Greek word meaning "fish", pronounced ichthus.

Why is the fish a symbol for Christians? Why do these fish sometimes have the Greek word for fish inside them?

I know this much, when you ask me to answer questions about Christianity, you're making a Devil's wager. But this I can say for sure:

It's an acrostic:
Ι -- Ιησους "Jesus"
Χ -- Χριστος "Christ"
Θ -- Θεου "God's"
Υ -- Υιος "Son,"
Σ -- Σωτηρ "Saviour"

Nifty, huh. Now go out among the nations of men.

In my short stint attending church, I asked my pastor (still a good friend) what this meant, and what the significance of the fish was. He said that in Roman times (I assume around 50 BC to 50 AD), a Christian, when meeting, would draw one half of the fish () (rotated 90 degrees, of course), and the other Christian would complete the fish >, confirming eachother were Christians.

. ^
.( )
. ^
(Best I can do without gaining much ASCII Art skillz and an aneurism.)

Now, as to why people feel the need to announce their Christianity to the world via this car emblem, well...that's another node. Not very humble of them though, is it?

Kindtaro: I agree with you for the most part, on the Darwin fish, but taken at the same level, the Darwin fish is the same as the ichthus operated way back when, identifying one's beliefs. People are too uneducated to have any idea what that fish means beyond "oh, they're Christian" (in general, at least). If it were, say, a swastika with "darwin" circumscribed somehow, that would be a different story...

The ichthus symbol functions in a similar way to what it did in the times of the Roman persecution, being that it identifies Christians to each other. The early Christians were subjected to systematic torture and cruel forms of execution, such as being fed to rabid dogs, lions, and other animals. With this in mind and as someone sensitive to all forms of religious belief, I take offense at the darwin fish because it is a mockery of the pain, suffering, and humiliation of the thousands of Christians who endured these horrible acts for what they sincerely believed. Something that is troubling is the fact that there would probably be some outcry if other religious symbols such as the om symbol or the dharma wheel were made fun of.

In many parts of the United States, you may see an ichthus, or Jesus fish, in the Yellow Pages listings or other advertisements for some small businesses -- plumbers, corner stores, and the like. Usually, it will be the plain fish-outline, without any writing in the middle. This logo is a sign that the owners of the advertised business are Christian.

Why would a small business owner choose to advertise his or her religion -- especially when that religion is by far the majority religion in the nation? To be Christian is not unusual in the U.S.; rather, it is common, usual, expected. It is non-Christians -- be they Muslim, Pagan, or atheist -- who usually stand out. Non-Christianity is a mark throughout most of America, just as non-whiteness and non-heterosexuality are. So why is it Christian business-owners who mark their businesses as such?

Most of the time, when businesses proclaim demographic facts about their owners, it is because these owners belong to a minority group, and wish to attract the custom of fellow members of that group. (Take the black-owned clothing maker FUBU, for instance. Another example would be the neighborhood store that advertises itself as locally-owned, in contrast to the chains which channel capital away from the local economy.)

What does this say for the ichthus? I suspect that it says that while Christians are a majority in the U.S., many Christians perceive themselves as a minority. The reasons for this are historical and memetic. In the early years of the Christian church, Christians were indeed a minority, and a persecuted one at that. Moreover, Christianity stems from Judaism, which has an even longer history as an embattled minority, beset on all sides by enemies and prejudice. Several "persecuted minority" memes from those periods have persisted through history -- even after Christianity became the majority (and, from time to time, the persecutor majority) in Rome, Europe, and later America.

And so, in today's America, members of actual religious or irreligious minorities find ourselves faced with the ichthus. It is easy to misinterpret it when members of a powerful majority show off their status. Some of my fellow atheists consider the ichthus to be the equivalent of "White Power" -- a sign of an intolerant and persecuting majority. I disagree. It is not a symbol of prejudice and persecution, and those who use it do not mean it as such. It is, rather, a sign of just how long an identity group can remember persecutions long past.

Yes, the above is U.S.-centric. So is my knowledge of small businesses' use of the ichthus in advertisements.

Having pushed the Jesus Fish symbol into the realm of bumper stickers, Christians have made the symbol as overexposed and overused as much as the cross.

Joining the "Lord's Gym" t-shirts and the "WARNING: This vehicle will be uninhabited in the case of Rapture" bumper stickers, Christians have taken everything sacred and ritualistic about their faith and turned them into mass-market kitsch in the name of popular culture. Having done so, they have no place to complain about the Darwin, Vampire, Linux, and Cthulu makeovers of the fish decals.

They wanted their niche in culture, their grab, their way to say "hey, we're just as cool, and we even have our own outfits"...whether to compete, or to fit in, or a variety of other reasons, it's unsure. But they did. And upon entering the field, they also agreed, by silent pact, to be equally mocked and drawn upon as a cultural resource for kitsch by the rest of society.

If you don't want a powerful religious icon to be mocked, then you shouldn't use it in a way yourselves which lowers the very meaning of it. Popularizing anything makes it trivial, tradeable, and eventually, as with all things, forgettable.

As an added note, the term Christian has become just as overused and generic as the fish itself, being descriptive of both multiple religions, as well as often White Americans themselves.

My family is Jewish, but when I was much younger I managed to convince my parents to purchase address labels with this fish insignia (complete with Greek letters) on them. I must have been about 6 at the time, right after we moved into our new house, completely ignorant about all things Christian, and the conversation most likely went like this:

Mom: Look at all the little pictures we can get on our labels! Which would you like?
Me: (points to fish) I want that one! With the cute little fish!
Mom: Um... wouldn't you want something else? This one has a doggy on it...
Me: NO! I WANT THE FISH! (begin tantrum)
Mom: (sigh) Okay, fine, we'll get the fish.
Dad: (quietly, to Mom) We can't get the fish. What would our friends think?
Mom: (quietly, to Dad) We'll get these to appease him, and then get something else to use.
I found them earlier this year, a good 14 years after the fact. My folks never used most of them, for obvious reasons. Sure enough, in 1987 they bought another set with a script "W" (our last initial) on them, and used the script-initial labels most of the time. Occasionally, in my younger, stupid days, I would catch them applying the "wrong" label and affix a Jesus fish label instead. What did our friends think?

Yeah, I'm dense. I thought that WWJD was a radio station until I was in high school.

Ich"thus (?), n. [Gr. .]

In early Christian and eccesiastical art, an emblematic fish, or the Greek word for fish, which combined the initials of the Greek words for Jesus, Christ, Son of God, Savior.


© Webster 1913.

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