These Wonderfully Weird People Worship a Flying Spaghetti Monster
Filmmaker Mike Arthur’s new film “I, Pastafari” explores the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and its “millions” of adherents. Here, he writes about this wild new religion.
Try having a debate about religion. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
How did it go? Poorly, I bet.
For whatever reason, religion is often “off the table” when it comes to the serious examination of its impact on society. If one does attempt to debate religion’s place in the world with the devout, it often unravels into combative condescension and eventually ends with clenched fists topped off with a ridiculous non-statement like, Well, you just got to have faith!
What does this have to do with a religion that worships a Flying Spaghetti Monster? Everything.
The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster started in 2005 when a recent physics graduate from Oregon State named Bobby Henderson wrote “The Open Letter to the Kansas School Board.” This letter was published online as a response to a newly elected conservative-majority school board’s decision to teach creationism alongside evolution as equivalent scientific theories in science classes statewide. In the letter, Mr. Henderson argued that if this were to be the case, then it would then only be fair to teach other creation beliefs in science classes as well. Specifically, his belief, that a Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe a few thousand years ago. What started out as a clever attempt to expose false equivalency quickly went viral online, and over the next 15 years would evolve into a vast religious community with millions of followers worldwide. Fittingly, these followers call themselves “Pastafarians.”
While living in the Netherlands back in 2016, I learned of a legal battle of one such Pastafarian.
It began after the Dutch Chamber of Commerce granted official recognition that the Kerk van het Vliegend Spaghettimonster was a “religious organization.” With this achievement, a few members of the church felt that since their faith was now “recognized,” they also should be able to enjoy the privileges and exceptions granted to other religious communities. Shortly after, a Pastafarian in need of a new driver’s license walked into his local municipality and submitted an ID photo of himself wearing a spaghetti colander on his head. You see in the Netherlands, as in many other countries, only religious individuals are permitted to wear headwear in their ID photos.
The photo was promptly rejected by the city of Eindhoven on the grounds that Pastafarianism is not a “real religion.” A discriminatory legal complaint was filed by the Pastafarian, which resulted in an eventual court hearing. I filmed this hearing in 2016, and over the next three years it would morph into a 56-minute documentary called I, Pastafari: A Flying Spaghetti Monster Story.
At the time I had just moved to the Netherlands from the U.S., so I couldn’t understand the arguments as they were made in a language foreign to me (Dutch), but the filmmaker in me couldn’t help but be enthralled by the imagery of this kid wearing a kitchen utensil on his head in a serious courtroom setting, while lawyers in suits recited Pastafarian prayers in perfect although heavily accented English:
Our pasta, who art in a colander, draining be your noodles. Thy noodle come, Thy sauce be yum, on top some grated Parmesan. Give us this day, our garlic bread…and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trample on our lawns. And lead us not into vegetarianism, but deliver us some pizza, for thine is the meatball, the noodle, and the sauce, forever and ever. R’Amen.
Other Pastafarian teachings discussed in court include their belief that global warming is caused by the reduction in the pirate population, since the correlation between the two events over the last 200 years is undeniable. They even have a chart to prove it. With this irrefutable evidence in hand, their holy mission is to increase the pirate population in order to combat climate change. Successful completion of this mission grants them access to Pastafarian Heaven, where a beer volcano and a stripper factory await them. Hell also contains a beer volcano and a stripper factory, but the beer is stale and the strippers have sexually transmitted diseases.
Sure, I get how this seems ridiculous. Some may think that this is a mockery to other devout religious groups and their beliefs. Others may think this is merely a troll religion whose antics are motivated by purely comical desires. I made the film because I found that if you take the time to listen (to be touched by His noodly appendage), you’ll find the message of Pastafarianism is much more insightful than the headlines would have you believe.
A taste of the morality that guides the Pastafarians can be found in their version of the Ten Commandments: The 8 I’d Really Rather You Didn’ts. These are not rules etched in stone that are to be followed or else, but instead a set of friendly recommendations on how not to be a dick about your faith:
Going after a relatively harmless exemption like wearing religious headwear may seem pointless to those not familiar with the faith, but this exercise inevitably shifts the conversation to the other religious privileges that have a much more acute impact on society, like tax exemptions, being able to opt out of otherwise mandatory vaccines, justification for hate speech and discrimination, and blasphemy laws, just to name a few.
The Pastafarians do what they do in the name of equality, and they do it in a clickbaitable way. In 2020, there seems to be no other way. So I think, as long as special legal privileges for religious groups exist, then the Pastafarians should be granted equal access. Let us use taxpayer dollars to create Pastafarian schools! Let us refuse health care to gluten-intolerant employees! Or, just treat everyone equally, regardless if you believe in God, Allah, Thor, The Flying Spaghetti Monster, or no God at all.
When these laws were written, they were meant to protect religious minorities from persecution, and to allow everyone the freedom to celebrate their cultural heritage within their communities of faith. This is the true meaning of religious freedom, and this is what the Pastafarians fight for because the moment a judge says, “Your religion is real, so I grant you special rights… but yours is NOT, so you get none” the state is in violation of the human right that is religious freedom. The only way to have true religious freedom is to have a true separation of church and state. Instead, religious freedom is often used to infringe on the rights and freedoms of others. This is especially the case in the U.S., which was ironically the first country to embed a separation of church and state in their Constitution.
Despite the demographic shift showing significantly more and more Americans identifying as non-religious, the religious right continues to be the most powerful political force in the U.S. At the same time, openly admitting you value science and rationality seems to be political suicide. The source of their immense power comes from the exploitation of outdated laws that allow them to consolidate their political influence by taking advantage of tax benefits and legal exemptions. This power is used to help elect more fundamentalist politicians with anti-science agendas who use their influence to grant themselves even more privileges, and the cycle continues. This leads to more public schools teaching science as just another dogmatic belief, more bakeries refusing cakes to LGBTQ patrons, more Mike Pences, more Donald Trumps.
I think that the era of fake news, alternative facts, and science skepticism can all be traced back not to Facebook or Twitter, but to these legal inequalities. The reason democracy is failing and science is ignored is not because of Mark Zuckerberg (although he’s not helping), it’s because the system is designed to value belief over fact. This is why, for me at least, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is real. It is a real manifestation of the idea that the traditional methods of fighting inequality and nonsense have failed us all, so why not try something different? R’Amen.
I, Pastafari: A Flying Spaghetti Monster is available now on VOD and digital platforms worldwide. For more information go to www.ipastafaridoc.com