Jonah and the Fish


My already high esteem for Jonah Goldberg jumped a few more notches today.

An essay Jonah wrote sparked an interesting and cordial discussion over on the National Review group blog, The Corner, this morning. The piece he wrote mentioned the increasingly ubiquitous “Darwin Fish” magnets on cars. Jonah, who is Jewish, put his finger directly on the thing I find most obnoxious about them.

I find Darwin fish offensive. First, there’s the smugness. The undeniable message: Those Jesus fish people are less evolved, less sophisticated than we Darwin fishers.

The hypocrisy is even more glaring. Darwin fish are often stuck next to bumper stickers promoting tolerance or admonishing that “hate is not a family value.” But the whole point of the Darwin fish is intolerance; similar mockery of a cherished symbol would rightly be condemned as bigoted if aimed at blacks or women or, yes, Muslims. . . But it’s the false bravado of the Darwin fish that grates the most. Like so much other Christian-baiting in American popular culture, sporting your Darwin fish is a way to speak truth to power on the cheap, to show courage without consequence.

In “The Corner”, John Derbyshire, the self-styled curmudgeon-agnostic-scientific-skeptic with a heart of gold took issue with a couple of Jonah’s points, though also admitted finding the Darwin fish “ill-mannered.” Among several points in a long post, Derbyshire wrote:

So is the Darwin fish ill-mannered? I think it is, but only because it equates Christianity with Creationism. Most Christians aren’t Creationists, and to imply that they are is wrong-headed, tarring the many with the foolishness of the few. I can’t truthfully say, as Jonah does, that I find the Darwin fish offensive, but I do think it’s ignorant (i.e. of the fact that most Christians aren’t Creationists) and ill-mannered (i.e. towards non-Creationist Christians).

Of course, Derbyshire doesn’t get it. Being self-described “lapsed Episcopalian” as well as a British ex-pat living on Long Island–John simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about because he isn’t exposed to many real Christians.

Thus, when he declares that “most Christians aren’t Creationists,’ he’s using the term Christian in the broadest most generic way imaginable. The fact is virtually all Christians are creationists at some level in that they believe God is pre-existent to the universe and is the agent (or cause) of its formation.

In the same vein, it is also true that Christians are, by definition, not Materialists, i.e., people who believe as Carl Sagan proclaimed that “the Cosmos is all there is, all there ever has been, and all there ever will be.”

Jonah’s rebuttal to Derbyshire is here. It’s good but doesn’t go far enough.

Derb has no problem with appropriating the symbol of the Icthus (Jesus fish) for the purpose of mocking and sneering at “Creationists.” He finds it out of bounds only because the use also tweaks these supposedly-abundant “Christians” who have no “Creator.”

But as Jonah rightly suggests in his original essay, the appropriation of the Ichthus is uniquely obnoxious and snide.

The displayer isn’t just affirming his belief in Darwinism in the same way a displayer of the Icthus affirms his belief in Jesus. He’s proclaiming his disdain for a different view. It’s one thing to declare, “I think I’m smart.” It’s another to shout, “I think you’re stupid.”

But, in spite of what Derb contends, it goes beyond just boorish manners.

The symbol of the fish came into use in the early centuries of the Christian movement when believers found themselves living in societies that weren’t prepared to tolerate their belief system. The dominant state-approved religions (some of them secular-religions) were militant and intolerant.

Today there is a rising spirit of militancy among the atheists/materialists in the U.S. and U.K.. From respectable academics like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris to entertainers like Bill Maher and Penn Gillette–popular and influential voices are suggesting that “civilized” societies shouldn’t have to tolerate people like the Creationists Derb clearly thinks are a fair game for public mockery.

That’s why I no longer find those Darwin Fish merely insulting. I find them chilling.

When I see the word “Evolve” inside that sacred fish on the car in front of me, I wonder. . . is that a statement? Or a demand?