There’s been some discussion on blogs about this column by one of the Anglosphere’s deep thinkers. The idea is that atheists should call themselves “brights” as a way to distinguish themselves and to intellectually one-up those benighted believers.
This is a bad idea and won’t fly. Many Americans are religious and would reasonably take offense at the clear implication of the word “bright” as used in this way: that religious people are stupid. This point, and the likelihood that even many atheists would prefer to avoid conveying such sneering disrespect for alternative views as use of this word, in this context, conveys, are going to make a lot of people reluctant to use it. And if it doesn’t catch on here it isn’t likely to become a standard term in the way that “gay” has.
But I understand why people who hate religion would try to convince everyone else to use a term such as “bright.” Its use forestalls argument by assuming a conclusion — a conclusion that it asserts up front as though it were as obviously valid as someone’s name, and how dare anyone challenge it. (Are atheists bright? Yes, they tell us so themselves.) You have to wonder about the judgment and intellectual confidence of people who try to gain adherents to their position by using verbal sleight-of-hand rather than rational persuasion.
“Bright” has been compared to the aforementioned “gay,” but I think a better comparison is to the word “liberal” as it is used in the U.S. to describe political orientation. Americans who call themselves liberals are really socialists. But socialism doesn’t sell here, so American leftists play word games to avoid defending their positions via straightforward arguments in which they would be at a disadvantage. They use “liberal” in the same way as Dawkins uses “bright” — to avoid dealing with opposing views on the merits. Ask what liberals believe, and why, and you are likely to receive a circular response asserting that since the word “liberal” implies tolerance and love of freedom, people who call themselves liberals must favor these things, and therefore (it is implied) if liberals support something it must be favorable for tolerance and freedom. Thus, for example, the American Left favors racial discrimination as long as leftists are in charge of it and do it out of self-declared good motives. This doesn’t seem very liberal to me, but they keep telling us that it is, and since they are “liberals” who am I to object? This is a neat trick, and lots of people still fall for it (though less so over time, as leftists’ increasing use of the word “progressive” in place of “liberal,” presumably in response to how their own actions have discredited liberalism, suggests).