What kind of atheist are you? | Clay Routledge

Atheism is typically thought
of as being a binary idea: You’re either a believer
or you’re a non-believer. To be an atheist is to
entirely reject belief In the supernatural, or
belief in a God or a deity. But I actually think that
it’s a much more complex, And much more interesting story. Even among atheists, There’s lots of different ways
of conceptualizing this idea. For instance, some atheists
say that it just means That they’re not religious, And it doesn’t even necessarily mean That they have no interest in
spiritual ideas or practices, But that they just reject
traditional religious dogmas. Other atheists actually
can be thought of as being, What’s referred to, as
’Emotional atheist.’ They actually have a very negative feeling Towards the divine, which is interesting Because it suggests to be
angry at something means, At some level, to have a
concept of its existence. Other atheists are,
what you might refer to, As, perhaps, ’Social atheists,’ In that they feel like there’s no reason To have a public religious tradition, Or they have no interest In the cultural religious practices, But are themselves interested
in spiritual questions And even questions of the divine. So there’s lots of different ways That atheists think about themselves, Think about each other. There’s lots of different ways That believers think about atheists. It’s often a very abstract concept, Even though it seems so simple.

Teleological thinking is really
any type of thought process That involves assuming that
there’s purpose or design. And so it turns out that, Even though this really is a form Of supernatural thinking, right- To assume there’s some sort
of grander purpose to things- That atheists aren’t immune
from this type of thinking. For instance, in studies of atheists Who are asked to describe
certain life events, They frequently use teleological language In their written
description of those events. So for instance, they might
say, ”I didn’t get this job, And it wasn’t meant to be,” As if there’s a part of human nature, Even if people consciously
reject the supernatural, That pulls them to these ideas. In some instances, our own
conscious awareness of something Or our own conscious beliefs
may not tell the whole story Of the way our brains work. There is some research focused on atheists And their lack of belief,
and the implications of that. They asked atheists to say
things that shouldn’t bother them Because they don’t believe in God, Such as wishing God would
do harm to their friends. Now, believers don’t
like saying this stuff, And indeed, in these studies When believers were asked to say that, If they complied, they
immediately expressed That that made them very uncomfortable. When atheists were asked
to say these things, They reported immediately that
it didn’t bother them at all. But what’s interesting
about these studies is The researchers didn’t just
rely on people’s self-report. They actually hooked them up to equipment

That measures a physiological response. If you start to look a little
bit deeper beyond self-report, A lot of times the body
tells a different story Than what we consciously report ourselves. When it came to measuring
their physiological response, Atheists looked
indistinguishable from theists. One of the biggest challenges
that I think creates conflict Between hardcore religious believers And hardcore atheists
is a misunderstanding Not just of each other, but of themselves. Hardcore atheists think that
they’re not at all guided By supernatural ideas and concepts, But we know from research
that they do have a tendency To engage in teleological thinking, To see things in terms
of design and purpose. Likewise, on the other side, Hardcore believers often think That most of their life
decisions are guided By their spiritual nature, When in fact, like atheists, They also rely on evidence and science, They often have the same struggles, Religious questions and uncertainties That other people have. It’s easy to divide people
into groups over something That seems so powerfully
different about people, Such as whether or not
they believe in a God Or particular religious tradition, But if we take a step back And try to look beyond these
surface-level differences That seem like they should divide us And turn us against each other, We’ll see a deeper part
of the human condition That really is a story of commonality-

And a story about what it means To be a complete human trying
to live a flourishing life.

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