When Fish With Legs Are Eaten By Jesus (or) Are Culture Wars Good, Bad, or Both?

I remember the first time I saw a Jesus fish.  It really didn’t make sense to me.  Why is Jesus represented by a fish?  The only fish I know about was from the flannel-graph story of Jonah and the whale. But then someone told me the story about how in the early church the fish was a secret code for revealing that you were a Christian without the threat of being persecuted.  I’m not sure why this has become a symbol for the backs of Honda Civics and Toyota Camry’s, considering that they are more likely to cut you off with a middle finger flying proud then being burned at the stake.  Nevertheless, this has become a cultural image for American Christianity, where we boldly tell outsiders that we are in and they are out.  Perhaps, I am being a bit facetious here, but hopefully you get my point.

Where the Jesus fish really begins to boggle my mind is when it is given legs and has the name Darwin.  Now talk about religious persecution!  Christians saw this as a deep desecration.  We are being persecuted.  We are no longer politically correct.  We must not let Darwin and the atheists win! So how did the Jesus fish emblem movement respond?  We made a bigger fish that said “Truth” on it with an open mouth swallowing up an upside-down (dead?) Darwin fish to make sure that our persecutors knew that we would not go down without a fight.  Kind of reminds me of the classic little boy fight: “My daddy is bigger than your daddy!”  “Well, my daddy can beat up your daddy!”  It is a game of ‘one upping’ your opponent that never leads to constructive dialogue.  Now, I do not want to ignore the fact that many Christians have engaged in this bumper sticker / decal dialogue because of a need to preserve their faith.  The question for us will be to examine whether or not this is actually the best way to go about it.

Evangelicalism has been in the middle of many culture wars for the past decades.  Now, ironically, within evangelicalism there are several of these battles taking place over the same kinds of issues.  The culture war I described above is obviously the war between God and science.  Here are some questions: 1) What are some of the biggest ‘culture wars’ that the church is engaged in?  2) Of these culture wars, which ones are clearly dividing Christians?  3) Are any of these bringing about good and if so, please say more?  4) How do culture wars affect our witness?  5) Any other thoughts 🙂

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  • It’s interesting that as the “Christian” fish eats the Darwin fish, the Christian fish is acting in the same manner that Darwin said that nature works – reflecting a belief in survival of the fittest or strongest, bigger eating smaller, consumption and competition. Wouldn’t a Christian fish be best represented by kneeling and serving the Darwin fish?
    I don’t know…I think I am concerned about the Christian fish’s salvation. 😉 But seriously, we do not “preserve our faith” by acting out of character.
    BTW- The fish on my car says “Trek” and is shaped like a Starship.

    • Ellen,

      I’m not sure why I never thought of it that way before!

    • A beautiful insight Ellen! Thank you.

    • Th fish on my truck says “Yoda” – so our culture war would be between sci-fi franchises.

      • Don’t forget the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” fish (emblem?), the “Evolve” fish, the “Reality Bites” with a legged fish eating a regular one, you get the idea. If you don’t, see

        Personally I thought they were all funny when I first saw them…well, except for the original.

  • Not to beat a dead horse (okay… so I am), but the whole Democrat/Republican blah blah is a culture war that we are improperly engaged in. Thanks to our UK friends who pointed out that they just cannot figure out why we even bring religion into our politics… or our politics into religion. It’s so ingrained in our culture here in the US that it’s no wonder we fight so much over it.

    • That was the exact same thought I had Robert. It is bizarre to me how the two wars have become synonymous. As if I couldn’t possibly be a good Christian and a Democrat at the same time.

      • One could say the same about Christians and Republicans, or Christians and Communists, or Christians and Libertarians… It’s silly, really…

  • jocojo

    My favorite was the Attack on Rock and Roll in the 70’s and 80’s. Backmasking was a very underrated threat on the Christian way of life :). I remember the intense guilt I felt until I want to the Rock Music seminar and took place in the traditional record and cassette burning bon fires- we swore we could hear and see the demos screeching away through the flames. All kidding aside, it would have been great if we could have dialogued through the questions and angst that the world asks through its art.

    • Great thoughts! Thanks for coming by!!!! Rock on!

  • Oh, man, do I remember that, too. We had a youth group session where we were split into two groups to “debate” Rock and Roll versus traditional church music… as if there wasn’t some middle ground there somewhere. I think we did a HUGE disservice to the music industry during that time and subsequently. Only now are we starting to recover and see that Christians aren’t scared of being in the main-stream music business.

    My current fear in the arts is the whole “Christian” movie industry. What gives with that? “We have to reclaim movies for God!!!” Um… there are WONDERFUL Christian men and women in Hollywood putting out excellent films with beautiful messages. “Liar, Liar” and “Bruce Almighty” being two films that, IIRC, were led by Christians in the production staff and the message comes out loud and clear without having to insert the word “Jesus” every 5 minutes.

    • Josh Wise

      Can we just say it? “Christian” movies are not that good.

      • With a few notable exceptions (“Fireproof” being one of them), I whole-heartedly agree.

    • I love Bruce Almighty. I would encourage home groups to ditch their bible study and watch that film. It says so much about prayer that just rings true whereas I would bin most of the Christian teaching I’ve received on the subject. So many Christians believe they get their culture from the bible when they actually interpret the bible in terms of their culture. Its no wonder they get tied in knots.

      I would like to add a note to the UK/US religion/politics thing. We Brits tend to be pretty reserved which is probably why we keep our religion close to our chests but the idea that we are a nation under God is probably just as firmly entrenched. After all, the Queen is the head of our state church. One other note. I read an article on The Slate about the American constitution which I think is very interesting and pretty much related to this post. The Pledge of Allegiance

      • I actually led a Sunday School class a year or so ago where we spent time examining 14 different popular films spanning decades from the 50’s up to the latest films (like “Up”… want a movie that speaks to the burdens of regrets that we place on ourselves and others?). There is a LOT we can get about our culture, the stories we tell each other, and the search for meaning in them.

  • Josh Wise

    I think one of the biggest “culture wars” other than the evolution/creationism debacle, is whole question over what to do about homosexuality. I grew up in a pretty conservative church and homosexuality was “an abominiation” and it was our Christian duty to defend marriage. Our church was also very homogenous. Now I’m older and I have gay friends and now the debate has a face, and the rhetoric I grew up with just doesn’t seem to work anymore. It comes across as condescending and judgemental, and I get embarassed by it. I think that this “fight to save marriage” is really doing a lot more harm than good. I think culture wars in general are bad news. It makes Christianity look like a group of people who all vote a certian way on few select issues as a opposed to a group of people following Jesus and wrestling with what it means to bring heaven to earth. I feel like culture wars take all the depth of our faith and pare it down to these few issues. Jesus just doesn’t look as attractive at that point.
    On the other hand though wrestling with these issues isn’t all bad though. There are times when we as a body of faith have look at the particular issues of our day and muddle through them. Look at the civil rights movement, or the feminist movement. Churches had to wrestle with what they going to do and how they were going to respond. I think thats good. It moves the story along and forces us to decide where the redemptive arc goes next.
    So in my opinoin culture wars are probably not a good idea, but the situations that give rise to them are good and necessary. Just my two cents.

  • Ashley

    You know, I have to admit that if it wasn’t for this fish ‘thing’ we would not be having this discussion! so i say in that alone, is a good thing. However, I do not think this is a good way for christians to ‘reach’ out. i mean I believe the truth is greater than Darwin, but will i go up to my geology classmates and co-workers and show them this symbol and run away without explaination…? NO! We need to show love and reach out… not slap and run! and i think i have such a problem with people putting ‘christian’ symbols (of any kind) on their modes of transportation. we show them we are Christians through our actions, and secondly, or words.
    We, Christians, do not need to be offensive, but allow the Bible to speak the truth and convict the person. I do have to say though that where the Bible is black and white on issues, I will be black and white. but no where does it say that we need symbols to ‘show’ our love for Christ… in fact these symbols more remind me of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day in their high dollar robes and garments. and Christ rebuked them… (just saying…)

  • Ray Sanchez

    I will say that all these wars of good vs evil, are in vain. Evolution vs creation , people love to be right over this matter. The facts are, what you ultimately belive to be true, is TRUE. as believers of christ “true believers” we should know what thruth is, with out argument. I do belive the biggest “culture” war, is the wars of the christain. some in this day and age, believe. one denomination are holier, than another. “well we as—–we do such, and such, or we as—- do this and that”. I think all would benefit form humility, so we can grow as believers of christ. When we act as indiviuals, we act as self righteous fools, with no god. There for no good can come from this. I heard a pastor once say “we have traded calvary for culture.” and those words never, have they been so true, as this day and age. Big fish, eat little fish, big bang, vs big God. LOVE THY ENEMY… “JESUS”…

  • Patrick Boatman

    I find it interesting that a symbol used by a persecuted minority to allow them to identify each other in a clandestine fashion has morphed into an assertion of dominance. Oppose us, and you will be eaten. 🙂

  • John F

    I know it’s an investment of time, but if you watch this
    you start to see the absurdity of trying to defend the “wars”. Unfortunately, there’s nothing “Christian” about it…

  • You ever seen Lord Save Us From Your Followers? Wonderful documentary made by a friend here in Portland. I did an internship with the Nightstrike Ministry that is highlighted towards the end of the movie.

    I highly recommend it. Really digs into this issue of the culture wars.

  • Kim

    I really despise the fish. Folks that I know personally who think they need to display their Christianity on the back of their car, do not show Christ in their actions and words. Quite the opposite. This statement includes members of my family.

    I agree with Josh. Homosexuality and gay marriage is a huge issue and clash. NOM is doing more harm than good. One gay man suggested in the Advocate that divorce be banned. That is one statement that would be fought tooth and nail by those in mainstream churches. They may not like it, but many are divorced.

    Thanks for bring this issue up Kurt. I saw a fish the other day with Lutefisk inside it. Cracked me up.

  • I really believe that all of these culture wars under the “Christian” umbrella really hurt us all in the long run. We are too busy squabbling amongst ourselves to do the work that we were created to do, while simultaneously giving our religion a bad name & reputation in the process. It bothers me & helps me to understand why people like Anne Rice effectively “quit” Christianity while remaining committed to Christ.

    A few years ago a local church in my area passed out purple yard signs to their members that said “I LOVE JESUS”. It really upset me because I felt that it was exactly the wrong message to be sending. It was like they were declaring their membership into an exclusive club rather than actually sharing the Gospel with their neighbors. I debated on whether I should respond with a sign of my own that said “JESUS LOVES YOU” (a much better message) or “I LOVE ELVIS” (pure, unadulterated snarkiness)… sometimes it’s a tough call for me. I opted for no sign at all.

  • Richard

    I don’t believe there is any war(culture or otherwise) between God and science, only a war between proponents of theories of how we came to be.

  • Hey there kindred spirit! Here’s a similar blog I wrote that is sympatico with yours!
    “Why my fish are kissing” http://www.elephantjournal.com/2010/09/why-my-fish-are-kissing/
    an observation i note: In this era of Qur’an burnings and people like Glenn Beck asking people to leave their churches if they hear their pastors speak of “social justice” this debate about evolution vs. creationism seems almost quaint. I never thought I’d think of the era of the “culture wars” as the good ‘ol days. : P

  • What about all the wars over the history of the U.S.? Whether or not the “one nation under God,” really ever was “under God,” or whether it’s possible to “take it back for God?”