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Bright

noun [countable]

a person who has a naturalistic world view, free of supernatural and mystical elements. The fundamental principle of this world view is that the universe is governed by natural laws and that there are no supernatural forces.
Thanks to Paul Geisert, Co-Director of the Brights' Net, for his clarification.

'The time has come for us brights to come out of the closet. What is a bright? A bright is a person with a naturalist as opposed to a supernaturalist world view. We brights don't believe in ghosts or elves or the Easter Bunny – or God.'

Daniel C. Dennett in the New York Times 12th July 2003

The term Bright was coined earlier this year by Paul Geisert and his wife Mynga Futrell, both freelance writers in Sacramento, California. Frustrated with the rather negative overtones often associated with words that describe people who don't subscribe to religious beliefs, Geisert and Futrell sought to introduce a new way of referring to individuals whose world view is entirely naturalistic. The new noun Bright is intended to be used as a generic reference to all such individuals, functioning as a so-called umbrella term for atheists, agnostics, naturalists and rationalists, among others. It is therefore possible to describe yourself as an atheist and also say that you are a Bright, meaning that you are part of the larger Brights movement.

the noun Bright is intended to be used as a generic reference to atheists, agnostics, naturalists and rationalists, among others

Predictably, the Internet has been used as a mechanism for promoting these ideas, and there is now a site – www.the-brights.net – where individuals can read the official definition of Bright, learn about the proper use of the term, and register themselves to be counted as a Bright. Geisert and Futrell are anticipating that the term will establish itself by functioning as a meme. A meme is an element of culture that is passed from one individual to another by imitation, so as individuals use the term, it is gradually spread from person to person and throughout society until it establishes a worthwhile function and enters the lexicon.

Background – Bright

The idea of adapting the sense and part of speech of an existing lexical item, the adjective bright, was inspired by the establishment of the word gay to mean 'homosexual'. Gay was intrinsically a positive word in its former sense, meaning light-hearted and happy. This formed a stark contrast to terms such as homosexual, queer, etc which are essentially rather negative and often insulting. Similarly, bright was chosen for its very positive overtones. There is something rather formal and stuffy about saying 'She's an atheist', but saying 'She's a Bright' sounds much more informal and uplifting. Geisert and Futrell insist that the term must be used as a noun and not an adjective. The implication is not that anyone described in this way is clever or special: 'I'm bright' sounds arrogant, whereas 'I am a Bright' sounds unfamiliar and is therefore more likely to invite questioning.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 29th August 2003.

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