The Council's Position
Best-selling science writers Richard Dawkins and
Daniel C. Dennett have put their weight behind the so-called Brights
movement, an effort to unite atheists, agnostics, secular humanists,
and other nonreligious people under the label "Brights." The
term secular humanism, though still sometimes used as a pejorative
term by Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and others, was embraced in the
1980s by those of us who describe ourselves proudly as secular
humanists and possess a lack of faith in a divinity, yet who embrace
humanistic values of liberty, equality, tolerance, and freethought. We
co-opted that once derogatory term and made it our own, and it is
properly descriptive of what we are. We are secularists who seek to
maintain a strict separation of church and state and reject religious
or supernatural sources of morality. And we are humanists who
recognize the inherent dignity of humankind and the essential
principles of liberty and equality, and who seek naturalistic bases
for answering the philosophical and practical issues we face.
While we are pleased with the recent attention
that the move to use the term Brights has brought to secular humanism,
it should be recognized for what it is: a marketing ploy. Now,
marketing is important, and old schools of thought are periodically
repackaged and re-branded under new names. There is nothing inherently
wrong with that, so long as the ideas and history of those schools of
thought are not lost in the attempt.
We welcome the opportunity to discuss publicly
the virtues of secular humanism and its historical growth from the
Renaissance and the Enlightenment up through to the present day. We
are proud that more secular humanists have banded together under the
Council for Secular Humanism than any other modern humanist group. But
we are concerned that attempts to re-brand the precepts of secular
humanism under a new and shiny name smack too much of Madison Avenue
and may backfire.
Some have already used the new term as a means of
attack, noting that there is an inherent implication that Brights are
"smarter-than-thou." While secular humanists are used to
being attacked for being secular humanists, what is the value of
adding a new and unwarranted avenue of attack? We don't claim to be
smarter than anyone. We advocate skepticism, reason, the scientific
method, and a naturalistic worldview. Of course, while we value the
use of intelligence and reason in dissecting flawed dogmas and
understanding the natural world, we recognize that not everyone has
the desire to embrace our worldview.
The danger of creating a new brand name also
includes obscuring the message with the packaging. Besides the
potentially alienating, hierarchical tone of the name, the term is
just not very descriptive. While those who are secularists and accept
nonreligious, humanistic values could realize on their own that they
are secular humanists, how does one realize that one is a Bright
without elaborate marketing literature?
Recently, the American Humanist Association has
declared "Bright Rights" to be an official project under its
banner. We have pursued the same goals through our First Amendment
Task Force for years, submitting amicus briefs in the U.S. Supreme
Court and defending the rights of secular humanists in the United
States with our media efforts and legal advocacy.
Once again, we welcome the interest the Brights
have brought to secular humanism. But at the end of the day, if you
are a Bright, you are a secular humanist, and we have been here
promoting your interests and serving your needs all along.
David Koepsell is executive director of the
Council for Secular Humanism.