Where do you fall on the ‘nonbelief’ scale?

In June, a research study on religious nonbelief identity in the U.S. was published by the Departments of Psychology and Learning and Leadership at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. The project was designed and implemented by doctoral candidate and principal investigator Christopher Silver and Thomas Coleman III, a student at UTC.

The study identified six “types” of nonbelief:


Intellectual Atheist/Agnostic

The first and most frequently discussed type, it includes those “who proactively seek to educate themselves through intellectual association and proactively acquire knowledge on various topics relating to ontology (the search for truth) and nonbelief. They enjoy dialectic enterprises such as healthy democratic debate and discussions and are intrinsically motivated to do so.”

Besides reading relevant books, IAAs make use of popular blogs, YouTube videos, podcasts and social media and often belong to secular and freethought groups that meet in person.


Activist Atheist/Agnostic

Not content with simply holding a nonbelief position, they seek to be vocal and proactive on humanism, feminism, LGBT issues, social/political concerns, human rights, the environment, animal rights and state-church separation.

“Their activism can be as minimal as the education of friends or others, to much larger manifestations of social activities such as boycotting products, promoting legal action or marching in public demonstrations to raise awareness.” 



“Seeker-Agnostics do not hold a firm ideological position but always search for the scientifically wondrous and experientially profound confirmation of life’s meaning. . . . Their worldly outlook may be mediated by science; however, they recognize current scientific limitations and embrace scientific uncertainty.

“Some Intellectual Atheist/Agnostics or Anti-Theists may accuse the Seeker-Agnostic of avoiding responsibility or commitment to a more solid affirmation of atheism. In other cases, outsiders may see it as an ontological transitional state from religion or spirituality to atheism.” 

The authors add, “the majority of Seeker-Agnostics should in no way be considered ‘confused,’ ” but instead embrace “uncertainty.”



“[A]ntitheists view religion as ignorance and see any individual or institution associated with it as backward and socially detrimental. The Anti-Theist has a clear and, in their view, superior, understanding of the limitations and danger of religions. They view the logical fallacies of religion as an outdated worldview that is not only detrimental to social cohesion and peace, but also to technological advancement and civilized evolution as a whole. They are compelled to share their view and want to educate others into their ideological position and attempt to do so when and where the opportunity arises.

“Based on personalities, some Anti-theists may be more assertive than others; but outsiders and friends know very clearly where they stand in relation to an Anti-theist.”



“For the Non-theists, the alignment of oneself with religion, or conversely, an epistemological position against religion, can appear quite unconventional from their perspective. However, a few terms may best capture the sentiments of the Non-theist. One is apathetic, while another may be disinterested.

“Simply put, Non-theists are apathetic nonbelievers.”


Ritual Atheist/Agnostic

Characteristics include:

• No belief in God or the divine, or they tend to believe it is unlikely that there is an afterlife.

• May find utility in the teachings of some religious traditions, seeing them as more or less philosophical teachings of how to live life and achieve happiness than a path to transcendental liberation.

• Find utility in tradition and ritual, i.e., ceremonies, musical opportunities, meditation, yoga classes or holiday traditions. Participation may be related to ethnic (e.g., Jewish) or artistic or cultural identitities.

“Many times the Ritual Atheist/Agnostic may be misidentified as spiritual but not religious, but they are quick to point out that they are atheist or agnostic in relation to their own ontological view.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation