Am I an Atheist? Can I be an Agnostic too?

by | Dec 29, 2016 | 2 comments

It seems so straightforward!  I don’t believe in any gods. So, I must be an atheist.

OK, am I a strong atheist or a weak atheist?

A traditional atheist or a New Atheist?

Where am I on the Dawkins Scale?

Can I also be an agnostic, or are they mutually exclusive?

How about being

  • Secular?
  • A Freethinker?
  • A Skeptic?
  • A Humanist?
  • An Anti-theist?
  • Spiritual but not religious?
  • A “None”?

The fact is, if you thought religion has its schisms, so does atheism. We don’t go around burning each other at the stake, but then neither do Christians these days. You could still get a roasting on-line if it turns out that you support the “wrong” faction!

For example, some of us hold Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris in high regard, while others ridicule them.  Christopher Hitchens, respected by all, seems to be the exception.

Despite the simple definition of an atheist as someone who doesn’t believe in any gods, there is even disagreement about calling ourselves “atheists”.

“Secular” is a popular alternative: The term may mean “not religious”.  Alternatively, it can show that you support the separation of religion and state. In that case, even a religious person can be “secular” –you wouldn’t want a different religion or sect to yours being promoted by the State, now would you?

Then there are those that think that the term “atheist” has been vilified too much, and we should have a different term altogether.  They take their lead from the homosexuals who gained acceptance by re-branding as “Gay”.  Hence, we now have “The Brights”.  Was this a dim idea?

On the other hand, there are those proud to be called atheists: As found in numerous organisations carrying the word in their titles, South African Atheists and the South African Atheist Movement being examples.

On the other other hand, this is too tame for some.  Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, together with their admirers, are sometimes referred to as the “New Atheists”: No longer content to have equal rights (if not rites!) with religion, and mindful of the harm religion does, they think that religion and superstition should be actively countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument.  The strident nature of these arguments puts some people off.

That, in turn, has given rise to a gentler approach.  “Street Epistemology” was created by Professor Peter Boghossian and taken to the field by Anthony Magnabosco.  It aims to be as non-threatening as possible, while at the same time getting the subject to question why he or she holds his or her beliefs.  It looks promising.  At least, when used on those willing to think!

This is some of the rich and varied landscape of atheism.

atheist-theist matrix

We haven’t even touched, yet, on what I call the Joke Churches, who use the constitutional provisions of religious freedom and equal rights to lampoon religion: How about the Church of Bacon, the Satanic Temple and, perhaps most wondrous of all, the Pastafarians of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster?  With their festivals of Pastover, Ramendan, and ChriFSMas…

In Week Two of my Atheist Orientation Course, due for release this Sunday at Atheist Academy, we look in depth at this exciting panorama.  We help you to decide where you fit in.  We show how on the Dawkins Scale you can’t be an agnostic (4) and an atheist (6-7) at the same time, yet if you plot knowledge against belief (diagram on left), you definitely can be –and probably are– an agnostic atheist.

About the Author


Small business owner, civil engineer, computer programmer, hiker, NLP Practitioner, Karate and Krav Maga enthusiast, blood donor. ex-Democratic Alliance Branch Chairman (Johannesburg Ward 109), Toastmasters Competent Communicator, Treasurer at Transformers Toastmasters Club, life member of Earthlife Africa, retired as Sgt from the South African Police Reservists (22 years and three medals earned), Rick is Vice-Chairman of the South African Secular Society. He blogs here and at African Atheist Activist, writes to the newspapers and is active in the promotion of science over superstition.  From June 2014 to December 2015 he helped to produce the weekly newsletter for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. Since February 2015 to date he has volunteered for four hours a week on the Recovering From Religion Hotline and Chatline, assisting people who doubt or are leaving religion.