Are You A “Meta Atheist” Or A “Pop Atheist?”

I recently wrote a blog lamenting that Atheist subculture is attracting disingenuous members, and I predict that this trend will continue until Atheists are actively trying to disassociate themselves from idiots who do stupid things in the name of Atheism just like how “good” or “true” Christians have to disassociate themselves from child-raping priests, The Westboro Baptist Church and ordinary suburbanites who make no attempt to actually live like Christ.

Admittedly, this whole topic is a bit silly, because Atheism is merely the lack of a belief in God. It’s a non-entity. To say that Atheism is a religion, culture or identity is like saying not collecting stamps is a hobby or that bald is a hair color.  If you can’t lump “not-stamp-collectors” together into a group and talk about what “not-stamp-collectors” are doing, then how can you talk about Atheists as a group and what Atheists are doing? Well, you can because Atheist have chosen to identify as a group, wear Atheist labels, and create Atheist communities with a budding Atheist culture. I didn’t start this fire. I’m just watching it and talking about it.

The fact that human beings have made a subculture out of Atheism is neither good nor bad. It all depends on what human beings do with it.  Some humans will take the Atheist subculture in a productive direction, but there’s a growing number of idiots who identify as Atheists and are going to screw it up for everybody else. I divide these two groups of Atheists into what I call “Meta Atheists” and “Pop Atheists.”

Meta Atheists are people like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. They arrived at their Atheism through a rigorous, lifelong quest for truth. Now that they identify as Atheists, they’re still pushing the limits of their own understanding as well as the limits of human understanding. They’re more likely to be quoted by Atheists than to quote other Atheists, but any instance when they identify as Atheists, or quote other Atheists, or do anything Atheist-related, is merely a by-product of their search for truth.

Pop Atheists are not engaged in a rigorous, lifelong quest for truth. After reading a few books and a few internet memes they accepted that the universe wasn’t created by a magical unicorn, but once they embraced that elementary fact they went out and bought a $50 T-shirt that says, “MY HOBBY IS NOT COLLECTING STAMPS!” and have spent their life ever since then insulting Christians on the internet. Their Atheism is not a means to an end. It is the end destination, and they will spend the rest of their lives wallowing in it…or at least until they move onto the next big fad.

Meta Atheist and Pop Atheists aren’t mutually exclusive. They’re opposite ends of a scale. The main difference is that one thinks proactively and objectively. The other thinks reactively and subjectively. This outlook on life leads them to behave differently, but nobody thinks completely proactively/objectively or reactively/subjectively all the time.

Here are a few signs you might be a Meta Atheist:

  • You don’t believe in God. You believe that  Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, “Mormonism,” Scientology and Wicca are mythologies entirely invented by humans. In addition to all that….
  • You’re engaged in a lifelong quest for truth and understanding. You may identify as an Atheist, but you identified as a truth-seeker before you arrived at Atheism. Not that you feel the need to back up your claim to be a truth-seeker, but if you had to you could produce a growing list of books you’ve read that are not on the best-seller’s list. You can also explain a pattern of conscious decisions that led you to seek out these books; they weren’t just random books that fell into your lap. You can also produce a stack of notes you’ve taken personally that show how you’ve made a conscious and objective effort to tweeze patterns of truth out of what you’ve learned.
  • You have an articulate philosophy on ethics that you actually use. If a child came up to you and asked you, “What’s the difference between right and wrong?” or “What’s the most important piece of advice you can give me?” You’ll have an answer ready to go since all you’ll have to do is give the answers you live by. You won’t say, “Uh, well, you know? I think we all just…” And you won’t give any answers that are vague to the point of being useless like, “Be good to everyone.”
  • You’re not a dick. You don’t take joy in tearing down other people. You’re not vindictive, and when you argue it’s not to win, it’s to arrive at truth.
  • Your identity isn’t strongly defined by your association with popular subcultures. Sure, you might like Star Trek, but you’re not a Trekkie. You might have been to a football game, but you don’t own a room full of football memorabilia.
  • You don’t watch TV for 7 hours a day and listen to “the hits of the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and today” every moment you’re in your car. You don’t constantly bombard your brain with pop culture. If you know what “American Idol” is, you hate it for everything it is and everything it isn’t.

Here are a few signs you might be a Pop Atheist:

  • You don’t believe in God. You believe that Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, “Mormonism,” Scientology and Wicca are mythologies entirely invented by humans. In addition to all that….
  • Your identity is rooted inseparably to Atheism. Here’s a test you can take (or give). Draw a blank mind map on a piece of paper. In the middle circle write down what you identify most as. Then in the surrounding circles write down what you identify as in a secondary fashion. A pastor might put “Christian” in the center circle. Then in the secondary circles, he might put, “husband, father, citizen.” In a tertiary ring of circles, he might put, “American Idol fan, long-distance runner, traveler.” If you would put Atheism in that center circle you might be a Pop Atheist, because a Meta Atheist would likely put something like “sentient start dust, life form, mammal, human being, or truth-seeker” in the center circle.
  • You’ve spent a shit load of money on Atheist-themed merchandise.
  • You’re a dick. You savor winning arguments and tearing other people down. You will not accept defeat. You must have the last word.
  • You left religion for subjective reasons like you hated your Christian father or you decided God doesn’t exist after watching your grandfather die a painful death from cancer.
  • You can point to a place in a book, movie or song where you learned everything you know. Don’t get me wrong, learning is vital. But if you’ve never figured anything out on your own and the extent of your beliefs is a list of regurgitated footnotes…then you’re not a meta thinker; you’re a product of your environment, and you’ll never break free from that box. The only hope you have of growing is if someone else pushes the limits of human knowledge, writes about it and you stumble upon that book.
  • You gorge yourself on popular culture day in and day out. You’ve seen every episode of every prime-time sitcom as soon as it came out. You love pop music. The best night of your life was at a concert. You’re on top of the latest fashion trends. You identify with pop culture. You think wearing a “Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” “Bieber Fever,” or “Cannibal Corpse” shirt makes you cool.
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