The Brights' Bulletin


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Issue #148

(Note that links in archived Bulletin issues may no longer be valid.)


BRIGHTS BULLETIN -- SEPTEMBER 2015 


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Joy in the Naturalistic View… Action, Too?

As Richard Dawkins wrote when concluding his book, The Magic of Reality (a book dedicated to helping children separate little-known facts from the common fictions they are told to believe):

“The truth is more magical – in the best and most exciting sense of the word – than any myth or made-up mystery or miracle. Science has its own magic: the magic of reality.”

Having one’s worldview grounded in this form of magic (rather than based on what myth and legend might say) can feel downright fabulous. The naturalistic outlook can offer not only a type of satisfaction, but also considerable delight in life.  In some places in the world, of course, a person viewing life in a naturalistic manner cannot live openly on a “bright side” of life. The joy and satisfaction in such a worldview must be personal, held close; it cannot be shown to others, or to certain others. 

Wherever one can easily evidence having a worldview free of supernatural and mystical elements, there needs to be gratitude for the freedom of it, followed by action toward expanding opportunities for youth and any interested others to grow in naturalistic understanding. Brights living on the bright side have resources and energies they can use on behalf of others.

A nice starting place? — Volunteering in or supporting the projects and activities of the Brights!

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Just Plain Awe – Amazing!

Were you among the many sky watchers last month, looking skyward during the “celestial showering” of the fast and bright meteors known as “The Perseids”?  They were outstanding this time. Happily, with a new moon coinciding with Earth’s annual trip through the heart of a comet debris zone, lunar glare couldn’t upstage the event.

The Perseid fireball (from NASA) was photographed in 1997 by Rick Scott and Joe Orman.

Many citizens today, inured to natural sky phenomena by the flash and burst enabled by humanity’s technological prowess, wouldn’t travel to rural areas or camp on mountaintops to view a meteor shower. But there are others, located far from city lights (or drawn to rural areas or to mountaintops by the promise of a dark sky in mid-August) to whom the 2015 Perseids offered a sky delight!  Out there/up there: Awesome!  

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Beyond Awe: “AweReál”

Lionberger had a profound spiritual experience in the wilderness. He was skiing in the northern Minnesota woods at twilight, when he said he was ‘ambushed by God.’ He writes in his memoir, ‘A sense of peace that's bone-true and javelin-straight floods me, dwarfing any similar sensation I've ever had . . .  I feel utterly cared for.”

The memoir account is not unusual; many individuals report connecting to the sacred through nature. Lionberger, though, is an atheist. The incident was unexpected. Still, he interpreted that evening in the forest as a “spiritual experience with the divine.”

The above is an instance of “awereál” (a made-up term we can use momentarily, for lack of a known one, to describe this type of “spiritual experience” that humans sometimes undergo/describe.) The deep feelings go beyond awe, but viewed in the naturalistic way, the cause of the overwhelming profundity (being “ambushed” by the divine) is not spirits, so let’s not call it a “spiritual” encounter. It’s human, and reality.

Interestingly, a just-published research article in Society of Religion quarterly starts off with an awereál experience and ends with the researchers’ conclusion that environment (such as the “woods at twilight” that brought forth God to the atheist Lionberger) can itself rival organized religion. The study, and its findings, would be of interest to many Brights. (If that’s you, then see the next segment.)

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Nature Tops Religious Observance?

If the environment itself is a resource for such emotions/encounters, then wouldn’t it compete with more traditional religious organizations?  That is, might not an area's level of natural amenities shape how its population structures itself religiously?

In the Society of Religion article previously mentioned (“The Natural Environment as a Spiritual Resource: A Theory of Regional Variation in Religious Adherence”), the researchers move beyond the individual experience (i.e., Lionberger’s) to examine if a region's natural surroundings can influence aggregate religious behavior.

The article points out how nature itself may impact the religious structuring of a geographical region, such that places with higher levels of natural amenities (beautiful landscapes and good weather) experience lower rates of religious adherence. They hypothesized that geographical regions with more such natural niceties in topography, solaces, etc. would evidence lower rates of religious adherence. This is indeed the conclusion reached in the study.

The authors deduce that persons in these geographical areas “are not joining conventional religious organizations at the same rate because they have an additional supply of the sacred. Scholars of religion—both those employing micro or macro perspectives—therefore need to consider the multiple sources that humans use to construct their spiritual and religious lives.

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Morality Infographic, and More

Announcement:  The Arabic translation was just posted at the Brights’ morality web portal, so Arabic readers can now engage the basic facts of human morality as identified in The Brights’ Net’ Morality Project.

The “Reality about Morality” infographic (augmented by web portal explanations) was produced by volunteer Brights with helpful input from and authentication by scientists and researchers who specialize in relevant fields. Translated now from English into 14 additional languages, the morality portal offers a concise view of how human morality actually came about. The information is available online to a broad global audience.

With the help of Israeli volunteers Ruben and Dov, the artist who prepares the infographic (Paula) now has in hand a reviewed Hebrew translation. Availability will be announced in the next bulletin. (BC’s appreciation goes to the additional volunteer translators; thank you!) 

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The Very Best Children’s Book, by Far

Do you have a nomination for the best book for youngsters (any age) to constructively keep open their pathway to a naturalistic understanding of the world?  If so, please let BC know about it! 

Brights who uphold and nurture a naturalistic understanding are generally averse to indoctrination of any kind, even their own. They prefer not to propagandize youngsters, but to open them to the broad array of human understandings, and hope for the best outcome.

But suppose you could provide only one book to a youngster (any age). What would it be? 

Books can help to keep open the option of a naturalistic understanding, and this is important in societies where supernatural explanations prevail. Even outside the home, children can easily absorb the milieu, the language, and the constraints on thinking of the dominant society. And when they do, invalidating conceptual and emotional understandings learned in early life is not easy. Many adults are personal witness to the long and difficult trip from a childhood suffused with beliefs in supernatural realms to a later life free of these beliefs.

Nominate the single book that you’d hold paramount.  Just one, and state why you are recommending the book.  Provide title and author and, if you can, a link to further information (or send an abstract). Also, please Email to the-brights@the-brighs.net with THEBEST (in upper case letters, please) in your subject line.

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Brights’ Evolution Project Concludes Upbeat Year (US)

Poster Project Coverage Map, as of 2015-04-05

Report.  Before the close of the 2014-15 school year, The Brights’ Net had supplied the “Earth and Life: changes over time” poster to 326 schools, whose high school science teachers had sought to acquire it. Each successful teacher applicant was, by way of school position and curriculum, well suited to incorporate the unique resource and thereby elevate their teachingand student understandingof evolutionary change. Given reported teaching loads, over 35,000 students across 47 states were served during the school year. California, Florida, and Ohio led other states in acquisitions. Based on previous surveys of poster laminations and intended use across N years, the student use for each poster will essentially triple the school’s first-year number.

A great many teachers who applied did not qualify to obtain a poster. Sometimes another teacher at the school had already acquired one, and (at least so far), supply limits additional same-school acquisitions. (Teachers are urged to accommodate unit rotations if they can.) Usually rejections are due to curriculum being at non-optimal levels. (The posters are not for decoration, but for serious utilization where the detail in the 5 ½ foot poster image is suited to the curriculum and students can view it continuously and “up close” during an evolution unit or, better yet, across the year where evolution is emphasized and appropriately incorporated many times.)

Note: The “science” in the image was recently updated, and will be employed in the next printing. Also, the updated version will link to selected online resources. It won’t be long before BC will disseminate the last poster from the prior printing and get ready to gear up to print the new version, ramping up donations for this worthwhile and successful Project.  

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At the International Forums

On Morality.  A viral video about a “social experiment” has circulated on the internet. It depicts a child in winter in Manhattan, without a coat, begging on the street.  According to the video’s producers, hundreds of people passed by the child before a homeless man gave him the coat off his own back. Though the video’s producers are hardly serious researchers, both the purported content of the video and the video’s popularity are thought-provoking: were lots of people moved by the video, even though none were by the actual child? What would you do? As the weather in the most populous parts of the world turns more life-threatening, what are the best personal and social policies to address the plight of those without basic means?  Drop your thoughts in the Topic.

On Schooling.  Speaking of controversial social policies, in the United States there is a burgeoning home-schooling movement, much of which is backed and funded by theocratic activists.  For various reasons, parents may choose to keep their children out of the public schooling institutions, and there are legal exemptions from mandatory public education so that children’s educations can be provided by other than the publicly-funded, ostensibly secular schools.  Advocates claim that homeschooled students achieve more advanced scholastic goals, but critics allege that the data are poor and often homeschooled children receive substandard or incomplete curricula or instruction, or may even be criminally abused and neglected outside the oversight of the public authorities.  What’s the right approach here?  Let us know at the Forums.

Registration is quick and easy!

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Notable Civic Victory Announced

The latest issue of the A Little Brightness newsletter (published by Brights Central for incarcerated prisoners) had some delightful news to report: Jason, an inmate in Oregon and long-time subscriber to ALB, had been denied the right to form a humanist study group and identify as a humanist for official assignment purposes.  But no longer.

As he reported on his having achieved a marvelous win with the help of the American Humanist Association’s legal center, Jason wrote:  “After three years of wrangling with Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) chaplains and administrators, administrative remedies, and proceeding with a lawsuit against the BOP, we have reached an Enforceable Settlement Agreement that will open up BOP Religious Programs to Humanist prisoners.  The agreement confers upon Humanist prisoners all the same rights and considerations allowed of BOP recognized beliefs and practices.”

Joel (the Texas Bright who edits the bi-monthly ALB) led off the issue with congratulations to Jason as follows:  “This month we celebrate the recent settlement agreement obtained by Jason and the American Humanist Association, granting humanist inmates in federal prisons the same rights as members of religious groups.  Great work, Jason!  You've made a big difference!”  Staff at BC want to add their congratulations.


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