Atheists are coming out of the closet. Today, some 5 million Americans claim to be atheists. Throw in agnostics and you have 20 million. Five books making the case for atheism have become bestsellers. The 9/11 attacks have sparked a backlash against "fundamentalism" of every sort, painting conservative Christians with the same brush as Islamofascists. Atheists would seem to be poised for growth, but they have a public-relations problem.
A University of Minnesota poll last year found that atheists were America's most distrusted group. According to a recent Newsweek poll, 62 percent of Americans would refuse to vote for an atheist running for president.
As a result, atheists allege a whole host of slights, hostility, and civil-rights violations. And so many atheists are trying to do what homosexuals did when they pulled off one of the biggest public-relations coups in history, in part by rebranding themselves as "gay." Atheists are calling themselves "brights."
When people start talking about their religion and some say, "I'm a Christian," or "I'm a Muslim," an atheist may say, "I'm a bright." We can then anticipate "equal rights for brights" and measures forbidding discrimination against "bright Americans."
The problem for atheists, though, is that the term may not do them much good. That they think of themselves as "bright" grows out of their self-image. If atheists think they are bright while the rest of us are stupid, their opinion will probably alienate the public more than their views on God. As someone has said, the atheists might as well call themselves "smarty pants."
Paul Geisert, co-director of The Brights' Net, an organization and a website dedicated to the promotion of the name change, told WORLD that "'Bright' refers to a worldview, not to the intelligence of individuals who hold that worldview." The term, he said, "has referred to the Enlightenment, a time when reason and science offered a hope for humanity to move toward a better world."
The opposite of "bright" is not dim, he explained, but, in a new word coined for the rest of us, "supers." That derives from "supernatural." Says Mr. Geisert, "Never have the Brights claimed superior intelligence to supers." Never mind how that word sounds suspiciously like "superstition."
Mr. Geisart, avoiding the A-word, maintains that his movement is not really about atheism at all. "A minority of the Brights' international constituency self-identifies as 'atheist,'" he said. "Large contingents of Brights are agnostics, humanists, rationalists, secularists, naturalistic religion adherents (e.g., certain Buddhists), and secular religionists (e.g., secular Jews), with the largest group probably being 'nones' (i.e., those who state they are 'none of above' when asked on forms for their religion)."
So maybe atheists should be called "nones." Or what the Bible calls them (Psalm 14): "fools."