I'm James Maxey, the author of numerous novels of fantasy and science fiction. I use this site to discuss a wide range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on cranky, uninformed rants about politics and religion and other topics that polite people attempt to avoid. For anyone just wanting to read about my books, I maintain a second blog, The Prophet and the Dragon, where I keep the focus solely on my fiction. I also have a webpage where both blogs stream, with more information about all my books, at jamesmaxey.net.


Friday, April 04, 2008

Darwin Fish

I recently read an article at real clear politics where the author denounced Darwin Fish as a form of religious bigotry. You can read the article here. The author, Jonah Goldberg, basically says that displaying a Darwin Fish is an offensive, intolerant action, a PC form of bigotry. And, on top of all that, it's cowardly. He concludes by writing:

The Darwin fish ostensibly symbolizes the superiority of progressive-minded science over backward-looking faith. I think this is a false juxtaposition, but I would have a lot more respect for the folks who believe it if they aimed their brave contempt for religion at those who might behead them for it.

His point being that the Darwin Fishers aren't afraid to poke fun at Christians, but don't dare poke fun at Muslims because we're afraid of getting killed.

His argument bugged me on several different levels.

1. It doesn't seem to understand the nature of parody. The Darwin Fish is funny only because the Christian Fish is a very, very popular plastic symbol for people to affix to their trunk. Really, it's almost the only game in town. In 30 years of driving, I've never once seen a star of david or a crescent moon and star affixed to the trunk of a car. Nor have I seen a little plastic Buddha, or whatever the hell a Scientologist might display. (A little UFO over a volcano?) The Darwin Fish only works because it's poking fun of something that's instantly recognized. I doubt most Americans would even recognize a symbol of Islam, let alone the parody of it. You can make a lot of money selling plastic fish in America. You can make a little less money, but still turn a profit, making darwin fish. But once you get much past that, the economics of the situation just falls off.

2. In the hundred posts that followed this article, a significant number were from Christians who testified, yes brother! that they took offense whenever they saw a Darwin Fish. I don't know the intricacies of copyright law that would allow me to cut and paste whole comments here, but you can read them under the article link above. Darwin Fishers are accused of attempting to "tear down society" and "demean humanity." To which, I must respond, What the hell? We're talking about putting a pit of plastic on the trunk of your car! I suspect society, and humanity for that matter, may endure. So, to all the people who may be offended by the Darwin Fish, I would advise you to learn some good anger managment techniques. Some people turn to prayer to handle these feelings, or so I'm told.

3. It was also implied that the Darwin Fish is displayed primarily to insult Christians. I used to display them; I went through three, in fact. They kept getting torn off my trunk and broken... I think the commandment to vandalize other peoples car symbols might be in Deuteronomy. But, the whole reason I displayed it was because the first time I saw one, I grinned. I really didn't stick it on thinking, "Man, this will humiliate and demean those Jesus fishers!" If Christian's got to display the logo of their team, why shouldn't I display mine?

4. Isn't there a commandment against making a graven image that looks like an animal (this is a retorical question... it's right there in those ten commandments that people are always jabbering about). Arguably, the Jesus Fishers are defying their own holy book by showing the symbol. But, this doesn't bother me, obviously. Still, if you turn your faith into a bumper sticker, it seems to me that it deserves all the solemn respect due any other bumper sticker.

Finally, on about a dozen of the responses, there was a theme that said, "You're only making fun of Christians because Muslims would kill you if you made fun of them." And, it finally hit me what underlay all this anger: Jealousy. Somehow, this tiny subset of Christians are sitting around seething because they don't get any respect. They think, "Boy, if we were more like those Muslims, rioting and beheading in response to cartoons, then no one would mess with us!"

Luckily, I'm pretty sure this represents a fairly tiny minority among the larger Christian population. Still, if you're filled with anger over the Darwin Fish, you're in luck: They make a trunk logo that shows a Jesus Fish swallowing a Darwin Fish. Go buy one and stick it on the back of your car. Then, if I get stuck in traffic behind you, it will be my turn to stew in bile and rage as I stare at this stunning denunciation of my beliefs, set eternally in plastic.

Or not.


Loren Eaton said...

Hee hee ...(From here.)

It's sort of a shame that the whole purpose of the ichthus has been subsumed by the "controversy." Originally, Christians didn't put it on their cars as another riposte in the culture wars.

James Maxey said...

Thanks for that link! Some of those were pretty funny. I think the Wallace fish and the Tiktaalik fish are going to make a very tiny subset of humanity very happy. I would definitely consider displaying the Tiktaalik fish if they ever make one.

Currently, though, the back of my car probably best represents my atheism/nihilism: No logo at all.

By the way, I don't think most Christians who display the fish feeling think they are taking part in a culture war. I can't believe anyone thinks they are starting an argument with these logos. Instead, I think it's just a way of advertising who you are to other members of your tribe. It's a way of advertising a part of your identity in the hopes that kindred spirits will recognize you while you're hidden inside your anonymous steel box rolling down the highway. I definitely don't begrudge anyone displaying anything they want on their own cars.

Chris, The Book Swede said...

Fun post :) A friend of mine has a T-Rex eating a Jesus Fish! It's pretty darn cool!

I just popped over her because I'm reviewing The Solaris Book of Fantasy, liked your story, and will be reviewing each one individually soon. I did feel that your's was a little unfinished, but that's only probably because a lot of the characters, I understand, are from Bitterwood. Review should be up today or Monday.

I do like the blog, I'll be popping by! :D

The Book Swede

James Maxey said...

Thanks, Chris! I confess: Solaris specifically solicited a tale from the Bitterwood universe for the anthology, which presented a few unique challenges for a 4000 word short story. If I were writing this story from scratch, I wouldn't have included Kanst in the tale. He adds nothing to the triangle of opposing interests between Albekizan, Vendevorex, and Zanzeroth. His presense just burns up a few score words I could have used elsewhere. But, the novel had already established that he was present the night that Vendovorex demonstrated his powers for Albekizan. Also, when Jandra's brother says his name in the short story, if you've only read the short story, it probably isn't all that meaningful. For people who've read Bitterwood, one of Jandra's character traits is that, as an orphan, she's always wondered if she has any surviving relatives. Since her brother is a character in Bitterwood, and is someone Jandra has met, it adds an extra layer of meaning to the tale that the story by itself can't quite convey.

James Maxey said...

Back on the Darwin Fish subject, two people have written me emails saying that I don't understand the commandment against graven images. It's a commandment against worshipping graven images, not making them. However, I grew up in a fundamentalist church that taught that the Bible was the unerring word of God. Every sentence, every verse, every word within it was true. When asked about the fact that the book had been translated into so many different versions, some of them contradicting one another, I was assured that the King James Version was the "real" Bible, with the translation overseen and edited by God himself, who would allow no errors. So, the KJV of the commandment reads:

"4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments."

While verse five is an order not to worship graven images, verse four rather explicitly (and, according to my Sunday school teachers, unerringly) forbids making graven images of anything that exists in the sky, on the land, or in the water, period. There are many Christian denominations that believe it forbids representational artwork, a view held by most Muslims (who share the ten commandments with other Abrahamic faiths) and orthodox Jews (I think... I don't know any orthodox Jews I can email to verify this).

Of course, as long as we're being legalistic about this, I suppose the commandment doesn't forbid buying a graven image and sticking it on your bumper... it only says that you, personally, can't make them. So, the world needs a few heathens like myself to keep the rest of you supplied with what-nots and knick-nacks.

Still, if you believe that God is serious in verse five, and is going to punish not just you, but your grandkids and great grandkids if you break his commandments, I'd say it's safest not to take any chances with owning any representational art. In the Old Testament School of art criticism, Jackson Pollock is approved, while a Norman Rockwell print is right out. Also, I wouldn't stand too close to Rockwell's grandkids.

Chris, The Book Swede said...

Wow, thanks for the speedy reply James! That makes a lot more sense now. Would you mind if I included that answer or part of it in the review?


PS: Heathens make nik-naks?! (A crisp type in the UK; very nice, too.)

Chris, The Book Swede said...

By crisp, I mean "chip" ;)

James Maxey said...

Chris, my defense of "Tornado of Sparks" strikes me as a little wordy, and potentially whiny, as if I'm complaining about Solaris wanting a Bitterwood story, which I'm actually rather grateful for. Just say that I acknowledge that the story leaves open a large number of questions, and it makes the most sense if read as a prequel tale to the events in Bitterwood and Dragonforge. Thanks!

Chris, The Book Swede said...

Oh, sure. I wasn't fishing for stuff to use in the review; I just thought that part of your answer might be of interest to readers :)


rastronomicals said...

I'm definitely in the Darwin Fish/T-Rex camp, but even still, there seems to be a tiny kernel of truth in what the commenters at that religious site are suggesting, whether they're even aware of it or not.

And I certainly don't think that even the hardcore Christian right is *jealous* of the fundamentalist Muslims who have sorta taught us atheists what it is *really* like to have a program that is at once both laughable and very, very scary.

I think that they are simply pointing out the ahem, fundamental, difference between the two varieties of fundamentalists us liberals might come across: one brand wants to use the grass-roots means at their disposal to elect a president and some senators (and yeah, put plastic trinkets of their effort on the ass-end of their SUV's); the other wants to blow us up, wants to destroy us.

The Christian right is such an easy target for the left, so easy that at this point you have to ask whether any ripostes with the Christian right might be better aimed elsewhere.

But as has been suggested, finding any fault with the state and direction of Islam today and proclaiming it loudly enough could get you killed, or at the very least could get you 'round the clock police protection.

As several members of the Danish press, and at least one member of the Dutch film world, have shown us, critical words for Islam will get you killed.

Unlike with the casual joke about Tammy Fay Bakker or that ridiculous glass church out west, it takes some commitment to question global fundamentalist Islam, which most of the US and most of Europe have been loath to show.

So I guess the Christian right is in fact asking, "would you be so quick to flash that Darwin Fish on you car if the radical it was intended to belittle was likely to put a bomb beneath it?"

But for me, the tone of the question is more accusatory than wistful . . . .

James Maxey said...


The main reason I'm more vocal against Christianity that Islam is simply a matter of personal experience. In my life, I've known hundred, if not thousands, of Christians. I can count the number of Muslims I personally know on the fingers of one hand. If I scan my AM dial, I find several stations of preaching and gospel music. No hint of the Muslim faith can be found except maybe Cat Stevens playing on an oldies station.

I just cannot see any plausible way that Muslims are a serious threat to the American way of life. This isn't to say they are NO threat. They simply aren't in the top ten threats to life, maybe not even in the top 100. Chalking up every single American death in the Iraq war to the actions of a muslim fundie, that means in a 10 year period, Islamic terrorists have managed to kill about 8,000Americans. In the same time frame, 430,000 American's died in auto accidents. 280,000 died from gunshots. 38,000 American's drowned. The general couch-potato, fast-food lifestyle of American's contributed to about 9 million heart failures in this time span. 650,000 people died of the flu. The flu!

Americans seem to have no capacity at all to weigh risks and design appropriate responses, especially at a political level. Large chunks of my fellow citizens are so terrified of the muslims in our midst they support torture, indefinite detention without charges, and generally bombing the shit out of people who share the faith of the 50 or so Muslims in America who've ever committed a terrorist act.

Look, there are 8 million Muslims living in America. So far, the known terrorist conversion rate is roughly 50 to 8,000,000, or about 1 out of every 160,000. Let's assume that there are sleeper cells, though, who are waiting to kill us that double that number, to one out of every 80,000. Compare this number to the number of Americans who commit murders each year--roughly 1 person in 20,000 is going to kill somebody. I can't google any stats to back this up, but assuming that murderers as a whole reflect society as a whole (a debatable assumption, I concede), then half of US murders would be performed by people who self identify as Christian, meaning about 1 in 40,000 Christians are murderers.

Obviously, I'm pushing these numbers to the point of absurdity. But, if you get murdered in the US you are inarguably more likely to be killed by a person who was raised in the Christian faith than in the Muslim faith.

Look, I'm not denying that, when fundie Muslims take over countries, they are horrible, horrible people. I would much rather live in a nation that's 50% Christian than 50% Muslim. I'm not trying to make the argument above that Christian's are dangerous; 39,999 out of 40,000 of them aren't murderers, after all. I'm much more worried about the flu getting me. But I just don't see this grand muslim assault on our freedoms that the right-wingers keep jabbering about. The terrorist muslim in our midst strikes me as an overhyped hobgoblin, designed to frighten and distract us from the larger problems we could be tackling.