Thursday, February 7, 2013

A realistic way to categorize atheists

It's common to talk about different "kinds" of atheists, and it's often a lot of bullshit.  People really like talking about two kinds, because then they can say there's the good kind and the bad kind, and you should really be more like the good kind because I say so.  And then there's the atheism/agnosticism divide, which I also think is stupid.

You may rightly wonder, if I dislike all those other atheist categorization schemes, what categorization scheme do I use, if any?

I think there are two kinds of atheists.  There are those who participate in the atheist community, and there are those who don't.

Participation means: attending meatspace groups or conferences, reading popular atheist books, reading blogs or periodicals, watching youtube videos, following reddit, etc. etc.

There are obviously different levels of participation.  For example, on a blog there are lurkers, commenters, and bloggers.  In a college student group, there are people who only join the associated facebook page, people who only go to the big events, people who go to meetings, and officers.  It's also possible for different groups to be more or less closely associated with the atheist community.  Many skeptical groups, for example, are only tangentially related (and may even officially disavow any association).

So there's a lot of gray area between the two kinds of atheists.  Which makes sense, because I'm trying to create a realistic categorization, not a rhetorical device.  In the real world there are no clear-cut divisions.

To make things messier, this is not just a categorization scheme for atheists.  It applies to nonreligious people, nontheists, agnostics, deists, skeptics, humanists, and all the rest.  You can participate in the atheist community and not be an atheist.  It's just a matter of whether you feel a part of the community, or if you feel like an outsider who is always visiting.  Likewise, you can be an atheist and have no connection to the atheist community.  Some people just don't like communities, go figure.

It is hard to generalize about atheists who do not participate in the community.  Atheism is just a lack of belief in gods.  Sure, maybe most people who don't believe in gods also disbelieve in witches or psi, but who is to say?  It is much easier to generalize about people who participate in the community.  Generally speaking, atheists who believe in psi do not participate, for several reasons:

1. They may feel like they don't have much in common with the community.
2. Other people in the community may not welcome them to the community.
3. In participating with the community, they may stop believing in psi.

The values of the atheist community are an emergent property of atheism.  Generally speaking, the views of the atheist community consists of the majority view of atheists, whatever that may be.  If you have views which are in a sizable minority, you may stick around, because there's nothing wrong with a little disagreement, right?  If you have views which are in a tiny minority, you may feel like you have nothing in common with the community and feel no need to participate.

And of course, we in the community have some say in the process as well.  White males seem to be in the majority in the community, which tends to make women and people of color feel less welcome.  But writers and groups can go out of their way to be more welcoming.  Liberalism and feminism also seem to be disproportionately common, which may make conservatives and anti-feminists feel less welcome.  But then, many of us wonder, is it so bad if they feel unwelcome?  Not sure about that one.

None of this is all that surprising or unusual.  It's just the way a lot of human communities work.