Who Are the Brights?
An essay by Mynga Futrell and Paul Geisert
Brights are individuals in an international Internet constituency who assert that they hold “a naturalistic worldview—free of supernatural and mystical elements.” Slightly extending the portrayal of shared identity is this further declaration by Brights: The ethics and actions of a bright are based on a naturalistic worldview.
No narrowly circumscribed meaning is provided for the definitional terms, and each constituent Bright retains his/her own unique worldview. (The worldview concept is further explicated at Teaching About Religion)
The Brights’ Net (http://www.the-brights.net) is the hub for the constituency, whose purposes are threefold: 1) promote the civic understanding and acknowledgment of the naturalistic worldview, 2) gain public recognition that persons who hold such a worldview can bring principled actions to bear on matters of civic importance, and 3) educate society toward accepting the full and equitable civic participation of all such individuals.
The Brights’ Net seeks the unification of diverse individuals at this central Internet hub as Brights. Their immediate undertaking is to “grow” the Internet constituency and to explore avenues of action they can take as Brights on behalf of other persons holding a naturalistic worldview.
The neologism (bright [n.]) has been serving as an effective mechanism for publicizing the existence of the constituency. Discussion regarding the term engenders awareness and leads to additional persons enrolling to be counted as constituents. Beyond the immediate enterprise, the desire of the Brights’ Net is to act worldwide to galvanize a constituency of Brights within any society that is otherwise permeated with supernaturalism, culminating in, over a long haul, social acceptance, civic recognition, and actual influence for persons whose worldview is free of supernatural and mystical elements.
To steer development, the Brights’ Net sets out nine principles, including the following. The Brights’ Net offers a pragmatic action connection for Brights [P3] by operating as an Internet organization (not as a membership organization) [P4]. The Brights movement is not an atheist movement, nor a humanist, freethinker, skeptical, rationalist, objectivist, igtheist, materialist, or secular humanist movement, nor any other manifestation of extant organizations and philosophies [P6]. The Brights’ Net eschews all attempts by others to label the movement, along with the saddling of individuals with negations of religious appellations (e.g., nonbeliever and godless person) [P7] that intimate disapproval and set down restrictive boundaries for a naturalistic worldview. The Brights movement is a positive social force and not an anti-religious movement, and it works only toward social equality and a level playing field [P8].
In short, the Brights’ Net has ambitious educational and social intentions regarding the status of persons whose worldview is free of supernaturalism. The general aspiration involves working in selective ways to allay such factors as tend to curb their options politically, with focus in the realms of their civil rights and their moral standing within the human community.
Seeking a Rightful Place—Parity
It must be noted that the aims of the Brights movement are neither religious nor philosophical (there is no belief canon or dogma). Although there is a general thrust to promote better understanding and characterization of the naturalistic worldview and (for the good of society) to uphold and fortify its social and civic presence, there is no proclivity to press it onto others. The Brights’ Net does not proselytize (not generically, or for any philosophical variant), although of course individual Brights may surely do so. As common endeavor, what the Brights’ enterprise proclaims is the legitimacy and worth of the naturalistic worldview and, especially, the right of persons to hold such a stance and be fully accepted and participating citizens of society.
Although there are indeed certain regional and national exceptions, on the whole, the naturalistic worldview is marginalized, with persons holding such a worldview hesitant to candidly express it for cultural reasons. Largely, concerns that doing so might arouse in others misgivings about moral fiber, or in some way otherwise diminish their social standing, are not baseless. These anxieties have been justified by experience or imparted by way of societal symbolism or out-and-out law, yielding a situation that hinders such persons in varied social and civic avenues. In many regions of the world, the cultural corollary goes well beyond mild ostracism to death for those who display convictions aligned with a naturalistic perspective.
It is encouraging, though, that some nations, such as the United States, show clear evidence of there existing a great diversity of persons who hold worldviews free of supernaturalism, and who together could coalesce into significant numbers. Enough such persons, as individuals under a broad umbrella, could collectively gain substantial social and political influence.
The “broad Brights umbrella” is an important concept. In order to provide individuals with a naturalistic worldview a social voice commensurate with their numbers, there must be larger numbers willing to speak out for their rightful place in society.
Getting Together As Brights
Just as scientists (not creationists) get to say what science is, the network of the Brights gets to define itself, which it does through its definition, three purposes, and nine principles. Together, Brights can work in positive ways and through educational actions to diminish circumstances whereby surrounding culture (or a subculture) would devalue a person’s moral, social, or civic legitimacy or capacity because of his/her holding of a worldview free of supernaturalism.
There need not be philosophical congruence among Brights, and it should not be presumed. In fact, within its simple naturalistic worldview definition, the Brights constituency can incorporate a rather expansive spectrum of philosophical stances. Much existing typecasting of the Brights is unfounded. For example, it is claimed by many that a naturalistic worldview features evident denial of the supernatural, or of god(s). Others, classical atheists, may claim that authenticity of any naturalistic worldview must incorporate such denial. Neither posture holds out a societal pathway to not deny god and supernatural without social retribution from those who would project their own religious or nonreligious worldview criteria. However, the fact is that one can be quite free of supernatural beliefs (or deity-beliefs) and be detached from interest in or concern about beliefs regarding the supernatural. Brights often maintain positions of civic indifferentism or civil neutrality toward others’ faith in the divine.
Certainly a subset of Brights actively denies the existence of supernatural and deity(ies), but numerous Brights do not. They, perceiving absence of empirical evidence that compels paying attention to the concept of supernatural, simply live their lives without any supernatural beliefs. For these Brights, insisting on, defending, and maintaining a position of civic and civil neutrality toward all convictions regarding the supernatural and mystical is a more effective avenue to personal fulfillment and social cohesion than proclaiming others’ worldviews to be defective.
Available to persons who seek fellowship around certain compatible naturalistic beliefs is an array of rationalist groups. Yet this “community of reason” is currently fragmented into a number of camps. All the camps collectively are small in number and exist mostly at the margins of society. In the United States, for example, despite apparent growth in “freethought groups” of late, such organizations do not attract a significant fraction of the twenty-nine million individuals who are nonreligious (the American Religious Identification Study, 2001), less than one percent of whom self-identify as atheists, agnostics, or humanists. Surely, among those who call themselves “nonreligious” are numerous “un‑churched believers.” However, representing an ample portion of nonreligious people are the supernaturalism-free folk who simply keep aloof from organized freethought. Their reasons for staying away may include apathy, fear of controversy, dislike of anti-religious intolerance, or not caring to be associated with socially ostracized groups. Whether they should associate or not is irrelevant; they simply do not.
How could individuals who have a naturalistic worldview be galvanized to have a social voice commensurate with their numbers and to act together in pragmatic ways in the realm of likely common concerns?
Motivational Foundations and Progress
The concept of forming an “association of autonomous individuals” as a base for pragmatic action arose in the minds of the authors after becoming disenchanted with some recent attempts to unify the membership organizations in the United States. These attempts were worthy, but the various factions seemed structurally unable to draw together as a whole for collective voice and action, despite the yawning holes rapidly developing in Jefferson’s wall of separation.
The Brights’ Net was conceived and organized to create a social action group that might attract both organizationally affiliated and the unconnected Americans, enticing and enabling more in both categories to “come out from the shadows” with willing civic voices (their own) to reflect and evidence their own supernatural-free worldview. The Brights’ Net would not press for either philosophical conformity or consensual agreement on actions; rather it would facilitate and augment individual and collective actions aligned with the principles and directed toward the specific aims specified above.
The Brights idea quickly morphed from an American concept to an international one as articles by scientist Richard Dawkins and philosopher Daniel Dennett generated worldwide attention to the ideas set out on the Brights’ Net. The Brights now number in five figures and 104 nations. The network’s umbrella covers a spectrum of belief categories. Besides those who self-identify as atheists, humanists, secular humanists, freethinkers, rationalists, naturalists, agnostics, skeptics, and such, the network includes Ethical Culturalists, Pantheists, Buddhists, Yogis, Unitarians, ex-Mormons and ex-Pentecostals (and other sorts of “ex-es”), and a gamut of folks (Jews, Catholics, Quakers, Episcopalians) who maintain their religion’s cultural aspects but not its supernaturalism, even clergy in and out of practice.
The major strength of the Brights movement is its simplicity. What you see on the Web site is what you will get. Elucidation of the definition, purposes and principles, along with essays and commentaries, are easily found, beginning on the home page (http://www.the-brights.net). Exploration of the site to gain first hand knowledge can be helpful in countering some of the misinterpretations of non-brights who write/speak about the Brights (to say nothing of distortions and some downright mendacity).
Those who belong to the constituency (by signing up at the site to be counted) can go beyond simply “staying tuned” through occasional Web site visits. They can choose to receive periodic Bulletins, which inform Brights of opportunities for volunteer action on varied tasks and projects.
One project, recently accomplished, is installation and staffing of the nascent Brights Forum, an on-line communication vehicle of interest to an energetic segment of the Brights constituency. A task team of individual Brights across the world created the Forum with an eye for its promise as a means of for generating and collaborating on feasible Brights action proposals consistent with the Brights’ Net stated aims and principles.
Additional “Brights sites”—each translating elements of the English site—have appeared in Italy and Korea. The American Humanist Association hosts a site focused on civil rights of humanists, atheists, and other brights. At present, a task team of volunteers is working to translate essentials of the main Brights’ site into several languages, beginning with French, which will enable more people internationally to join forces for action.
Governance – A Constituency of Individuals
What pattern of governance can underlie the functioning of a diverse constituency of self-directed individuals? The Brights’ Net is not an autocracy or even a democracy. As a non-profit organization, it has a Board of Directors to carry out legal obligations and two Co-Directors to guide the general direction of the Brights movement. Although expecting to fully champion a rightful place in society for persons free of supernaturalism, these Co-Directors (the authors) speak for themselves as individuals, as do all Brights.
What the Brights’ Net proffers are opportunities for constituent voices to be heard and sometimes coordinated. In certain cases, as in a letter writing campaign, each Bright responds independently. In other cases the Brights constituency is polled and a pronouncement made from “Brights Central” that “N (numbers of) Brights support proposition X.” This declaration will, rather than a position of the Brights’ Net, be the position taken by a defined number of Brights.
There are several thousand members now active in the various membership organizations promoting humanism, atheism, rationalism, and so on. Were they to jump into the water (as Brights) together with what is a mounting assemblage of Brights who are outside of such affiliations, then all together could make a voluble splash on speaking to contemporary issues that affect the place in society of persons holding a naturalistic worldview. In the near future, we could announce “Today 100,000 Brights said publicly that (Z),” putting us on the way to becoming a civic voice that would be hard for media and society-at-large to ignore.
Paul Geisert and Mynga Futrell
Co-Directors of the Brights’ Net
This article may be duplicated without further permission by any organization wishing to inform others of the nature of the Brights constituency.