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I found myself behind a home repairman’s van the other day. I don’t remember the company name, but I remember what was under it: an ichthys, or Jesus fish, followed by a tagline, like so:

The FISH says it all!

It’s not uncommon to see the Jesus fish on business cards, vehicles, signs and shop windows in the South. But this was the first time I’d seen a tagline that so clearly said, “Nuff said.”

A few months ago, I scanned the merchandise table during the break in a freethought meeting I was speaking to. Suddenly the gent selling books and T-shirts felt the call of nature. “Be right back,” he said and headed toward the restroom. Suddenly he stopped in mid-stride and looked back at the mound of cash sitting open on the table. He thought for a moment, then waved his hand dismissively and said aloud, “That’s OK. We’re all humanists here,” before scuttling off toward relief.

I’ll bet the Christian handyman really is a nice guy who never grabs an unattended wallet or has his way with the cat. And I was pretty sure that no one at the humanist meeting would help himself to the open pile of currency, either. But both have more to do with the demonstrable fact that most people, for a number of reasonable reasons, behave morally in most situations. In neither case would my confidence have anything to do with the waving of a worldview flag.

The assumption goes the other way as well, of course, when a worldview (or race, or nationality, etc) is hissed between the teeth as a self-sufficient epithet.

The fish does NOT say it all, and neither does the Happy Human. It’s possible to call yourself a Christian or a secular humanist and to be a breathtakingly unethical pig. Lots of folks on both sides manage that straddle just fine. Maybe it’s a Fred-Phelps-type Christian who finds his instructions in hateful Leviticus instead of the Sermon on the Mount, or a Joe-Stalin-type nonbeliever who seems to take the absence of divine oversight as an invitation to go homicidally nuts.

I’ve also known both believers and nonbelievers who I’d trust with my life. That trust comes not from hearing what a person calls him or herself, but from seeing what the person does with their worldview. Deed, not creed, and all that.

Worldview labels are handy shortcuts, nothing more. They save us the hard work of holding ourselves and others to a discernable standard, as if claiming the label is the same as living the highest ideals of that label.

So next time somebody flashes their worldview at you as if it means something all by its lonesome, yawn and say, “Nice label. What else ya got?”

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.