Flying Spagetti Monster Back in the News

Pastafarians have been in the news lately.  In case you missed it, Austrian authorities issued a government identification document to a man wearing questionable religious headgear.  It’s a plastic colander, to be precise.  The European Union forbids head gear, unless religious, in official state photographs such as the license in question.  Offended by the religious exception, the pastafarian pressed his case for his religious rights.  

I would not pick a fight with the pastafarians, if I were the Austrian authorities.  Pastafarians are smart.  Clearly, they are poking fun at the new license regulations and satirizing religion, creationism and intelligent design in particular, but their methods are, well, intelligent.  They can abide silly laws (no smiles on EU licenses), but if a silly law treads on the separation of church and state, watch out.  They love logic and abhor misuse of scientific methods.  Confuse correlation and causation and they’ll throw a pirate chart at you.  (They claim the decline in piracy over the past 200 years caused global warming, and they encourage pirate costumery to keep the planet cool.)  

The Flying Spaghetti Monster first made its way onto my radar screen in 2005 when Kansas required intelligent design to be taught as a scientific theory alongside evolution in science classrooms.  Henderson’s classic letter to the school board became an internet sensation.  There were book deals.  FSM writings were gathered into a “loose canon.”   They established pastafarian holidays like Ramendan, when instead of fasting, pastafarians eat nothing but ramen instant noodles, relive their college days, and give thanks that those days are over.  

I applauded the pastafarian movement.  As a scientist, I opposed Kansas’ move to teach intelligent design in science classrooms.  US students struggle enough with science.  Let’s not confuse them further.  As a religious person, I admired the parody of dogma.  The logical consistency would make Aristotle proud. Austria couldn’t poke a hole in it.  As a playful person, I appreciated the versatility of His Noodly Appendage.  Pastafarians epitomize peaceful resistance.  They are watchdogs.  They protect the public interest without costing a cent.  (Ok, you can argue that Austria wasted civil servant hours, and euros, processing a license application for 3 years, but if they had taken my advice in the first place, they would have left the pastafarian alone and just issued the silly ID.) 

Most of all, I appreciate what the pastafarians teach us about form and function.  They mimic the trappings of religion with remarkable acumen.  For some people, that’s all religion is.  A priest I interviewed for my book on confession remarking sadly about the dearth of spirituality among the religious in his congregation.  For some in the spiritual-not-religious camp, the form of religion is an empty distraction, even obstructing encounters with the divine.  For others, the form of religion is like scaffolding, providing a framework that orients and supports us as we do the work of spiritual growth.  I love liturgy.  It gives me direction and focus when I’m on top of my game, and I can lean on it when I’m not at my best.  I feel like just going through the motions creates a space where the Holy Spirit can enter.  Pastafarians remind me that as much as I value the form—across many traditions, both religious and not—the substance is living into relationship with God. 

Join the conversation and have fun.  What’s your favorite thing about pastafarians?

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