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Issue #162 (latest issue)

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BRIGHTS BULLETIN -- DECEMBER 2016 


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Elevating Reason in Every Season

An actual holiday greeting from Brights Central awaits you and other Brights on the website.

Despite the bearded appearance, the friendly fellow shown flying over the rooftops disseminating messages across the world is not the more familiar fantasy counterpart. This chap values sound thinking and empirical evidence.

The whimsical presentation may allude to the idea of “spreading reason” around the globe, but we know we can’t depend on a magical chap for that. It’s a task for real people.  And it’s our task for every season.

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Giving This Season? – Then Thanks for Remembering!

Books? Electronics? Toys? Music? Tools? Flowers? TVs? Games? Apparel? - Buy most anything online via the Brights’ site and you send along to nonprofit The Brights’ Net a percentage of the sale – at NO additional cost to you!

You just need to remember to start off your shopping sessions on the website. 

Except for the direct donations received from Brights themselves, the commission from Amazon has proved to be the most important source of funds for this organization so far, but iGive.com gives you access to over 1700 different stores that sell online (commission percentages to nonprofits vary by company).

Late shopper?  You can purchase an Amazon Gift Certificate (any denomination) and approximately 6% will be sent to the Brights (no additional cost).  It is a painless way to spread some December cheer to the Brights' endeavor. 

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The “December Dilemma” (USA)

The U.S. Constitution (and especially its Bill of Rights) issues a promise to protect the right of each citizen to liberty of conscience (generally termed freedom of religion). 

How well does that venerated concept play out in reality? 

Consider the matter of public education in December. That’s when various holidays, religious and secular alike, come into close proximity timewise. Consequently, it is the month when educators are most challenged to do their part to fulfill the nation’s promise. Unfortunately, teachers receive confusing and often contradictory advice about how to treat holidays in their schools, and the last several decades of exploding diversity have increasingly tested the personnel responsible. Global political issues related to faith have only exacerbated the problem.

Although the month’s proximate holidays carry potential to heighten discord in any community, the antidote to conflict involves schools (1) abiding by the standard of legal neutrality in programs (no privileging of any religion over others, or of religion over nonreligion), (2) pursuing sound curriculum, and (3) clearly upholding a fundamental commitment to civic pluralism.

Educators strongly grounded in the philosophical, traditional, and political foundations of the nation will have the best chance to appropriately navigate the issues and deal creatively and sensitively with student populations of varied faiths and beliefs. Thankfully, many excellent resources are available to help. Among the best to pull together useful resources for educators is the Bill of Rights Institute. Note: Its “Founding Documents and Resources” page can also be useful for American Brights who want “a refresher” as well as for Brights elsewhere to see how Americans are supposed to be approaching the perennial challenges of protecting individual conscience in a diverse society.

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Dealing with Diversity on Steroids (USA)

In California, already known worldwide for its diverse citizenry, the challenges of negotiating December holidays can be profound. A "December Dilemma" article directed to helping the state’s public schools deal with the holidays, contains a chart showing that the month of December alone has 14 different holidays! Fourteen!

How can civic harmony be fairly molded out of such diversity? A major suggestion of the article is that a focus be on “Bill of Rights Day on December 15.” The day is often ignored, but activities around it can help create a tone of civic respect, and it readily incorporates those students and families who are not in the majority. There is opportunity to reflect on civic values that all Americans share as citizens, no matter their religious or secular beliefs. If interested in the December diversity, you can check out the chart as well as the guidance offered.

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Secular Celebrations of the Season

The aforementioned article points to resources inclusive of some of the less familiar winter festivals. Among them are two events apropos to many persons who have a naturalistic worldview:

HumanLight: The HumanLight celebration – December 23 – focuses on a secular vision in which all people can identify with each other, behave with the highest moral standards, and work together toward a happy, just, and peaceful world. HumanLight was created by the New Jersey Humanist Network and was first celebrated in 2001.

Solstice:  People have celebrated the winter solstice (northern hemisphere) since ancient times and have observed it with many different cultural and religious traditions. Some of them survive to the present day. The solstice is popular among nonreligious persons and those who have a naturalistic view. Also, some of the better known seasonal days of northern hemisphere religious celebration during the month of December are linked in some way to the solstice.

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New in “Books by Brights”

When alerted to a new book written by a Bright, Brights Central posts a description on the website and notifies Brights who subscribe to the monthly bulletins.

The vast majority of writings by Brights seems to be nonfiction.

Occasionally, though, BC is able to announce to other Brights a fiction item. This such an occasion.

The author in this instance is Bob Hazy. We look forward to reading his “McGhee in the Gloaming.” You can check out the story and description on the website. (Typically, novels by Brights imbed messages that Brights tend to welcome.)

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From the Brights Blog: A Solar Solution?  (UK)

This month our “Science-Minded Citizen,” Adam Manning, writes about an idea long proposed as a way to wean humankind away from fossil fuels.

Can’t we tackle climate change by means of beaming solar energy directly to Earth’s surface from space? What’s the practicality? (Or, is there even a possibility?)  This blog post addresses the issue.

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From the International Forums

The Forums trend a bit heavier and more political even than usual these last few months, but there is great content to be had.  For example, in the Topic Scientific Theology, one wonders what would a machine as smart as God want?  Can science, technology, and philosophy elucidate the answer?  To what extent do different “ways of knowing” help us find the way?  How does our intrinsic human nature help and hinder us in our endeavor?  Let us know what you think by participating! 

While we’re discussing how we know specific things, how (or do!) we know anything at all?  Is our basic contact with reality mediated or direct?  Does reality depend on us, are we unseverable from reality, or indeed are we and reality part of an unseverable whole?  Philosophy meets reality in the computer lab, according to Donald Hoffman, Professor of Cognitive Science, University of California, Irvine.  He believes on the basis of laboratory findings that, according to evolutionary logic, "The probability that we've been shaped to see reality as it is, is zero."  However you may find his conclusions, the argument is challenging and thought-provoking, at the least.  See a brief video and more at the Topic

Anyone may read the Forums, and participation requires only a brief and confidential registration.

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Gullible Needing Protection?  (UK, US)

@UKBrights draws its follower’s attention to the sometime consequences experienced by persons trying out alternative therapies.

Why are some so ready to believe in untested “cures” that are appallingly lacking empirical efficacy and, in some instances, are dangerous?  Shouldn’t there be safeguards? Does education play any role? 

Aspects of the issue are viewed differently in different nations and across populations. In the US, food and drug testing guidelines and regulations are presently undergoing key changes, with likely consequences for consumer safety. Libraries, known for fighting censorship, may in the name of free exchanges of information and free speech contest banning of books that contain false or even dangerous information.

Reason surely has its uphill battle.  Bright On!


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