It is time for me to come out of
the closet... I am a bright. No, I didnt
say I am bright, that would be too
blatant even for my notoriuously inflated ego.
Rather, I am following the suggestion of Mynga
Futrell and Paul Geisert to use bright
as a noun, not an adjective. Let me explain.
Futrell and Geisert are long-time
activists for what most people refer to as secular
humanism, freethought, or atheism. They put
a lot of effort in defense of the rights of
what often are referred to as the godless,
or the unbelievers. The problem
is, look at that list of words I just laid out
for you. Most of them have a negative connotation,
or sound so threatening that they inspire a
knee-jerk reaction from most people, including
Ubeliever? But we
do believe in a lot of things, except they do
not include a benevolent deity looking over
our shoulders (and, it seems, particularly interested
in what we do in our bedrooms). Godless?
Would you refer to somebody who doesnt
believe in unicorns as unicornless?
Atheist? That, in the classical
and most benevolent meaning of the term, means
a-theist, without a belief in a deity. But,
again, how many people feel compelled (not to
mention proud) of labeling themselves as a-unicornists?
You get the point. Futrell and
Geisert wanted a word to label their beliefs
that has a positive feeling, something that
could make you proud to say I am ...
in other peoples company, and -- even
better -- that would make your company ask:
whats that? I have to admit
that when I came across the bright movement
(www.the-brights.net) I was a bit skeptical,
and just a tiny bit annoying at the possibility
that the word bright would be used to imply
that we are smarter than other people. Yet,
reading some of the essays posted on the brights
web site quickly changed my mind. After all,
not all gay people are gay in the
sense of being happy, easy-going fellows, right?
Indeed, part of the inspiration
for the name bright did come from
the consciously positive use of the term gay
by homosexuals. The idea is that brights are
in fact a bashed minority in this country and
around the world, and the last such minority
-- at least in Western democracies -- that is
ok to bash! President Bush the First is on record
as saying that he didnt think brights
(he didnt use that term, obviously) are
real American citizens, and perhaps should not
be afforded the rights that go with that privilege.
Bush the Second hasnt been more friendly
on that respect. Yet, not even the Bushes dear
attack gays or African-Americans, or women (the
latter, of course, are not exactly a minority...),
at least not in public.
As Richard Dawkins put it in an
article on the brights movement published in
The Guardian (and I dont often agree with
Dawkins, so read this!), it is a matter of raising
awareness of the problem. Gays did it effectively
during the past decades, so did feminists. Most
people are careful these days when using words
that imply male chauvinism: we now tend to talk
of chairperson, no chairman; we use she
almost as frequently as he when
referring to a hypothetical individual. This
may awkward, or even aesthetically unpleasant,
but it means that the problem of sex discrimination
has raised to the level of general consciousness,
as it should be.
Similarly with brights. A bright
is defined simply as a person with a naturalistic
worldview. That means a worldview that is free
of supernatural and mystical elements, and this
worldview extends to ethics and morality. Simple
enough, no? Many more people than you think
are in fact brights, even though several may
not realize it, or may not wish to come
out (as for gays and feminists). Brights
dont have a common political agenda except
when it comes to the defense of themselves as
a bashed minority. The same goes for gays and
feminists, whose range of opinions on any other
subject is as wide as the population at large.
What brights want is to be as respected by the
community, politicians, and authorities as much
as anyone who freely lables herself as a Jew,
a gay, a feminist, a Baptist, or a Catholic.
Nothing more, but -- crucially -- nothing less.
According to a 2002 survey of
the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, about
27 million Americans are brights. Thats
a staggering number, and they vote! In other
Western countries our numbers are significantly
higher, and I suspect there are many of us even
in officially Muslim countries around
the world. What on earth makes it right to deride
our beliefs and ethical convictions? Why would
anybody feel threatened by meeting or talking
to a bright? There is no reason, and its
time to tell the world about it. If you are
a bright, go ahead, use the name and talk to
people about it. Not in order to convert
them, but to stimulate their awareness. If you
are not a bright, be decent to us, in the same
way in which -- one hopes -- you are decent
to gays and African Americans even if you are
not black and you have a heterosexual orientation.
It simply is the decent thing to do.
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