Featured in the Chico News & Review Aug.5th, 2010
Written by: Rachel Leibrock
The Bright side
Is atheism going mainstream? One local group says yes, presents a new option for nonbelievers
Paul Geisert doesn’t believe in God, but he didn’t exactly want people to hate him for it. And so there he was, in the fall of 2002, contemplating plans to attend a march in Washington, D.C., organized to protest the overarching religious themes of September 11 memorials and tributes. A Sacramento resident since 1985, Geisert wanted to head east to participate in the demonstration but was aghast by the message its name implied. At best, he reasoned, the Godless Americans March on Washington was clueless. At worst, it was downright offensive.
That name, the longtime atheist remembers, left him feeling angry and defensive.
“I just went absolutely ballistic—here the [march organizer] is calling on everyone in the active atheist groups to march on Washington, and they call it ‘godless’—it was just like spitting in everybody’s face,” Geisert explains on a recent afternoon. The way Geisert saw it, the word godless is synonymous with “evil,” and its use was a surefire way to alienate the general public.
“Why would anyone want to call themselves something that was seen as evil? That ‘godless’ part just drove me nuts.’”
So the former science professor sat down and tried to think up a new term—one that was less divisive than godless but more inclusive than atheist.
The idea, he says, was to pick a word that would help public perception of atheists. Much as the term gay has largely replaced homosexual in the mainstream lexicon, Geisert wanted a word that would allow more atheists to feel comfortable being “out” with their viewpoints.
A few weeks later, after brainstorming thousands of ideas, he finally hit upon what he believed to be the perfect word: bright.
Used as a noun instead of an adjective, Geisert’s definition of the word expanded it to include any “person or persons possessing a worldview that is naturalistic”—a person without belief in a deity or so-called “supernatural” elements such as the afterlife or spirits.
The word bright, as he excitedly explained to his wife, Mynga Futrell, could serve as an umbrella term for atheists and agnostics as well as self-described “freethinkers,” rationalists, secular humanists and skeptics
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The article is actually pretty extensive and continues to go on and discuss how the “bright” movement is picking up steam and joining with the growing atheist community worldwide. They have memberships and meetings and the founder and his wife are very excited about fellow atheists “coming out” and being part of the new movement. They say that their purpose isn’t to divide the people of the world into believers and non-believers, but to dismantle the religious framework of our culture, presumably through enlightened and natural thinking, unbiased by irrational belief systems.
As a self-professed “atheist” my eyebrows were raised in surprised curiosity once I caught the gist of this material from the first few sentences. After reading further, however, I couldn’t keep from cringing multiple times throughout this article. I guess I can understand the desire to package up your entire belief system into one all encompassing phrase or word for easy consumption by the public. However, this smacks of the pot calling the kettle black.
It’s funny that he uses the word “clueless” to define the protestors and then turns around and is oblivious to the flaws of his own creation.
You don’t want to divide people? Oh, just dismantle the cultural framework that is intertwined with everyones religious beliefs? That seems easy enough… as long as you don’t have any beliefs to begin with. Those who do believe might have something divisive to say about it.
You have meetings and memberships? You belong to a group of like-minded people who carry the flag of a belief system that differs from others? Geez, that sounds familiar…
And how pretentious is that name? “Brights?” As in we are enlightened and intellectual free-thinkers, we carry the torch of truth, we are a beacon in the night? I’m sure that really butters up the opposition.
The need to “belong” strikes again! Since you don’t believe in God, aren’t a gang member, lost your Safeway Club Card, and don’t understand how to use Facebook, you have to find some group to hang out with and swap stories about how you have it all figured out. Not good enough to just have a life philosophy, you have to sign up and join the “good” fight.
If this sounds like a rant, I guess you are right. I just don’t like it when people go out and inadvertently give me a bad name. Whether it is being liberal, an atheist, a male, a father, or a Niners fan. This solves nothing. All it does is continue to stir up feelings of ill-will and contempt. It serves only to further divide people and establish battle lines for future skirmishes, the calling card of the religious culture they are aiming to “dismantle.”
Just live your damn life and GET OVER IT. You go to your corner and believe whatever you want and I’ll go to mine, but don’t start forming clubs and handing out membership cards trying to build up some kind of anti-army. That’s what you started out being against in the first place, now you’ve allowed yourself to get sucked into the game and I just have to laugh at the hypocrisy of it all.