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Tufts E-News --Shining Brights

A significant part of the U.S. population does not believe in God or have a religious preference says a Tufts expert, who thinks it is time for these “brights” to come out of thecloset. Medford/Somerville, Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [07.18.03] A recent survey found that 27 million Americans are atheist, agnostic, or have no religious preference - and according to renowned Tufts philosopher Daniel Dennett, this figure may be low. Dennett says that many of these people, sometimes called "brights", are afraid to assert their views, fearing that they will not be socially acceptable. In an op-ed for The New York Times, the Tufts professor said that now it's finally time for "brights" to shine.

"The time has come for us brights to come out of the closet," wrote Dennett, the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts. "'I'm a bright' is not a boast but a proud avowal of an inquisitive world view."

According to Dennett, brights - a term coined by two Sacramento men who thought the social group needed image restoration - are people who believe in science over mysticism.

"A bright is a person with a naturalist as opposed to a supernaturalist world view," wrote Dennett in the Times. "We brights don't believe in ghost or elves or the Easter Bunny - or God. We disagree about many things, and hold a variety of views about morality, politics, and the meaning of life, but we share a disbelief in black magic - and life after death."

According to Dennett - who is also director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts - those beliefs come at a price.

"Whether we brights are a minority or, as I am inclined to believe, a silent majority, our deepest convictions are increasingly dismissed, belittled and condemned by those in power - by politicians who go out of their way to invoke God and to stand, self-righteously preening, on what they call ‘the side of the angels,'" wrote Dennett in the Times.

Invoking religious beliefs, wrote the Tufts professor, often translates into political points.

"From the White House down, bright-bashing is seen as a low risk vote-getter," wrote Dennett. "And, of course, the assault isn't only rhetorical: the Bush administration has advocated changes in government rules and policies to increase the role of religious organizations in daily life, a serious subversion of the Constitution. It is time to halt this erosion and to take a stand: the United States is not a religious state, it is a secular state that tolerates all religions and - yes - all manner of nonreligious ethical beliefs as well."

The Tufts professor, who released his most recent book "Freedom Evolves" in February, wrote that in order to gain acceptance, it is time for brights to take action.

"If you are a bright, what can you do?" asked Dennett in his op-ed. "First, we can be a powerful force in American political life if we simply identify ourselves."

According to the Tufts professor, non-brights can help improve tolerance as well.

"Whatever your theology, you can firmly object when you hear family or friends sneer at atheists or agnostics or other godless folk," wrote the Tufts philosopher.

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