Monday, January 28, 2008

Ick Theology

Referencing my previous post, what I'm going to talk about is something I've talked about with others before.

On the way home from work today I stopped at an intersection behind someone who had one of those placards on their car that shows a "Truth Fish" eating a "Darwin Fish". I tried to take a picture of it with my cell phone but was unsuccessful because the car began moving just as I snapped the pic. The picture to the left is something that I found on a Google search for "Truth Fish".

Its interesting how symbols can change in meaning over time. Mind you, this can happen when the text book definition of the symbol remains the same. Added cultural baggage and a different context can radically change the connotation of the symbol, even if the verbal information it stands for doesn't change one iota.

The Ichthus fish is a symbol derived from the acrostic of the Greek phrase "Jesus Christ God's Son Saves." The first letters: Iota, Chi, Theta, Upsilon, Sigma, spell the word "ichthus", greek for fish. During the first and second centuries the fish symbol was used by the followers of Jesus to identify each other in a way that would not signal outsiders as to their true allegiances. Christians were seen as irreligious "atheistic" rebels that would not engage in the civil religion of the Roman Empire. It wasn't particularly wise to advertise your religious, and quite frankly political, affiliations openly in such a context. A way that Christians would identify themselves to each other was to scratch the outline of a fish in the dirt or on a wall and see how other people would react to it. Those in the know would recognize the one making the symbol as a brother or sister and know they could openly discuss their belief in the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Those not in the know would think they were hungry for fish and chips that evening. :)

Now the fish is an open show of solidarity with one's coreligionists. It is an expression that "Yes, I'm a Christian and I'm proud of it." And, in the case of the "Truth Fish" above, it's and assertion that "we will overcome you", an assertion of dominance. My experience, which is admittedly not universal in scope, has been that such a fish belongs to someone that wants to see "Christian Morality" (often synonymous with a Far Right political agenda) made the imposed and enforced norm for American society. In a country that is, regardless of the decline of religion in general, and Christianity in particular, primarily "Christian" this can be kind of scary to the nonchristian, or even those Christians that are not Far Right in their views. (Ah, to be fair, the "Truth Fish" is a response to the "Darwin Fish", that is actually probably a product of the fear I just mentioned.)

The Ichthus fish has evolved from a clandestine form of communication between the members of a peaceful persecuted minority, to a declaration of cultural superiority and a promise that you will be eaten if you oppose us. Ok, maybe not eaten, maybe just nibbled upon. :)

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