Jesus Fish and Religious Tolerance

Suppose you had an employee who put a magentic Jesus fish on the outside or his or her locker at work. You know, one of these:

Now let’s say that another employee saw the Jesus fish and responded with their own magnetic fish on the outside of their locker. But theirs looked like this:


Or even this (which is my personal favorite):

Let’s skip the “HR is not the religion police and we should let these adult employees work out their issues” discussion. Because my concern is not about figuring out how to monitor any differences these employees may have. My concern is this: are the gefilte and Darwin fish a symbol of religious intolerance that needs HR intervention?

This is a relevant question even in the world at large, if you think about it for a minute. After all, would you tolerate someone who mocked a Muslim for wearing traditional clothing? Or would you make fun of a person wearing a piece of crucifix or cross jewelry? These are basic outward symbols of a person’s religious beliefs, and HR would likely not tolerate an employee who made fun of them or the employee that embraced them. Nor should you tolerate it from anyone in the world at large.

But is a gefilte fish or a Darwin fish an outward mocking of the Christian religion? I never thought of them as mocking Christianity, but as alternative expressions of faith. Or, in my case as an atheist, as an expression of a lack of religious faith. There aren’t many ways to publicly proclaim that you are an atheist, after all.

But maybe I’m wrong. A recent discussion among Facebook friends over whether a T-shirt that poked a little fun at polygamy was mocking the Mormon religion made me think of Jesus fish. If a T-shirt that gently chides polygamy is intolerant of Mormons – at least in some people’s opinion –  what does that say about a gefilte or Darwin fish? They are pretty clearly at least a parody of Jesus fish, the symbol which has existed for centuries.

But some people do believe that they are mocking examples of religious intolerance. If you read the link  you may wonder, as I did,  if the Jewish blog writer truly believed in the mocking nature of the Darwin fish, or just didn’t like that it is against creationism, which is also anti-Judaism.

I have never thought that any of the many fish parodies were intolerant, but maybe I need to change my tune.

I’ve always felt myself to be tolerant of religion, even though I am not a believer. I don’t belittle Facebook friends who ask me to pray for their loved ones. I just send good wishes and thoughts and skip the prayer language. I don’t refuse to enter churches or synagogs. Many are historical marvels and I love to look at them. Just don’t ask me to pray in one.

What do you think? Are people who use non-Christian fish magnets mocking the Christian believer, or are they merely promoting their own beliefs?



10 thoughts on “Jesus Fish and Religious Tolerance”

  1. I think we have all lost way too much tolerance. However, if we can make fun of Christians then everyone is fair game – Muslins, Jews, Buddhists, etc.

    It doesn’t seem to work that way though.

    I personally am a fan of the FSM. No one goes unmocked.

  2. I personally have a darwin fish and a t-rex eating a jesus fish on the back of my car (previous vehicle had a fsm). I personally feel I have as much right to express my disbelief in religion as they have to express their belief. Seeing a jesus fish on a car is as offensive to me as when they see my darwin fish. I would also like to point out that atheists tend to not have the aggressive recruiting habits of christians, I’m not out telling their kids that they will burn for eternity if they don’t bow down and beg an invisible man in the sky for forgiveness for the flaws that he gave them. I guess what I’m saying is, they can’t keep their beliefs to themselves so why should I?

  3. Dee, I think there is a difference between true mocking – which has a decided mean streak – and parody. Parody pokes fun at something as a way of educating about flaws, or differences, and to further different ideas. Mocking is meanness perpetuated by a bully does to feel better about themselves.

    I say no one escapes parody – but maybe we can tone down the mocking a little bit.

    The problem is that we don’t all see the same thing as parody OR mocking. And if that locker situation happened to me for real, I’m still not sure what I would do.

  4. Toby (not Tom!) – I certainly don’t disagree with you that everyone has a right to proclaim their beliefs (or lack of). And you read how I already mentioned that non-believers like us have fewer avenues of expression to utilize.

    BUT – since a Darwin fish is clearly a parody, does it cross any line over to mocking or being mean just because we are anti organized religion?

    *I* don’t really think so – but I am wondering about others.

    Thanks for reading and commenting. It wasn’t easy for me to proclaim my atheism publicly and your comment helps validate my decision.

  5. I don’t think that there is any need to advertise your religious beliefs, or your lack of beliefs, in the workplace. Religion and politics should be kept at home – they start more controversy than any other topics and have little relevance in the workplace.

  6. Thanks for reading and commenting, Jenni, but I have to disagree with you on this one. Let me change the scenario a little so you can see why:

    Suppose you hire an employee who is a Sikh, who is required to wear a turban. That’s federally protected religious expression. Now a longtime Jewish employee, who has never felt the need to wear a yarmulke at work decides to wear one, clearly to poke fun at the Sikh. This sets off the Catholic employee, who starts wearing a large gold crucifix. All of these expressions are federally protected. Has the line between tolerance and mocking been crossed?

    Religion is a large part of many employee’s life, and in many cases their beliefs require a specific style of dress or personal appearance. Those things are highly relevant to the workplace, no?

    I agree with you about politics, but religion is a federally protected class with special status so it makes the issue much muddier in my opinion.

  7. Hi Joan – I just saw this post thanks to Jessica referencing it today. True story – I used to have the Gefilte Fish on my car (not a locker in the office, just to be clear). I had had it there for at least a couple of years when my boss – who professed to be Christian – saw and asked about it. He mad it clear that he found it offensive.

    This is the same guy who spent all of his time in the office passing judgment on the morals of applicants and/or their parents who didn’t fit his personal views. I might add that he was absolutely the most abusive boss I ever had, and regularly stated his disagreement with my Jewish beliefs. One day, during a discussion, he looked at me and said “Oh well, I don’t understand your beliefs and you don’t understand mine.” I missed the opportunity to tell him that he was half-right (I am a convert to Judaism – and went to a private, evangelical Christian school from 1st through 10th+) – Oh, and I found out that a few years later, his wife caught him cheating and divorced him. Sometimes the morals, values, and belief system that one professes and what they actually live are two different things.

    From my personal opinion, I would not see your Sikh, Jewish, Catholic scenario in your last comment as necessarily having it’s root in intolerance or mocking. I believe that sometimes the strong faith of another spurs others into embracing their own more closely. And I don’t see that as a bad thing. What would be intolerant (and unacceptaable) is belittling or ridiculing the belief’s/religious expression of another, or suggesting that their beliefs are less worthy than one’s own – and plenty of that goes on in our general society as well as in many workplaces.

  8. Nancy, I really sympathize with you and your experiences, and I think you hit on something true – true religious beliefs should make you more tolerant, and the opposite often seems to be true. Kinda sad.

    I also agree that in my example about the Sikh, Jew, and Christian is it not necessarily mocking – but that some people may see it that way. It just makes my point again that there IS a line, but we don’t all agree where the line is. And, of course, my main point in that comment was to point out that religion in the workplace is not only common, but often proper.

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