Identity Considerations

An atheist and a bright walk into a room. (One person? Or two?)

An agnostic and a bright walk into a room. (One person? Or two?)

There are not only definitional differences between the "identity terms" bolded above, but practical ones, too.

So it all depends. An individual may fit both definitions. Or may not.

We can think atheism (or agnosticism) and evaluate accordingly. Or, we can think brightness.

Different terrain, really. And usually a different focus, too.

Now and then, when a given individual happens to match both identity definitions, a transformation of viewpoint may be in order depending on the situation.

Atheists & Atheism

Let's think and talk about "atheist" identity. Whenever you find yourself talking about atheism, then you are operating within a certain terrain. The topography is already carved by religion. And, culturally, religion has language of its own. Within that religion realm, you will find yourself use its terminology and applying many of its concepts. (Even the mere use of the term atheist means you have adopted a religious terminology and are moving within that domain's conceptual purview.)

You also have considerably constrained the landscape. (The same constraint generally applies to agnosticism.) The focus of many if not most considerations will be attached to certain conclusions and beliefs about the existence of a god or gods. Discussions tend to be positioned or narrowed accordingly.

On this type of terrain, attention inclines toward issues attached to god-belief and faiths, secularism, believers, etc. And as so many Internet-based conversations provide abundant evidence, discussions often drift away from the original topic and disintegrate. An oft-repeated verbal back and forth ensues, in which expressions of polar oppositional stances predominate.

Brights and Brightness

If you choose, you can start off from a different point, and adopt a much broader arena for consideration. The terrain here encompasses many factors and need not focus on religion at all.

Being a bright (lower case) is having, by definition, “a naturalistic worldview.” However a naturalistic outlook may have come about in any individual, the result is a person whose way of looking at the world is free of supernatural/mystical elements.

Individuals are surrounded by abundant cultural contentions. One may or may not have encountered such cultural assertions as astrology , ESP, clairvoyance, telepathy, New Age energy, psychic knowledge, Psi, and so on. But, if notions of paranormal have been encountered and considered, they have been abandoned by the bright. It isn’t just gods and related miraculous events that are not given credence. There is much available culturally for which the bright has not found evidence of actuality. Having a naturalistic stance often (but not always) results from contemplation of empirical concerns.

Taking “brightness” as the starting point, one can see that there are atheists/agnostics who would not be brights. And this is important. The individual is immersed in cultural assertions that swirl around, but being a bright means having missed out on, deflected or turned them all aside. It is simply that the person’s worldview – their entire perspective on the world – contains no supernatural aspects. (By definition, a belief in any supernatural phenomenon would render an individual a super.)

And there’s another point, too, about brights. A person with a naturalistic worldview may freely maintain cultural religious ties. There are many aspects of religion beyond a conclusion about gods and miracles. So, individuals may choose to inhabit a religion socially or nominally despite atheistic or agnostic opinion about particulars. There may be alliances they choose to maintain, despite giving no credence to supernatural agency or entity.

Context (Civics/Culture)

Whenever one dwells in a society where forceful emphasis is given to religion, there’s a consequence that operates on everyone. The result is recognizable: the culture presses citizens into identifying and acting by their conclusions about god(s).

But a citizen has options for focus, identity and actions. At any time, one can stand on either religion-based terrain (with stance on deity central to the interaction), or one might choose a more neutral civic landscape (as a fellow citizen who holds a naturalistic worldview).

At times, the latter provides a more useful context within which to sustain productive interactions with other citizens, whatever their religion-related proclivities. It offers alternative topography to wander, and parties can shape the conversational panorama with more in common as fellow humans, as fellow citizens.

Divisions are easily perpetuated with emotional intensity when the topography is religion. Blog comments reek with vicious examples between atheists and believers. Too much attention to god-belief (the “Yea,” the “Nay,” or the “I don’t know” on that matter) often takes attention away from broader concerns.

Bringing out more broadly the “free of supernatural” aspects invokes a general leaning toward science. The foundation is laid for emphasis on matters grounded in reality and potential for mutual respect and nuance in communication. The individual speaking broadly as a bright is not so caught up in customary pressures as when identifying by position on deity. There is more freedom to concentrate energy and time on concerns faced by citizens in common.

Just as one might consider oneself an Ohioan or an American depending on the nature and breadth of the subject matter at hand, a person can choose terrain and focus at any point in time. It is religion? Or is it civics? One can speak as an atheist/agnostic, or as a citizen whose worldview is supernatural-free (as a bright).

Brights want and deserve the same foothold in society as citizens who give credence to the supernatural (all the various deities, forces, and entities in which so many others may believe). And in today’s world, there is reason for brights to mark out the broader terrain in many circumstances, in order to act on behalf of full social acceptance and civic participation for atheists and for brights of all stripes.




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