I've never really been in the first and second degree. My process of realizing that I've pretty much always been an atheist and defining what kind of atheist I was, was done with my wife and a few of my close friends. I guess that basically put me in to the 3rd degree to start out with. My only friend (that I've met in person at least) that is an atheist is my wonderful wife.
- Degree 1:
- Completely closeted. Not even your spouse knows. You tell everyone you're a believer, and you may even attend church services to convince those around you. You're living a lie, terrified that someone may learn the truth.
If you fit into this category something must change in the near term. Your spouse, who loves and trusts you for who you are, needs and has the right to know.
- Degree 2:
- Mostly secret. Your spouse knows, but most of your family and friends don't. You avoid the subject at all costs at work, and if it does come up, you will hide your atheism.
- Degree 3:
- Somewhat open. Some family members and most friends know, but you are hesitant to bring it up in conversation. It's still a secret at work, unless you are very close friends with a coworker or two who know. You have friends who are atheists, and may belong to an organization like American Atheists for moral support and connectivity. You may write a letter to a congressperson, but not to the local paper, because you don't really want your atheism published. You may avoid the subject when it comes up, but if pressed you will not call yourself a believer (though you may soften the blow by using the term "agnostic" or "freethinker", even if you're an atheist by definition).
- Degree 4:
- Mostly open. Almost anyone who knows you knows you don't practice religion. Coworkers, perhaps including your boss, all your friends and your entire family is aware. You don't shout it from rooftops, but you make no effort to hide your atheism when it comes up in conversation, and may occasionally raise the conversation yourself.
- Degree 5:
- Completely open. Every time the subject comes up, you state your disbelief with pride and frankness. Anyone who doesn't like you because of your atheism is a bigot and is not your concern. You've written letters to the editors of newspapers on the topic, and you may have an atheist bumper sticker on your car.
I inadvertently jumped into the 4th degree when I took my copy of The God Delusion with me to my TEXAS National Guard drill weekend. I took it because I was right in the middle of the book and didn't want to wait to finish reading it. I wasn't really aware of how many fundamentalist christians there were in Texas until then. I barely got to read anything because of all the questions, debates, and proselytizing. It was good in a way though because it made me more comfortable in my atheist skin. Not long after my drill weekend, I brought it up with a few of my coworkers at my real job. I was pretty uncomfortable about it because there are quite a few bible thumpers, including my boss. I haven't really talked about it with my boss, but I wouldn't be surprised if he has gotten wind of it. So far everyone has taken it pretty well. There have been a few debates, but not very heated ones at all. There has been a falling out with a friend/coworker of mine, but that's another story for another post and has less to do with my atheism and more to do with other differences.
When I read Dale's post on his blog The Meming of Life about Mr. Cunningham I was inspired by one of his statements...
That’s why it’s important for those who differ from the majority — blue people in red states, red people in blue states, gays, atheists, the works — to be out of the closet, to be a smiling, normal, ethical contradiction to all the fearful assumptions. So I try to convince nonreligious folks to seize those “Hey, Mr. Cunningham” moments and put a human face on disbelief. And it’s equally important for us to avoid drawing a caricature of all religious belief — to recognize the normal, sane, ethical believers all around us. That’s the way the caricature crumbles — one person at a time.
So I've jumped into the 5th degree at least in one aspect. Here are my new bumper stickers.