February 1, 1998 in Features

Fish Symbol Takeoffs Leave Some Reeling

Berta Delgado The Dallas Morning News
 
Tags:feature

The fish wars are on.

And the competing schools are everywhere: on the road, on the information highway, on T-shirts and key rings. Most prominent are the stick-on metal plaques glued to the backs of cars.

On one side of the battle there’s the classic Christian fish that started it all - a sleek design in which two arcs crisscross to form a tail at the right end. From it emerged other Christian fish that incorporate a cross or say JESUS inside. Others spell out the Greek word for fish, ichthys, whose letters stand for “Jesus, Christ, God’s Son, Savior.”

On the other side is a fish with the same shape, only the tail is at the left end, the word DARWIN fills the inside, and the fish has sprouted feet. From that model emerged the EVOLVE fish, which has evolved enough to hold a wrench, the spaceship-shaped ALIEN fish and countless others, including gay pride fish. There’s even a Jewish version. It’s a GEFILTE fish.

Born most recently is a big Christian fish, TRUTH, its mouth wide open and swallowing a smaller DARWIN fish. There’s also a dead DARWIN fish, lying on its back, its little feet facing the sky.

Some people are bothered by the mutations. Others such as Dr. Robert Pyne, professor of systematic theology at Dallas Theological Seminary, just see them as attempts at humor.

“Eventually the jokes will get old and it’ll die out,” he said. “Twenty years from now, Christians will still have their fish, so I guess I’m not real concerned about it.”

But it’s ironic what has become of the once-secret symbol used by followers of Jesus who were forced to meet in hidden locations, he said.

“One individual would draw one arc in the sand, and the other completed it,” Pyne said. “It was a way of identifying each other in times of persecution.”

But Christians have made a novelty of the symbol, he said.

“When Christian bookstores sell them like crazy, putting them on key chains and other things, what do you expect?” Pyne said. “After a while that becomes so public that you kind of lose possession of it. I guess I blame us for that.”

Gary Betchan, co-owner of EvolveFISH, a company in Colorado Springs, Colo., that sells political novelty items such as the Darwin fish, said it’s ingenuous for anyone to take ownership.

“Symbols are used to express ideas,” he said. “This symbol is the same. Everybody has right to use them.”

And it appears most everybody has.

Chris Gilman used the symbol. Gilman, owner of Global Effects, a special-effects company in North Hollywood, Calif., said he came up with the Darwin fish idea almost 20 years ago.

“I was working at a movie prop company and … there was something on TV about evolution and Christianity, and somebody says, ‘It kind of bugs me, those little fish on the back of cars,”’ Gilman said. “I said, ‘It’s advertising. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not bad. You just have to come up with your own plaque.’ And someone says, ‘You can make one with Darwin on it,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, and put feet on it.”’

Years went by, he said, and he finally got tired of people telling him he should make one. He and a friend made a mold, and people who saw it all said they wanted one, Gilman said.

He finally had it manufactured in about 1990, making 10,000, which were promptly stored in his closet, except for those he gave out to friends. The item was trademarked and sold to a friend who runs Evolution Design in Karnes City, Texas.

“My Darwin was not meant to belittle or ridicule a religion,” Gilman said. “It’s just like saying, ‘I’m a Republican and you’re a Democrat.’ It’s just different.”

But many Christians are offended.

“We’re living in a society that’s embracing acceptance and plurality except when you get to the Christian community,” said Bryan Pain, who is in his second year at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. “The Christian community takes a stand on things, and all these people who cry out for plurality and acceptance are screaming out, ‘We don’t accept Christ.”’

He said the other fish are an attack on his faith.

“It’s a mockery,” Pain said. “These people have a message that ‘We don’t accept you.”’

Sharon Richard, who owns Blessings Bookstore in Carrollton, Texas, with her husband, Dickie, said her store sells many of the classic fish. She said it upsets her to see the others.

“But also you feel sorry for them that they’re not Christian,” she said. “You just think, ‘It’s sad that you don’t know Christ.’ Not to judge or anything, but if someone makes that kind of statement, they obviously don’t know Christ.”


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