PZ has an interesting taxonomy of the different kinds of atheists. It’s hardly a comprehensive one, of course, and he says so himself. And there is obviously a good deal of overlap — one can be several different kinds at at the same time. But I think he nails me pretty well. using me as an example of a “political atheist.”
While the scientific atheists have knowledge and forcefulness, and the philosophical atheists have reason and logic, the political atheists are the ones who get the hard work done. These are the organizers and diplomats and lobbyists, the people at the cutting edge who make it their business to work every day with (and against) the opponents of atheism. They’re willing to work for incremental gains, so they’ll often be more narrowly focused on what we can get done today, next week, next year. If you find an atheist who will cite case law at you and wants to organize a campaign to resolve a church-state separation conflict, you’ve found a political atheist.
Examples: This Week in Christian Nationalism, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, all of the sites of the major atheist organizations.
Strengths: They do the work. Without these people, we’d be a bunch of stuffy academics meeting in university auditoriums to talk about ideal universes and inconsistencies in the Bible.
Weaknesses: Infuriatingly willing to compromise. Oh, wait, is that a weakness?
Yeah, that’s pretty accurate. And let me make a confession here: I’m bored to tears by debates over the existence of God. There was a time when I loved participating in those arguments, tearing down the argument from design or the argument from first cause. And in certain contexts, like evolution and creationism, I’ll still jump in to such arguments from time to time. But to be honest with you, I don’t really care whether someone believes in God or not.
What I care about is a set of basic principles (justice, equality, freedom), which leads to caring about a range of specific political issues (LGBT equality, women’s rights, criminal injustices, free speech, etc). And as long as your religious beliefs don’t lead you to have regressive positions on those issues, I don’t much care. So with my many Episcopalian friends who fight for justice and equality on a wide range of issues, for instance, I have little desire to talk them out of believing in God (and, conversely, they don’t spend any time trying to get me to believe in God either). It just doesn’t come up, because we share the same set of principles on the things that matter to us and we have better things to do (like seeking out cool food adventures).
That doesn’t mean I think others shouldn’t focus their time on debating the existence of God. I think they should put their time and energy into whatever is most important to them. That’s what I like about a network like this, that we have people who focus on a diverse set of issues and readers can pick and choose the ones they read based on what they think is worth their time.