Fresh Fish

Article excerpt

TRAWLING FOR THE TRUTH BEHIND THE BUMPER BATTLE KNOWN AS THE "FISH WARS"

IN THE BEGINNING, THERE WAS THE FISH.

Christian motorists felt it was good. The fish was fruitful and multiplied, and iterations developed: "Jesus' the Greek "Ichthus," a fish with a cross inside.

Then in the early 1990s came a fish, with feet, that said "Darwin." The Christians shot back with a bumper sticker depicting the Darwin being swallowed by a larger "Jesus" or "Truth" fish. Others shot back with a reversed version of the bumper sticker.

That wasn't strong enough for some. Nona Williams is a co-proprietor of Ring of Fire (www.rof.com), a Darwin fish vendor and creator of freethought-friendly plaques and stickers. Several customers called ROF asking for something with which to fight back against the Jesus-eating-Darwin sticker.

Williams is not a violent person. The new plaque she created is sure to provoke some violent reactions, however. It depicts the Darwin fish and the Jesus fish forming what Shakespeare jauntily termed "the beast with two backs." She admits she is too timid to put it on her own car.

The right to cheap gas and open roads isn't enshrined in the Constitution, but the right to free speech is. Americans have always used their automobiles to express themselves.

Many succumb to the lure of the bumper sticker. I am one of them. I saw my first Darwin fish and laughed out loud. I had to have one. It never occurred to me that it would offend others. When a friend pointed this out to me, I was intrigued. That was my introduction to the weird cultural hiccup some call the "fish wars," indirectly responsible for the chrome piscines spawning across our highways: Satan. Angel. Buddha. Devil. Alien. Hindu. Cthulhu. Linux. Pagan. Evolve. Science. 'n Chips. Hooked on Fishing.

There's a joint-smoking Rastafarian fish. Humanists who didn't want to offend anyone opted for the peaceful dolphin. Fans of the heir apparent band to the Grateful Dead have the Phish Fish.

Not surprisingly, some Christians are rather upset by what they see as a mockery of a sacred symbol. Hence, the counter-stickers. Hence, the "fish wars'

Can't we all just get along?

THE ORIGN OF FISHIES

Christians have long embraced the fish symbol. The www.religioustolerance.org site claims that the symbol was used by early Christians to identify fellow believers during times of persecution. It also says the Greek word for fish, ichthus, is an acrostic that spells out "Jesus Christ, of God, the Son, the Savior."

But it seems as if Christianity can't claim exclusive ownership of the fish. The Religious Tolerance site also gives the Pre-Christian history of the fish, claiming the symbol has long been associated with slatternly pagan goddesses.

Apparently, TGIF should stand for "Thank Goddess It's Friday"-- Freya and Aphrodite Salacia, specifically. Freya gave her name to the day of the week. Her divine sister gave us the word "salacious," a fair description of the orgiastic revels of her worshippers. Humorless Christians might sandblast the little piscine off their vehicles if they knew its scarlet pagan past.

Imagine a fish.

Now tip it on its tail so its nose points skyward.

Thank Goddess It's Friday!

"The symbol itself, the eating of fish on Friday, and the association of the symbol with a deity were all taken over by the early church from pagan sources," so says the site. "Only the sexual component was deleted."

A MEAN MEME?

The Darwin Fish is already the subject of scholarly study (www.uga.edu/columns/991025/campnews.html). Tom Lessl, an associate professor in the department of speech communication at the University of Georgia, spent three years surveying motorists with Darwins on their cars.

Lessi visited college campuses in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Wisconsin, spotting Darwin cars and tucking surveys under their windshield wipers. …