Just Above Sunset
May 15, 2005 - A Conversation on Displaying One's Faith

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For a discussion of evolution and the recent hearings in on this matter in Kansas see Institutionalizing Magic Thinking: Late Comment on the New and Improved Scopes Trial in last weekend’s Just Above Sunset - a review of who is saying what and why.  And for a discussion of a how one scientist, Richard Dawkins, sees the matter, see "Fossil Rabbits in the Precambrian" from May 1, 2005 – and at the bottom of the page note the fish.  You see Christian fish symbols as magnets or plaques on the back of cars – proclaiming, or at least displaying, the driver’s deep faith.  A skeptical friend of mine, and internist in Massachusetts, displays this – the Darwin fish.

Actual size...

Of course, that displays the opposite.

But there is something new on the market now.  Since much political thinking on the right seems bound up in the idea that we should be, above all else, a Christian nation (discussed most recently here) this product was inevitable, linking the Christian fish image to our born-again president.

Click here for larger image...

What is this about? Here is the promo – and the link at the bottom is active should you wish to order one for your Hummer or pick-up…


If this country's legislature and judiciary are supposed to reflect the values and beliefs of The People, then send them a message that they are WAY off course!

If you are tired of secularists telling you that The Lord has no place in our government and our public institutions, then show them that you disagree.

This symbol, this site, and this car magnet have been created for the millions of Americans who support the President and his vision for a government that embraces religion, morality, and family values. It shows worship to the Lord, respect for the President, and hope for all.

Join the millions of Americans who believe that President Bush’s faith-based administration presents the best hope for America’s future. The future is in your hands. Stand up and be counted!

Order a BushFish for yourself or a loved one today.

God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.



As far as I can tell, this is not a satire.

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, isn’t so sure.


Maybe not satire, but maybe it is. Either that or it could be called "Bush Phish."

Did you see this part?

A portion of every purchase goes to Compassion.com, a group dedicated to releasing children from poverty in Jesus' name.

Either these folks are really sincerely weird, or maybe scamming the true believers (couldn't happen to a nice bunch), or else this site is run by that same group who, back in the early sixties, claimed to be fighting for morality in the animal kingdom by demanding that farmers dress their cows and bulls in dresses and trousers.


Yeah, I saw that - and I had forgotten about the bovine dress code folks.  And I like the "Bush Phish" idea.  (Don’t know what phishing is?  See this explanation.)

It all just makes me want to move to France - as I came across this from a site devoted to Understanding France


La´citÚ (secularism) : in France, you do not mix religion and society: it is a private domain and no candidate for any public function would ever mention his religious belief, the name of God, etc ; it is absolutely unthinkable that a French president would express his religious beliefs the way US presidents do (particularly George W. Bush) ; at social occasions (dinner party, etc..), it would be considered very rude to start a discussion about God and religion, unless a very light and careful one ; the role of the church in social life is extremely limited compared to the U.S.A. Globally speaking, France is a country much less religious than the USA which does not mean that people have no religious beliefs, but they are a personal choice and not a social obligation. "La´citÚ" does not mean that the state is against religion, but it means that it must guarantee that all religious beliefs are treated equally, including having no religious belief. An illustration of that is the Sunday morning program on Antenne2 (state-owned TV channel, around 30% of total viewers) : between 8:30 am and 12h30, there is a mass and various programs by all religions and philosophical opinions (protestant, islam, jewish, free masons, atheist, you name it...). One can say that "la´citÚ" is a value which shared by a huge majority of the French, whatever their religion. This is why the Islamic veil in school caused an almost unanimous scandal. The milestone is the 1905-law of separation of church and state : since that date, all religious buildings belong to the local authorities or to the state (which must maintain them), no member of the clergy can be appointed and paid by public funds (except in Alsace, where the system is the German system), etc...




Do they have the right to be so sensible?

I asked Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, if he knew Philippe Rochefort, a Frenchman married to an American writer, Harriet Welty Rochefort, who were responsible for the site that gave us that comment on the French view of religion and government, their view of the secular versus the religious in public life - La´citÚ.

Here are Ric's comments from Paris –


I met Harriet a few years ago, to talk about her book 'French Fried.' See: Harriet's Not Afraid - Of Cooking 21,173 Meals In France for that.

Philippe's explanation of 'La´citÚ' is correct. I do not understand what may be remarkable about it. Perhaps it is how I think it should be - religion is a private matter.

But 'having no belief' is not, as far as I know, treated equally.

It is not treated at all. But for those without belief this is probably fine, the absolute best way to treat it.

La´citÚ is, I think, a republican idea. No religion in state schools for example. No state prayer. If the president goes to a church on Sundays it is not advertised. He does go on ceremonial occasions, as do atheists.

If you do not loiter around churches you could wonder who uses them. There is always some crowd in front of Notre Dame, but it is an important monument as well as a church. People come from a long way to see it.

Times are changing. Catholics are now seen on the streets, gathered in small groups, singing songs and handing out leaflets. These aren't many, but are contrasted with none. Is the church on the move? Going on the offensive, trying to get converts?

The Muslim head scarf is becoming more common. These used to be rare and were usually worn only by older women. Now they are more likely to be young ones. After all the news and debate about this, one can't help thinking that these young girls and ladies are... Muslims. Nobody else, except a few orthodox Jews, is wearing religion on their heads, but they always did.

Last night, Tuesday, Arte-TV devoted the evening to documentaries about Muslims in Europe. Different countries deal with it in different ways. Some countries hope the situation will evaporate, but it's not going to happen.

It means that France is going to have to think about this seriously. The French imagine that the business is settled - the 1905 law - but the whole force of today's history is going to affect how things go here.

From the viewpoint of an atheist it looks like a return to the wars of religion. Everybody can get dragged into these things because they are not rational. We'll see how well the republic can resist.

And by the way, Antenne2 now called France-2


Okay, I’ll stay here.


But that BUSH FISH still bothers me.

And Joseph, our expatriate friend who is moving from Paris to Belgium, adds this –


Perhaps the fact that you are compelled to add the disclaimer "not a satire" speaks as much about how out of touch we are as how out of touch they are.

To me it is some relief that this merger between church and state, which is already a fait accompli, should assert itself in the open rather than in the nudge-nudge, wink-wink way in which it came to pass. Maybe we can argue it on the merits now. This is impossible when one side refuses to admit their true goals, non?


I suppose, but that it is all in the open now is cold comfort.


Our high-powered Wall Street attorney from his offices high above Battery Park in lower Manhattan – “Please tell me this is a satire!”

Our business school professor in upstate New York – “It's been my conclusion that people with fish tattoos don't practice satire.”

Our high-powered Wall Street attorney – “I was afraid of that.”

From our friend the Australian headhunter (a management recruiter, not the other kind) in Paris –


Well, it would seem that the religious nutters on the right in America have scaled new depths of selfish stupidity and that, in fact, for all we know, there could be something decidedly fishy going on at the White House. Thanks heavens though that Bush does not cast the net wider with his phony God-worshipers in tow and take a bite at the rest of the world for further blinkered support and enduring love.

Still, it may be prudence to clamp down the jaws behind such crap sites and look to hooking Bush up by his tentacles to dry out. .When is the next presidential election in the US?!

Excuse the puns - couldn’t resist it!


And from our high-powered Wall Street attorney from his offices high above Battery Park in lower Manhattan?


With all due respect, I believe you misspelled the word by which you wanted Mr. Bush hooked up, but then, I have been wrong before.

As for the next election, the answer is not soon enough!


Ah, but then the new president will be Bill Frist, as the Democrats will have run Hillary Clinton.

Oh well.

Oh yes, our Wall Street friend takes issue with Ric in Paris on this La´citÚ business –


But 'having no belief' is not, as far as I know, treated equally.

Perhaps it is my philosophy degree that forces me to respond to this one. Having no belief is, in fact, having a belief; it is the belief not to believe.


What?  As his former English teacher (far too may years ago) I beg to differ.  Just how is he using the word "belief" here? It seems to me he is just distorting what the word means.

The reply from Wall Street?


The ability or right to choose to believe something or not to believe something results in having a belief, even if it is of something negative. For instance, at least for the moment in these United States, one has the choice to believe in Jesus or not. The fact that I do not believe in Jesus does not mean that I do not have a belief, but rather that I choose not to believe in Jesus. That being said one must ask, does an atheist have no belief or does she/he have a belief (in this case atheism)?


From that business school upstate?


From an innocent bystander... uh-oh... next comes epistemology!


Hey! When it comes to epistemology… well, there are no innocent bystanders.

Does an atheist have no belief or does she/he have a belief (in this case atheism)?

What the… ?  Somehow this reminds me of our Wall Street friend asking why, whilst I was in lower Manhattan last month, I took no pictures of the World Trade Center site.  Hey, there was nothing there.  It is damned hard to take a picture of the absence of an object, or in this case, two very large ones.  Pictures of a gap in the skyline or a large hole in the ground seemed pointless.  Look, look – there’s nothing there!  For the last half-hour there has been an LAPD helicopter circling a fifty feet over the intersection down the block.  When I finally dragged out the Nikon and snapped on the telephoto lens and fired up the camera… it had left.  Do I take a picture of the empty sky?  No.

Similarly, calling the decision (or inability) to believe in something a positive belief seems also to twist the word “belief” away from its meaning.  Maintaining a stable, agreed-upon meaning for words is the first task in philosophy, as I remember it from college days.  This is why most on the political right have no use for philosophy, of course.

And from Phillip in Georgia – the one down south, not the one where the president spoke this week –


Maintaining a stable, agreed-upon meaning for words is the first task in philosophy?

It's all according to what is, is.

Enjoying some philosophy and ethics of religion, and not buying in to the hocus pocus, or the pageantry or Santa in the clouds - is that even atheism? An IT friend and I agreed to leave it at the compromise of not believing in a supreme being, but reserving the right to believe if we were in the metaphorical foxhole. It is a belief in something, but it's not aspiring to much.


Well, aspirations aside, and what is atheism, and belief, and what depends on what the meaning of the word “is” is (not only Republicans play language games) – to make my Wall Street friend a bit more comfortable I found him some alternative magnet-plaques should he wish to display something other than the BUSH FISH on the back of his car.  And the links are active if you want to order one or more.

Here is a Tyrannosaurus Rex making a nice snack of a certain well-known fish.

And here’s a dead fish with a comment at the site: The dead fish seemed the most appropriate fish for me because I am an ex-Christian. To me it means it is a dead issue, dead religion, something I already ate to its bare bones and found infilling. And it's damn funny.

And a Devil Fish and a Star of David Gefilte Fish.

But this one is just cool.

Actual size...

The war on the secular to establish a Christian, evangelical theocracy rolls on.



Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, sends along some final thoughts –


Considering this - Does an atheist have no belief or does she/he have a belief (in this case atheism)?

Considering this - Hey, there was nothing there. It is damned hard to take a picture of the absence of an object, or in this case, two very large ones. Pictures of a gap in the skyline or a large hole in the ground seemed pointless.

Considering this - Similarly, calling the decision (or inability) to believe in something a positive belief seems also to twist the word "belief" away from its meaning.

Atheism (a'the-ist) n. Disbelief in or denial of the existence of God. 2. Godlessness. (from old French, Greek)

Disbelief is probably pretty close no belief. But I ask you, does one deny that there's a God, or merely disbelieve it? It seems there might be a difference between total skepticism, and outright denial. 'Denial' sounds militant, possibly defensive; and who knows? even doubtful. Disbelief takes care of it with a minimum of fuss.

Try it out.

'I disbelieve in God.'

It says it all. Well, nearly. Try, 'I disbelieve in Gods.'

Makes you sound like the opposite of a nut.

I used to get very nervous around religious people. If I was in a church, even for a wedding, I would wonder how many people in it believed in God. I used to think they were fanatics, crazy, but I didn't doubt that they believed. Ready to march to Palestine, hire somebody to fight the Turk, fry me at the stake for heresy, disbelief.

Now after all the time here, churches all over the place, cathedrals, mosques, whatnot, I think people who aren't faking about their belief are probably a bit afraid of being alive. It's not their fault if they get comfort by believing in hocus-pocus. In the US I think you're seeing that the more extreme of these so-called Christian believers can be pretty loony, just as far out as anybody's brand of fundamentalists. The more afraid they get the more dangerous they become.

You know, modern man's history on this planet is supposed to be about 50,000 years. On one hand this is a short span of time; on the other our own historical span is only about, what, 3000 years? Think back a mere 1000 years and where are you? Now add 500 years, and the Turks get beaten up in the Mediterranean.

From where we are, anno 2005, add 500 years - a piffle! - and we find that the Holy Mother of Mary Jesus God fans have blown the hell out of the earth and the whole thing is reduced to wreckage and rubble, and stinking swamps full of greasy garbage and plastic sacks. You know, another 1500 years pass and there we are, picking around in the ruins trying to piece our history together from industrial waste and fossils, and there are the God freaks again, dancing and singing in a converted supermarket.

Time never stops. Some animals get smarter; most don't.


I agree with Ric - the more afraid they get the more dangerous they become.

That’s the state of things now on this side of the big blue ocean - good number of people who aren't faking about their belief but probably a bit afraid of being alive. Ric says he used to get very nervous around religious people. But he got over it?

It’s a bit harder over here.

Is it harder? Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, jumps in –


Somehow this reminds me of our Wall Street friend asking why, whilst I was in lower Manhattan last month, I took no pictures of the World Trade Center site. Hey, there was nothing there.

Which, of course, explains why it's so hard to find actual photographic evidence of the existence of Oakland, California. (Reference? "There's no there there.")

But regarding belief in belief:

Oh, Geez Louise, here we go with the goddamn philosophy! And religion, to boot? Okay, bring it on.

As the OTHER philosophy major here, the one who's main attention as an undergraduate became more and more focused on A.W. Ayer and his "ordinary language approach" to philosophy, I'm afraid I must side with Alan on this.

(Sidebar: But also as someone who spent most of his life as an Agnostic when it comes to religion, ever since my brothers burned my butt to a crisp when, me having flunked fifth grade and being forced to repeat it at an Episcopal parochial -- in every sense of that word -- school away from the mocking mouths of my fellow students -- including, I think, my friend Randy Newman, if I recall correctly -- I became a devout super-believer who knew it to be a sin to carry a pile of books under your arm in which the Holy Bible was not the top book, and also a sin if one of your brothers skinned himself while falling off his bike and exclaimed "Goshdarn it!" My two brothers, with their combined physical strength, tag-teamed me into rethinking my faith, unintentionally causing me to become a follower of Rene Descartes and the "Cartesian Method" at the tender age of ten, although not with the same result. Descartes, I still contend, was guilty of intellectual dishonesty.)

I suppose you COULD say an Atheist "believes" in Atheism in the same way that a Christian "believes" in Theism, but to me, that seems to miss the point.

As I told my atheist Uncle Byron -- after he accused me of not having the guts to take a stand on this stuff -- you and your fellow Atheists have something in common with Christians and Theists that I don't, and that is that you have a "belief," one way or the other, concerning the existence of God. They say there is one, you said there isn't. But as an Agnostic, and unlike you and your "fellow believers," not only don't I know, I don't really care one way or the other.

Since that conversation, which was probably eight or nine years ago, I "found" religion of sorts. Well, okay, not "religion" so much that G.W. Bush would recognize, but whatever.

(By the way, I do credit Bush for backing away last week from the Frist approach to the Democrats filibustering "people of faith". Was this just a trick on Bush's part? Who really cares why he did it, he did the right thing.)

I started thinking about this God thing again a few years ago after all these Bozos started planting the Ten Commandments in courthouses, based on the argument that American law is based on them. (Forget the fact that it obviously is NOT, especially when it comes to worship of any other god but him, as well as coveting your neighbor's mule, or whatever; that's not really my point.)

In fact, I would argue (assuming my religious beliefs are of any interest to you anyway), religion is not the source of morality, morality is the source of religion.
In fact, nature demands that we behave ourselves; if we don't, we screw ourselves up big time, and we possibly even destroy ourselves.

I would bet that early community leaders realized this, and told the villagers there were gods who didn't like us trying to fool Mother Nature, so we had better behave ourselves if we want to ... um ... if we want to, uh, have eternal life! (Yeah, that's the ticket!) And so it was, I believe, that morality invented religion.

But if there is a God, I figure, God is nature, and God's laws are how nature works. Hold a pencil out and let it go? It drops to earth. Gravity is one of God's laws. Should we marry our siblings? Inbreeding will destroy the species, so we shouldn't do it. Should we murder everyone we feel like murdering? Then we will cease to exist as a people, another of God's no-no's.

In other words, God is everything! Looking for God? You're standing on him!

Looking for heaven? Once again, you're standing on it! Life on Earth is the kind of miracle that you could only appreciate in its fullest sense after you lose it.

Which, of course, is after you die! See a Catch-22 there? Bingo! After you die, you won't know dip, because you'll be dead! So enjoy heaven while you live here, because unfortunately, the place has term limits. Got to make room for your kids, after all.

This is not to say that if you do nice things during your lifetime, you won't be remembered fondly afterward -- something I think that is good. But if you're looking to meet up with all your deceased pets, my advice is to not get your hopes up too high. Then again, you also won't have to worry about once again facing your over-judgmental parents either!

If, on the other hand, what you are arguing, our Wall Street friend, is that freedom of "religious belief" includes the right to abstain from belief in God, I'm with you.

I have had friends -- although otherwise very nice and relatively intelligent people -- who have told me that the "freedom OF religion" guaranteed in our Constitution doesn't mean "freedom FROM religion."

Pretending astonishment, I would reply, "Does this mean 'freedom of the press' means we are all required to print newspapers? And does 'freedom of assembly' mean any one of us can be arrested if found not in a group? And does the Second Amendment mean we are all required to bear arms and join a well-regulated militia?" Etcetera.

My main point about the "Freedom of Religion" in this country which seems now to be threatened -- by people who THINK they know this country got its start, but don't -- is that this country belongs to ALL of us, not just those who profess a belief in God, but ALL of us, no matter what our belief, or lack thereof.

I loved that item about how the French see religious freedom differently than we do.

Although I mostly disagree with the rest of the world and feel that our "democratic revolution" in 1775 (yes, it was one, but maybe the subject for another posting) was somewhat more successful than the one in France in 1789 what with Robespierre and Napoleon and the guillotine and all that -- I still can't help but admire how the French, here and there, have taken basic democratic principles to heart in ways that slightly more than half of American presidential voters in 2004 couldn't even begin to understand.


Well, maybe one day we’ll get it right.


By the way, for a giggle do browse the quotations page in the menu…

A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything. - Friedrich Nietzsche

When trouble arises and things look bad, there is always one individual who perceives a solution and is willing to take command. Very often, that individual is crazy. - Dave Barry

Most people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so. - Bertrand Russell

Since we cannot hope for order, let us withdraw with style from chaos. - Lord Malquist in “Lord Malquist and Mr. Moon” by Tom Stoppard

There are two ways to slide easily through life: to believe everything or to doubt everything; both ways save us from thinking. - Alfred Korzybski

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away. - Philip K. Dick

Ignorance is preferable to error, and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing than he who believes what is wrong. - Thomas Jefferson


Copyright ę 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

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