Thoughts on neologism "bright" to mean atheist

There’s a neologism afoot. Some folks want the noun bright to be used to mean atheist, or “a person with a naturalist as opposed to a supernaturalist world view.” Examples of proper use of the new term include “Daniel Dennett is a bright,” “You can register as a bright at this website,” and “I think brights should have the same rights as everyone else.” It would not be correct to say something like “there are more bright people than you might realize,” since bright already has another meaning as an adjective. The movement to replace “atheist” with the nicer term “bright” is modeled after the success of the term “gay” for “homosexual.” It is hoped that it will become more socially acceptable to be a bright, and that closet brights will be able to ‘come out’ without recrimination.

The bright movement brings to mind several questions:

  1. Are brights a disadvantaged minority group?
  2. Are there lots of closet brights out there?
  3. Given the current social atmosphere, do brights have a good reason for staying in the closet?
  4. Is a social atmosphere that is more accepting of brights desirable?
  5. Could introducing a new word like bright help brights become more socially accepted?
  6. Will this movement to give the term bright a new meaning be successful? That is, will this use of the term bright become widespread?

Some of these questions are more GD material, so I’ll stick to the last two. My view is that a term like this could help the bright cause – “atheist” sounds so negative and brights are not unified behind any other term. Also, terms like “secular humanist” are too academic-sounding.

However, I don’t think that the term bright will become widespread. A main problem is that the word bright already has too many meanings & uses. Gay had a fairly limited use as “happy” and was rather expendable in that role, and now “gay” is almost absent from our language outside of its new use. Bright, however, has many meanings which are not likely to go away. It’s bright out. He’s a bright kid. Turn on your brights when you’re driving at night in the country. It’s also a more vivid term than “gay,” – it’s related to light and vision, and has its positive meanings & connotations largely because of a common metaphor associating light with good or truth. People wouldn’t want atheism to co-opt that metaphorical position. Additionally, despite claims to the contrary by its supporters, saying “I’m a bright” sounds an awful lot like saying “I’m bright,” which makes it come across as arrogant.

What do you think?

Yet another attempt to eliminate a social problem by changing its label.


This may have nothing to do with the OP, I’m not sure. :wink:

From a quick reading: I agree with Dawkins about the strength of words. I do sometimes cross off the ‘under god’ on dollar bills and - after I learned I was allowed to - I quit standing for the pledge in school. Those things DO matter in their own way. That said, no way am I calling myself a ‘bright.’

Why? First off, I’m already bright: I’m a smart guy. Redundant. And I know plenty of bright people who do believe in god, and I’m not going to dismiss them as stupid just for that.
*Most importantly, though, silly old writer me thinks that words should mean what they’re supposed to mean. (To be un-silly about it, I mean I hate euphemisms.) If I told a hypothetical person that I am a bright, they have no information about me. I’m not a fan of substituting prettier-but-meaningless words for accurate ones. I am an atheist. I do not believe in the existence of any gods; look in the dictionary and you find that’s exactly what the term means. If I tell you I’m an atheist, and if you talk to me for long enough I most certainly will, you know something about me.

Homosexual is no longer a preferred term for gays, not because it’s inaccurate, but because the term was used so much as a slur by bigots that it picked up a negative connotation. (And it’s true that it’s not a fun word.) Interestingly, my girlfriend, who grew up in the South, feels that “atheism” has the same connotation. I remember she once told me that I’m more of a humanist than an atheist. The terms are not mutually exclusive as far as I know. Humanist probably is a fair description of me, but it doesn’t tell you that I’m also an atheist. And anyway, it’s the label I’m used to and I’m not changing to be trendy.

He’s correct here in that there’s no broad term for this other than something academic like secular humanist. Bright sounds silly, though, and again, it just doesn’t tell you anything.

On to knock knock’s questions-

Yes. There’s the issue of social pressure involved, which is true for nearly any minority group. Disadvantaged is such a vague term I’m having trouble responding to it. Atheists aren’t denied any legal or social rights; the problem is generally one of custom and prejudice. In a country where the separation of church and state is supposed to be super-important, I do indeed resent kids being pressured or forced to say a pledge to god, handle money, etc. with religious terminology on it. Aside from violating the law, I think it sends the message that ‘your views are inferior.’ On the other hand, atheists don’t have the huge disadvantages faced by some ethnic or economic groups.

I can’t define “a lot,” but there are certainly some.

Some of them do, sure. It pisses me off to no end, but some families - and some cultures in the U.S. - would absolutely not accept an atheist member. My folks are tolerant, but I had to do my share to assert myself.

Absolutely. Tolerance is desirable, period.

I doubt it, but perhaps you’d need somebody who knows more about marketing than me. Are people more comfortable talking to gays and watching them on TV than homosexuals? I’d say probably not. Even if it would help, I’d hesitate because acceptance shouldn’t be gained through a three-card-monty style change of image, it should be gained based on forthrightness. If other atheists aren’t accepted by those around them, I don’t think the atheists are the ones who have to change: they aren’t the problem.

You gave some reasons you think it won’t catch on, and I agree. Atheist - indeed, radical atheist - was good enough for Douglas Adams, and it’s good enough for me.

What Marley23 said. I’d also add that there’s really bugger all that “brights” have in common in terms of belief. I mean, if someone accepts the label ‘Christian’, we can conclude that the person holds a certain set of beliefs. Now of course there’s a fair bit of variation, but there’s also a reasonably large set of core beliefs that all Christians hold. The same is true for most religions. Atheists and agnostics, on the other hand, don’t share any substantial set of beliefs outside of the single belief that god does not (or cannot be known to) exist. The grounds for this belief and the significance it holds vary widely from atheist to atheist. Atheists don’t make up a group in the same way Christians, Muslems, Taoists, or Hindus do, and I think that due to this the use of a term like “bright” would actually be potentially misleading.

It’s stupid. Although I happen to be an atheist, I realize that simply being correct on this particular isue doesn’t make one a bright person. And no matter what they say, that is the meaning of “bright” that people will think they mean.

And if the goal is really to gain acceptance, a truly bright idea wouldn’t be to use a term that implies superiority.

Heh, why not “differently abled?”

“Bright” sounds pretty arrogant to me. The obvious implication is that “I’m brighter than you because you believe in God and I don’t, nyah nyah!” This is not going to help acceptance – and it sounds just plain silly anyway. Some VERY bright people have deep beliefs in God. Our own Polycarp, for example.

Sounds rather silly to me. I’d much rather work on changing our culture so people don’t perceive “atheist” as a negative term.

I don’t like the term “bright.” Like others have noted, it sounds arrogant–even if it’s not meant that way.

However, it is true that “atheist” does carry negative baggage. I think the “brights” were on to something when they decided to coin a new term, I just think they made a poor choice.

Gorsnak is correct here, and I don’t think this can be overstated. I’ve seen plenty of people make the ‘atheism is a religion’ argument and completly overlook this point. There are all manner of atheists with all sorts of views. Some are into the whole ‘supernatural’ thing, so they apparently wouldn’t be brights anyway.

I think it’s pretty silly myself, and I don’t use and doubt I will start. I would use a number of terms to describe myself, depending on which aspect of my beliefs I was emphasizing at the moment; probably the ones I’d use most would be “atheist”, “secular humanist”, and “freethinker”. “Bright” (which is actually my mother’s maiden name) just doesn’t have any content to it; “atheist” means one without a belief in God or gods; “secular humanist” signifies belief in a particular set of ideals centered on advancing the welfare of human beings here-and-now; “freethinker” is about a commitment to seeking the truth independent of arbitrary authority or unexamined dogmas. “Bright” is just some sort of advertising slogan. "The 21st Century non-theists! Now 42% Brighter!"

As to “atheist” having negative connotations, running from the word won’t rescue it (a perfectly descriptive and neutral term) from any negative connotations theists attribute to it; and whatever else is chosen will just come to be demonized in turn. It’s not the label some people don’t like; it’s the content.

I think it’s silly. “Bright” as applied to people means, in the English language, “smart” or “clever.” To say “I’m not saying I’m bright, I’m saying I’m a bright, which is totally different!” sounds not just arrogant but disingenuous to me.

Maybe there will be a language shift and this alternate meaning will become accepted, as “gay” did, but I seriously doubt it. Certainly I’m not going to help it along as I feel no obligation to use terms or labels I think are stupid, artificial, and disingenuous.

A previous discussion of the term “bright” is inthis thread.

I agree with all those who think it silly. My earlier comment was meant to say that I thought it typical of the often non-sensical rebranding of things that’s been with us in force since the early days of PC.

But then I realized it could be taken as a jab at atheists. It’s not. I’m atheist and certainly didn’t mean to poke the atheists.

If the usage ever does enter the vernacular, I think it will have to mean “pretentious atheist.”

And the arrogance of the proponents of this usage really pisses me off. These folks, including Randi, don’t speak for me.

If we really want to take the stigma from “atheist”, perhaps we should do like blacks did with the n-word.

Frequently call other non-believers “my atheist”. When one says something stupid, go “Athiest please!”.

Revtim: You know, amazingly, I never thought of that. I’ll try it. :wink:

Funny also that I only post on two websites, and both of them have a Rev. Tim.

At first I coudln’t believe this was serious. Then I figured it was so stupid it had to be.

I really don’t see why the term atheist has to be replaced at all, let alone by one that tries to elevate us above theists. I have no problem telling people I’m an atheist, I don’t need to sugarcoat it with a happier sounding term because I’m afraid it might paint me in a negative light.

What’s more, “brights”? That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard in my life. So being a homosexual atheist would make me a bright gay person? Well goll-ee, sarge, why don’t we call all left handed people “fanciful unicorns” while we’re at it. It’s worth noting that I also hate the word “gay”, so make of that what you will.

A thousand times “word”.

I’m not technically an atheist, but I am against static dogma and reverence, and in favor of a scientific worldview and the separation of church and state, so I sympathize a lot with atheists. “Bright,” in my opinion, is a stupid term, partially because it obscures the meaning of what an atheist is and believes, partially because “atheist” carries no stigma with intelligent people, and is on its way (albeit slowly) toward losing its stigma with the general populace, and partially because it sounds all touchy-feely and New Agey (ugh).


The broad sense of “atheist,” which should denote somebody who is without a belief in god (or gods), as per Michael Martin et al, seems to work fine.

Look, as a Catholic, I’m not entitled to a vote here. Atheists can call themselves anything they want. I just wonder what the benefit of adopting the name “bright” (or any other moniker, for that matter) is supposed to be.

The atheists I know are hardly in need of a boost in self-esteem! Most ALREADY regard themselves as infinitely smarter than believers.

Believers, on the other hand, are NOT going to take a more positive view of atheists simply because they’ve adopted a happier-sounding name. What do Dawkins and Randi expect is going to happen?

New neighbor: I’m an atheist.

Believers: Persecute him! Stone him! Burn him at the stake!

New neighbor: Oops! Did I say I’m an atheist? I meant to say, I’m a bright!

Believers: Ohhhh, well, that’s different. Let’s have a big welcoming party for you!

Again, atheists have a right to call themselves anything they like. They’re just deluding themselves if they think a new phrase will make their position more appealing to people who don’t share it. George W. Bush can call himself a “compassionate conservative” or Michael Dukakis can call himself “a pragmatist” and “technocrat,” but does that make either man the least bit more attractive to people who don’t share his beliefs?

Heck, let’s reverse the roles a second. Some nonbelievers in this thread have expressed that they feel like unwanted outsiders, like shunned freaks in some settings. Well, that’s a shame, but I have news for you folks: a devout Catholic who goes to an Ivy LEague college (as I did) often feels like a freak and an outsider, too! I have no doubt that, in the circles where Dawkins runs, Christians are a tiny minority (as they are in academia in general). Those few Christians probably feel mighty uncomfortable.

So… what if those Christians adopted a new name? That’s the ticket! “Christian” has negative connotations to some sophisticated folk, so we’ll just adopt a fresh new name, and THEN Dawkins and his fellow-atheists will respect us more, and we can express our beliefs without embarrassment!

Sounds rather silly, even pathetic, eh?

Whether you’re a Christian or an atheist, you’re going to feel like an embattled minority in some circles.

Boo fucking hoo. There’s nothing in the Bible or the Constitution that says you have a right never to feel uncomfortable.

It’s your beliefs or non-beliefs that make you anathema to some, NOT what you call yourself.