Dichotomy

Jesus fish

I saw a Jesus fish decal on the bumper of a car this morning. It caught my eye because that was the second Jesus fish I have seen in five years of living here.

In the US, these decals are ubiquitous. They’re found in rear windows and on back bumpers of cars all over, along with bumper stickers proclaiming Christian religious statements. It’s not uncommon to see religious billboards on roads and highways. Many Americans feel the need to advertise their religiosity. Meanwhile, at the government level, Article VI of the US Constitution states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Yet a couple of intelligent debaters could spend hours on the question of which candidate is less likely to be elected President: a Muslim, or an atheist.

In Portugal, you can’t walk 500 meters without falling over a church. Their bells ring out the hours every day, and the masses every weekend. The calendar is packed full of saints’ holidays, which are observed nationwide, and the main south entrance to Lisboa features a huge statue of Jesus. Religion is impossible to avoid in Portuguese daily life.

But nobody ever puts a Jesus fish on their car. There are no religious bumper stickers or billboards. The Portuguese do not advertise their personal beliefs because they don’t think it’s anyone else’s business. And religion makes no appearance in public office — there are no prayers opening legislative sessions, as there are in the US. Candidates for high office do not proclaim their religious observance, and speeches aren’t ended with “God bless Portugal.”

It’s such an interesting dichotomy. In the US, a supposedly secular nation, religion is very public. And in Portugal, perceived as a Catholic nation, religion is very private.

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About oregon expat

Socialist heathen and Mac-using writer who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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5 Responses to Dichotomy

  1. Ashley says:

    Hmm! Why do you think it is considered private there as opposed to the US? Interesting post!

    • oregon expat says:

      I think it’s cultural. From what I know of the Portuguese, they’d consider it “mal educado” (a poor upbringing, or bad education) to advertise their beliefs. Their relationship to the divine is just that: theirs, personally, and not to be trumpeted to all and sundry.

  2. M. says:

    In my all-Catholic country I’ve seen Jesus fish only a couple of times. And the first time I saw it, I didn’t know what it meant :D. I mean, when everybody is supposedly Roman Catholic, what is the point of sticking a Catholic symbol to your car? Unless you want to point out that you prefer Jesus to his Mother in a country where Virgin Mary was officially made Queen some hundreds years ago and I have a feeling is a main diety.
    But seriously, you are right, we also think that one’s beliefs are one’s own business. That’s why we have now a little war about Crosses that appeared in places they shouldn’t be.

  3. Jbrandao says:

    I would probably guess that the people who stick fish symbols to their cars are not catholic. Christians definitely, but I would guess evangelicals or something.
    Catholics in portugal who display their beliefs usually have 2 or 3 trinkets inside the car:
    1- a rosary hanging from the rearview mirror
    2- a small figurine of the virgin mary
    3- a small plaque on the dashboard with the virgin mary or some other saint

    But yeah, fortunately people here are not that in-your-face about their religion.

  4. xenatuba says:

    The day you posted this, I noticed (as opposed to saw) several of these or their derivatives. One was a woman who was wearing a shirt with that that symbol and “gone fishing” on it. Another was a window decal with a big fish and a bunch of little fish. The third was a Darwin eating the fish.

    I think that the relationship that Americans have with their cars (on the one hand, you could get me started, and on the other, I play along too) has us use the vehicle as a vehicle to talk about ourselves. Rainbow stickers, the “family” die cutouts, and political announcements. I have a tuba, a polar bear, and a blue/black line. And rainbow palm trees.

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