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BRIGHTS BULLETIN -- DECEMBER 2021 


 
 

A Happier New Year! (Perhaps?)

No harm in at least hoping that 2022 will prove itself an improvement on the just-concluded 2021. Most of us would appreciate a change for the better, wouldn’t we?

As we begin a new year, please take note that The Brights’ Net is probably among the very few nonprofit organizations on your give-list not to have been filling your inbox with December fund appeals. (No extra emails and no pop-ups on our website.) By focusing direct fund appeals to constituents on the March and September equinoxes, we let the calendar year draw to a close without taking those actions.  

This doesn’t mean that Brights Central has not appreciated the spontaneous gifts that have recently come our way. So, definite and sincere “Thanksgo to those of you who sought a timely tax deduction or simply wanted to show appreciation for this constituency’s even being in existence. It’s nice to be working along with you to educate about the concept of a naturalist worldview as something worthwhile (although not necessarily appreciated in a world so permeated with “woo-woo”).

We at BC also know that it is a time of year for the making of fresh resolutions.  Here’s one for you to consider:  Let’s all resolve to do our part to illuminate and elevate the naturalistic outlook in the coming year!  Goodness knows, it’s much needed.

And, if you are feeling fortunate and hopeful about what 2022 is likely to offer you, we would welcome your support in the coming year for the nonprofit organization that is the hub of this global online constituency of supernatural-free folks! The donation page offers you various options, and most helpful is to initiate a small but recurrent contribution, keeping in mind that BC has resumed mailing out evolution posters, and in the new year, we will be doing more direct outreach to educators specifically about that project. Also, if your company matches donations to nonprofits, the time is ripe to set that up for the 2022 calendar year!

 

Pondering “Our” Time

Brights are defined by—and are known for—their having a naturalistic outlook. They don’t perceive any supernatural/mystical involvement in how the world works. Consequently, they do not look to any deities or divine agency for help in uncovering meaning in (or for) their lives.

If persons holding a naturalistic worldview agree on much of anything at all, it is likely that each of us will have only the “one-life” afforded to us. We accept that there wasn’t anything of us before, and there will not be any nicely rewarding (or unpleasantly miserable) hereafter awaiting us after we die – nothing at all of our cognizance after death.

Expressed humorously, the serious message goes like this:

Q:  Okay… So, what about between birth and death - Is there anything I can expect? 

A:  Why, sure – You can count on having the time of your life!

How can that “time duration” be meaningful?  Or, is it simply meaningless? 

Some persons do consider that, in the main, a person’s life just has no preponderant meaning.  Alternatively, perhaps meaning in life is something to search for and find, as is posed in a recent Atlantic essay. Citing psychologists and philosophers from Aristotle to Kant, the author talks of various dimensions - coherence, purpose, significance - related to the common quest for meaning (e.g., Albert Camus) in life.

Most Brights we’ve asked seem to conclude that a life can be made meaningful. The meaning is not something we should expect to be furnished to us. It’s more that we do our own making of meaning than that we search and find meaning in life. Their point is that persons make their lives meaningful by their very living of it.  And, available time is the basic raw material.

 

One Life Is Comin’ at You!

Brights occasionally send in to Brights Central some original works (illustrations, poems, photos), and many such items have been posted to the website as “Expressions and Illuminations.” 

Note: Additional contributions are welcomed!  All will be acknowledged, but only a sampling can be posted.

Among our favorite such original works is a lyrical ballad to a newborn baby. In his poem, Geoff revels in the new life that is lying ahead. The narrative of the poem delightfully gets across how parental counsel can urge this “one life” to be making meaning right away.

Entitled “The Whole Thing,” it goes like this:

Every day is like a new life to you.
As you stare open-eyed
So much fascination coming to you
Look around – what do you see?

CHORUS (repeated after each verse):
Come on, come on – let the Whole Thing grab ya
Just stick around, let the Whole Thing smack ya
Take a deep breath, here’s your One Life comin’ at ya!

They will tell you that the cards control you
And the stars rule your days
Crystal-gazing does nothing for you
Kick ‘em out, let reason in!

Don’t you listen to their bronze age stories
Of their gods and their ghosts
Take reality and live right in it
Now’s the time for you to sing!

Take a deep breath; here’s your one life flying at ya!!

 

What Is Making Life Meaningful? (Research)

A new year causes many of us to turn our thoughts to what’s important in our lives, and how things can perhaps improve as we go forward.

In this particular new year, numerous clouds of angst are hanging over our heads. Climate change appears to be exacting many departures from normality, and even more political tensions are taking hold in some regions of the world. Notably, populations across the earth are still immersed in and engrossed by a global pandemic.

A brand-new calendar year can prompt the making of personal valuations. How would you respond, if asked, “What about your life do you currently find meaningful, fulfilling or satisfying? What keeps you going and why?”

In 2021, Pew Research Center asked those two plainly open-ended questions when surveying a variety of publics. Its study was just reported out as What Makes Life Meaningful? Views from 17 Advanced Economies. So, now you can see how your own thinking accords to that of contemporaries across the globe.

In short, folks in most of the publics surveyed cited family as the top realm giving meaning to their lives. Family is preeminent, although work, material well-being, and health also register strongly. In most of the places surveyed, jobs rank among the top three, although that emphasis varies widely across places. Having one’s basic financial needs met was the steadier third.

For a closer look at details of the study, you can check out the summary of findings available on the Pew website. The site also supplies an interactive segment that enables you to freely explore and perhaps discover the uniqueness of several of the cultures and publics.

 

Something of an Outlier (USA)

The research about What Makes life Meaningful reveals that the realm of faith, religion and spirituality is one where societies markedly differ. Interestingly, as the study shows, Americans are much more likely to mention religion as a source of meaning in life than are other publics.

Fifteen per cent of the Americans surveyed had mentioned religion or God as a source of meaning, making it the fifth most-mentioned topic in response to the open-ended survey question. However, outside of the U.S., religion is never one of the top ten sources of meaning cited – and no more than 5% of any non-American public even mention it at all.

Unsurprisingly, across all U.S. religious groups, those who attend religious services more often are much more likely to cite religion in their answer than those who are less frequent attendees.

Because surveys on “where they looked for meaning in their lives” had been conducted in both 2017 and 2021, the researchers were able to compare how Americans had evolved across the four years. One interesting finding was that Americans have become more likely to mention society as a source of meaning in life, but that the emphasis is negative. (Freedom and independence also earned mention.)

A separate report called “Where Americans find meaning in life has changed over the past four years”) teases out several factors indicating that the American public has undergone a notable shift.

 

Further Research of Interest from 2021

>> Freedom of Thought Report

Humanists International, a worldwide umbrella of humanist, atheist and similar secular organizations, looks annually at the extent to which nations uphold freedom of thought. It then produces a “Freedom of Thought Report” of likely use to activists and to civil society in general.

The organization considers various issues of legal discrimination and outright persecution and violence that affect nonreligious people, examining every country in the world. Their processes look into the nations’ records of upholding the rights and equality and document any discriminatory national laws or persons that are violating freedom of religion and belief or constraining freedom of expression. The 2021 FOT Report was published on the Humanist International website just last month, along with introductory and interpretive material.

>> “Trending Secular” Endures (USA)

The secularizing of American society in the 21st century shows no sign of slowing down. While Christians continue to make up the majority of the U.S. populace, the past decade has seen that share of the adult population drop 12 points! The Catholic share of the population has remained rather steady of late, so the losses are primarily among the Protestants.

Also trending downward is the share of the population saying that religion is “very important” in their lives.

Furthermore, current examination of religious composition in the country shows that “Nones” (the religiously unaffiliated) have increased 6 percentage points in just the past five years.

 

Employing We!rdness! to Benefit Science

Contemporary science evidences many marvelous advances but also faces many new difficulties. Social media is awash with wild conspiracy theories. So many people now show such antipathy to public health endeavors that efforts to combat Covid-19 are undermined. Brights have often bemoaned that too few of their fellow citizens appear to truly understand how science works or appreciate why it is essential. However, the problems today extend well beyond public illiteracy. They enter into realms of outright hostility to scientific enterprise.

Enthusiastic Bright Taner Edis has written several books to counter the challenges facing science, whether they come from creationists, climate change deniers, or QAnon supporters. (Or, we might say, from science’s own “true believers.’) And now comes another in his efforts. This new book is itself titled rather weirdly as We!rdness! And, as the subtitle indicates, it strives to explain the nature of science by employing help from “fake science and the paranormal.”

According to Edis, rejections of science cause no end of trouble, but so too does placing blind trust in science. We!rdness! explores many of the odd beliefs embraced by large sections of the public that are rejected by the scientific mainstream and makes a case for science that goes beyond popular slogans. This text takes seriously claims that paranormal phenomena, such as psychic abilities and mythical creatures, might be real, but demonstrates how such phenomena would extend beyond the laws of nature. It rejects a sharp boundary between science and religion, while explaining how to negotiate their real differences.

As Edis’ latest book reminds readers, science should not be seen as a mechanism that takes in data and spits out truth—indeed, what we get wrong about how the world works is often as interesting as what we get right.

 

Locating The Brights’ Net

The online signup form for The Brights’ Net nonprofit contains a question, “How did you hear about the Brights?” Most people leave a blank field or supply some vague answer like internet search or from a friend, but recent scrutiny of the “how heard” field of registration forms has yielded some pertinent tidbits.

Our initial perusal of actual answers showed “new Brights” reaching the home page due to online tracking of someone renowned. (They had been wanting to know more about one individual and had simply stumbled onto the fact that the person of interest was a Bright.)  A far smaller proportion recounted having hunted for a nontheist (atheist or agnostic) group.

Here we share some key items learned from surveying those signups. The most interesting (here at BC) is just how little is needed for the curious to persevere and find their way to the home page. Even a single line in a book can seemingly stimulate a search for “the Brights.”

  • As to be expected, the most-mentioned persons named as driving a search were from among our best-known public Brights. Topmost among the website’s “Enthusiastic Brights” was philosopher Daniel C. Dennett. Others oft-mentioned were the scientific skeptic James Randi, the magicians Penn and Teller, and the well-known atheist Richard Dawkins.
  • Topmost for at least minimal substantive narrative discovered within hard-copy publications or online was the Skeptics Dictionary, an online “collection of strange beliefs, amusing deceptions, and dangerous delusions.” Standing out somewhat from the many-varied sources were a philosophy-oriented website on naturalism and the varied media productions of the U.S.-based Freedom from Religion Foundation.
  • Topmost books are The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (which has a mere one-page mention of the Brights), Origin by Dan Brown, and The Impertinent Mathematician by Piergeorgio Odifreddi.
 

2021 Honors to Notable Brights

BC failed to previously mention the two newest inductees into the “Gallery of Free Thinkers” typically exhibited (pre-pandemic) at the California State Capitol each October as part of the Freethought Day festivities.

The physically constructed Gallery has existed for twenty years and been annually adding one or more individuals to its public display, illustrating or picturing each deceased honoree with accompanying narrative to explain how they had “contributed greatly to freethought.”

Since its initiation in 2002, the Gallery has acknowledged just over 30 persons. Among the luminaries of late are Oliver Sacks, Anne Gaylor, Frank Zappa and James Baldwin, but there are many more distantly historical personages of note, such as Hypatia, Denis Diderot, Clarence Darrow and Mary Wollstonecraft.

Last year’s inductees were such an appropriate pairing. Both had been proudly and publicly Enthusiastic Brights! 

>> James “The Amazing” Randi, internationally known and admired as a scientific skeptic, magician and investigator of paranormal claims, had registered as a Bright at the very first public presentation of the concept. Writing in an essay soon thereafter, he had proclaimed himself “a dedicated and vociferous Bright.”
>> Paul Geisert, formerly a science professor, became known within freethought for his having invented the term bright and his co-founding the Brights to enable persons who have a naturalistic worldview to identify affirmatively on grounds informed by science and reason and without any reference to religion.

 

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