Sunday, November 23, 2008

WE NEED A GOOD BUMPER STICKER


Orlando, Florida has a lot of traffic. I know, I sit in it every day. The other evening during my drive home I found myself sitting in a bunch of it when a car jumped in front of mine causing me to slam on my breaks. Having gotten a good look at the rear of this particular vehicle, I couldn’t help but notice it had a little metal emblem on it that was shaped like a fish, kind of. Now living in the South I see a lot of little fishes. They’re swimming everywhere: On cars of course, but also on billboards for attorneys, on the bill from my dentist, and even scribbled on walls, in the restroom stall of my favorite bar. I guess you can be struck in the spirit anywhere. I usually don't think any more about these symbols and their owners other then, “Well, there goes another one to the dark side.” This time though the sight of the little fish disturbed me greatly, because, this little fish had little feet growing out of its belly. In addition, it had the word "Darwin" written in its center.
Normally seeing the “Darwin fish” would cheer me up. You don't see a lot of that particular species in the South. But, this time it didn’t help my mood one bit. There I was stewing in traffic with at least another forty minutes of staring at the back of the car that cut me off. And that little, chrome plated fish was starting to really piss me off.
You see I’m a designer for the entertainment industry, and as is my habit I began to look at that little "Darwin" plaque in terms of design. Not in terms of the ideas it represented but as a graphic logo to sell a brand. In those terms, I have to tell you, it’s got problems. First, it’s clumsy. It has none of the elegance of the Christian fish. Think about it for a second. The Christian fish is two simple overlapping curves. It has no writing, like the Catholic Cross, or the Star of David. None is needed. Everyone knows what it symbolizes. The Darwin thing, on the other hand, you have to write the word Darwin to let everyone know where you stand. And still that doesn’t help. What is that shape? It's not a fish - obviously. It has feet. Is it a silhouette of Darwin? Was he a short fat guy with big lips? Is it a mud hopper? Is it an African lungfish? That sounds even worse.
I can see it now at the Annual Meeting for Atheist World Domination. "Does anyone have any ideas for a mascot? Something everyone can identify with? Something cuddly…"
"How 'bout a mud hopper! "
Yeah, that’ll get a lot of recruits.
If I were to order one of those fish things over the phone, would I say "Could you send me a metallic fleck Darwin in a lungfish, please?" Frankly, when it arrived, I would be scared to look in the box.
But, boy is that Christian fish slick. You can see it gliding through the water, whipping past logic, reason not able to pin it down. When you think you got him caught with some argument about evil, the silver fish would just say something like “it’s a mystery,” and wiggle out of your hands.
You can imagine the Darwin fish on the other hand shuffling along like it's wearing galoshes (it has to in order to get through all that thick mud), speaking in a low sad voice like Eor from the Whinny the Pooh cartoons. "Hello children I'm lunggy the mud hopper, here to teach you about evolution." Talk about the universal symbol for uncool.
I like to think that Humanists are not into symbols. We are into ideas. Symbols just get in the way. It's like those people who want a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning. They are more interested in protecting the symbol for freedom of speech rather then the actual freedom itself. I like to think humanists are a little smarter then that. Unfortunately it's probably more like no humanist has ponied up enough money to pay a slick advertising agency to come up with something cool.
It's the same with bumper stickers. You always see the ones that say "BORN AGAIN." I personally like the bumper stickers that are the response to that, "BORN RIGHT THE FIRST TIME"
I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said, "WHAT IF THEY’RE RIGHT?" It refers to the wager posed by Blause Pascal in the 17th century. The idea is that you should look at your faith in terms of a simple wager, like being in Vegas. If you believe in God and are wrong you loss nothing. On the other hand if you deny the existence of God and are wrong you lose your soul and are damned too Hell for all eternity. So, since it doesn’t cost you anything, the smart thing to do, according to Pascal is to put your chips down on God.
Now, there are many responses to this gambling argument. Would God let me into heaven when he finds out that the only reason that I believed in him was to escape punishment, not because I thought it was “the truth” but merely to hedge my bet? Which “God” should I believe in, anyway? Should I bet on the Hebrew God, Islam’s Muhammad, Hindu’s Sheeba? What if I bet on the wrong one? Can I believe in more then one God, or is that like splitting Aces. Can I double down? And if faith is like Vegas, when I go to church do I get free drinks?
The retorts to Pascal’s bumper stick wager are many. The one I am particularly fond of goes like this: WHAT IF THEY’RE WRONG? What if there is no afterlife? What if this is all we get, one life time, roughly eighty years. Then doesn't that constitute our eternity? So then, what if we are right. Are you willing to gamble your eternity, all you get (a mere 80 years which makes it all the more precious and valuable), in a sense, throw away that eternity - by giving your time and money to unworthy preachers. Waste your entire eternity waiting around for a god that will never come to maybe give you a better life. Instead, why not take matters into your own hands and fulfill your own destiny. Spend your eternity (as brief as it is) wisely, by being the best person you can, by learning, by teaching, by helping others and by doing the things you want to do. Aren't religious people gambling their eternity as much as we are. At least I’m gambling on something I know exists, now. It’s like a bird, I have, in my hand, right at this moment. That can’t even be considered gabling, can it? That’s like going into the convenience store for a newspaper and not dropping twenty bucks on lottery tickets. Are you telling me that by not buying the lottery ticket, I’m gambling? Because, I have a miniscule chance of winning a million bucks but chose instead to invest my money in government secure bonds, I’m a reckless gambler? Well then I guess you can say I drink too much, too. Oh waited. I do drink too much, but that’s a different subject.
The point is, try to put that big long rant on a bumper sticker. It would cover the whole back of your car. The writing would be to small and people would have to follow you around the entire day trying to read it. The most I could shorten the above paragraph to is this: "ETERNITY SHMERNITY." It doesn’t roll of the lips, does it? You see, you can't do it in two or three words.
And maybe that's the point. Maybe that’s the beauty of Humanist ideas. They aren't simple. Maybe the fact that they can't be summed up in a witty bumper sticker or slick symbol is a good thing. It means we can't just say them. We can't just blurt out our ideas as an automatic response to any challenge. We have to understand what we're saying. We have to think about what we’re saying, even if it is just a little more then most people. Still, we have to think. And isn’t that what’s truly beautiful?
So sitting in my car that’s what I was doing, thinking about all of that, (did I mention I have a long commute) until finally my exit appeared. Maybe the guy in front of me thinks about all that stuff a little more then most people also. That's good. Couldn't tell by the way he drives. Even so, my anger subsided a little. Then taking my attention off of the horrible Darwin fish thingy I noticed for the first time, the bumper sticker right next to it. “The driver in front of me can't be all bad” I thought to myself. The bumper stick was that of a cartoon character called “Mister Natural” mid step in his familiar laid back walk. If only we Humanists had a symbol like R Crumb’s " Keep On Trucking" guy. Now that's Cool!

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