'Bright' Movement Fights for the Non-Religious

What do you call someone who is not religious? Is there a need for a new name for such people? And should not politicians acknowledge them?

The widely respected philosopher Daniel Dennett and a number of others this past summer pushed for the adoption of a new term to signify someone who holds a naturalistic (as opposed to a religious) worldview. Dennett defended the need for such a term by noting that a 2002 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that approximately 25 million Americans are atheist, agnostics, or (the largest category) have no religious preference.

The statistic is not definitive, of course. Polls are a crude instrument for clarifying the varieties of human belief and disbelief. Moreover, since the polls rely on the self-reporting of sometimes unpopular opinions, the number of non-believers may be much higher.

In any case, the problematic new term that has been proposed for non-religious people is "Bright," and the coinage is due to Paul Geisert and Mynga Futrell of Sacramento, Calif. They have started an Internet group, The Brights, intended to further the influence of "Brights."

On their Web site they state: "Currently the naturalistic worldview is insufficiently expressed within most cultures. The purpose of this movement is to form an umbrella Internet constituency of individuals having social and political recognition and power. There is a great diversity of persons who have a naturalistic worldview. Under this broad umbrella, as Brights, these people can gain social and political influence in a society infused with supernaturalism."

Religion and State

I don't think a degree in public relations is needed to expect that many people will construe the term as smug, ridiculous, and arrogant. Still, its defenders note that "Bright" should not be confused with "bright." Just as "gay" now has an additional new meaning, quite distinct from its old one, so will "Bright." It should go without saying, but won't, that there are in this country not only millions of Brights, but millions of religious people who are bright, just as there are very many of both who are not. I'll also needlessly reiterate that "ethical" and "moral" apply to most people regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof.

Aside from possible problems with the term "Bright," however, the attempt to recognize this large group of non-religious Americans is a most welcome development. One reason is that Brights exist, and it's always healthy to recognize facts. Another reason is that they have interests and vulnerabilities that some sort of organization might help further.

The reluctance of Brights to announce themselves may be one factor, for example, in the increasingly overt flirtation between church and state in this country. The most recent bit of evidence is a poll indicating that more than three-fourths of Americans believe that federal Judge Myron Thompson was wrong in ordering that the Ten Commandments monument be removed from the rotunda of the Alabama judicial building.

And from its many faith-based initiatives to its frequently inappropriate conflating of religious and secular matters, the Bush administration seems particularly unsympathetic to Brights.

Brights and Politics?

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