Monday, June 15, 2009

The Culture War on our Cars

The culture wars are waged on many fronts.    One of the oldest is our cars, since the first spate of this phenomenon happened at the beginning of the 1970s when so many of the issues that defined the culture wars emerged. It is also one of the most insidious because even at this time when there is a relative lull the extremes live on on our cars.  Moreover, and most destructively they reinforce an us them view of the world that while providing virtually no means to promote dialogue between people of different viewpoints.  In fact, even when witty they actually encourage the tribalism that undercuts the fabric that allows people with different beliefs to recognize our common bonds as members of the same nation, or more broadly humans.  

The ongoing non-verbal shouting match between people with Christian fish on their cars and evolution salamanders is exemplifies this problem.  It began innocently enough when Christians revived the fish symbol and began putting it on their cars.  Now I don't know many people inclined to put a Christian fish on their cars, while my understanding is that this symbol has become especially popular with Evangelists and Fundamentalists, but I can well imagine that some of those people have no big problems with evolution.  Nonetheless a few years later, I think the mid-1990s, the Christian fish evolving into a salamander began to appear.  To my mind this was rather clever,  and I personally think it is entirely possible to be a Christian and put that on one's car, though one of course need not be one.  

Now for several years a response has come in the form of a big Christian fish eating up the salamander, and in a variant I saw last week the fish has the word TRUTH on it.  It too is clever, but unlike the other two, there is no plausible ambiguity about what a person with that on their car thinks about.  Indeed true to life as such a picture of a big fish eating a salamander may be, the image strikes me as quite aggressive, and as such not in the spirit of loving one's enemy that is so central to Jesus' teaching.   To be sure, it is also clear that someone with this image on their car has found the fish into salamander image no less aggressive, which is unfortunate, but of course neither person has probably ever had the chance to talk to the other about what they believe and why.  

Whether such a dialogue would immediately resolve the issue is another matter -- I know it won't.  Still as it stands right now, as people drive down the road and see any of those images, they do not see other human beings or co-nationals so much as those who are their kind or not their kind.  I don't expect miracles, but if we were all to consider the value of making such statements of identity on our cars, or our clothing we might help tone down the tensions elsewhere.   

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