The Brights' Bulletin


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Issue #84
April 30, 2010

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


BRIGHTS BULLETIN -- MAY 2010


Education and Explanation - Make It Viral
 
The Brights' Net is chartered as an educational (alliance and advocacy) organization, and all participants are urged to play a part in the "educating" aspect. Keep thinking of ways you can help others to learn about the Brights' endeavor using the Internet (we are an Internet constituency, after all).
 
Have you thought of this one yet?
 
Have some fun sending out a "So what do you know about the Brights movement?" quiz. Maybe your recipients will respond to the challenge.
 
The Self-Check link is one of the more enjoyable parts of the Brights' site to share with others. It is also one that will shed a lot of "brightness" and correct a lot of misunderstandings.
 
Inform. Educate. Nudge the link enough and in certain ways, and who knows?! It just may go viral.
 

Merchandise Decision: No Babies Brights!
 
Brights Central gets lots of advice from Brights! The following registration comment developed into a very pleasant exchange that spurred some action, too. And no doubt describing that action will spur some further emailed advice!
 
"I checked the merchandise page and saw that baby clothes with the Bright logo are being sold. Surely not appropriate, since babies will eventually make up their own mind? Dawkins makes the point about 'Muslim Child / Catholic Child' categorisations in his books. Surely a 'Bright Child' falls into the same dubious category? (Just a minor complaint though - keep up the good work, and best wishes from Wales, UK. Regards, Steve."
 
Reply from Paul to Steve:
"Our basic rule is that a young person has to register him/herself as a Bright. I am also forwarding this to Diane, our shop-keeper."
 
Next from Diane to Paul
"Do you want me to eliminate baby clothes on Cafe Press? What about kids' t-shirts? Diane"
 
And then from Paul to Diane and Stephen:
"Seems like we should remove 'infants, infants/toddlers, bibs' Leave the other kids stuff because we can't really set the size for anyone who would could or could not register him/her self. However, don't remove the Official Logo Teddy Bear -- that could be placed in anyone's home (and Mynga wants one in the near future -- joke)."
 
Finally, back to Stephen:
"Paul / Diane, I am impressed - many less open-minded organisations would not have taken note of what is, after all, a comment on a registration form. I am very pleased to have signed up and I wish you great success! Regards, Stephen."
 

Brights International Forum Reports
 
Book Club: Members of the Brights Discussion Forum's Book Club will begin reading Anthill, by E. O. Wilson, together on May 7, 2010--as reckoned in the U.S., for those of you 'round the dateline. All are invited to register at the Forum and participate in what is sure to be a rousing dive into a delightful book. We hope to see you there.
 
[The Book: Anthill is the first novel published by famed biologist E. O. Wilson, now 81. It is reviewed here by the New York Times: Wilson began his scientific career in childhood, revolutionized understanding of the biological bases of social behavior in his books The Insect Societies and Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, has been widely recognized as the world's foremost authority on ants, and has twice won the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction.]
 
News Thread (4/29):
"War Memorial Cross on Public Land"
Discussion of the United States Supreme Court decision can be found on this forum thread.
 

Acquiring Books and Other Stuff
 
Don't forget that if you order Anthill or purchase any type of merchandise through the Amazon links at The Brights' Net website, a percentage of the purchase price goes to support the Brights movement--at no additional cost to you! Amazon remains an easy way to donate money to the UK and US Brights' activities.
 
Buy anything you like at Amazon.com, and the company sends The Brights' Net 7% of your sale price. At Amazon.co.uk the current percentage is 5.5% (Just 15 more purchasers this month would have boosted the percentage to 6%! Got any books in mind to buy to help boost the percentage?)
 
Last month yielded 32 GBP (UK) and $271 (USA). The latter amount is almost sufficient to sustain the monthly SalsaLabs services (database and emailing) as well as the Internet connection for this month! Lots more reading required to keep the office lights on and the website hosted, though.
 

A Price of Admission (USA)
 
From the home page: "The ethics and actions of a bright are based on a naturalistic worldview."
 
The Brights' Meetup in Massachusetts has implemented an idea that other groups and gatherings might want to consider. They decided that each participant would bring to each meeting -- as a price of admission (so to speak) -- a couple of cans of food or equivalent (dried beans, rice, flour, cereal, etc.) the group would then turn over to a food pantry serving the hungry and homeless. One member suggests paper goods, which cannot be bought with U.S. food stamps.
 

Brights Registration Comments
 
Sean (California, USA):  "finally a local group of ppl who actually use logic! very rare these days"
 
Margaret (Illinois, USA): "You've taken some flak over the choice of 'bright', but I believe it was a good idea. I remember what a dust-up there was over 'gay' being chosen, yet things have settled down nicely. I feel very comfortable and happy to be joining this group of constituents."
 
Kamran (Pakistan):  "I have studied your vision. And I have concluded that you work for a social purpose. I am also interested to join social communities and work with. Your struggle in this time is of great importance. Because as far as I concluded, your main aim is awareness. And our society lack awareness."
 

The Expansive Reach of Awareness: Eye-Opening Contrasts
 
Kay (Alaska, USA):  "I'm one of 58 children, born in a polygamist group in Mexico; my father had 10 wives & 58 children , my mother is a NYT best seller author."
 
Bahram (Canada): "I first heard about 'The Brights' through reading an article about Penn & Teller. In the article the writer was explaining that Penn & Teller are supporters of your wonderful group/community (which till recently never thought had existed)."
 
Mick (American Samoa): "Talofa from Pago Pago. Before I discovered the brights, I used to refer to myself as a "seeker".  Now I realize I have always been a Bright."
 

Brights Now, But Not Back Then
A Clergy Connections Possibility
 
A recent "BrightenOp" notice drew attention of former clergy and led to their emailing to Brights Central, which has since communicated with a couple of ex-pastors and ex-priests, such as these:
 
Leonard: "FYI: I am an ex-Christian, married to a believer and was a pastor for several years."
 
John: "I was a Benedictine monk and priest in my young adult years (LONG ago!) and gradually evolved through many phases during my life which I refer to as my reductio ad nihilism . (Latin was one great gift the Catholic years gave me.)"
 
The communications set us to wondering if there are other ex-clergy within the constituency of Brights who might like to communicate with one another. Hence, this is a singular call to any such Brights who will give the necessary written permission to BC to put you in touch with others. Given sufficient interest, we can set up a mechanism for you to discuss this movement. For example: "How applicable is this approach (using a worldview context of brights and supers, instead of the traditional distinctions, religious and nonreligious) to advancing its aims?"
 
The term "clergy" is being used here as a generic term to indicate a person having some sort of role of leadership within a religion. If you are a former seminarian or someone who has left a ministry or a Bright in any form of role within a religious organization to this date who would like to be connected, email to the-brights@the-brights.net with EXCLERGY in your subject line and state your circumstance along with "permission to connect" in the body of the email.
 

The Overlooked Link
 
The BrightenOp notice mentioned in the prior item was one alerting American Brights to a study entitled "Preachers who are not Believers" by Enthusiastic Bright Daniel Dennett and his colleague, Linda LaScola (Tufts University). 
 
As it happens, a few recipients did not notice the link to the text of the study (PDF - 106 KB). It was embedded in the introductory paragraph in Professor Dennett's column ("On Faith," Washington Post), but not very noticeable. That column has since been modified.
 

Proselytizing Others - Shall We?
 
The tag line of the Brights movement is: "to illuminate and elevate the naturalistic worldview."
 
Question: Does this mean that Brights are to be proselytizers, asking others to adopt their outlook?
Answer: Not if they take seriously the aims of this movement.
 
Pursuit of "converts" to a supernatural-free outlook is likely to be a waste of valuable time, and quite unlikely to advance the aims of this movement. We seek greater social acceptance, yes. We definitely want greater participation by brights in civil society, yes. So, being visible as persons who have a naturalistic worldview is important. (We must make known our supernatural-free points of view.)
 
However, acquainting others with one's own worldview is different from trying to compel others to adopt it. And, to a large extent, the latter action proves futile more often than successful, anyway.
 
Take it from Steven Weinberg, co-winner of the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics. In an essay in The New York Review of Books entitled, "Without God," he summed up his own capacity to convince others as follows: "I think I have achieved a perfect record of never having changed anyone's mind."
 

Religion Is a Place
 
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein (wife of Enthusiastic Bright Steven Pinker) is author most recently of a novel, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction. She favors all beliefs being examined rigorously and welcomes assertions made about "how the world is" being subject to thorough-going analysis. She also clearly sees religion as being about far more than argued beliefs:
 
In a fascinating interview in the current issue of The Humanist, Dr. Goldstein offers a more expansive view of religion than one customarily encounters. Her perspective nourishes empathy for others, particularly for fellow citizens whose beliefs may strongly differ from one's own.
 
"Religion is a place where people can take their existential dilemmas, and their need for community, and their sense of the mystery of existence, and their fear of death, and their moral uncertainties, and their need to feel their lives to be of significance, and their disgust at their own distasteful impulses, and…I could go on and on. Showing the inadequacy of arguments for God's existence isn't going to make these needs disappear for those for whom they are an insistent presence. So treating religion as a simple propositional affair seems to miss a great deal of what's going on when people disagree about religion."
 

Calendar Concerns Illustrate Cultural Quandary
 
The Brights' Net hub, Brights Central, is housed in a single office in the U.S. (California). Participants in this constituency are from any of 186 nations. Not surprisingly, constituents will occasionally point out BC's degree of parochialism (viewed as unseemly in an international endeavor).
 
Example: David wrote recently from the UK to ask BC to improve the Brights' calendar, most particularly its usefulness. He found the Sunday-to-Saturday layout both strange and frustrating! [Monday-to-Sunday (yielding a "split weekend") is a format that floods the market in the USA.] Still, before he would threaten never to buy another unless it was changed to his favored layout, he did let us know about his thinking. Thanks, David!
 
Frankly, BC isn't equipped in space or staff to keep inventory and fulfill orders. And, with volunteer labor, use of print-on-demand calendars limits capability to produce in several versions. It's helpful if Brights keep in mind that BC is facilitating communications across a constituency of individuals, not trying to grow a centralized enterprise. So, as we have been producing a calendar to please, not frustrate, it's likely we will be redirecting our resources to areas of less friction.
 
Pondering that possibility, David wrote back with agreement and a perspective: "Paul - many thanks for your quick and person attention to my calendar concerns…funds and time resources are perhaps best directed elsewhere… I find the contrasting attitudes of the public each side of the Atlantic interesting - and, at times, amusing, even. That's not to say we don't have our share of supers with odd ideas."
 

"Supernatural-free" and "Deity-free"
 
They aren't the same.
 
A nonreligious person who has no deity belief in their worldview may nevertheless accept as real certain phenomena commonly described as being, having, or involving "supernatural and mystical forces/entities."
 
It may take some thinking to get your head around this assertion, but there are atheists who give credence to these or similar elements: astrology, auras, clairvoyance, chi, crystal power, divination, ESP, karma, psychic knowledge, reincarnation, souls, vitalism.
 

Atheist Prisoner Brightens!
 
The prisoner asked: "What does it take to become a registered Bright?" in a message sent to Joel, the volunteer who prepares "A Little Brightness" for prisoners.
 
"[D]uring the last lockdown," he had seen an issue of the monthly newsletter and taken to the idea that: "…when we identify ourselves as atheists we are defining ourselves with the same deity-centered content as 'the believers' believe… An atheist does not believe what theists believe (same root word). A Bright holds a similar belief, but the foundation of the identity is completely separate from theism."
 
Joel of course responded by offering to "register him" as he has done with several others (using a code that the prisoner can employ later when computer access becomes available or if he leaves prison).
 

Toolbox Item Sparks Poem on Dying Process
 
Brights Central received a number of added "naturalistic worldview' answers to the "How do you confront mortality?" question. Among the prose contributions was this poetic perspective. Although the topic was actually the preferred manner of death, BC found its "lonely chance of me" phrase particularly poignant.
 
i want

no slow descent
through twilight;

no ageing grace;

no months of immobility
or pain that hollows out the hours
and distracts my appetites;

no greying thoughts
or random conversations
like synaptic fires
in a cloudy quantum soup;

no path to night
that counts each moment
sacrifice,
a burden made to bear.

i want

the road to leap in me;
an unexpected dark surprise
without the hedge of faith
while walking by the sea perhaps
or watching a moon
wheel overhead

in abject awe
of life itself,
and the lonely chance of me

even if it was only for a while.
--Bob Canuel
 
Bob's desire is widely shared, but reality intrudes. The physician Sherwin Nuland, in his 1995 book, How We Die, reports the reality, and it's discouraging: Too few of us will experience that sought-after "surprise."  (A volunteer review of Nuland's book on Amazon puts it this way: "Death, like birth, is a messy process.")
 
On the upbeat side, that same review title points out: "it's how you live that matters." And as Gandhi is said to have put it: "You must be the change you wish to see in the world."
 

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