You Aren’t Religious, But Who Are You?

July 5, 2013

Researchers at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga have released some initial findings about the kinds of people who are generally categorized as unaffiliated -- the "Nones". 
You can read their summary at their website:
A summary of the research is also here:
What did they find about the kinds of people within the Nones category? Let's look a bit at their six sub-types. I have re-ordered the subtypes for easier comprehension. 
1. Intellectual Atheist/Agnostic (IAA)

"IAA typology includes individuals who proactively seek to educate themselves through intellectual association, and proactively acquire knowledge on various topics relating to ontology (the search for Truth) and non-belief.  They enjoy dialectic enterprises such as healthy democratic debate and discussions, and are intrinsically motivated to do so.  ...  However, not only is the IAA typically engaged in electronic forms of intellectualism but they oftentimes belong to groups that meet face to face offline such as various skeptic, rationalist and freethinking groups for similar mentally stimulating discussions and interaction. The modus operandi for the Intellectual Atheist/Agnostic is the externalization of epistemologically oriented social stimulation."
People reading this blog are probably thinking, "Sounds like me!" Of course that could sound familiar, since you are reading this blog at the website of an educational nonprofit organization for nonbelievers. These well-informed folks are typically able to know pretty clearly what they think. If they are an atheist, or an agnostic, they are able to speak up and say so. 
2. Anti-Theist

"While the Anti-Theists may be considered atheist or in some cases labeled as “new atheists,” the Anti-Theist is diametrically opposed to religious ideology. As such, the assertive Anti-Theist both proactively and aggressively asserts their views towards others when appropriate, seeking to educate the theists in the passé nature of belief and theology. In other words, antitheists 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."
We all know some anti-theists, and they are also quite capable of speaking up about their atheism. One might wonder how this category could be separated apart from the IAA Intellectual type. Surely Dawkins etc. are both Intellectual and Anti-Theist! But this new research found that people who prioritize anti-theism are not simply the same people intellectually devoted to nonbelief. The anti-theist type is simply passionately antagonistic against religion, without necessarily having an informed background about religion or even nonreligion. What they have is passion, and often anger. The divide between Intellectual Irreligion and Passionate Anti-Religion is precisely what sociologists would recognize as the inevitable divide between the High Church (intellectual) and Low Church (emotional) sides to any ideological movement or religion. Welcome to normalcy, nonbelievers.
You might better fit into this next category: 
3. Activist (AAA)

"Individuals in the AAA typology are not content with the placidity of simply holding a non-belief position; they seek to be both vocal and proactive regarding current issues in the atheist and/or agnostic socio-political sphere. This sphere can include such egalitarian issues, but is not limited to: concerns of humanism, feminism, Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgendered (LGBT) issues, social or political concerns, human rights themes, environmental concerns, animal rights, and controversies such as the separation of church and state."
Now, you and I know lots of people who seem to fit into both (1) and (3), or into both (2) and (3).  But you have to forgive these demographics researchers, who must sort people according to their dominant interests and lifestyles. Unlike the intellectual or anti-theist types, this activist type isn't as likely to confidently affirm their identity as 'atheist' or even 'agnostic', because some of them regard contentious labels as detrimental to advancing their highest causes of activism, which aren't just about antagonism against religion.

4. Ritual Atheist/Agnostic (RAA)

"The RAA holds no belief in God or the divine, or they tend to believe it is unlikely that there is an afterlife with God or the divine. They are open about their lack of belief and may educate themselves on the various aspects of belief by others. One of the defining characteristics regarding Ritual Atheists/Agnostics is that they may find utility in the teachings of some religious traditions. They see these as more or less philosophical teachings of how to live life and achieve happiness than a path to transcendental liberation.  Ritual Atheist/Agnostics find utility in tradition and ritual."
This type looks familiar -- they often like to call themselves religious humanists. Many of them attend Unitarian Universalist churches or Ethical Culture assemblies, or they organize other sorts of humanist communities. They are often intellectual, to be sure, but they put their energies into local communal activities.
Perhaps you can't see where you'd fit into any box at all. Then the next two categories might be for you. 
5. Seeker-Agnostic (SA)

"Seeker-Agnostic typology consists of individuals attuned to the metaphysical possibilities precluding metaphysical existence, or at least recognizes the philosophical difficulties and complexities in making personal affirmations regarding ideological beliefs. They may call themselves agnostic or agnostic-atheist, as the SA simply cannot be sure of the existence of God or the divine. They keep an open mind in relation to the debate between the religious, spiritual, and antitheist elements within society. ... In some cases, Seeker-Agnostics may generally miss being a believer either from the social benefits or the emotional connection they have with others such as friends or family. At times, their intellectual disagreement with their former theology causes some cognitive dissonance and it is possible they may continue to identity as a religious or spiritual individual. However, taking those exceptions into account, the majority of Seeker-Agnostics should in no way be considered “confused.” For the Seeker-Agnostic, uncertainty is embraced."
These seekers usually turn up in other polls as "transient" Nones. They sometimes attend worship services, they won't let themselves get pinned down into those "atheist/agnostic categories," and they might answer "Yes" to the question "Do you believe in god or a universal spirit?"  
Finally, the last category belong to all the remaining non-conformists. 
6. Non-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. The Non-Theist is non-active in terms of involving themselves in social or intellectual pursuits having to do with religion or anti-religion.  A Non-Theist simply does not concern him or herself with religion. Religion plays no role or issue in one’s consciousness or worldview; nor does a Non-Theist have concern for the atheist or agnostic movement. No part of their life addresses or considers transcendent ontology.  They are not interested in any type of secularist agenda and simply do not care. Simply put, Non-Theists are apathetic non-believers."
We've heard about this type before -- I have labeled them as "Apatheists." If you have reached this far into the six categories to find out where you fit, perhaps now you don't even care and completely lost interest in the whole issue. Good for you!