'Bright' Movement Fights for the Non-Religious

The issue, it should be stressed, is non-partisan. There is certainly no shortage of Bright Republicans. However, since we're now at the beginning of a presidential campaign, it's reasonable to ask not only President Bush, but also each of the ten contenders for the Democratic nomination to state their attitude toward Brights (designated by whatever term they choose).

We might also speculate about which of these candidates might be closet Brights? Which would evince anything like the free-thinking of Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln? Which would put forward a Bright Supreme Court nominee? Which would support self-avowed Brights in positions of authority over children?

Which of them would even include Brights in inclusive platitudes about Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims? Doing so might be good politics. Although unorganized and relatively invisible, Brights constitute a large group to whom politicians almost never appeal. Moreover, it would be interesting to see and hear the squirming responses of the candidates to the above questions.

Back to the term "Bright." Renowned biologist Richard Dawkins, who coined the word "meme" (it refers to any idea, habit, world, song lyric, fashion, etc. that passes from one person to another by imitation), is particularly interested in how contagious this particular meme will be. An advocate of the term "Bright," he wonders whether it will proliferate as quickly as backward baseball caps, exposed navels, and phrases like "D'uh" and "a fun time" or simply fade away? Will the Internet be a factor? Will the term appear cool or smack of silly trendiness?

Whether called free thinkers, unbelievers, skeptics, atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, conviction-lackers, or whatever, Brights have been around in large numbers since at least the Enlightenment (the Enbrightenment?). So even if this term for them fades, what won't disappear is their determination to quietly think for themselves and not be cowed by the overbearing religiosity of some.

And Bright-schmight, that's the important thing for everybody.

Professor of mathematics at Temple University and adjunct professor of journalism at Columbia University, John Allen Paulos is the author of several best-selling books, including Innumeracy, and the just released A Mathematician Plays the Stock Market. His Who’s Counting? column on ABCNEWS.com appears the first weekend of every month.

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