Are Pastafarians Just a Joke?

Jack Jenkins of the Religion News Service wrote an interesting article about whether the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is purely parody or whether there’s any more to it than just that.

I’m mentioned in the piece because I fall in the latter category. Greg Epstein doesn’t go quite that far.

For many atheists like Mehta, the satire is a positive part of the atheist experience and provides a safe haven for nonbelievers.

“If I go to a Christian church, some people have a habit of speaking ‘Christianese.’ Atheists don’t have that,” Mehta said. “But you can say ‘I’m a Pastafarian,’ and people will say, ‘Oh, you’re one of us.’ It gives us a way to bond over our non religion.”

Greg Epstein, the Humanist chaplain at Harvard University — a group of mostly atheists and agnostics who insist ethical behavior doesn’t require religion — expressed concern over how much airtime the banter gets.

“The Flying Spaghetti Monster … may be hysterically funny, but just cracking ramen jokes … does not constitute a meaningful alternative to traditional religion,” he said.

“If we can take the energy that goes into cracking jokes and put it into positive acts, we could really change the world for the better.”

Before you rip on Greg for being waaaaay too kind to “traditional religion,” keep in mind the article discusses the recent church vandalism issue and I would consider that a very positive act.

Regarding the whole “parody or more” question, I don’t think it’s a clear dichotomy. Even jokes can help us understand larger truths — just look at The Daily Show.

The fact that Pastafarians can use the same kinds of language, symbolism, and rules to describe our “faith” that religious people use to describes theirs makes a *huge* point: This is all nonsense.

The only difference is that our side can actually admit that.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • L.Long

    Are the Pastafarians recognized as a real religion by the US tax laws as the Co$ is????
    If not then they are just a silly joke going no where special.
    But if they are recognized then like the Co$ they show how radically silly all religions are and that the US Gov’mint should drop ALL special privileges for ALL religions

    • http://thingsfindothinks.com Andrew Finden

       the US Gov’mint should drop ALL special privileges for ALL religions

      You mean, like the priveledge to not be allowed endorse political candidates? Which would you prefer – taxing churches (in the vain hope that they would be bled dry?) or not letting them meddle in politics?

      • Heisenberg

        Are you trolling…or do you honestly think that religious organizations do not influence U.S. politics? I mean…let’s take the big C religion out of it, at this point the tea party is using the Muslim religion to gain votes (let’s ban Sharia law!)

        Did I just yank on the hunk of cheese on the troll mouse trap?

        Also, this guy must have a very bad sense of humor. Or at the least, no talent for telling a good joke. 
        “If we can take the energy that goes into cracking jokes and put it into positive acts, we could really change the world for the better.”
        As if we’re all out there tossing and turning at night trying to overcome our FSM joke writer’s bloc. 

      • Rieux

        Please.

        taxing churches (in the vain hope that they would be bled dry?)

        No, in the vain hope that they would finally contribute something to the communities that they bleed so much from. Many of us are sick and tired of providing churches with free transportation networks, police and fire protection, civil courts to resolve disputes, and all the other public services that they, as disgustingly privileged institutions, get absolutely free.

        Taxing churches would also make them far less profitable, which would decrease their number.

        Odd that none of that occurred to you.

      • Daniel Lafave

        Churches get special privileges even within the category of non-profit, tax-exempt organizatons.  Tax-exempt organization generally have to file a an annual form with the IRS detailing what they do, how much directors and top employees earn, and much more.  Churches are explicitly exempted from these rules, which is great for the Benny Hinns of the world.  I’m Ok with churches being treated the same as other non-profits, but it is ridiculous that they are given a more privileged status within the class of non-profit, tax exempt organizations.

      • Daniel Lafave

        Churches get special privileges even within the category of non-profit, tax-exempt organizatons.  Tax-exempt organization generally have to file a an annual form with the IRS detailing what they do, how much directors and top employees earn, and much more.  Churches are explicitly exempted from these rules, which is great for the Benny Hinns of the world.  I’m Ok with churches being treated the same as other non-profits, but it is ridiculous that they are given a more privileged status within the class of non-profit, tax exempt organizations.

      • Anonymous

        Tax any organisation that makes a profit.  Offer exceptions for those who donate their income to charity or perform charity with the money that they attract.  That way a church can get tax exception by doing good works in the community like feeding the hungry or housing the homeless but not for donating to a political campaign or buying the pastor a bigger jet or a second condo in Malibu.

        I’m suggesting that they are judged on their actions and rewarded on what they do.  If they take a social burden away from the state then the state takes a tax burden away from them.  That seems fair and equitable for all and it removes the special privilege that a church receives for doing nothing beyond simply calling itself a church.

  • Joy Morris

    “… This is not what (our religion) is about.”  This is another example of why I really do not like the Huffington Post.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      It was supposed to say “the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster” but an editor decides to change it, not HuffPo.

  • http://twitter.com/manintheskies Alec Axelblom

    Pastafarianism is in itself an argument and a tool we can use when debating christians, we can show how other religious views (like our pastafarianism) is narrowminded by ourselves acting narrowminded.

    • NorDog

      Acting?

      • Rieux

        That’s what Alec said, yes. Do you have a point to make?

  • Heidi

    Well, when some little old evangelical person asks you what religion you are, if you say you’re an atheist, it might give them a heart attack or a stroke. But if you say you’re a Pastafarian, they’ll just nod and pretend they know what that is. Really, Pastafarians are doing a service to the elderly just by existing.

    • Anonymous

      You could just say that you don’t have a religion.  I don’t.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1019365643 John J. Ronald

    I’m reminded in passing of all the people in the UK who list “Jedi” as their religion.  I believe there was a campaign by the British Humanist Association awhile back urging UK atheists to please NOT do that, since mentioning any faith, however nonsensical, benefits traditional religious institutions in Britain when the census is taken and analyzed and policies get enacted in light of it…

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adrian-Chester/682538320 Adrian Chester

      Yep there was a similar campaign in Australia. 

  • http://thingsfindothinks.com Andrew Finden

    The fact that Pastafarians can use the same kinds of language, symbolism, and rules to describe our “faith” that religious people use to describes theirs makes a *huge* point: This is all nonsense.

    Except that ‘religion’ is being used as a false plural, as if all religion is exactly the same. In at least some cases (e.g. Christianity) FSM ends up being a giant strawman  - but I suppose you need some heat to get your noodles cooked, or is the noodle cooked already?

    I agree that some religion is nonsense, but it isn’t all just different shades of the same thing any more than philosophy is all the same.

    • ACN

      I agree that some religion is nonsense, but it isn’t all just different shades of the same thing

      Ahhh. Of course EVERYONE ELSE’S supernatural-magical thinking is nonsense. But you, I’m sure you’ve figured which particular type of supernatural-magical thinking isn’t nonsense.
      Must be nice.

    • Rieux

      Except that ‘religion’ is being used as a false plural….

      …When the word “religion” is not in fact used in the paragraph you quoted from Hemant? That’s a neat trick.

      as if all religion is exactly the same.

      Of course all religion is not “exactly the same.” Nor did Hemant (or anyone else here) claim it is.

      However, what Hemant actually said is correct: religion is all nonsense. Obviously there are, as you point out, many different kinds of nonsense, but one wonders why you think that’s a point worth mentioning.

      In at least some cases (e.g. Christianity) FSM ends up being a giant strawman….

      Bull. The fact that the FSM undermines Christianity in ways that you’re in denial about does not make it a strawman.

  • Daniel Lafave

    There is only one Ceiling Cat, petting be upon him.  Those who believe in FSM are minions of Basement Cat and will spend eternity in the Basement.

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

      All hail teh Basement Cat!

    • TychaBrahe

       I was going to decry the failure to mention Cheezburgerism.  I’ve actually been using OMCC (Oh Mai Ceiling Cat) in places where some would use OMG.  Let’s face it: we can all use a deity that’s soft and fuzzy.  And Ceiling Cat wants you to sleep in on Sunday because you make warm places in the bed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1535286477 Roxane Farrell Murray

    You mean you can’t change the world for the better and still joke?  I don’t see how these are mutually exclusive.

    • Valhar2000

      Epstein’s is the standard response from people who are rubbed the wrong way by someone else but can’t come up with a rationalization for the feeling. Seeing as every human being alive spends a lot of their time doing things other than “changing the world for the better”, it is always applicable.

      And, in the interest of full disclosure, I have caught myself nearly giving this response many times, it’s that ingrained.

  • Peter Mahoney

    For ANY special privilege that christians want government/taxpayers to give themselves (holiday decorations on the city hall lawn, prayers to their deity before city meetings, tax-free income, imposing your religions morality compass onto those who are not even members of your faith, etc), Pastafarians make possible the serious question: can/will the city/state/government/schools/etc. give the same privilege to the Church of the FSM??

    If not, why not? On what basis is it decided which religion is OK to honor. How is evidence weighed? Are ANY religions more credible? If religion should be honored only if it is old, then Hinduism beats christianity. If it is how fast it is growing, then perhaps Mormonism wins in the USA and Islam wins worldwide. If it is because of a ‘sacred book’, well FSM has one of those too. I’m not sure that FSM is that much of a strawman. I think it provides a pretty good rival for christianity on some of the basic reasons that many christians would give for why they believe in jesus. Or at least an opening point for discussing how we decide what is real.

    Perhaps equally importantly, it is FUN!  Sometimes we atheists get so serious (re: church-state violations, human rights violations, oppression of women, etc., being done by or via religions, all of which topics are terrible) that we forgot to balance once in a while with a laugh about something just plain silly.

    Peace, Love, and Pirates!
    RAmen.

    • http://profiles.google.com/imemmetc Emmet Cooney

      “If it is because of a ‘sacred book’, well FSM has one of those too.”

      Not one but TWO.  Read “The Loose Canon – A Really Important Collection of Words” online.

      http://loose-canon.fsm-consortium.com/the-loose-canon/

      Blessed be the Pasta, the Sauce, and the Holy (garlic) Toast.

      R’Amen

  • Rieux

    The fact that Pastafarians can use the same kinds of language, symbolism, and rules to describe our “faith” that religious people use to describes theirs makes a *huge* point: This is all nonsense.

    The only difference is that our side can actually admit that.

    Well, Greg Epstein can’t admit it, either. Wouldn’t be nice.

    It’s just wonderful that there’s a faction of atheists so strongly committed to stabbing the rest of us in the back.

  • Annie

    I love the FSM… it helps me identify, without shouting  “I’m an atheist!” with other atheists in the room.  Just like my daughter identifies other atheists in her school by the kids who remain silent during the “under god” portion of the pledge.  Since we are relatively few in a christian sea, I think anything that helps us identify each other is a good thing.  And besides, it’s funny as hell.

  • http://www.frommormontoatheist.blogspot.com Leia

    The whole idea of a Flying Spaghetti Monster helped me lose my religion. Same with Russell’s Teapot.  I think it makes a wonderful point.  And as much as it can be seen as a joke, all religions can be.  Magic underwear?? A wafer = a dead man’s flesh?? Thetans?? Every religion can come across as a joke.

    Who is to say that there isn’t a Flying Spaghetti Monster? No one can prove there isn’t. Same with the Invisible Pink Unicorn, who proves he is omnipotent by being invisible AND pink at the same time. (Just like god, a ghost and his son can magically be one person).

    Say what you will about the FSM, but as for me and my house, we will serve spaghetti.

    • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

      Blasphemer! The Invisible Pink Unicorn is female. ;o)

  • Anonymous

    “If we can take the energy that goes into cracking jokes and put it into positive acts, we could really change the world for the better.”
    If I could take the energy I spent dicking around on the internet and volunteer at a homeless shelter I’m sure that would change the world for the better too, but doesn’t mean the former is not meaningful to me nor that I will do the latter. 

  • Centricci

    Maybe christianity started as a parody too and over time people began to take it way
    too seriously .
    If so, it means that in 2000 years people will disagree about whether His Noodliness is al dente or not…and will be ready to kill each other over it.

  • Tom

    Can this post and thread get a little more snarky towards Greg Epstein please?  I mean he deserves it for being waaaaaaay too “accomodationist” whateverdahell that abortion of the english language means.  Just kidding.  Imma just call you guys “satire-sans-substance-ists” and leave it at that.  How’s that, arrrg?

    • Rieux

      Can this post and thread get a little more snarky towards Greg Epstein please?

      I agree. We should discard the snark and instead opt for the open contempt that Epstein deserves for working so hard to ensure that religion remains overwhelmingly privileged and nonbelievers, especially those of us who dare to be open about our nonbelief and our criticisms of religion, are marginalized and openly despised by society. Great work, Greg.

      (Whoops—that last sentence was snark. I take it back.)

  • Anonymous

    I thought that all religions were jokes that some people don’t get.  Sadly most religions aren’t nearly as funny as the FSM.

  • TychaBrahe

    I would like to point out that the Church of All Worlds is still going strong, over 50 years after Heinlein published Stranger in a Strange Land, although it seems to have morphed into a NeoPagan magick society that would have driven Heinlein  batty.

  • TychaBrahe

    Ugh, who wrote that thing?

    “Greg Epstein, the Humanist chaplain at Harvard University
    — a group of mostly atheists and agnostics who insist ethical behavior
    doesn’t require religion — expressed concern over how much airtime the
    banter gets.”

    So Greg Epstein is a group of mostly atheists and agnostics.  Chaplain of Borg, I assume.

    • Kurt

      No, the way it reads is that Harvard University is a group of mostly atheists and agnostics.  Not that far off the mark, I reckon! 

  • Anonymous

    I have nothing against Pastafarians, but I prefer Discordianism, the original joke disguised as a religion (or was it a religion disguised as a joke?). Hail Eris!

    • Valhar2000

      I don’t have anything against Pastafarians either. Not since the restraining order.


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