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Wednesday, October 8, 2003

The church of brights.

In the November Atlantic Monthly, Cullen Murphy appraises the effort to rebrand atheists as "brights." (For some background, read Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins, who came out as "brights" in the New York Times and the Guardian this summer.) Here's my favorite part of Murphy's essay:

Any religion worthy of the name needs a bitter schism, preferably over something that in retrospect seems trivial — and brightness is proving to be no exception. Some atheists have already sought to distance themselves from the brightness movement. "It's a cop-out," the president of the American Atheist Association told The Sacramento Bee. "It seems like a way to hide who you are to please other people. I'm not ashamed of my beliefs. Plus it's a silly name." No one should be surprised if a further schism develops, between the modest, mainline Nominalist camp (which holds that bright should be used only as a noun, as in "I'm a bright") and the in-your-face Descriptivist camp (which holds that bright should be wielded aggressively as an adjective, as in "I'm bright" and "You're not bright").

In time a bright liturgy will surely develop, perhaps starting with the adoption of an official hymn. Far be it from me to meddle in sectarian affairs, but thoughts turn naturally to one of the great spiritual epics of our time. Yes, I'm thinking of Monty Python's Life of Brian, about a man who is not the Messiah but gets put to death anyway. In the final scene, as Brian and his many followers hang on crosses, the crucified men start to whistle and then break into robustly good-natured song. It begins, "Always look on the bright side of life."

("The Path of Brighteousness: Godless Americans Launch a Semantic Crusade," Cullen Murphy, Atlantic Monthly 11.03:173-174.)

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 8 October 2003 at 8:20 PM

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