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God Bless Richard Dawkins

I used to teach from Prof. Dawkins' book, The Selfish Gene. Turns out he's pretty bright about atheism as well.

I'm a bright. And I'm tired of deferring to the fundies. How 'bout you?


( 33 sutras — Your wisdom )
Sep. 25th, 2003 01:37 am (UTC)
It's hell believing in God
I read your post, read your links, and then had a knee-jerk reaction which was, basically, "I have a religious faith and I'm not a fundie in any sense of the word! Stop lumping me with them!"

Then I thought more about it and got a little frustrated.

The dichotomy set up by your post, my good and dear friend, is more inflamatory than I think you may have intended it to be.

Most of the people I know who have a spiritual life of some kind aren't fundies either. They don't believe in demons or magic. Most of them (and I categorize myself among this group) are well-educated people who walk a line between the definitions of "Bright" and "Religious," holding a clear, scientific understanding of the world as well as a faith in Something Greater than ourselves. They don't insist on posting the Ten Commandments in schools and public offices. They don't insist that the word "God" remain in the Pledge of Allegiance. They don't try to keep women from having abortions. Neither do they insist that others have a religious faith or promote the idea of America as a Christian (or Jewish or Muslim) nation. They practice their faith quietly, live ethically, rely on modern medicine, watch eclipses with understanding without conferring upon them mystical significance, recycle resources, and allow others to live as they see fit.

By the Bright definition, I'm not a Bright. But your question almost suggests that one is either a Bright or a Fundie. With respect and affection I honestly ask: where does someone like me--a Reform Jew with no doubt that the universe is far more complex than Genesis would have us believe-- fit into your equation?
Sep. 25th, 2003 05:05 am (UTC)
Re: It's hell believing in God
I don't think it's a good grouping—I'm an atheist and I'm left out too. I have been for many years (an athiest, not left out). Yet, I'm also open to the supernatural and mystical. To me, something supernatural is merely something that hasn't been explained yet. I don't see atheism as being at odds with that.

But, being a bright is all or nothing, oddly enough.

That's not for me.

I think it's rather amusing that an exclusory group like Christianity is prompting the excluded to create their own group that excludes Christians (and atheists).

They practice their faith quietly, live ethically [...]

Some days, that's almost impossible to believe. Ironically, the only faith I have is that not all Christians are assholes, as well as statements like yours that remind me that the cross is not a symbol of hate.
Sep. 25th, 2003 03:16 pm (UTC)
Re: It's hell believing in God
>>They practice their faith quietly, live ethically [...]
> Some days, that's almost impossible to believe.
> Ironically, the only faith I have is that not
> all Christians are assholes, as well as
> statements like yours that remind me that the
> cross is not a symbol of hate.

I have a very dear friend who is an Evangelical Christian. She is one of the kindest, most generous people I've ever met. She's never tried to convert me or insisted that as a Jew I was going to hell. I suspect that quietly she may fear for my soul, and when I started working in the adventure gaming industry she expressed concerns which lead me to believe that suspicion is true. We maintain our otherwise quite strong friendship by not discussing politics (at all--or my job, for that matter), and by sharing what interests (science fiction, music, arts and crafts) and faith we do have in common. I once read her the first paragraph of Genesis in Hebrew and she sat there in awe. That was a pretty cool moment of mutual understanding.

Here's the thing: The Brights, by choosing not to include people of faith of any kind, eliminate a large group of people who, for the most part, agree in full with what they're trying to achieve. I think that, for the most part, I have a great deal in common philosophically and politically with most people who would categorize themselves as Brights, but because I go to synagogue, I am excluded from their number. (Then again, as a Jew, it wouldn't be the first time I was excluded from something.)

> I think it's rather amusing that an exclusory
> group like Christianity is prompting the
> excluded to create their own group that
> excludes Christians

I, too, am amused, but why assume it's targeted just at excluding Christians? The language doesn't specify just Christians, although it's probably safe to assume that's the primary group being responded to. It also excludes Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, those of the Ba'hai faith, etc. Ironically, I'm guessing that Buddhists also are more politically and ethically aligned with the Brights than they have given thought to.

And let me just state for the record: I have no objection to an athiest or agnostic philosophy. There have been long periods in my life when I've espoused both perspectives myself. Faith or lack thereof or the uncertainty in between has always been a continuum for me, rather than a triangle that disallows other considerations.

I'm also curious: what distinguishes a Bright from a Secular Humanist? Is there a distinction?
Sep. 25th, 2003 05:06 pm (UTC)
Re: It's hell believing in God
what distinguishes a Bright from a Secular Humanist? Is there a distinction?

Secular Humanism Council's FAQ probably answers that question, particularly with this: "[...]dogmas, ideologies and traditions, whether religious, political or social, must be weighed and tested by each individual and not simply accepted on faith."

That would seem to imply that there's room for religion so long as you're not a sheep about it.
Sep. 25th, 2003 06:01 am (UTC)
Re: It's hell believing in God
You know, I wonder if there's any reason a religious person couldn't be a bright? If the definition of bright is someone who has "a world view that is free of supernaturalism and mysticism," I bet lots would agree with that. I mean, if a person's god is just the naturalistic universe in which that god doesn't intervene (which is how it appears, and how many religious folk think), then it's not mystic or supernatural. I bet lots of naturalists still believe in a god, or attribute the naturalistic universe with a godhood -- it is omniscient, omnipotent, and so on...

Sep. 25th, 2003 03:18 pm (UTC)
Re: It's hell believing in God
Under your definition, my dad almost certainly would have considered himself a Bright.
Sep. 25th, 2003 04:18 pm (UTC)
Re: It's hell believing in God
The fundie/bright dichotomy you read into is a false choice. There's a group of people who are neither fundies nor brights.
Sep. 25th, 2003 04:51 pm (UTC)
Re: It's hell believing in God
Am I the only one who read your post that way? I'm not sure, but I don't think I was alone there.

Me, I'm tired of being pushed around by the fundies, too.
Sep. 25th, 2003 05:54 am (UTC)
I like "brights," but I fear the term's a bit twee to catch on.
Sep. 25th, 2003 04:38 pm (UTC)
The thing is, the term "atheist" defines a category in the negative, and carries a lot of baggage. It's nice to have a more neutral term.

That said, you got a better suggestion?
Sep. 25th, 2003 05:58 am (UTC)
Heh, I bet you didn't expect to open a can o' worms, eh? But consider: Some atheists are just as "fundie" about their Atheism as religious fundies are about their Religions.

Interesting points, though! I think "a bright" sounds a bit, um, not-quite-right. Also a bit "Slan-ey."

(a bright)
Sep. 25th, 2003 04:54 pm (UTC)
Oh, I knew it was a can of worms. And I know some annoyingly harsh atheists, just as there are annoyingly harsh religionists.

I'm just amused to see that the secularists are organizing. It doesn't strike me as a move against superstition so much as creating a community of like-minded people. But I doubt they'll ever send out missionaries…

"Bright" mostly sounds odd because it's new. Got a better term?
Sep. 25th, 2003 06:21 pm (UTC)
His Monkey Highness said: Bright" mostly sounds odd because it's new.

You're absolutely right. I remember the first time I heard the word "gay" and thought it was just an odd, odd choice. I'll be interested to see if the word catches on.
Sep. 25th, 2003 07:02 pm (UTC)
That's just what Dawkins says. But I don't buy it:

1) "Gay" is used more in an adjectival sense, as in "I'm gay" not with an article, "I'm a gay"

2) Unlike gay, bright enjoys great currency and usefulness. Even 50 years ago, gay was on its way out.

3)"I'm Bright" sounds overwhelmingly smug, and is also used already to mean smart (along with "I'm covered in light bulbs")

4)"I'm a Bright" makes you sound like Tinkerbell
Sep. 25th, 2003 07:41 pm (UTC)
Granted, "bright" enjoys widespread usage, more than gay does (or did) in its non-homosexual meaning.

The smugness is no worse than the "I'm saved" or "I'm one of the elect" or "I'm God's chosen" smugness. All groups of a particular belief suffer from this.

The thing that excited me about the term is that it's so clearly needed. I hate being named by people outside the community; "atheist" defines me in a negative sense and was pejorative for too long for me to ever be comfortable with it. Worse, it seems to carry a heavier burden of discrimination with it than "black", "Jewish", "Catholic", or any of the other terms Dawkins cites.

All that said, I'll ask you the same thing I asked frabjousdave: You got a better suggestion? Seriously.
Sep. 25th, 2003 08:43 pm (UTC)
[actually, the smugness is worse - if it's coming from me. I don't wanna sound like that]

1) Rationalist (my personal fave)
2) Skeptic
3) Free-Thinker
4) Deist (for those of you who like God but not Religion
5) Questioner (what is science but questioning?)
6) Humanist (would be nice if it wasn't taken over by people with An Agenda)
7). Leave Me the Hell Alone (my usual response to meddlesome questions of faith)
Sep. 25th, 2003 10:17 pm (UTC)
Rationalist implies that others are irrational. Which is only sometimes true.

Skeptic is too loaded for me. I'm not that skeptical about a lot of things. Why define my beliefs that way? Plus, it presupposes privileged status for superstition, which then requires others to question it. I'd rather say that the bright position is the natural one, and the religious position is the outlier that requires defending.

Free-thinker has all those other political connotations. Not bad, but so.... Enlightenment.

#4 through 7 are all interesting. I guess "Humanist" is closest to where I'd like to be with a term like this, but yeah, I hear the echoing Agendas already.
Sep. 25th, 2003 11:11 pm (UTC)
Worse, it seems to carry a heavier burden of discrimination with it than "black", "Jewish", "Catholic",

Are you saying it's worse to be an atheist in America than it is to be black, Jewish, or Catholic?

You got a better suggestion?

After thinking about it, I begin to wonder: is one necessary? If so, why? I know who I am. Do or should I really care what others label me as? Who cares either way?
Sep. 25th, 2003 11:58 pm (UTC)
I'm saying that the poll Dawkins cites clearly shows Americans distrust atheists with positions of power more than they distrust blacks, Jews, or Catholics. How many brights do you know who hold public office? Some Americans probably discriminate against nonbelievers in other ways. The particular data was about voting for qualified candidates, if you recall.

As to how heavy the burden of discrimination is, I think it depends on where you are. In a red state, admitting to atheism puts you just one step shy of "goddamn Communist." In Manhattan, it's not as much a factor.

Labels do matter. Compare "raghead" with "Muslim". Granted, the former tells you as much about the speaker as about the subject, but still, I'd rather give myself a label with positive connotations.
Sep. 26th, 2003 12:15 am (UTC)
the poll Dawkins cites

Right! I'd forgotten about it already. That was days ago. ;)

How many brights do you know who hold public office?

Honestly, I'd never thought about it, assuming that there weren't any atheists anywhere in office.

You're the only other atheist I know, that I know of, and I only know that because you said as much here. Anyway, I'm conditioned to believe I'm basically the only atheist on the planet, ergo there couldn't possibly any atheist politicians.

I guess I could use a coming out party or something such, I tell you what.

I'd rather give myself a label with positive connotations.

A preemptive label strike?
Sep. 26th, 2003 09:32 pm (UTC)
You're the only other atheist I know, that I know of,

Well, that's just it. We're about 10 to 15% of the population, but because believers dominate the culture, we tend to be invisible. I think a better label might help. Just standing up to be counted might help.

FWIW, I was raised atheist, I married one, and the tech/science world is probably majority bright. It's just that it's not a respected viewpoint in US culture.
Sep. 25th, 2003 02:59 pm (UTC)
To Bright or Too Bright?
I may be a bright, but before I'm a bright I'm an American. The fact of the matter is that "fundies" shouldn't think they have the right to push anyone else around, no mater what their God seems to be whispering in their ear.

Conversly, "brights" (and I heartly agree, the more I use it the more nauseatingly cloying and twee the term becomes) - or worse, Atheists - have no right to badger "fundies" outside of the limits of the seperation of Church and State. And I think the "brights" and the Atheists would be more successful if they sold the issue as "religious discrimination" (as in, when you favor a religion you are discriminating against others) rather than seperation. Punch up the *reasons* for the seperation, in other words, rather than allowing the "fundies" to scream "You're denying God!!"
Sep. 25th, 2003 07:56 pm (UTC)
Re: To Bright or Too Bright?
Here's where I get myself in trouble. My reaction to finding the term "bright" to describe a community that I belong to has nothing to do with the fundies — they aren't members of the group, and I don't care what they think about Church & State, discrimination, etc.

The joy of finding fellow brights has nothing to do with badgering anyone else. Actually, this sense of "Why doesn't someone gather these right-thinking people together somehow?" dates back to a road trip I took with xenmis, Jeremy, and Robbie. At one point during the drive, it became clear that everyone in the car was an atheist. That almost never happens to me, because brights don't gather together on a weekly basis. It was nice not to have to defer to other people's beliefs, superstitions, or deeply-held faith.

So. I'm not "selling the issue" to anyone. I'm delighted to find a new way to describe myself and my beliefs that doesn't immediately lump in with the "Other" that many religious people all too often feel threatened by.

Different communities of faith react differently, of course, but all faith-based communities feel that nonbelievers are a lower order. The language used to describe brights usually comes down to infidels, goyim, heretics, blasphemers, atheist — "Not Us".

I'm pleased to count myself among a community of people who see all believers in a similar way.
Sep. 25th, 2003 09:40 pm (UTC)
Re: To Bright or Too Bright?
*sigh* Perhaps I shouldn't have gotten into this. When people start labelling themselves and each other, the ground is suddenly filled with landmines. All I'll say at this point is--and perhaps this is what I've been trying to get at all along--by labelling ourselves and each other, no matter how, we isolate ourselves from each other that much more. Belief, attitude and approach run on a continuum from extreme to moderate to mild in every category you can devise.

While I know that there are Jews who "revile the goyim," that ain't me, and it bugs the hell out of me when the assumption is made that because I define myself as Jewish (or a friend defines herself as Christian) it must mean I carry the exactly the same depth of belief and prejudice of every other person who defines themselves as such. The world isn't that simple.

I'm stepping out of the conversation at this point. I fear I may have alienated friends about whom I care deeply and, if I have, I don't want to exacerbate the situation. If I have, I apologize.

Sep. 25th, 2003 10:13 pm (UTC)
Re: To Bright or Too Bright?
Speaking for myself, I don't feel alienated.

I (perhaps naively) felt I had to share a label for myself that I welcomed and found useful. I'd be very surprised if my own labels bothered someone else very much.

Sorry to see you step out. Perhaps this is a conversation better handled in person sometime.
Sep. 26th, 2003 07:39 pm (UTC)
Re: To Bright or Too Bright?
Okay, I'm back. I can't seem to stop thinking about this whole thing.

See, if I'd had any brains at all, I would have said, "Ah, they're proposing a colloquial synonym for 'atheist.' That's kind of cool," and then shut my mouth. I let my knee-jerk reactions run away with me.

I think the "heterosexual"/"gay" terminology analogy is a good one, but it's the rare model that ever precisely fits another situation. "Brights" could work. To look at another example of formal/colloquial naming: environmentalists are often referred to as Greens, and no one's ever suggested they should be concerned about whether or not people thought they were envious.

The question is, does "bright"
Sep. 26th, 2003 09:33 pm (UTC)
Re: To Bright or Too Bright?
Yeah, I think the environmentalist/green analogy is useful. Greens is what they call themselves. Eco-terrorists or environmentalist naysayers is what FOX News calls them.
Sep. 25th, 2003 11:43 pm (UTC)
Re: To Bright or Too Bright?
It's nice in concept, but isn't that part of the problem? The religious get together precisely because they have a shared belief system. And when they differ, they split off forming new sects (and hopefully don't kill each other) .

But what reason would "brights" *have* for congregating? I mean, other than friendship? And it's curious that while you don't want a label that is excluding or negative, it sounds as though the *definition* of "brights" - if I'm reading all this correctly, a shared disbelief in God - can't help but be excluding and negative. "We're not religious" seems to be the defining characteristic.

Me, I've come to terms with the fact that it's unlikely that I'll find people who share my idosyncratic beliefs, and am just glad I've found people (one person in particular) who put up with them, and my general crankiness.
Sep. 26th, 2003 12:07 am (UTC)
Re: To Bright or Too Bright?
Friendship is certainly enough of a factor. Having a group of like-minded individuals seems worthwhile to me. I'm not saying brights need to congregate. I'm saying it's pleasant when it happens.

Of course "bright" is excluding. All belief systems are. But it's not negative in the sense of being pejorative, or defined in opposition to God. A godhead isn't really a factor. The religious define themselves by a particular relationship to god(s). The brights define themselves as a category uninterested in that relationship.

Maybe it's just the recent increase in religion in the national life lately that drives me to seek shelter from it all.
Sep. 25th, 2003 06:21 pm (UTC)
hee hee
Just dropping in to say that when I saw the color bar on the comments button, I giggled. Strike a nerve much, bro?

-- b
Sep. 25th, 2003 07:42 pm (UTC)
Re: hee hee
Oh, it was getting waaaaaay too quiet in here.
Sep. 26th, 2003 04:09 am (UTC)
Re: hee hee
It's amazing how, once in a while, a poster will post something that gets (say) 48 replies while most others get maybe a reply or two. Shows that there's lots of lurkers who want to read whatcher doin' but don't feel a need to comment. Things like religion and politics (or both, as here) tend to get people to respond.

Sep. 27th, 2003 04:46 am (UTC)
you brought all this up...
...so now you got me thinking about life, the universe, and everything atheistic. This is an interesting article:

"E.T. and God: Could earthly religions survive the discovery of life elsewhere in the universe?"

Had to share. Good thought-matter.

( 33 sutras — Your wisdom )

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