A Religious Liberal Blog

This site hopefully can provide some vehicle by which I can comment, complain, and once in a while praise the state of religion in this country and around the world from a liberal protestant perspective.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

So I got an e-mail from a friend a few days ago about a new movement seeking to be born. The name of the movement? Brights. The nature of the movement? The promotion of naturalism in our public discourse. With the rise of fundamentalism in the churches, in schools, and in the highest reaches of our government, one can imagine the urgency of such an idea. So I applaud it. But I do have some questions about the nature of this project.

First, the name brights needs to go. I can see the logic behind finding a short positive name but whenever I think of brights, words like sprites, and maybe care bears come to mind. It's hard to think of brights as a serious philosophic view. We need the genius of someone like a C.S. Peirce to come up with a better name :)

"Having a naturalistic worldview means that Brights are not themselves religious" says the website. Why? My impression from the website (as well as some of the names connected with this movement from Dawkins to Dennett) is that they are largely unfamiliar with a large body of religious thought in the 20th century which have had no problem combining religious faith and naturalism. Some of the schools of thought which come to mind include process philosophy, personalism, and empirical theology.

If they wanted to make a movement for atheists that is fine. But if one is going to make a movement centered around naturalism, then why exclude religious and theistic naturalists from the bunch? It's not just academic schools of thought which have successfully combined both things.

There have been religious movements who were born in this country which have worked with such a union. From Reconstruction and Humanistic Judaism to Ethical Culture to many Unitarians to many Quakers, the idea that the sacred is to be found in the natural world, in human relations, and in the possibilities of a better world versus some supernatural realm has made a definite contribution to the religious landscape.

One last thing: some of the most hilarious topics come up when some atheists seek to understand how it could be that religious belief could have such a hold on people today. I'm reminded of an essay by William James titled The Moral Equivalence of War and in that essay James argues that it's all fine and well for people to be opposed to war but that they are destined to fail in their efforts if they fail to recognize what positive things can come from war. Recognition of those goods, can provide a basis for seeking an alternative means to let such goods come into fruition.

So likewise, with religion. There are of course a number of ills associated with religion. And many folks could just start naming them off. But unless naturalists are able to provide a context where a community of faith can sustain people, can develop piety, can allow for worship, can attend to the depths and fullness of human experience, can in otherwords attend to the goods which religion can bring, I suspect there isn't much progress such a movement as the brights will be able to bring about.

Some links

  • Daniel Dennett's article explaining the idea of brights in the NY Times

  • A very active and engaging discussion list centered on religious naturalism.
  • The stuff you find on this list I would suggest could provide more adequate pointers in terms of where naturalism can and should go in this country.

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