Is “bright” a more negative term than “atheist”?

January 18, 2008 at 4:03 am 32 comments

brightsHey, my name is Jersey, this is my first entry for d-C.

I have just recently heard of something called the “Bright” movement. Essentially, the term “bright” is, according to the “official” website, someone “who has a naturalistic worldview”, has “a worldview free of supernatural and mystical elements”, and “the ethics and morals […] are based on a natural worldview.”

I understand why some people who disbelieve in higher deities would want to avoid the term “atheist” as a title: to many, the word connotes an angry, amoral person who will try anything to rid society of religious influence. (Correct me if I am wrong, this is my perception of how theists view the stereotypical atheist.)

However, to me, the term “bright” also brings on an air of self-righteousness, arrogance, and the same determination to prove religion wrong. If you ask me, I think if you are wary of using the word atheist to describe your “religious views”, there are already plenty of common and old-school terms that are still just as popular: non-theist, irreligious, cynic, skeptic, (secular) humanist, secularist, naturalist, or my personal favorite…freethinker.

As much as we detest labels, the English language – and thus our society – has become very dependent on labels and classifications. Should I need to label my beliefs…call me a freethinker or a humanist…just don’t call me late to dinner.

– Jersey

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32 Comments Add your own

  • 1. qmonkey  |  January 18, 2008 at 5:11 am

    I agree, I find the term ‘bright’ very arrogant. I know a lot of believers who are brighter than me. And are any of use REALLY free thinkers.

    One shouldn’t need to be defined as the ‘anti’ of something. I am a man, son, father, worker etc, if others wish to define themselves as a believer in a particular dogma that’s ok – that says a lot about them, but it doesn’t say anything about me to say that I don’t subscribe.

  • 2. sadrok  |  January 18, 2008 at 5:29 am

    I agree. This is one of those questions that kept nagging at me but I was too afraid to ask. To me the Bright-label sounded arrogant, as if a Bright is smarter than the non-Brights. I never manage to adopt that term for myself because of this.

  • 3. amy  |  January 18, 2008 at 10:08 am

    Good point, although couldn’t the term “freethinker” be seen as a tad self-righteous as well — “I’m a freethinker, not like religious people who have no freedom to think, but are trapped in their religious worldviews.”? Actually, the same could probably be said of any of the terms. Why choose to identify with a worldview at all if one doesn’t find it superior to other worldviews?

    We are all limited by our worldviews. Some of us more so than others, athiests and religious alike. Humans have this desire to label everything, ourselves included. It’s interesting to watch the terms change over time, once something has been determined, politically incorrect.

    I wonder what terms we nonbelievers will choose for ourselves 500 years from now? Perhaps we won’t need any. Perhaps everyone will have seen the light by then?

    Silly me with my idealistic, utopian dreams. Nice post, Jersey.

  • 4. Renacier  |  January 18, 2008 at 10:45 am

    Bright does sound arrogant, yes. I can recognize the intent behind the term, but it’s easy to see how it could be taken as an insult.

    I do feel unfortunate that I live in a society where I have to define myself in terms of being ‘anti’ a particular dogma. Like amy, I hope that can change in the future. But right now, labeling myself ‘atheist’ or ‘freethinker’ gives me a much needed sense of community.

  • 5. confusedchristian  |  January 18, 2008 at 11:04 am

    Agreed Bright sounds a bit arrogant. It’s a good way to “stick it” to those theists who think they’ve go it all figured out… “ohh yeah well I’m bright and your just a THEIST, so there” *sticks tongue out*

  • 6. carriedthecross  |  January 18, 2008 at 11:15 am

    Perhaps it is a little bit of groupthink here, but I can see how “Bright” seems to sound arrogant or self-righteous. I am pleased with the idea of re-packaging atheism though. As others have already pointed out, as humans we tend to label everything. As an amatuer student of political communications, I recognize just how important a word or even the tone of voice in saying that word can be in how it is perceived.

    Maybe the midwestern United States is a little backwards, but at least here “atheist” seems to be interchangeable with any form of curse word. Atheists are to be feared. At the same time words like “secular humanist” and “skeptic” are buzz words for conservatives to attack atheists.

    “Bright” might not be the answer, but someone needs to come up with a label an atheist can be proud of.

  • 7. Samuel Skinner  |  January 18, 2008 at 12:10 pm

    Hey, if people fear the word atheist, you know what you should say? Ni!

  • 8. sigmundo  |  January 18, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    I don’t feel ‘bright’ sounding arrogant, nor ‘atheist’ negative, but I would also prefer ‘freethinker’ or ‘libero’!
    Why do we need labels at all?
    Main important thing is to stay free in thinking, then anybody can call you anything, so what…

  • 9. Tommy  |  January 18, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    A term like “bright” sounds like something that can become embarassing. A self-described “Bright” is found crushed to death by his car because he tried to change a flat tire and jacked the car up in the mud instead of on the pavement. Something like that.

  • 10. Chas  |  January 18, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    I think “bright” is an awful label. Its meaning is not self-evident. When I first stumbled across it, I had assumed it was for believers (as they are people who think they see the “light”). It also has those other connotations mentioned above (bright = smarter than you).

    A part of the issue is that conventionly atheists have been labeled as what they are against, not what they are for. That’s why I like Free-Thinker better than any of the “a-” labels.

  • 11. Francis  |  January 18, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    I’m not opposed to labels – so long as I get to choose my own.

    The problem with atheist, theist, believer, unbeliever, agnostic, infidel etc. is that ALL of them are terms which define you with reference to an assumed thing to believe or disbelieve in. They are all theological terms, not scientific language. They all presume that there may be a god and that belief in his existence is a default position.

    I do not accept that belief is a default position from which I am a mere deviant. People who accept “atheist” etc. are allowing themselves to be marginalized.

    I am a Humanist. Humanism is the mainstream of Western civilization. Those who are not Humanists are welcome to call themseves “ahumanists” if they choose. It is they, and not the Humanists, are on the fringes of our culture.

    I am also a freethinker. Both “free” and “thinker” describe me (I hope) so I am pleased to accept that term and apply it to myself.

    As to “Brights,” it strikes me as a bit silly. And needlessly apologetic and defensive. More to the point would be promoting a label for believers in the supernatural claims of organized religion: call them “the Gullibles.”

  • 12. orDover  |  January 18, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    At the Christian school I attended for 10 of my 21 years, “atheist” was used like a dirty word, but so was “humanist.” We were actually taught that humanism was worse than atheism, the greatest of all evil, because humanists “worship themselves” or some other sort of nonsense.

  • 13. karen  |  January 18, 2008 at 5:51 pm

    “Secular humanist” and “Atheist” were akin to dirty words in the fundamentalist evangelical circles I was in. You might as well substitute “Satanist” because they were all regarded similarly with fear, disdain, superiority and (in a few cases) pity.

    I think Bright is one of those slightly “off” ideas started by people who are a bit tone deaf when it comes to social interactions. The motivations weren’t so bad: Find a positive term to describe the world view of someone who not only doesn’t believe in god but also doesn’t believe in the supernatural in general. There are a lot of people who reject theism but believe in a whole host of other supernatural things, so there’s a difference between a Bright and an atheist.

    However, the people who thought it up don’t seem to have been aware of two major problems (or they discounted them unwisely):

    1: Bright immediately sounds superior and even condescending (“I’m BRIGHTer than you dim religious nuts”) although the idea was to juxtapose Bright with Super (for those who believe in anything supernatural, not just gods).

    2: Language evolves very organically and is usually outside of our control. It’s not like homosexuals convened a meeting one day and decided that they should be called “gay.” That term just arose out of casual (and perhaps even derogatory, I don’t know) use, like words do as they are picked up and become popular, or not, in everyday usage. It’s not something you declare by fiat: Okay, starting today we’re all going to be called Brights! You can do it, as this group did, but there’s no guarantee your terminology will ever achieve widespread use.

    I use both humanist and atheist, somewhat interchangeably. Though humanist is a negative word for fundies, it’s not generally objectionable to non-fundamentalists so it’s not as shocking as “atheist” still is.

  • 14. HeIsSailing  |  January 18, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    The first time I heard the term ‘Bright’ appled to atheists, I did not like it. Anybody here old enough to remember old pulp science fiction radio and television like ‘X minus 1’ or ‘The Outer Limits’ knows that ‘Brights’ were what freakish, super-intelligent children endowed with telekinetic powers called themselves. Their superior powers usually corrupted them, or they somehow mentally transported themselves to the 14th dimension where they could live their lives away from their dim-witted parents.

    In fact, that is what The Brights usually called their parents in these old programs – The Dims.

    Every time I read a blog post from somebody claiming to be a ‘Bright’, I can’t help but think they are one of the uper-Bright children from Village of the damned.

    So, I shant be using the term ‘Bright’ anytime soon. No sir-ee.

  • 15. artisticmisfit  |  January 18, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    I am a theist who was raised in a secular humanist household and I don’t view atheists the way you do. I think bright means bright. I know you are feeling sensitive. I think a lot of times theists are stupid which makes it really hard for me in my religion of choice. I recently had a revelation about my mom. I took for granted that she believed in Jesus Christ as a former Catholic. Boy, was I wrong. I feel compassion for her now. Apparently the Catholic church really did a number on her as the Orthodox church is really doing a number on me now. I thought I would avoid the problems she faced by joining the Orthodox church instead of the Catholic church and I was mistaken. Don’t be so hard on yourself as an atheist. The religious right dominate the USA, and seem to dominate the Orthodox church. Its simply disgusting. I still remain opposed to the religious right, even as an Orthodox Christian, which really puts me at odds with my church.

  • 16. avid_mass  |  January 18, 2008 at 6:40 pm

    Since when is atheist a negative term? More like an endearing term I’d say.

  • 17. artisticmisfit  |  January 18, 2008 at 6:43 pm

    Oh its a negative term all right, I have seen people call atheists satanists.

  • 18. avid_mass  |  January 18, 2008 at 8:59 pm

    haha.. the hilarity!

  • 19. Thinking Ape  |  January 18, 2008 at 11:19 pm

    When in a discussion about family, I am a father and husband. In a discussion concerning politics, I am somewhere between a liberal and an anarcho-syndicalist. When discussing religion, however, I am an agnostic post-Christian… or a post-Christian agnostic. Simple.

  • 20. Quester  |  January 19, 2008 at 4:02 am

    Atheist is a negative term, but not necessarily a derogative one. It means, simply, not a theist. I can understand not wanting to define oneself negatively by what one is not. I watched a video online with who I think I remember was Sam Harris pointing out that accepting the label of atheist concedes that theism is the default view one must define oneself in opposition to if one does not hold it. There is no special term for those who do not believe in leprechauns, for the existence of leprechauns is not the default point of view.

    I don’t think he used leprechauns as his example, though. He is a much better speaker than I.

    I’ve never felt comfortable in any label, really. I’m in no rush to grab one just to make it easier for others to feel they know where I stand on a plethora of issues, when I am not entirely certain, myself.

  • 21. John  |  January 19, 2008 at 10:51 am

    Stuff what christians think about the word atheist. Atheist is only a negative term because theists have demonized it.
    Sure the A makes the word a negative of something but not that kind of negative!
    Atheist isnt a dirty word. Its just someone who doesnt believe in god. If Joe Blogs finds it offensive then hes easy offended.

  • 22. avid_mass  |  January 19, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    quester, good luck with all that…

    like i said before, a term of endearment :]

  • 23. artisticmisfit  |  January 19, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    John, who here finds the term atheist offensive?

  • 24. samanthamj  |  January 19, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    I find the way many people automatically percieve atheists offensive. I am not sure I am an “atheist”…. but, if I did think I was, I’d still be hesitant to admit to it in “real life” to most people… especially at work…. and that’s just not right.

  • 25. karen  |  January 19, 2008 at 9:21 pm

    I am not sure I am an “atheist”…. but, if I did think I was, I’d still be hesitant to admit to it in “real life” to most people… especially at work…. and that’s just not right.

    This is exactly why I use the term. I want to reclaim it as a neutral or positive term, and contribute to wiping out the extraordinary negativity imposed on it by certain religious people.

    Of course, if pressed, I will explain that I don’t know if there’s a god and so don’t worship one until/unless I get some better evidence. But I think that if kind, “normal” responsible people like me start throwing the term around without any shame or guilt, it will help make it more acceptable.

    Granted, I’m in a liberal area where the word “atheist” doesn’t typically raise any eyebrows, so I don’t have to be extraordinarily courageous to use it like I would have to be if I were in the bible belt.

  • 26. artisticmisfit  |  January 19, 2008 at 9:33 pm

    Samanthamj, perhaps we all need to work on getting offended less easily?

  • 27. duardo  |  January 21, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    I think Bright is a label thought up by Richard Dawkins and promoted by James Randi on his web site. I like the work of both of these men, but they do come across as a bit priggish. This does a disservice to the rest of we atheists. I dislike the label myself and would never use it under any circumstance.

  • 28. iapetus  |  May 22, 2008 at 11:17 am, their website also goes on to say this, if anybody bothered to actually check it out:
    “The constituency of Brights is hugely diverse. Besides those who self-identify as atheist, humanist, secular humanist, freethinker, rationalist, naturalist, agnostic, or skeptic, there are individuals who go by their preferred affiliations, such as Ethical Culturalist, Pantheist, Buddhist, Yogi, Wiccan, Transhumanist, or Unitarian. Also part of the gamut of constituents are Jews, Catholics, Quakers, Episcopalians, and others who may personally maintain their religion’s cultural or aesthetic aspects, but not its supernaturalism. There are professors of religious studies and clergy in and out of practice who are Brights (e.g., Unitarian-Universalist ministers, Protestant pastors, even one ex-Benedictine monk). Not all constituents associate themselves with familiar groupings or labels. The movement’s goals attract all sorts of people who “have a naturalistic worldview” and favor thinking of themselves broadly and in a CIVIC sense…”

  • 29. Tim  |  October 22, 2009 at 7:09 pm

    The term suits us.
    there is nothing bright about being religious. we are at the least a step above them.
    I will use the term with honor and spread the word. I devote myself to learnig everything i can.

  • 30. Name  |  October 5, 2012 at 8:11 pm

    isn’t bright a word which describes the amount of light being emitted?

    >opinion based on facts and not faith
    how does that even work?

    would you call it arrogant that homosexual starting using gay (happy) to describe themselves which implies that other sexuality are ‘unhappy?”

  • 31. Name  |  October 5, 2012 at 8:28 pm

    and to be honest I don’t really mind if theists take offense to it because believing in things without evidence is stupid and that’s the real arrogance! 🙂

  • 32. Ray  |  September 12, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    Tomato..To mah to

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