More Cowbell Award III


A reader wondered a couple weeks ago why I had not posted a “More Cowbell Award” in recent days. More Cowbell!The fact is that there are entire sites that have sprung up in the last few months that do nothing but assault harebrained practices in the Church, so I felt like all the good commentary was already being rendered up for bloggers. Why add more?

But in the last couple weeks I’ve noticed a theme coming to the fore. So the award no one wants to win is back with a vengeance. Though the winner of this week’s More Cowbell Award is widespread and well-known, it has nearly vanished from our perception because we now take it for granted. Having had some awful encounters with this recently, I hereby bestow the uncoveted More Cowbell Award III on

Christian “Adware”

I would guess that just about everyone recognizes the Ichthus symbol, be they Christian or not. It has a long history dating back to the earliest days of the Church. Ichthus symbolA story broke recently that archaeologists unearthed a third or fourth century church and found the symbol on everything. The Ichthus fish has even been co-opted by Darwinists by adding legs to it, and of course the Christians countered by having an Ichthus fish swallowing a Darwin “pseudo-fish.” Can’t miss the obvious point there, can we now, folks.

I’m venturing a guess that at least a third of the people who read this post will, in reality, have an Ichthus or some other Jesus ID on their vehicle. I think about three-quarters of the folks at my church self-identify that way, but I’m sure that’s countered by all the Presbyterians out there who would rather die than affix anything so kitschy to the Lexus. (Ha, ha! That’s a joke. Don’t flame me.) So, I’ll stick with the one-third guesstimate.

If you’re one of those in that singular third, you may hate me for what I have to say, but here goes:

Scrape the fish off your car. Please! I’m begging.

Why? Here’s a sampling of what I’ve seen in the last four days:

  • A guy with an Ichthus fish on his car goes hurtling past me doing over eighty in a sixty zone.
  • A car with a prominent Ichthus fish on it, filled with revelers, dumps all manner of trash out the window after passing me on the highway. (I witness this about once a week anymore.)
  • A couple whose car not only has an Ichthus fish but about ten other Jesus-related stickers on its back end also sports a large “High on the Hill” logo in the rear window. High on the Hill is a notorious head shop in my area.
  • A car sitting in the nearby grocery store parking lot not only has an Ichthus on its rear, but also a “Does not play well with others” bumper sticker and another with a stylized grimacing face whose meaning is lost on me. (Hey, it took me about a year to realize that the large italicized number on some people’s cars and trucks corresponded to their favorite NASCAR driver’s car number, so what does that tell ya?)

To be perfectly blunt (and when am I not perfectly blunt?), I can’t see what having any kind of Jesus fish or bumper stickers gets us except another reason for unbelievers to be hacked off at our lousy driving habits or the sheer hypocrisy of the plethora of other stickers we might have on our cars that cancels out that Ichthus. If a nut goes screaming past me doing twenty miles over the speed limit, he’s just a menace. But if he’s sportin’ the old Ichthus and doing it, well then he’s now a Christian menace.

    “Will ya take a gander at that car with the Jesus bumper stickers weaving all over the road right in front of us? Better get around this fine driving example and—oh, she’s not only talking on her cellphone, but she’s putting on the face paint at the same time. Martha, is my bazooka still in the glove compartment?”

    “Yes, dear.”

    “Well, lock and load, woman, and hand that thing over here….”

It’s hard to demonstrate Christian charity to someone else while driving. Other than signaling to another person that it’s okay to merge in front of you—in which case they never see your Ichthus on the rear of your car anyway—or perhaps letting an elderly person take the parking spot closest to the store while you park farther away, the only thing that can be accomplished by having Christian adware stuff on your car is negative. (I take that back. There is one “positive” thing. Back in the days before Internet porn, I think a few guys with Jesus fish and stickers on their cars may actually have thought twice about driving into the “adult” bookstore parking lot with a car advertising the fact they were about to do something really stupid. You think I’m kidding, but I’m not.) Otherwise, like the four cases I cited above, what we get through Christian adware instead of a life-chaging profession of Christ is a soul-killing anti-witness. By advertising the fact that we’re Christians and we can’t obey the law, can’t drive rationally, or can’t figure out that Jesus and the great prices on bongs at the head shop don’t mix—well, you don’t have to be R.C. Sproul to see that it’s just not worth demeaning the Lord via a plastic fish slapped on our cars.

With just three chords—Em, Am, C— it was the first song I learned on the guitar. “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love” says it all. That great chapter of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13, says that only one thing speaks the true language of the Kingdom of God. Not fish. Not bumper stickers. L-O-V-E. And it doesn’t come through pithy sayings above the exhaust system on our cars, nor through “This Blood’s for You!” T-shirts, or any of that other “here today, burn tomorrow” kind of junk that’s already passing away even as it’s rolling off a Chinese conveyor belt in Shanghai.

We need to ask ourselves what does more for our neighbor, showing her the love of Christ by being there for her in her time of need -OR- showing her the Ichthus symbol on the back of our Chevy when we pass her on the road?

That ancient church they just dug up had it right. If we want that Ichthus symbol in our churches, let’s go for it. But when we go out those doors into the world, we’re ambassadors for Christ. We should never give anyone a reason to think less of the Lord because we’re having a bad day; when we put big old Ichthus fish on our cars, we’re just asking for someone to find fault with us—and too often our fish-labeled stupidity gives people the ammo they need to not take Christ or His Church seriously.

Why do we have all the Ichthus fish, the “You sinned, but Jesus got nailed for it” bumper stickers, and the “His Pain, Your Gain” T-shirts? Do they advance the cause of Christ or merely give others a reason to find fault with it? Doesn’t Christian adware do little more than trick us into thinking we’re somehow evangelizing other people when we’re really not—or worse, driving them away from Christ instead?

Isn’t it time to scrape the fish off the car?

21 thoughts on “More Cowbell Award III

  1. salguod

    Dan, Thank you for this. I cannot agree more. There must be a million ways this can backfire on us and if we try real hard, we might come up with one or two pluses. Not to mention, as a car nut, I stand opposed to any and all adhesive backed items affixed to the rear of one’s automobile.

    I bought an old clunker once that had one of those fish on it and it came off the day I got it home. It unfortunately left fish shaped residue behind.

    Oh, you’ll get a kick out of this (but no one else outside of Cincy will understand.) My wife and I lived in Cincinnati when we were dating. She told me that when she first moved there, she couldn’t figure out who that frog named ‘WEBN’ was on all those bumper stickers.

  2. burttd

    I’ve *never* had a fishy (or any other “Christian” symbol FTM) on my car, because I am all too aware of my bad driving habits. But then again, for awhile I legalistically kept to the 55 MPH speed limit, and I had more people angry at me then than when I kept up with the “normal” pace, so either way I’m better off without the fishy…

  3. Carol

    I totally enjoyed your post. It should be mandatory reading for anyone thinking about purchasing a car fish. I’m just really confused about whether I could support the call for fish-scraping.

    I’m trying to think of a biblical example where the believer messed up badly (maybe even repeatedly) and the unbelievers in the area did not know Who the believer worshipped. I’m sure one will come to me soon …

    Do you think it’s okay to say, “I’m a Christian” via our t-shirts, jewelry, fishies, whatever and let the world see that we do mess up? The opposite is to not say you’re a Christian and the world never knows.

    I have no Icthus, I have no adware t-shirts, I don’t sell the stuff. I do have a bracelet with the fruit of the spirit on it (even the ones I sorely lack). But I think it’s okay for others to sport the stuff Maybe I’m wrong here. Maybe it’s not okay for us to admit to our hypocracy? Maybe we should just hide it better?

    The head shop ad cracked me up. It’s like the lady with the fish on her car that flipped off someone in the drive through line. Obviously not in keeping with the fish. Maybe the car was stolen? Maybe there were sinners on board?

    I like your blog. I’ll have to stop by more often.

  4. Carol,

    The issue I have is that 99% people sporting Christian adware never get to explain grace to those who see them failing. If a Ichthus-bearer cuts a guy off on the highway, all the cut-off guy gets is the fish, not the grace apologetic. That makes the Ichthus-bearer just another Christian idiot behind the wheel.

    Christianity is a face-to-face, personal truth. If we’re just flashing slogans with no direct face-to-face interaction, then our adware just serves as one more billboard that never gets fleshed out by our own testimony empowered by the Holy Spirit.

  5. Weekend Fisher

    Y’know, I don’t have a fishy on my car. And it’s a cheapo car, it’s not that. But calling for banning the fishies because then they’ll *know* we’re hypocrites …

    It kind of reminds me of one time I was on my knees praying, and my mind drifted off into some really vengeful thoughts against someone who had really messed with me. And I caught myself. I said to myself, “You’re thinking things like that while you’re here on your knees?” And my mind, ever quicker than my soul, instantly moved me: I shifted so I was sitting on my rump instead.

    Then I had to laugh at myself. The right solution to “evil thoughts while praying” was not getting off my knees but stopping the stewing in vengeful thoughts. And that kind of seems to me the way it is about the call to scrape fishies on the grounds of being bad witnesses … if we’re ashamed to be known as Christians because we’re so unChristlike, maybe the solution is to become more Christlike instead of hiding the fact that we’re Christians.

    All that said, I still don’t/won’t have a fishy. Not because I can’t drive friendly, but because the other point you make is a bullseye: it doesn’t tell them anything about Christ; it’s not the good news, it’s a fish.

  6. plouffie

    I remember having a long discussion about these car fishies with my small group in high school. The problem is, nobody’s perfect. If someone sees the icthus on your car the one moment you mess up, it just gives that person another reason to not like Christians. And you still don’t get an opportunity to share Christ with them.

    Sometimes after seeing how people with the icthus on their cars act, I wonder if they just use the symbol as a sign of their belonging to a larger body of people. Of course, the same is true of other things that can come to act as symbols.

    And if I ever were to actually be able to afford a Lexus, I definitely wouldn’t be putting a fishy on it.

  7. The Christian Woman

    I agree with the previous poster. Shouldn’t the emphasis be on being a better Christian rather than on removing the fish? I understand your point, but I personally feel uplifted everytime I see a fish on another car. It’s good to see other Christians out in the world and proud to show it. Of course, just because there is a fish on the car doesn’t mean there is a true believer behind the wheel. Obviously someone going to the “head shop” has some issues. But I think the appeal of Christian adware to me is that people are willing to step out and admit they are Christians. If your afraid to wear adware because your behavior is not befitting of a Christian, then you have some work to do. Not that I think everyone should wear Christian adware, but I don’t see an inherent problem with it.

  8. Anonymous

    AMEN. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been cut off by some jerk with a fish on the back of their car and thought, ‘yeah, great witness, you $%^%^^!’

    Of course, the fact that I think that means I’m the kind of person who definitely shouldn’t sport a fishy since definitely have a stereotypically Irish temper that tends to flare esp. in traffic.

    But on the lighter side some of the fishy derivatives are at least amusing. I recently saw a fish inscribed with ‘gefilte’…

  9. adam

    somewhere in the recent past, before glue technology reached its current pinnacle, someone was manufacturing icthuses(?) that weren’t removable. so now you have a bunch of people driving used cars, who would love nothing more than to remove the fish, but won’t damage their paint to do it.

  10. Christian Woman,

    First of all, welcome to Cerulean Sanctum. With that, I’m going to counter your argument. 😉

    It’s not about us; it’s about the Lord. What we do is unto Him. The Christian adware is meant to reflect the Lord, but does it truly? Aren’t there better ways to reflect the Lord than by trinkets?

    I can only speak for myself, but I’m no longer uplifted by Christian adware. Nine times out of ten what it does is call attention to the fact that someone is an inconsiderate driver, or if wearing a Christian T-shirt, that he’s a hundred pounds overweight. I never see trim, attractive women wearing Christian T-shirts, but seemingly always see some guy too big for his T-shirt walking around with a “The Lord’s Gym” shirt on and a double-sized portion of nachos in his hand. What kind of witness is that?

    I was invited by some friends to visit Gatlinburg, TN and the one thing I noticed more than anything was the sheer number of people with Christian T-shirts on buying tourist trap paraphernalia. Is that the message we want to send, that Jesus died so we can buy junk?

    We live in perilous times and I don’t see how the adware is doing any good for anyone. If that’s where we’re getting our encouragement from, then something is drastically wrong with the way the Church in this country is functioning!

  11. I realized, the other day, that our two-decade-old beater of a Toyota 1-ton has a fish on it. Hard to notice it amongst the rust and whatnot, and it came that way (which tells you the sort of place we bought the thing from, that didn’t use Goo-Gone or whatever on it).

    But what I find amusing is the number of carefully-aligned ribbons (for darn near everything, “support our troops” being at least a plurality) mounted sideways on vehicles. Including vehicles that have plenty of room for a properly-aligned ribbon, and ribbons that don’t have writing on them that one might want to orient for easy in-traffic reading. I can only conclude that they’re turned sideways for the fish effect. They tend to school, too, regardless of orientation (our next-door neighbors, RV-drivin’ retirees, have 6 or eight, artistically and symmetrically arranged, on the back of their minivan). Odd.

    The magnets are apparently worse than the sticky fishies, too… I gave my mother-in-law a “SCRAPBOOKER ON BOARD” magnet, and eventually the decal front peeled off, but the magnet seems to have done some bizarro polarizing thing and bonded itself pretty permanently to the paint. Shuffle those ribbons around once in awhile, folks, or they’ll be lasting into your vehicle’s third decade too…

  12. Well Dan, a big question that I can’t hold back is this. Do you and your other readers know what the fish symbol is? Do you know that it is a symbol for �Logos� that goes back before Christ? Way, way back.

    It comes from an ancient Greek (Archimedes, I think) geometric approximation for the square root of 3. The alphabetical value of the letters/numerals in Greek, of the various major dimensions of the geometric shape spell HERMES and APOLLO. I forget the details and can’t find the book just now. Hermes is a Greek god but most importantly, Hermes is the Logos. The Logos came probably before the mythical Hermes. A later mathematician found that the length (I think) of the arc, spells Jesus when the numerals are taken as Greek letters instead of a number. Jesus is of course the Greek version of Yeshua.

    I wish I could find the book quickly enough to share some of the other interesting �coincidences.� Oh, and another important point is that the astrological age of Pisces, or fish, began about 2,000 years ago. These ages last about 2160 years and are marked by the movement of the earth’s axis as the earth wobbles. So the sign in the heavens that the three Magi were looking for was the sign that the new age had begun. Now, imagine the astonishment of the Hellenistic Jews, the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians when John wrote in the beginning of his gospel that: �In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.� The intellectuals needed no conversion, only the gospel story to alert them that this Yeshua was the Logos.

    Now think about the Hellenized Paul, a Roman citizen, learned in Greek philosophy, and on the road to Damascus. Could that bright light have been a Eureka?

    Anyway. Thought this might be interesting.


  13. A Human Bean

    I agree with your reasoning and would add a comment related to the unbiblical nature of some of the adware. “God is my copilot” is one example of wrong theology.

  14. The Christian Woman

    Hi Dan,

    I get your point and agree to some extent, but feel you misunderstood my post. I am encouraged to see other believers out in the world because I don’t bump into too many in my line of work. But I’m not getting all my encouragement from silly adware. I personally don’t own any.

    I guess I still feel the emphasis is on the wrong problem. If your behavior doesn’t reflect the kind of a good witness, then taking the adware off isn’t the solution. The solution is correcting the behavior. My concern instead is that the people wearing the adware aren’t true believers (but think they are) which I think is a much bigger problem today.

    As far as the example of the fat guy, I’m not getting it. Are you saying an overweight person isn’t a good witness? A thin, attractive woman would be better? Should we try to hide our identity as Christians if we’re fat or buying touristy junk?

    I agree with the adware not being a good way to witness, but even if all the fish were removed from cars across the country we would still left with those same people not being good reflections of Christ. To me, that is the real issue.

  15. Amen and Amen.

    I agree with the last commenter..those without the sticker are still representing the church. I have a fish on my car. Maybe I will take it off now..not sure..or perhaps it reminds me to drive a bit more courteous.

    Can we ditch the yellow, pink, redwhiteadnblue, camo and black magnetic ribbons too?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *