June 16, 2019

The Brights: Time to Get Past the Name?

light bulb head

You have no doubt heard of the Brights, a coalition of atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, and whatever other forms of nonbelievers one can imagine. Many of the authors you have read count themselves among the Brights, including Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, James Randi, and many others.

When I first encountered the term, I suspect I was not alone in having a hard time taking an organization seriously who chooses to refer to themselves as "Brights." As I considered the term, I thought it sounded arrogant. I have a much easier time imagining myself telling someone that I am an atheist than I do saying, "I am a Bright." I suppose I should confess that another of my complaints with the Bright label was that it seems like it would be primarily for people who are too afraid to call themselves atheists. Maybe that isn't fair, but that was my initial reaction.

Whatever biases I have about the label aside, I think there is something to the Brights that is worth checking out. According to their website,

  • A bright is a person who has a naturalistic worldview
  • A bright's worldview is free of supernatural and mystical elements
  • The ethics and actions of a bright are based on a naturalistic worldview

There is nothing here with which I can disagree. If this is their definition, I clearly meet it and can count myself among their members. Moreover, it is clear that this definition is not synonymous with atheism. When I say I am an atheist, I mean nothing more than that I lack belief in a god or gods. If I were to say that I am both an atheist and a Bright, I would be conveying additional meaning (i.e., that I have a naturalistic worldview free of anything supernatural and that I base my morality on such a worldview).

This definition does not get me as far as I want to go because saying that my worldview is free of supernatural elements is not quite the same thing as saying that I deny the existence of anything supernatural. This requires me to add labels such as naturalist, materialist, etc. But this does not detract from the applicability of the definition of Bright.

What are the goals of the Brights? What is it that they seek to accomplish? Referring again to their website, their aims include:

  1. Promote the civic understanding and acknowledgment of the naturalistic worldview, which is free of supernatural and mystical elements.
  2. Gain public recognition that persons who hold such a worldview can bring principled actions to bear on matters of civic importance.
  3. Educate society toward accepting the full and equitable civic participation of all such individuals.

Again, I have no difficulty supporting this. While I do not see myself using the Bright label, I think I can get past whatever negative associations it has with respect to those who do. And even though I would not describe myself this way, I do agree with their stated goals.

An earlier version of this post appeared on Atheist Revolution in 2006. It was revised and expanded in 2019.