3 types of atheism

Atheism is one of those terms which tends to get used without enough reflection and deconstruction. So here’s a breakdown into 3 types:

1) Journey atheism

At some point we all need to question or even reject our ideas of God as we evolve spiritually. If we do not give ourselves and one another space for doubt and emptying, this can lead to repressive and ultimately destructive forms of spirituality. In moving beyond theism, atheism is quite natural.

2) Apophatic atheism

This is atheism at the heart of our spirituality. Here we acknowledge and even celebrate the essential unknowability of the ground of our being, honouring that in faith. We pray with Meister Eckhart, “God rid me of God”.

We also remember that the early Christian believers were branded atheists by the Romans because they rejected their standard notions of God.

3) Dogmatic atheism

Here atheism becomes an anti-theism system of belief. It can be every bit as fundamentalist as any religious posture. Its greatest weakness is that it is critiquing the theistic system which is already outmoded, and therefore tends towards a reactionary posture, having no unique centre in and of itself.


  1. Peter Veysie said

    Interesting and eye opening in terms of a definition. I love the blank page. I often feel like we have and are moving towards a more blank page mentality when in dialogue and conversation. Who are you? Well you tell me ? – this is maybe the way we are moving forward.

  2. nic paton said

    Hi Pete
    I wonder if the cartoon is trying to say that regular evangelism knows nothing about conversation? Is it suggesting that conventional (modern) Xty is about wordage, and that a new modality is the blank page.

    Of course we always have an agenda. But its about how we manage that, how much space we create for dialog and the story to emerge. The story in which we think we know has suffocated potential journies of discovery.

  3. Don Rogers said

    I see myself moving into and out of the first two types periodically. I feel so free to do so. I cannot imagine that being the case ten years ago. Freedom is so wonderful. I acquired Brian’s newest book and look forward to reading it soon. Blessings to you my friend!

  4. Steve said

    There is a fourth type, probably the most common of all — people who don’t think about God or religion or similar things at all. Their thoughts about God are neither positive nor negative, they are just absent. They are the real atheists, since “atheist” means “without God”. Dogmatic atheists are not real atheists — they are dominated by God, even though negatively. They often have a quite detailed knowledge of the God they don’t believe in, and even have a canon of literature that describes God correctly, and they reject as heretical literature that doesn’t.


  5. Gavin said

    What is interesting to me is the need to put people in categories😉
    I understand the usefulness of doing this, but it’s also important to remember that no-one IS atheist. It is merely an observation from a certain perspective – like the observation that the early christians were atheist. From their perspective they weren’t, but from an outsider’s perspective they were.
    Some would say I am an atheist because i don’t ascribe to a certain belief about a concept we usually call ‘God’, but it is so much more complex than that. We are all much more complex than that – that is why it is possible to pray ‘I believe, please help my unbelief’.
    That said, i find these categories helpful – thanks Nic🙂

  6. Gavin said

    PS. It would be interesting to compare some of this to Fowler’s stages of faith development – the move from synthetic conventional faith to inductive reflective. Perhaps this is what is happening (once again) in the whole ’emergent’ movement.

  7. Tryme said

    One of the points you are making is that of needing to accommodate doubt in any pursuit of meaning. Doubt is a sign of life.
    In the words of Bob Dylan “You gotta serve somebody”… The passive non-position is often a very theistic one. By opting out of thinking or taking any position often amounts to a tacit endorsement of a prevailing framework – going along with whatever. Perhaps apathy is a more accurate description. Governments and fundamental institutions love passivity. Its the next best thing to mindless, active compliance.

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: