one of those people. There is no god, there are no spirits, etc. I just focus on improving myself and trying to improve the lives of others, even in small ways.

  • Tad Callin

    I think I gravitate toward Apatheism (great term – I’ll disavow it if it comes into common use) because I was such an insufferable jerk as a Christian. I tried so hard to believe, and to take everyone along with me.  I don’t want to simply “change sides” and continue to be a jerk.

    Of course, one does have to be true to one’s self…

    Still, I try to explain it better on my blog. “Why I Am a None” (http://tadshappyfuntime.blogspot.com/2011/12/why-i-am-none.html) and “Going to Pet the Rabbits” (http://tadshappyfuntime.blogspot.com/2011/05/going-to-pet-rabbits.html) are about my experiences; “Impact on My Faith” (http://tadshappyfuntime.blogspot.com/2011/09/impact-on-my-faith.html) is more of a reflection on what I *do* believe in, rather than truly believing “nothing.”

  • Kamyuja

    I think you’ve got apatheists wrong, I don’t mind debating or talking about religion.  

    I actually like to talk about it, and I’ve been apathetic towards religion since I was 12 for myself personally.  Though because I’m apathetic about this, some people whether they are religious or atheist, automatically assume it means I’m an atheist, which is the only thing that annoys me. 

  • Ross Taylor

    Hey , I think that people should live their lifes and stop debating , As a 17 year old british apatheist , I read alot of holy books when I was younger to try and find something worth living for. I then realised that , We live life and die. It dosent matter if your christian , What’s the point in sitting around doing nothing with your life? Im just back home from africa doing voulnteer work helping build school for children to learn and hopefully they will have a open view in their life , So let’s stop arguing because I do not care. You will strugle to find people who do nowadays! We only have a short amount of time on earth so go do something with your lifes.

  • Gogo Ziherr

     I don’t care, i don’t understand the drive behind it, for me it’s delusional and that’s it. I’m not gonna waste time convincing people that tubes sound better than transistors or vice versa because i know 99% don’t give a damn..the same way i don’t give a damn about religion.

  • vau0807

    I’m pleased to enter into debate with someone who pushes a god claim. It’s good practice both for a secular atheist like me and for the believer. Some of these debates can be very pleasant and mutually illuminating as well. It’s always interesting to learn why people believe what they do.

    Having said that, I’m increasingly concerned about the degree to which I observe greater moral integrity on the part of casual believers – the ones who ignore most of the bible but still believe in god – compared with committed secular atheists. Also, I get the impression that most self-identified, self-asserted atheists fall too easily into a primitive “us v/s them” mentality that sets a poor example to “them”.

    Speaking of examples, I notice as I write this that “Bill O’Reilly: ‘Christianity is Not a Religion; It’s a Philosophy’” is among the “Most Popular Posts”. Doesn’t shooting neocon fish in the Fox News barrel ever get old? And are we pretending that some absolutely breathtaking stupidity hasn’t issued from the mouths of Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell?

  • Brian T Hall

    I need to get this out of my system.. I am a Apatheist, not in religiousness but in god.. I don’t care if there is a god or not.. but I do care when religious people try and shove down other peoples throats there Ideas.. I’m a agnostic secular Apatheist who dose not like holly text at all.. who oppose all the bad philosophy and bad Ideas that come strait out of the bible or had a indirect influence from the bible.. I do not believe any of these Holly text have anything to do with our world.. that is my secular part of me.. I do care about people in power believing in bull shit.. that I don’t want them to believe.. so now the Question is are there two sides of Apatheism. when I don’t fit in your definition of Apatheist.. is there another name that works better for me?


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