My ‘Atheist / Flying Spaghetti Monster’ military dog tags

My dog tags are now featured on the Flying Spaghetti Monster Wikipedia entry.

Atheist / Flying Spaghetti Monster military dog tags

A little while ago, news broke about a Pastafarian winning the right to wearing a pasta strainer on his head for his official driver’s license photograph *edit: it seems that there was no legal battle*. Coincidentally, around the same time, I got a few emails from the contributors to a Wikipedia article on Religious Symbols in the US Military asking if I would contribute a photograph of my Atheist dog tags.

Shortly after I donated the photograph to Wikipedia, the photo was added to the Flying Spaghetti Monster entry as well. Awesome.

I actually have a few funny stories about FSM and the Army. *warning: quoting a Drill Sergeant is NSFW*

Why the Flying Spaghetti Monster was bigger than Jesus in boot camp.

FSM holy book

There are strict rules about what non-military texts you can posses during boot camp. They only allow one book, and it must be a holy book from your religion. As you’d expect from this rule, there were a few Bibles, a Koran, and even a Book of Mormon in various wall-lockers in my company. Most people just didn’t have a book at all.

I, however, brought my copy of The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

My book was incredibly popular, and people kept talking about it during the few short breaks you get during the typical boot camp day. Then other people would hear about it and ask me if they could borrow it. Everyone laughed like a bastard, and really enjoyed it.

Many people told me that the book really made some sense to them. I must have accidentally converted dozens of people, as the humorous parody religion’s messages actually sank in.

Drill Sergeant VS Flying Spaghetti Monster

At one point my Drill Sergeant tried to take it away from me. He thought it was just some book that I smuggled in. Keep in mind that Drill Sergeants are professionally trained in the art of not laughing at anything (yelling and freaking out are more appropriate responses to most situations.)

Anyway, this is the gist of the conversation:

Drill Sergeant: “Private Griffith – is that some contraband?”

Me: “No, Drill Sergeant. It’s my holy book.

Drill Sergeant: “Give that to me…” *Yoink!* “Flying Spaghetti Monster!? What the fuck?”

Me: ”I’m a Pastafarian, Drill Sergeant.”

[he shot me a look like he was t minus 5 seconds from throwing me into the Sun]

Drill Sergeant: “Are you fucking with me? Are you fucking with me at 0600, Private Griffith? Before I even get some goddamned breakfast?”

[I did my best to return the intensely humorless stone face.]

Me: “No, Drill Sergeant.”

Drill Sergeant: “Flying Spaghetti Monster!? I don’t fucking believe it!!!”

Me:I believe it, Drill Sergeant.”

Drill Sergeant: “What the hell is wrong with you, warrior?”

[I went for broke]

Me: “Drill Sergeant, I’m afraid I can’t really talk to you about this any further unless I’m in my religious clothing. I need to be in full pirate regalia, or at the very least wearing an eye patch.”

….Then he just looked at me for about 30 seconds. Crickets. Time stopped… The other soldiers that were around were extremely scared of the coming mass punishment they imagined that I had surely just earned them.

Then he flipped through the book. He read a few sentences out loud. And then it happened.

He smiled.

Then he handed me my book and told me to do some push ups – a slap on the wrist. And my punishment was really only for making him smile, not for anything else. He just couldn’t bring himself to treat this situation like every other situation.

My recruiter put his own religion on my forms, instead of Atheist.

First off, I actually had quite an ordeal simply getting my ID tags to accurately reflect my atheism. When I was speaking to Army recruiters, the first one that I worked with was a very religious person. Normally, this isn’t relevant. However, when asked what my religion was, I answered “Atheist”. He entered a “Baptist” variation.

At one point he asked me to look over his computer screen for any errors, and I hastily fixed this. I only had a few seconds, so I scrolled through the list and found “NO-REL-PREF”. A few days later, I had more issues with this recruiter and asked to be assigned to another one. He was great, but I guess he forgot to fix my religious preference on my forms as I requested. A similar set of circumstances prevented the mistake from being corrected when they were being issued at Basic Training.

YES-REL-PREF

Religious Preference – that’s the Army’s term. It’s a little garish and awkward, but it does the job. I was pissed off that I was stuck with dog tags that said “NO-REL-PREF”. I do have a religious preference – “none for me please… Atheist!” That’s not the same as “I don’t have a religious preference”.

I’ve thought about religion quite seriously, and I most certainly have a preference. Atheist has been on the military’s approved list of responses to this question for quite some time, so I was not breaking any barriers. I was finally told that I could (and did) change my religious preference to Atheist on my paperwork, but that I couldn’t receive updated dog tags. I was told that soldiers change their last names and religious preferences frequently enough, but must get their updated dog tags made off post at their own expense.

I was a little bit angered that I now had to buy my own set of ID tags to fix this, but at least I had an answer and a way forward.

FLY-SPA-MON

Being a former creationist, I really identified with Flying Spaghetti Monster meme. Leaving creationist indoctrination was a long and painful journey for me. Absurd as FSM might be, it’s as culturally significant to me as religion is to many others. I truly identify with it, appreciating both the humor and the reality underpinning the parody religion.

Obviously, a strictly serious answer to the question about my religious preference is “Atheist”. But given the amount of hassle I went through to get my dog tags corrected – I decided it was time for some levity. Unfortunately, the limited writing space is a factor. I considered these:

FLY-SPA-MON
PASTAFARIAN

But I wanted to include ATHEIST too, so in the end I settled with

ATHEIST / FSM

And I’m happy with that. Yes, these are legitimate ‘officially accepted’ dog tags by the way. Interestingly, there are more than a few that legitimate sets that say “Jedi Knight”.

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  • http://tattooedscience.blogspot.com Erin

    Epic. I’m glad you chose to put Atheist in there as well. I’ve always been tempted by the “Jedi” preference, but I actually want to count as an atheist (as was a point of contention during the UK census).
    Anyway, you made me smile, especially the drill sergeant story.

  • Mark

    This is awesome! Congratz for having the courage of your convictions!
    (please forive any typos, it’s hot and my eyepatch is slipping)

  • http://yawningdogblog.wordpress.com/ Kate

    “Are you fucking with me? Are you fucking with me at 0600, Private Griffith? Before I even get some goddamned breakfast?”

    That was hilarious! The whole thing, not just that line, but that line was killer.

  • taterbizkie

    You know, of course, the pasta strainer story was a publicity stunt and not really the truth, right?

    Austria only requires that the face and hairline be visible in a drivers license photo. It required no special dispensation to be photographed with a colander on his head.

    • Justin Griffith

      I didn’t know that. Still a good photo-op worthy of the viral treatment it got. Thanks for the information, though. You got a source so I can make necessary update/correction?

  • SeanH

    Very funny. And I salute you and your service to this country.

  • Kevin

    But.. but… what are you going to do in the foxholes? I assume you have a spare set of tags, right?

    Just kidding. :)

    • Justin Griffith

      I see what you did there. LOL.

  • esantipapa

    My dog tags say “Jedi Knight”… did that back in 2001 ;-) hipster atheist… lol

  • Old_Warhorse

    Though I tend to be more of a quasi-Wiccan/Jedi Agnostic myself (I had a hard fight getting Wiccan listed as my religious preference and on my tags back in the 80′s, despite the fact that it was and is a recognized religion in the US Military), I support you 100% in your belief. Good on you for having the courage of your convictions to fight the system to have your records changed to accurately reflect your beliefs and pay out of pocket to put Atheist/FSM on your ID tags at your own expense!

    Also, good on you for getting your DS to crack a smile. *grin*

  • http://www.rationalskepticism.org Paul Weaver

    I’ve had “Atheist” on my tags for quite a while now – though when I first joined in 1988, they only allowed me to put “No-Rel-Pref”, I got them changed the first time I went through a pre-deployment exercise.

    BTW, for anyone reading, it’s not true (though often claimed) that a Soldier wishing to change his religious preference on his ID tags has to get them made off-post at his own expense. In actual fact it is an S1 responsibility to provide the Soldier with new tags whenever anything on them changes – and it is the right of any Soldier to change his religious preference whenever he wants.

    Justin – good on you, and great story.

  • http://www.principiadiscordia.com/ Kevin C Jenkins

    Awesome!
    I discovered Discordianism before the court case that caused the FSM meme, but I think there’s a good chance Eris, fnord be upon her, was secretly the muse behind its creation. Add the Invisible Pink Unicorn to the mix and we have a Holy Trifecta (which is more holy than a simple trinity)!

    http://www.principiadiscordia.com

    On of my favourite bits:
    (paraphrased, but that’s encouraged)

    The Hell Law states that hell is reserved for them that believe in it.
    Furthermore, the lowest circle of hell is reserved for them that believe in it, based on the supposition that they’ll go there if they don’t.

  • Paul_B

    Well done. I attempted many years ago through official channels to get the Air Force to add “Pastafarian” to the list of 165 religious preferences. My e-mails and official memoranda were are all ignored. My requests for updates on the status or receipt of previous e-mails and memoranda were also ignored.

    Maybe it’s time to start tilting at that windmill again…

  • http://www.shockandblog.com/ Jinx McHue

    But you were, in fact, fucking with your drill instructor, were you not?

  • http://larianlequella.com Larian LeQuella

    I had Atheist on my dog tags when I was on active duty. The Air Force personnel administration page even has atheist as a choice in their drop down menu. Although, the little airman in personnel did give me one hell of a dirty look when I told her what to put on my dogtags, but I doubt she was about to question an officer.

    Although, make sure the rest of your personnel records reflect your dogtags. Just to keep some pencil pushing admin type from trying to fuck with you more (they live for that shit).

  • Eric Paulsen

    Back in 1988 I had to fight tooth and nail just to get NoRelPref on my dogtags. My hat is off to those of you who are pushing for atheists rights, especially in the military.

  • http://anonatheist.wordpress.com/ Hieronymus Fortesque Lickspittle

    Congrats to anyone who succeeded in getting atheist on their dog tags! I retired from the military and as usual had them issued to me a few times but could never get anything other than “no rel pref.”

  • Ambidexter

    I’m a retired Navy personnel type*. I’ve got a couple of recommendations for anyone wanting to declare themselves an atheist and get it in their records. First, formally request, in writing, that your religious preference be changed. Have the request signed by your commanding officer (or personnel officer at a large command). Keep a copy of the approved request. Take your request to the personnel office and give it to the NCO/PO in charge of service record entries. Insist on watching whoever makes the change while they make the change. Get a paper copy of the change. Take the paper copy and your copy of the approved request and put them in a safe place.

    Every so often, six months or so, review your service record to ensure your religious preference still reads what you want it to read. If it doesn’t, take your paper copies to the OIC of the personnel office and tell him/her that there’s an error in your service record which (a) was entered without your permission and (b) needs immediate correction. Remember to be polite and business-like but be firm.

    If the religious preference changes again, demand to know who is making the change. Remind the person in charge that falsifying official records is a violation of UCMJ Article 107 and if your record changes again you will be filing charges.

    Incidentally, if your paper service record jacket has PIA (Pain In Ass) written on it, demand you be given a new jacket.

    *YNCS(SS) if anyone cares

  • FMCH

    Hey Justin,

    Great read. PZ has posted your story on Pharyngula. At any rate, I was stuck with “No RELPREF” when I was active duty Navy 92-96. Atheist was not even in the system.

    Your boot camp story brought back memories….how true to life….

  • NoAstronomer

    Effin brilliant. Do you have full pirate regalia?

  • http://irrelevantprocess.blogspot.com mxh

    Awesome! I work in a Catholic hospital and our electronic medical records prominently displays each patient’s religion. I’ve never seen “Atheist” listed, but I recently started working here, so maybe they do have an atheist option. Either way, I gotta see if there’s a way I could add FSM.

  • =8)-DX

    Well actually the Austrian thing was in a way a stunt but they actually do have a law only allowing headgear for religious representatives. Or so I heard.

  • sean

    What were you thinking? Causing a Drill Sergeant to smile?

  • Robster

    What about the recruitment guy putting his version of the nonsense on the form as your religion!! Seems to me that being a “christian” is much the same as being a “fraudulent crook”. They seems to justify their choise of telling fibs as doing what their totally silent god says. Good on you too.

  • Erik

    This makes me so happy! After hearing about the flack that atheists have taken recently, it’s nice to see some reasonableness. However, it would have been nicer for them to waive the dog-tag expense, seeing as the error was the recruiter’s.

    Rock on!

  • Matt

    So you lied to him? I’m surprised you weren’t discharged.

  • Chris

    Actually, the case from Austria is a real case, though no court was involved. To summarize:
    - He handed in his photo for a new driver’s licence wearing a paster strainer both on the photo and on his head. Being asked why he was wearing it, he answered “religious reasons”.
    - After some time, he was ordered to show up at the authorities, not knowing he was about to be inspected for mental helath. After a few minutes he was found to be mentally capable of driving a car.
    Some mentioned that the actual law, in contrary to the official brochure, doesn’t even forbid head covers as long as the face is visible.

    I take off my pasta strainer, bowing to people like you who fight for religious freedom in such an entertaining way. ;-)

  • Medardus

    I recently had a set made that say “ATHEIST/JEDI.”

    That was a fun time in Personnel… ;)

  • Michelle

    I tried to put Jedi on my dog tags when I entered Basic Training. Some jerk entered Baptist or Catholic or some other garbage like that. So I went to the PX on my first post pass and got a set that said Jedi. I wish I’d known of his Noodley Goodness at the time, for I would have put Pastafarian instead. RAmen and HOOAH!

  • http://poolagirl.wordpress.com Poolie

    This made me HOWL! Thank you!

  • otto

    I served in the infantry and did my basic training at Ft. Benning…these Drill Sergants do their best to be badasses…they were bored and pulled the Full Metal Jacket thing on me…asked my religion, I told them I was an atheist, they freaked out, slammed the door, kept me in their office for 30 minutes playing “Hollywood Squares” (being “smoked” until I left a drop of sweat on the floor tile, then move to the next one), they told me I needed to change my tune, but I refused and I think they atleast respected me for not changing my answer…wish I had done the dog tag thing too…Good job

  • Smidgy

    Jinx & Matt, Justin never lied once. The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a holy text from a religion – it’s just a religion that knows and accepts the bullshit in their holy text is, in fact, bullshit, unlike most religions, where they genuinely believe their holy text isn’t. So, as such, Justin can take this Gospel as his holy book, and still believe it’s all bullshit – as that is, in effect, one of the tenets of his religion. Unless, of course, he’s part of the Greater Reformed Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Then, things get REALLY complicated.

    • Justin Griffith

      LOL’d at the end there. But I already tried to explain this to Matt at the Pharyngula thread earlier today. Thanks for sticking up for me though!

  • Scott

    I preferred my zen baptist tags

  • Chuck

    Here are my dog tags from oldest to newest: Christian, No Pref, Zen/Taoist, Pagan, Pastafarian, Apathyist, Jedi Knight, and for this last deployment Heathen. The No Pref was what I got back when I put down atheist back in the mid 90′s.

    • Justin Griffith

      Aha! I knew I couldn’t be the only one. Well great minds think alike… so you like Golden Girls too, right? That’s what I’m thinking about right now.

  • lallen

    Thanks for this great story!

  • Lorra

    Interesting isn’t it, that so many atheists are anti-military. Our military men and women have fought and died for the right for us to choose a religion or to choose not to believe in a religion.

    • Justin Griffith

      Well said. Thanks!

  • Ed

    I don’t give a damn what god or goddess you choose to believe in, or not believe in. As an NCO, all I want to know is if you are a good soldier.

  • Jeff

    I never had a problem putting “agnostic” or “atheist” on my dog tags.

    • Justin Griffith

      I believe you will find that I addressed this quite thoroughly upon reading it. I understand, we all skim over many articles. Thanks for the comment, either way.

  • Braydan

    What is done to the criminals wh break the law every time they falsif th person ell records of enlistees?

    Good job, Justin. Thanks for the fun read.


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