Monday, February 13, 2006

Bright lights

In Comments, shhiggins draws our attention to the brights website. I've had my eye on this movement ever since Dan Dennett brought it to national attention with an op-ed essay in the New York Times, July 12, 2003.

What is a bright? According to the website:

-- A bright is a person who has a naturalistic worldview.
-- A bright's worldview is free of supernatural and mystical elements.
-- The ethics and actions of a bright are based on a naturalistic worldview.

By that definition, I certainly qualify, as would many of the readers of Science Musings. And I am a big admirer of Dan Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Steve Pinker and other prominent self-professed brights. I certainly wish them well.

Then why have I resisted sticking my toe into those waters?

Maybe it's the name itself, but the whole idea seems a bit smug to me. It's not like bright secular humanists/freethinkers/skeptics/agnostics/atheists are a persecuted subculture in need of advocacy. And if we are, so what?

Nor do we need to go around knocking on doors like Jehovah Witnesses to gather others to our cause.

Once we give ourselves a name and start raising money, what are we? A Rotary club for intellectuals? The Church of the Latter-Day Agnostics?

There's something I find missing among the brights, at least in their collective public face. A sense of mystery, of poetry, of silence. An attitude of prayerfulness, in the best Emersonian sense. A willingness to say "I don't know."

The brights make much of light, the light of the Enlightenment, as well they should. But darkness has its virtues too, not as a metaphor for ignorance, but for the turning of the Earth away from the Sun -- for rest, for solitude, for introspection. What was it the poet Roethke said? "In a dark time, the eye begins to see, I meet my shadow in the deepening shade; I hear my echo in the echoing wood...I live between the heron and the wren."

And then again, it may just be that (to paraphrase Groucho) I wouldn't want to belong to any church that would have me for a member.