I ran into someone today who left my atheist group because, as he said, he doesn’t like labels. What is a label but a noun, and what is a noun but a label, and every complete sentence contains at least one noun, which means that labels would be unavoidable even if they didn't serve the very useful function of telling us and everyone else who we are. When someone claims to avoid labels, I assume that (a) he hasn't thought the matter through, or (b) he’s being dishonest to stay out of trouble, as seems likely with a label like atheist. For example, I was put on the list for jury duty recently, but was pleased when I didn’t have to go because jury duty can be awkward if not humiliating for any atheist who dares to admit to being an atheist. There was the time in Mississippi when another juror rapped me on the head because I didn’t stand when the district attorney led the jury in a Christian prayer. Then there was the time in Minneapolis when I refused to swear “…so help me God,” after which both attorneys singled me out for questioning about my religious views (believers were not so questioned), and the district attorney had me sent home.
When people tell me that religion is a private matter and that it seems very strange for me as an atheist to write about it, these are two of the incidents from my own life that come to mind. There are also the thousands that I’ve heard of or read about. The downside of being a closet atheist is that it causes religious people to consider us more of a minority than we are, and this makes it easier to mistreat us.