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Apr 13 2012

Nobody did

Or you can have Alister McGrath (yes, really, again) recycling his jeers and fleers. He says about the (terrible) idea of rebranding atheists as “Brights”

Dawkins’s advocacy in the United Kingdom proved especially successful, persuading many in the media that a new force was emerging in western culture. “The future looks Bright,” they declared.

No they didn’t. McGrath is quoting a “they” who never existed. No one in the UK media was persuaded, and “they” certainly never “declared” that the future looks Bright. I think one editor once used that as a title. Editors do silly things with titles; that means nothing.

He goes on to make the obvious point that there are lots more theists going to church than there are atheists going to “Brights” meetings – which is true, but then one reason not to be a theist is so that one won’t feel obliged to go to church every week. (“Oh but community!” comes the cry. Yes yes, but all the same, Sunday morning staring at the hummingbirds instead.)

11 comments

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  1. 1
    'Tis Himself

    “Oh but community!” comes the cry.

    Don’t be sneering at the community. You’ll make James Croft and the rest of the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy get all whiny.

  2. 2
    Robert B.

    I love communities! I even have one that meets once a week, my gaming group. (It’s not on Sunday morning, though – gamers sleep in on weekends. :-D) Everyone should totally have communities they participate in.

    But you don’t have to be in a community for everything about you. Atheists don’t all need to run out and join an “atheist community.” The idea that everyone needs to be defined and grouped by their position on religion is just another part of religious privilege.

  3. 3
    Theo Bromine

    Granted, atheists should not feel obligated to join “atheist communities” – a common disbelief in a non-existent entity is not a particularly good foundation for community building. But humans are social animals, and religious institutions provide community services to their members and adherents. Here’s an example of where atheist community services would fill a need that would otherwise be unmet: Robert and Patrick have just moved to a new city with their 2 young children. Robert falls ill and has to go to the hospital. Patrick needs to find someone to look after the kids so he can be with his spouse at the hospital. They have no friends or family in the new city, and they are clearly not likely to find a church that would be willing to assist.

  4. 4
    stonyground

    Claiming that more people go to church than attend atheist meetings totally misses the point. Most atheists consider being an atheist a very small part of their identity. They are not attending atheist mettings on a Sunday morning because they are too busy gardening or shopping or playing sport or music. The pertinent fact is that more people don’t go to church than do, by a very considerable margin.

    I find the word ‘brights’ a bit silly. I do however disagree with the idea that it is arrogant and patronising towards religious people. I do consider myself to be brighter than adults who still believe in fairy tales.

  5. 5
    Gingerbaker

    I don’t think this idea of community should be so easily discounted. Done right, it can be a very worthwhile activity. But I don’t think that organized religion does it very well.

    I am a strong atheist. But I have been exposed to two instances of secular community building which I found to be pretty darned inspirational, and really really good stuff for kids and young adults to be exposed to.

    The first was when I was a kid at a summer camp in Vermont. Sunday mornings, the camp would get together for about a half-hour and listen to the camp director read stories from books that were, I think, written in the thirties. These messages were completely secular, and basically were confluent with the tenets of secular humanism. You know, being good people, helping others, tolerance, brotherhood.

    The other exposure I had surprised me. I do some event photography for the local YMCA, so I have listened to their inspirational talks given to their campers, and also to adult donors and staff. I expected some sort of message with Christian references – but it was actually completely secular, and based on the same ethics as the secular humanism manifesto ( I was relieved!)

    Now, I grew up religious, and I have attended way more than my fair share of services in more than one denomination – Jewish, Catholic, Protestant. Some were better than others, but NONE of them came close to my secular experiences.

    If there are atheists who want to offer this sort of community experience, I am all for it. We should support this, cynically if only to help proselytize folks away from religion. We would kick organized religion’s ass when it comes to delivering a heart-felt truly communal inspirational message.

    And *if* this is what it took to remove a barrier for the religious to embrace atheism, it would be worth every penny.

    And, contrary to some who say that there is no commonality to atheists, I would posit that there is indeed a worldview that at least the Gnu Atheists share. It is a belief in the value of truth and evidence in decision-making. That there is no afterlife, and we should therefore devote ourselves to making this world a better place. That morality comes not from a sacrosanct text, but rather is based on the ethos of community, tolerance, and cooperation.

    Increasing popular acceptance of these secular humanist precepts would be an enormously powerful political tool.

  6. 6
    Ophelia Benson

    Ah but I didn’t discount the idea of community. I discounted the idea of church.

  7. 7
    LykeX

    Is anybody even using the term “Bright”? I don’t remember it being used by anybody but theists trying to say how arrogant atheists are.

    Is anybody seriously identifying as Bright?

  8. 8
    Ophelia Benson

    Nobody that I know of. Dawkins and Dennett had a good word for the idea at the time, but no one else did (as far as I know), and it just quietly disappeared – except for goons like McGrath.

  9. 9
    Shatterface

    I much prefer Gnu Atheist. It’s a fun term and it causes people to ask what I mean so I get the chance of stating my beliefs (or lack thereof) without being seen as pushy.

  10. 10
    Kiwi Dave

    Christ on a bike! I loathe meetings and apart from occasional narrowly-focused work meetings, try to avoid them. The idea of going out to meet a bunch of strangers with whom I happen to share a non-belief has no appeal at all. For a bit of atheist “community”, going on-line is more convenient and good enough.

    When my wife goes to church on Sunday morning, I go to the gym, a thoroughly secular and much more enjoyable activity. As stonyground (an appropriate nom de plume) suggests, every non-church activity is an alternative.

  11. 11
    Theo Bromine

    Group gatherings are one way to build community. Here in Ottawa (Canada) we have frequent meetings and events for atheists/rationalists/skeptics etc, including guest speakers, book clubs, pub get-togethers, and other social events. (Also, if I might be so bold: as has been mentioned here before, we are hosting a conference in November with Ophelia as one of the guest speakers – eschaton2012.ca)

    However, community is more than meetings, as I mentioned earlier, it’s a group of people who care for one another. Some secular groups can provide this, by design or by accident, but we do a very poor job of it by comparison to religious groups. (Granted, there are legitimate reasons for this.)

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