Not All Atheists Are Evolved Alike

atheismAwhile ago I came to realize that there is a growing atheist community. I cautiously tapped into it and have made a few friends, which has been refreshingly nice. But the more atheists I know, the more it has come to my attention that not all atheists are evolved alike.

Now, before you get mad, I'm just stating the obvious. At least it's obvious to me now. But I came upon this realization rather slowly because I guess I figured most people who also came to understand that there's no proof for gods would have had a similar path to mine.

I found I couldn't be further from the truth. That's the great thing about atheism, in some ways. We've all reached a similar conclusion we've all found our own way to the top of the mountain, but from a different path. Some of us had very hard, rough paths, losing religious family and friends along the way... casualties of our free thinking. Others have found the path easy and natural, never having truly believed in the first place. Then a few seemed to have been born on the mountain top, never brainwashed in the river of religion.

I read an article the other day that I thought was really interesting and accurate. It's actually about what a religious person should know before trying to convert an atheist. But to start, the post says there are 3 categories of atheists:

  1. Natural Atheists: Those brought up by atheist parents who never experienced the conflict between religion and rationality.

  2. Apathetic Atheists: Those whose faith was not particularly strong and who, without a compelling drive to believe or not believe, defaulted to atheism - becoming an atheist involved very little internal debate and conflict.

  3. Dissonant Atheists: Those who grew up with belief but who were overwhelmingly torn up over the incompatibility between faith and rationality. These people sought one thing - to rid themselves of the terrible cognitive dissonance cat #1 and #2 atheists are spared from.

This is interesting to me because I am a category 3 Dissonant Atheist. I had a long battle with trying to rationalize god with reality. Reality finally won and god went away in a poof. It was kind of frightening.

I guess I thought most people would be from this category. But I'm learning that there are lots of people who are natural and apathetic atheists as well. At first, I didn't really believe they could be natural. But I'm starting to get it. Maybe part of why I resisted this information was because I am a bit jealous of how easy it's been for them to embrace the notion of being god-free. I don't know, it's just a thought.

Anyway, I am also realizing that just because someone is an atheist, it really doesn't mean anything more than that. Ok, let me explain. I thought when I figured out that god was a myth that I discovered a secret that most people would never find. After meeting other atheists, and being married to one, I came to the hypothesis that atheists were smarter than religious folks.

Overall, I think for dissonant atheists, there is some truth to that. But overall, just because you figure out that god doesn't exist, it doesn't mean that you can think critically. I am the perfect example of that. After becoming an atheist, I still found myself clinging to "spirituality" for awhile. When I realized that was all complete mind games and nonsense, I still never questioned other things, like pseudoscience.

Only last year did I discover the budding skeptic community. Since then I've discovered that common myths I've believed for decades are based on nothing, or worse, lies. This was much easier to reconcile because it was just another layer of the proverbial onion of information.

It didn't take long for me to also realize that other atheists I know, while being god-free, still cling to ideas that have no basis in science or fact. I tried to share with one atheist friend the fact that homeopathy was based on false principles totally unsupported with modern science. She stopped talking to me a few weeks later.

I didn't learn my lesson though. I tried to explain to another friend, also an atheist, that global warming was real. He insisted that since we still had cold days in winter that it was totally stupid and fake. (He also believed g.w. bush was doing his best and was a decent president.). He stopped talking to me not long after, because he said something like I didn't respect him. He was right, really. So that ended that.

The more I think about it, the more curious I am. If you're an atheist, how did you come to the conclusion that there are no gods? Which category are you in? Was it easy or did you struggle with the cognitive dissonance between god and reality? If you are an atheist, do you still cling to spirituality? Do you practice critical thinking for all areas of your life, or just religion? (really think about that one, because it's tricky to know for sure).

This would make a great survey, wouldn't it? I would love to do a real one. Maybe someday I'll figure out how. But for now,  I would really value your comments. Ok, off to make gravy for my roast beast! Thanks in advance! :)

EDIT: Survey is HERE! I really value your input. :)


  1. I would be somewhere in the middle of #2 and #3. Because while my old belief wasn't very strong, I was for a time very guilty of what was running through my mind. I was torn up over what I was growing to know was true because although I couldn't bring myself to believe what I was being told, it was the only thing I knew.

    It truly wasn't until last year around May~ish that I was finally able to connect all the pieces. I have to thank finding all the online communities for finally pushing me over that line.

  2. I was a spirit filled, fire breathing, man of god who intended to become a full time preacher for 18 years. I lived by faith so strongly that I decided I didn't need my blood pressure medicines. That caused a stroke which left me in continual pain for the last ten years. The stroke somehow shut off the part of my mind that made me a believer. Since my faith had failed me on a massive scale I began studying my bible with a new perspective and gradually came to realize that it failed because there is no god. The book that was my foundation ultimately provided all the evidence of its own falsehood. My wife is still a believer so we're frequently out of balance. My so-called friends abandoned me. You haven't seen anything until you see how christians turn on you when you don't believe what they believe.

  3. I'm a Cat#3, and I agree that I'm a little jealous of Cat#1 people. I'm fairly lucky that my parents were not overbearing when I was a kid; but the church we attended, and some of my relatives were.

    My deconversion came very slowly, over five or six years. I think I had stopped believing in God a couple years ago; but previous negative impressions of the word 'atheist' prevented me from ever venturing down that road. Most of that deconversion came through life experiences and observations in the world, no actual delving research.

    I've always been a skeptic; my friends and family send me the email chain stories to ask if they are real before they forward them out to everyone. About a year ago, I had to do some research to debunk some misconceptions of a couple family members. In that process I really got wrapped up in religious research. Then after the debunk was done, I kept digging as the bread-crumb-trail led other places. One day a light went on, I realized I'd been an atheist for some time, just hadn't but a title to the belief.

    Back to answering your 'survey' questions... I'd say my struggle rates a medium with cognitive dissonance. I only 'lost' a couple friends, and the family that disagrees with my views just doesn't talk religion around me. My take on 'spirituality' now is working to create that desired balance between life, family, and friends.

    I perceive myself as thinking critically even more now that I have opened my awareness; and find myself being even more skeptical of many things (thus asking for or seeking proof before believing).

  4. I'm a category 3 as well. While I was atheist until my mother indoctrinated me at age 8 I eventually became quite the devout Christian. I was in my late 20s when I began experiencing doubts which I tried to squelch with prayer, more Bible reading (as if I weren't doing enough already) and good old-fashioned denial. At about 29 I finally came out and admitted I no longer believed. I've never had a desire to go back.

  5. Thanks, Doug. Yeah, the guilt part is not fun. I'm glad you finally connected the pieces. :)

  6. Wow, Frank, that's awful. It must be such a challenge to be married to someone you love who has such different beliefs. I'm always saddened by the hypocrisy of christians abandoning people because they think for themselves in some way. It's so ugly.

  7. Thanks so much Johnny. Yeah, for me deconversion took years, as well.
    I just had a conversation with a friend of mine who is also an atheist. Her family is fundamentalist baptist and she is bothered that they ignore religion and her atheism like your family does. She wonders why they don't try to 'save' her. Which is rather odd, isn't it?

    Skeptical thinking is a great thing, don't you think? :) I just wish it didn't alienate people. But it seems like your family and friends have come to rely on you to help them. That's awesome!

  8. Thanks so much, Buffy. I agree, I've never ever considered going back to religion. I don't think I could even if I wanted to. I'm glad I took the red pill!

  9. I'm definitely a dissonant #2, or quite possibly an apathetic #3. I'm not completely sure that things are that easy to categorize... Especially when you're in the middle there.

    I didn't start out as a hard core theist, but I also didn't default to atheism. It was more like I wanted god to be real, or the supernatural to be true. And I would really love it if magic existed- I just read Neverwhere and I would love to live in a world like that.

    But I also wanted to comment on the idea that all atheists are alike. I'm a pretty huge Disney theme park fan, and I can tell you that that alone doesn't mean that I will connect with other people who call Disneyland a second home.

    I think atheism, like any other idea, is just a small part of who we are. That's not to say it's a minor thing, because it often drives how we approach the world. But it takes a lot of work to be skeptical about everything and I think its because our brain doesn't want to work that hard. Label someone an expert and we put more weight on their words. Rattle off some "facts" without sources and it sounds like you know what you are talking about. And, we tend to treat certain beliefs as precious, and don't want to change our minds about them. Penn and Teller discovered the same thing that you've written about when they were working on their "Bullshit" show.

    I think there are as many different types of atheists as there are people who ARE atheists.

  10. I answered your little quiz, and since there are so few right now you could probably guess which ones I am... maybe.

    Anyways, a word for the global warming part. His backing of his thoughts were completely whack. But you know, environmentalism directly affects convenience... Personally, I don't accept CO2 causing global warming either. But in this case, is quite different, as I believe climate change is a problem-just that CO2 isn't the big monster here. Rather, plastic pollution (like the landmass in the middle of the ocean), massive deforestation, and the great destruction of nature for livable habitat (we're changing our environment and we wonder why it's changing?)

    This is quite reasonable, as there is no proven massive correlation between CO2 and global warming. Many articles attribute global warming as the cause when other bad things are the real culprits (less fish... overfishing anyone?) Furthermore, the actual equations and proven formulas go against CO2 as the cause. Constantly I ask for solid correlation, I'll never get any-as it doesn't exist. My favorite quote for the subject is "zealots constantly shrilling over atmospheric carbon dioxide misdirecting attention and effort from real and potentially addressable local, regional, and planetary problems."

    It's easy to see how much manipulation goes on, just look at the articles. The articles hardly ever reference to any proof behind their claims, they just say global warming is the cause and expect that to be sufficient. That's a lack of what we like to call science... I like to try and change people's focus on our real proven massive problems that are destroying the Earth.

  11. 2 verging on 1. Dad's a non-practising catholic after begin thrown out by the priest for daring to marry a Protestant. The significance of that never really struck me until later. buT mum's side are religious but in a naturalistic sense of awe and wonder at the universe, a slight detour into biblical inerrancy and prophecy, which is unfortunate, but mostly it's fairly benign.

    I was taken to church, but it never really stuck. Always been interested in and more taken by science, and few minor cognitive dissoncances to clear up later - mostly to do with dualism as oppose to faith but so long you can be a dualist you can in some sense by spiritual or religious about it - I emerged a fully formed atheist.

  12. I'm with you GMNightmare... I think there are problems, and things we could do better; but I think most Global Warming get over-stated. I've done a little digging and found papers and books where scientists were preaching the same doom and gloom back in the mid-to-late 70s; the difference being they were predicting an ice-age. Its almost humorous how you can read some of their quotes and replace "ice-age" with "global warming" and it becomes almost word-for-word quotes from the news today. I think it just shows their predictions are not tuned enough to be truly accurate; so we should work on things we know to be bad - the pollution we can see, the garbage island, the excessive waste, etc.

    Michael Crichton's State of Fear takes a lot of global warming facts and adds an interesting fiction story to it (if that kind of thing interests you).

  13. I'm a #3. I was raised with strict religious beliefs (Calvinist) and the proverbial fire and brimstone preaching. I never even questioned the 'faith' as I was surrounded by people who solidly reinforced the indoctrination on a daily basis.

    Eventually though, as I matured and began college I was exposed to questions that challenged the very foundation of my self-worth as an equal human being on this planet..."You do know that your god is a misogynist, right?"... "Do you have any idea of the amount of self-loathing a woman has to have to believe that shit?" And slowly the scales began to drop from my eyes. But it would take years before I was able to see clearly.

    First I would have to go through a 'spirituality' period too, I got involved with Taoism, Shinto and finally Buddhism before I realized that I was merely using substitute drugs for the anxiety I felt being untethered from Christianity.

    And once I became accustom to living in reality there was a truer sense of peace and security than I had ever felt in any religion and I've never looked back.

  14. Thanks GMN.. you always bring food for thought to the table. :)

  15. Hi Steve,
    I understand where you're coming from. I wanted god to be loving and kind. I wanted him to care about me and help me. It didn't take me long as a kid to realize that was never going to happen.

    It took longer to finally give up on the supernatural for some reason. I wanted to believe in UFOs, healing energy, magic... all that stuff. Oh, and Neverwhere was a great book. Neil Gaiman is awesome, isn't he?

    Yeah, I know no atheists are alike, just like we're all unique. I guess I just had this weird notion that if you are an atheist it means you think more critically.

    It is a lot of work to be skeptical. I've found that it gets easier with practice though. But being an ignorant sheeple sure is rather effortless and far simpler.

  16. Thanks very much, Richard. I appreciate your input! :D

  17. I agree, Guanoloca. There really is a peace and security to atheism. I guess for me, anyway, it has to do with knowing there's no lake of fire in hell ready to burn me for all eternity. When I was young, I was so terrified of burning in hell (even though I was such a good girl, never did anything bad, never intentionally hurt anyone), I got baptized 3 times by 3 different churches.

    I did go through a moment of terror when I finally said aloud that I had to admit I was an atheist. I thought there might be a bolt of lightning with my name on it. But nothing bad happened. And the peace and relief settled in. Life is so much more wonderful as an atheist!