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BRIGHTS BULLETIN -- SEPTEMBER 2019 


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Broader Scope - Grandeur in the View

Within a highly religious society, holding a supernatural-free outlook may, if made evident, draw attention to one’s reasoning about divine agency.

Having a naturalistic worldview is much more than simply having reached (PDF) a conclusion about that single concept, however. Having a supernatural-free perspective means living one’s life without holding onto lots of other popular notions as well.

No apparitions. No ESP. No miracles of the mystical/paranormal type. No hopes, either, of life after death (for oneself or for loved ones). In this worldview - no supernatural entities or agency at all.

This doesn't mean that one is at all deprived. Such notions can still inhabit the imagination… and good fiction.

In the world of reality, there is already tremendous expanse, great breadth and depth! 

In fact, Brights are living life with a superb view of it. It may be a view that differs from some conventional ideas, but it means living in a world that, according to Darwin, carries its own grandeur. Magnificent!

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Open Expression and Consequence

The Brights, as individuals and collectively, are generally supportive of pressing for societal acceptance for other brights - for people like themselves who have no supernatural beliefs whatsoever. That stated egalitarian vision is expressed on the Brights' website: full civic equality and participation in society for individuals who have a naturalistic worldview.

Toward those ends, we Brights are generally encouraged to “be candid” about our naturalistic worldview whenever we can. In fact, two (of the four) suggested actions for Brights featured on the website are: openness and visibility.  

Due to cultural surroundings, however, Brights in some places in the world will, for good reasons be concealing their naturalistic outlook from others. If personal safety is at issue, they will certainly not be seeking visibility for having a supernatural-free worldview.

Even in many places of general security, holding a position that is nonconforming to prevalent stances may not be easy. Pressures to be silent about or mask one’s views can be strong.

Politicians, seldom known for their personal courage, will be especially cautious traversing religious terrain. Lest they endanger their status, most will avoid any full-throated expression of a nonconforming outlook. (If interested, you can check out this current USA example.) 

As social creatures, humans in general wish to avoid ostracism, finding it one of the more uncomfortable circumstances to bear.

And yet, shunning does sometime result from openness. Thus, even in democratic societies that widely proclaim full freedoms for variant views, a person open about their naturalistic worldview may well encounter isolating social consequences. 

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Navigating Nonconformity

If nonconformity to fellow citizens’ views happens to be your situation, consider yourself in good company, at least historically. In every era there seem to live people who think freely and independently and do not conform to the mainstream.

Some individuals have relished holding to an unconventional outlook and even gained fame in making it known. Other different thinkers have come forth with judgments irritating to others, perhaps even perilous for themselves. 

Even Darwin himself was quite cognizant of the authority of dominant belief. In the face of it, he postponed his publication of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection and appears to have bent a bit in the face of the prevalent thinking of his day.

And yet, much as have Darwin’s own deductions, the distinctive thinking of nonconformists has often yielded impressive societal advances which, in retrospect, we celebrate today. So carry on, in company of such different thinkers. 

Consider how Thales, Siddhartha, Voltaire, Wollstonecraft, Copernicus, Curie, Galileo, Darwin, and Sanger departed from notions firmly held by those around them.  Some of their original ideas strongly challenged the prevailing thinking of their day. (These are just a few of the figures featured in instructional materials designed for use in public schools to teach about nonconformity in thought.)

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Coming Soon – More from Dawkins

Not long after Richard Dawkins registered as a Bright, he published The God Delusion. It remains his most widely-distributed, and presumably most impactful, “atheist” book to date.

In TGD, this prolific author of books about evolutionary science and atheism pointed out what seemingly was his favorite detail about the “Brights campaign” (as he understood the Brights initiative at the time). 

Dr. Dawkins had noticed (and wrote, p. 338) that the online registration process of The Brights' Net was “...scrupulous in setting out the rules for children to sign up: ‘The decision to be a Bright must be the child’s. Any youngster who is told he or she must, or should, be a Bright can NOT be a Bright.’” He pointed out that any church or mosque would be quite unlikely to issue such an ordinance. 

Richard Dawkins has long demonstrated strong sentiments regarding how children are to reach their conclusions concerning the “big questions of life”– of how their world came to be and how it works. He has since also railed strongly against the labeling of children by the religion their parent(s) happen to hold (“a Christian child,” for example).

After subsequently having written a book purportedly aimed at youth (although BC deems The Magic of Reality better suited for imparting science to the nonscientific reader), he still isn’t finished with that focus.  So, we at BC are now eagerly awaiting the release of the new book, Outgrowing God, which is focused on helping young and old alike “think for themselves” about the common questions of how the natural world arose without a designer. 

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Hard Times for Secular Sorts

>>Harassed for What You Don’t Believe

News reports are replete with accounts of how some dominant religion's adherants are mistreating religious minorities in their part of the world. Governments, too, are placing restrictions on religious groups that they disfavor.

As noted by the Pew Research Center, there is news, too, about how religiously unaffiliated people (including atheists, agnostics and persons who don’t identify with any religion) are being treated. Nones are facing harassment in a growing number of countries.

Harassment, as defined by Pew, can include “…a wide range of activities, from verbal abuse to physical violence and killings. It can be perpetrated by governments as well as private individuals and groups.” Both the social and governmental harassment of Nones has risen sharply since 2012, and particularly in 2017.

>>Fizzling Congregations - In Need of Religion?

When “Sunday Assembly”- came on the scene in 2013, its “non-religious gatherings” (modeled on church congregations) spread like wildfire.

The activities came from UK secularists hoping to carry forward certain aspects common to religions (community, moral deliberations, a deep sense of wonder), just without the religion aspect. Their idea of having “secular congregations” caught hold quickly in the early years, with the congregations growing rapidly and heavily covered by the media. (Example of coverage)

A recent Atlantic article, They Tried to Start a Church Without God. For a While, It Worked, offers an overview of the rise (and subsequent fall, but not yet failure) of these efforts. The author’s commentary explores the challenges faced by secular organizers while experimenting with different strategies, seeking to maintain adequate interest and engagement in the absence of a key religious element.

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Secular Americans Acknowledged (USA)

It’s not all bad news for the nonreligious. There’s some really good news, too!

As noted in recent measures of religious demographics, such as by PRRI and Pew researchers, nonreligious/unaffiliated Americans have grown to represent a larger and larger segment of the population. The current demographic representation of the unaffiliated varies widely by state but is now approximately a quarter of the overall U.S. population. 

Still, there has been apparent reluctance by the public to fully embrace nonreligious Americans, especially those who call themselves atheists. Politicians and political parties have consistently failed to recognize the value of courting the largest, fastest growing religious demographic in the nation. 

So, it was newsworthy that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) at its annual summer meeting adopted a resolution recognizing nonreligious Americans’ contributions to society and to the Democratic Party. As its resolution states: “the religiously unaffiliated demographic represents the largest religious group within the Democratic Party, growing from 19% in 2007 to one in three today.”

The Secular Coalition for America (an advocacy organization for various atheist and agnostic and secular humanist groups) when announcing the DNC’s move, noted that Democrats “…had become the first major political party to publicly, officially, embrace nonreligious voters… The resolution praises secular values, recognizes our community's contributions to society, and states clearly that we should be "represented, included, and heard by the party." Text of the adopted resolution is available in PDF format at on the SCA website.

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Helping Others Get “Woke” about Morality

“Woke” is a slang term that has been making headway into mainstream language lately, rendered in online dictionaries and the popular vernacular as “I was sleeping, but now I'm woke.”

The condition can be viewed as a specialized form of a more general notion: “being with it.

Having seemingly slipped in from the African American vernacular, the term is increasingly gaining use generally as a byword for social awareness. (A “woke” person is quite conscious of racial discrimination, mindful of injustice, cognizant of oppression, etc.)

Moving into quite a different usage realm, we might say that a rather large portion of the citizenry is still not “woke” to many important topics:  to climate change, or to evolutionary development, or to the reality of how human morality has come to be. These latter two arenas are ones that the Brights have been addressing through its two projects featured on the home page.

As regards the natural foundations of human morality, it seems many citizens simply are "not woke." Not yet cognizant about this aspect of our species, they are ripe to be awakened to what science has to say about the natural basis of morality. The Brights’ morality project (accomplished by a team of volunteers over several years) makes such exposure to the facts quite easy.

Perhaps you know of fellow citizens who may not yet be “with it” on this topic?  As a Bright, you can help to nudge people you know in a woke direction!  It’s easy to do when you share with them the Brights’ morality infographic.

That single-page image has clear statements about morality, all of which have been vetted by noted morality researchers. The succinct information is available for sharing in 15 different languages.  (Further explanation is available in most of those languages, too, readily accessed with simple clicks.)

All your friends and acquaintances should be “woke” on this topic! If they aren’t, then you have a chance to do some consciousness raising!  So give it a try.

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Wee Science Stories from Denmark

Interesting research is brought to light in another of the little moral tales volunteered to the Brights by a Danish Bright.

In English or Danish, you can read about how Asian elephants are coping as they face increased urbanizing of the landscapes that border the forested habitats more suited to their species. 

The male elephants already are using a high-risk/high-gain foraging strategy, venturing into agricultural areas and feeding on the nutritious crops that improve their reproductive fitness. But now with further urbanizing, these areas can be unpredictable production landscapes.

So, to persist in such regions, what new strategies are the elephants adapting?  (Researchers are investigating and have discovered new adaptive associations taking place!)

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