Why Are Atheists So Diverse?

multi-colored shoes on rocks

Why are atheists so different from one another? Why does it often seem like we can't agree on much of anything? How can two people who are both atheists seem to have so little in common? If you've ever asked these questions or wished you had somewhere to direct people you see asking them, this post is for you.

Once you understand what atheism means, you should have a much easier time understanding why atheists are as diverse as we are. With that in mind, here are some points to consider:

  • Knowing that someone is an atheist tells you one thing about what they do not believe (i.e., they do not believe in gods); it tells you nothing about what they do believe. Not only do people get to atheism in different ways, but some atheists believe in ghosts, ancient aliens, holistic medicine, the "pizzagate" conspiracy, the adverse effects of GMOs, and pretty much anything else you can imagine. Atheism is not synonymous with skepticism, and it sometimes shows.
  • Atheism is distinct from morality, and so you will find great diversity in how atheists conduct themselves. Some atheists are secular humanists who are committed to social justice and strive to treat others civilly; others actively reject these things.
  • Although atheists living in the U.S. seem more likely to lean to the political left, atheism is distinct from one's political views. This means that you will find political diversity among atheists. Some atheists support President Trump and the Republican Party. Others support the Democratic Party and their candidates. Still others prefer third parties or refuse to participate in politics at all.
  • Atheists vary greatly in their use of reason, skepticism, critical thinking, and freethought. Some place great value on one or more of these things, and some do not.
  • Many atheists pride themselves on their independence, and I suspect this has to do with the manner in which atheism places them at odds with most of their neighbors. They have become comfortable with being outliers or non-conformists in this respect. This can make them stubborn and difficult to unite, but it can also mean that they are more likely to see their diversity as a strength.
  • I suspect that some atheists find common ground in how we are treated by the religious majority; however, even that is variable. Depending on where one lives, one may find that the presence of atheists is well-tolerated or barely tolerated at all.

There are plenty of other reasons atheists are as diverse as we are, but I think this gives us a good starting point. At the very least, it highlights some things that some of us seem to have a hard time remembering. I'll try to remember it the next time I find myself asking how any atheist could possibly do what I see them doing.

I think the bottom line is simple: the meaning of atheism is narrow enough that it allows great variability among those who share the "atheist" label. An atheist is someone who does not believe in gods. Besides that, atheists are going to be all over the map when it comes to the many ways humans can and do differ from one another. Atheists are human, after all!