Not Such a Bright Idea

Some nonbelievers are calling themselves 'Brights.' But is what they imply about religious people valid?

This originally appeared as a commentary on National Public Radio. Listen here.

A group of people with a "naturalistic worldview" are trying to improve their image. They want to leave behind their old names -- atheists and agnostics -- and are adopting a new one: The Brights. They are promoting this new term in op-ed pieces in major papers in the United States and Europe and, of course, on the Internet. Commentator Steven Waldman says that some of their goals are laudable, while others are questionable.

Are atheists and agnostics smarter than everyone else? A group of them have managed to assert that idea-and disprove it-in one swift marketing initiative.

Not sure what the image buffers were aiming for, but the name "the brights" succinctly conveys the sense that this group thinks it's more intelligent than everyone else (the rest of us would be "the Dims," I suppose). Daniel C. Dennet wrote in a recent New York Times Op-Ed, "We Brights don't believe in ghosts or elves or the Easter Bunny-or God."


Let's put aside the questionable intelligence of trying to improve your image by choosing a title that makes everyone hate you. They might as well have chosen The Smugs or The Smarty Pants. Let's instead examine the substance of their platform.

One of their assertions is valid. Our political culture has increasingly marginalized atheists, agnostics and secular humanists. Whether it's Ten Commandments in the Court room or a president who invokes God continuously, any rationalist would be perfectly justified in thinking society views them as second class citizens whose views are not worthy.

But what about their bolder assertion--or implication--that people who believe in God or the supernatural are just not as, well, bright?

In fact, two surveys earlier this year, one from Harris and one from Gallup, indicate that even supernatural religious beliefs are held not only by most Americans but by the majority of well-educated Americans.

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