Backtalk on "Bright"

The idea of the noun Bright as an umbrella term covering individuals with a naturalistic worldview is controversial. Here are some comments from individuals, followed by a bit of counter-commentary on our part. The prime purpose is to clarify the concepts as we see them, and to the best of our ability prevent misunderstandings.

Along with open inquiry and "thinking out of the box," we would note that skepticism is a very worthwhile habit of mind. With Bright, we embrace the skeptics.


The term is just a euphemism.

Euphemism? No... Umbrella.

A euphemism is a word that is used in place of a less socially accepted term. Bright is a unique word which is not an euphemism for any other word. It is a neologism--a new word or new meaning for an established word.

Bright as a noun is indeed quite new! (Bright was heretofore only an adjective.) The noun, Bright, creates an umbrella under which all the other names of naturalistic individuals (and groups) fall. One does not give up being an atheist to be a Bright. In math terms, one would call Bright the name of a set, and some sub-sets are agnostic, humanist, atheist, freethinker, skeptic, and so forth.

People self-identify by many labels. We (Paul and Mynga) ourselves are atheists in relation to deities (though for distinctly different reasons!), humanists (for the most part) in relation to morality, and existentialists in relation to philosophy. When it comes to daily living, we tend to be pragmatists. When the issue is explanations of nature, we are right there with the scientists. In all these arenas, our worldview is distinctly naturalistic, so personally, we like being Brights. The definition is so short and simple, and it fits us both to a "T."    

However much we may seem alike by the preceding paragraph, we actually are quite different people.  Each of us employs our repertoire of different self-identifying labels quite independently, as we deem most apropos the occasion and the people involved. Are we ashamed to be atheists and trying to "cover up"? Far from it. One of us is a president of a local atheist group.

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The term is arrogant and bragging!

Arrogant? No... different!

What arrogance? This word has a different meaning. Can people "break free" from the old and carve out the new territory? We will see.

Bright, as in "I am a Bright. I have a naturalistic worldview." Bright, as in "You are a Bright. You have a naturalistic worldview." Bright, as in "We are the Brights. We have a naturalistic worldview." Or, they are Bright s--people with a naturalistic worldview.    

Bright as an adjective is a word with a huge panoply of connotations, most of which relate to light and luminosity.  In our dictionary, several meanings rank higher in usage than the one that seems to stimulate grumbles from those who attribute conceit to the Brights.  Some people plainly cannot  get unstuck from the one connotation they stick onto the Brights.

It's not at all arrogant or bragging if you show you actually are “living and breathing” the new meaning, using the word correctly as a noun and for its purpose.

It is true that Brights must exercise prudence in how they use the word, particularly until the neologism's meaning becomes established. That may well be quite a long while.  Nevertheless, with enough repetition and mimicry, we suspect that people will discriminate Bright correctly, just as people today discriminate Gay correctly. But first, we ourselves must discriminate!

For now, the word is simply best avoided in statements where it can be interpreted that Brights (noun) are bright (adjective).  Are Brights (considered as a class) in fact bright?  Given this "arrogance" complaint, this is surely a question to be seriously pondered.

With our propensity to focus on reality, we suspect the individual answers vary widely on this question.  We know of people who would answer in the affirmative. Clearly our own answer is, no!  Some are, some aren't...among the Brights.  Some are, some aren't...outside the Brights. Way too many variables.

The point is, it's a different matter altogether, this cleverness issue. Maybe you are clever; and maybe you think you are simply brilliant.  Actually, maybe you’re not? No matter. Either way--anyway--you can still be a Bright. 

To be a Bright, one's worldview is the subject of interest. Is it free of supernatural and mystical elements?  That is the question. If it is, the person can call themselves a Bright. If not, one isn't a Bright, regardless of ranking in any other arenas, however defined.

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The term carries no weight and is rather silly!

The words that we have been using for the "types" of Brights--words like atheist, agnostic, humanist, skeptic, rationalist, secular humanist, igtheist, and so on--may seem "weighty." But, do they carry weight in our society? In actuality, those words carry almost no weight, civic weight, that is. The community of reason is a marginalized entity.

Any word that is to act as an umbrella for people who have a rather wide range of beliefs (all naturalistic) cannot be a term, however weighty, already in use to describe a category of those people. And, besides, one syllable is preferable for a word to catch on.  We want a word that has a chance to catch on, eventually.

Think about Green (as in the Green political party). Foolish? Light?  Sure, but a perfectly acceptable word in society for a party member. Bright will be like that if the constituency of Brights grows sufficiently large, and then society embraces the term. "Big ifs" perhaps, but if this noun is a meme, possible.

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Having two meanings for one word?—too confusing!

People tend to be able to distinguish such things as "usage in context" if the meanings are in the repertoire.  For example, take the "b" off of our neologism and consider just a few of the existing meanings of "right":

  • right (adj.)--direction or location opposite of left
  • right (adj.)--formed by a perpendicular, as in a right (90˚)angle
  • right (adj.)--in accord with fact, as in a right (correct, true) answer
  • right (adj.)--in accord with justice, as in right conduct
  • right (adj.)--the principal, as in the right side of the cloth
  • right (adj.)--sound or normal, as in one's right mind
  • right (adj.)--in good order, as in make things right again
  • right (n.)--a politically conservative position (often with the)
  • right (n.)--that to which a person has claim (often plural), as in within your rights to do it
  • right (n.)--a legal privilege, as in right of free speech
  • right (n.)--an interest in real or intangible property (often plural)
  • right (adv.)--straight or directly, as in go right home
  • right (adv.)--exactly or precisely, as in right over here
  • right (adv.)--without pause or delay; as in come right down
  • right (adv.)--extremely, as in knowing something right well
  • right (vt.)--to restore to upright position (to right the vessel)
  • right (vt.)--to put in order, (right a room)
  • right (vt.)--to do justice (right a wrong)

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I am not a Bright; I am an atheist (humanist, etc.) and always will be!

An atheist remains an atheist, and a humanist a humanist, and an agnostic stays agnostic, and so it goes. Bright says nothing about that. It's an additional word with its own meaning.

The noun Bright is an umbrella term over all manners of philosophy, as long as they result in a person whose worldview is naturalistic.

Bright, the term, is best used within society and in lectures, such as when one wants to refer in one fell swoop to the entire "community of reason."  But, it can go beyond that, because there are a lot of people in the general population who are not connected to or part of that "community," even though their worldview is clearly naturalistic. People might be Brights who wouldn't be atheists.

Take this example:  If people are discussing their ideas of death, you (if you are an atheist) can offer either "I don't believe in an afterlife; I am a Bright" or "I don't believe in an afterlife, I am an atheist." It all depends on the reception you want to receive and the dialogue you want to engage in. The audience will have a preconceived notion of what an atheist is and is not. On the other hand, saying you are a Bright, will likely result in a follow-up question, "What is a Bright?"

You choose.  All Brights are something else too.

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Why not just use "freethought" as the umbrella word?

Freethinkers know exactly what they mean when they use the word, freethought. It is a perfectly good umbrella word used inside the club, so to speak. It has been with us for some time.  In fact, the "community of reason" is most often termed, the freethought community, a good many persons who would definitely qualify as Brights are distinctly not freethinkers. 

Out in general society, freethought is used in a multitude of ways.  Most of the time non-freethinkers haven't got the slightest idea of what the word means. In fact, many religious folks we know think of themselves as freethinkers (“able to freely think my way through things” is their meaning).  To others, freethought is closely linked to ideas like free love, and free spirit (nonconformist, individualist, maverick, radical, oddball, and doing exactly what you want).

In short, socially, this term is carrying the baggage of overuse and misunderstanding. We know this for a fact. We have been dealing with social studies educators concerning the topic of “freethought history” for about eight years!

Bright is an invented noun, a neologism.  It is fresh, free, and unencumbered. It has a good shot at being a meme which will eventually pervade all of society.

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What if I like this idea but believe there are some forces that science can not and will not be able to measure, which have an effect on our lives?

Simply put, you aren't a bright.

Brights are individuals who have a naturalistic worldview, free from supernatural and mystical forces. You are describing mystical forces.

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You can't convert an adjective into a noun!

English is fine the way it is?  Sorry, but we feel there is a clear need for a noun that "umbrellas" (note the verb usage?) over the naturalistic worldview folks. The term just had to be something easy to pronounce. It was desirable that it be "in tune" with the Enlightenment heritage and scientific values.  To us, this term just plain ol' fits the bill.   

Perhaps the noun Bright won't make it.  We can certainly try, though, to introduce a term that we feel has important uses, not only for the Brights, but for society at large.

Language has always changed and will continue to change.  We would like to see Bright as a commonly accepted affirmative noun with which to refer to persons whose worldview is naturalistic. There's no such word for that concept right now.  We hope in twenty years, there will be.

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