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Those Pastafarians!

The Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Pastafarian Church have been in the news quite a lot recently and I think this has brought some interesting social issues into focus.

First, there was the first wedding in the world performed by a Pastafarian marriage celebrant right here in New Zealand. There has been a lot of international media attention on this event and I think we should be very proud of this progress our country has made in being open to new ideas and beliefs.

On a less positive note, a US prison has refused a prisoner’s request to have Pastafarianism recognised as a legitimate faith. The judge ruled that it is more a satire than a real religion and that the prisoner’s claim of faith was unlikely to be genuine.

In that case the judge does have a point because the FSM was originally created as a way to satirise conventional religion. On the other hand surely Pastafarianism is no less absurd than Scientology which the same prison does recognise as being legitimate.

But this also gets back to the question of what religion is for and why religions are created. The problem is that the main distinguishing feature between a “respectable” religion and a cult or sect is that the religion has been around a lot longer and the highly questionable processes involved in its creation have been forgotten.

I am confident that if we looked at how Christianity was created by the early church leaders and various committees we would be either shocked or amused, depending on our outlook. But those details are well disguised by the intervening centuries so the religion is basically safe from that sort of criticism. When we look at Islam there is less time involved but still enough that its essential absurdity is well hidden. Newer religions like Mormonism and Scientology are clearly absurd because their origins are still fairly well known.

Of course Pastafarianism is even more open to criticism from this perspective. (Note that I am somewhat suspicious of the claim that the religion has existed for hundreds of years in strict secrecy!)

I fully agree that Pastafarianism was originally created as a satire and was never meant to be taken as being real. But it can still be taken seriously because satirising the stupidity and corruption which is entrenched in organised religion is a serious business.

And there is another purpose too. The one thing I noticed with the reports of the Pastafarianism marriage was just the fun aspect. It gave the participants a shared belief, a core set of values, and a set of rituals they could use in a ceremony without having to resort to the dreary stuff we see in most conventional services.

For example, the couple arrived at the ceremony by sailing the “high seas” in a pirate ship with their family and friends, while wearing full pirate regalia, and spoke pirate themed phrases using a pirate accent. That sounds so much better than a conventional wedding!

And instead of exchanging vows they agreed to “terms of engagement” which included something like “being on a voyage together, and whatever storms and doldrums they encounter they will get through if they keep their hands on the wheel”.

It might sound a bit silly but listening to them it really sounded like there was something they identified with there. The bride said she would probably not have got married otherwise because she just didn’t identify with a conventional ceremony and this “just felt right”. And I noticed the interviewer found the whole event really funny, but in a good natured way rather than thinking “what a bunch of clowns” like some people might.

Another potential problem is the authenticity of belief of the Pastafarians. But this criticism can be applied to any religion. When I was married it was with a conventional Anglican ceremony. But I didn’t believe any of the farcical religious stuff. I know I would have felt more of a connection with the FSM than the Christian god.

And I also know that many people who are involved with Christian religious ceremonies (weddings, funerals, christenings) feel the same way. I often hear of people who are upset or bored or just totally disengaged with them. That didn’t seem to be the case with the Pastafarian wedding.

There’s a lot of great things about being an atheist but there are things we lose as well. Maybe a fun religion (or even one which was originally a spoof) like Pastafarianism would provide some of the rituals and shared experiences that people with no traditional religious belief can use to fill this gap.

So I say “well done” to the followers of the FSM. They make life interesting and maybe the fun rituals which might be established at this first wedding might become real traditions in the future. Sounds good to me!

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