« Magic & Machine guns | Gene Expression Front Page | West and the Rest »
October 25, 2003

Bad atheists, bad!

Speech communication professor: Darwin fish symbols on cars are an act of ‘ritual aggression’.

“In several respects, displaying the Darwin fish is the symbolic equivalent of capturing and desecrating an enemy’s flag, an act of ritual aggression,” says Tom Lessl, an associate professor of speech communication at UGA who studies the rhetoric of science. “The Darwin symbol’s obvious emulation of a religious symbol gives it unique power to express ridicule in a vivid and symbolically pointed fashion.”

No Dr. Lessl, this is desecration:

Su-jin Kim, a Christian, breaks into Wonmyong Sonwon (Zen Center) in Cheju Island, decapitates 750 granite Buddha statues and destroys a gilt bronze Buddha triad, gold-plated jade Buddha and many other Buddhist items. He is caught by people at the temple while breaking windows of the living quarters. Kim confesses at the police that he destroyed Buddha statues in order to convert the temple to a church.

This is desecration:

Bamiyan Buddha (remnants)

This is desecration:

Via Chris Mooney.

Posted by razib at 06:00 PM

Of course the Christians have replied with a logo that shows their fish swallowing the Darwinian one (in the familar "big fish-little fish cartoon style). If the Darwin fish was aggressive, it doesn't look like the Christians went home and cried.

Posted by: Dick Thompson at October 26, 2003 08:02 AM

Yeah. At worst the Darwin fish is petulant, and snide. Not to mention inneffective, since most Christians aren't deeply troubled by evolution.

Posted by: Twn at October 26, 2003 09:44 AM

I think the scholar you cited probably was in favor of ritual aggression rather than against it. I didn't check to see whether he used the word "transgressive" or not.

Posted by: Zizka at October 26, 2003 10:57 AM

i don't think dr. lessl is pro or anti darwin fish-i just took issue with his banal observation being blown up in fancy language. you don't need to do a survey to know why people have the darwin fish sticker....

btw, one thing that gets to me is the double-standard many christians have. i used to joke in college that "i hate christianity, not the christians,"-hate the sin, not the sinner. i was actually joking, but my quip would enrage people. these are of course the same people who would use the same terminology on homosexuals and tell me straight that "i'm going to hell."

of course, to be balanced, the same sort of stuff goes on when any group goes beyond tiny-minority status and it can demand "respect" without giving it. atheists, as a small minority, are bitched as for being uncivil and argumentative, i will grant that, but some of the preaching by christians is positively hateful if you don't accept their premises....

Posted by: razib at October 26, 2003 12:00 PM

From time to time everyone here should read the religious writings of Mark Twain just to remind themselves that they are Americans.

Unfortunately, Tom Sawyer's terrible Aunt Sally is taking over the government.

Posted by: Zizka at October 26, 2003 02:33 PM

My favorite variant of the fish stickers is the one with the horrible tentacles coming off the front and “Cthulhu” written inside. (Seen in the parking lot of a hotel hosting a science fiction convention, of course.)

Posted by: Jacqueline at October 27, 2003 04:41 PM

The Darwin fish is aggressive? What about the bumper stickers that say, roughly, "If you don't believe in Hell, when you die, YOU'D BETTER BE RIGHT!" Those last words are written in a crackling fire font indicating the unbeliever will be roasted on the eternal barbecue pit by a demented god who would roast someone FOREVER for making an honest decision about belief using the brain that God supposedly gave him or her.

Another thought. I honestly don't have quantifiable proof but I would suggest that many who sport Jesus fish on their cars also subscribe to the conservative notion that there's too much whining and hypersensitivity in our culture. Honestly, isn't it being just a little hypersensitive to take umbrage at some good natured ribbing using a well-known symbol? Besides, I don't think Christians should be above reproach. Most of them will not hesitate to criticize atheists, agnostics and freethinkers with unsparing severity. Remember that George Bush the Elder, for example, opined that perhaps atheists should not even be considered to be American citizens.

We see crosses, bumper stickers like I mentioned, WWJD key chains and other such symbols ad nauseam. Are those who hold opposing viewpoints to be begrudged a few symbolic representations of their viewpoint?

Am I to understand that, unless the Christians have a 100% monopoly on expressing their viewpoint, then they are being ruthlessly victimized? Will a few Darwin fishies hurt that badly? Do they make Christians the equivalent of St. Justin Martyr?

I plan to print up a bumper sticker of my own that says “No Jesus – Know Peace, Know Jesus – No Peace.” The First Amendment to the Constitution allows me to do this sort of thing with impunity, but if this nation ever becomes a theocracy…well, I’m not so sure.

Posted by: Chuck at October 27, 2003 08:19 PM

I couldn't agree more, godlesscapitalist. I've always said if I'm ever appointed a judge (guffaw!!) that I'll adorn my courtroom with inverted crosses, crucifixes in bottles of urine, Satanic Pentagrams and other such like things. Should somebody not like this, I'll just defy whatever injunctions are applied. After all, it's just some stupid court blathering about the Constitution. Why should we pay any attention to that? Moreover, the idea of holding Black Sabbath rituals during the school day “moment of silence” has been repeated often enough that I know further explanation of this is unnecessary.

Christians and other religious types make up the vast majority of the populace here in the USA. In some places like my own Oklahoma City the church density is almost enough to initiate nuclear fission. Christians enjoy the privilege of broadcasting their message in countless media outlets from radio to billboards to cable TV and I’m sure if I could stand the smell I’d uncover quite a lot of it on the Internet as well. And even if you don’t go to church, often the church will come to you as I can personally testify by being awakened at the ungodly hour of 12:00 noon on Sundays by well-dressed and I’m sure well-meaning proselytizers who want to push pamphlets at me about how I’d better shape up or burn in Hell all the while I’m rubbing the sleep out of my bleary eyes trying desperately to focus on these indecently spic and span do-gooders. Do I get all bent out of shape that our money has printed on it paeans to the Almighty which are meaningless to me? Nah! Who gives a rat’s behind as long as the stuff spends?

Atheists have lived for many, many years with innumerable messages broadcast at them to the effect that they’re less than acceptable as citizens and human beings. Now this is something to be justifiably angry about. If I may indulge in a little pretension here, let me make like Martin Luther King Jr. and declare that I have a dream that one day I will have a conversation with a zealous Christian and tell him or her that I’m an atheist and the Christian will not immediately adopt the attitude that there’s something wrong with me that needs to be changed and not even concede the possibility that maybe s/he’s the one in error. I have a feeling this will remain a dream for the remainder of my lifetime but I still hold out hope.

I will admit to you that I was once the kind of person I now disparage. I once did get bent out of shape over the fact we have “under god” in the pledge of allegiance and “In God We Trust” on our money. Who’s to say I’m still not struggling with some of this now? But what I’m learning in my personal voyage of discovery is what liberals have been saying since the Pleistocene and that’s that, instead of getting angry, use your own voice and speak out! I think the next time I walk into a courthouse that has a granite Decalogue which, by the way, is a graven image, I’ll loudly and irreverently say something along the lines of, “What a crock of ….” Well, you know the rest. Who’s gonna stop me?

I also have a few choice words to say about the “Virgin” Mary. “Virgin” indeed! That’s not what I heard!

Yes, it pains me to have to agree that atheists, too, can by over sensitive and angry. As a matter of fact, if you ever visit any of the atheist chat rooms and list servers and whatnot you’ll find it’s often filled with acrimony. You are very artful in the way you speak volumes with such few words and I’d be a liar if I said it didn’t sting just a little. We’d all like to be 100% percent right and our ideological opponents to be 100% wrong, wouldn’t we? For my part, I’m a work in progress.

Still, I feel my positive message, which you seem to share, is to learn to not take things too seriously and in that spirit let me say, “Happy blasphemy!!”

Posted by: Chuck at October 27, 2003 10:40 PM

I don't doubt there are racists. All you have to do is a little surfing to uncover a treasure trove of hate sites. Once the term was useful to delegitimize bigotry but now it seems to be used willy-nilly without thought. This is unfortunate because I believe it undermines some of the genuinely positive elements of liberal thought.

Once the left very effectively scored rhetorical points by the observation that some people looked for Communists under every rock. Now it seems the left seeks racists under every rock. How sad.

Posted by: Chuck at October 28, 2003 09:31 AM