Guest post: In Defense of Religious Satire, A Pastafarian Response to the Charlie Hebdo Terror Attack

Guest post: In Defense of Religious Satire, A Pastafarian Response to the Charlie Hebdo Terror Attack January 15, 2015

The following is a guest post from Andrea Jonathan Robert of the P.A.S.T.A. Foundation.  The P.A.S.T.A. Foundation has launched their first Membership campaign: “Can I Get a R’amen?!?!” This fundraising effort is a milestone for Pastafarian advocacy. If you want to help take a stand for religious equality, join today:

In Defense of Religious Satire, A Pastafarian Response to the Charlie Hebdo Terror Attack

As the world continues to reel from the vicious terrorist attack that left 12 dead at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, for some in the West the inevitable finger pointing and blame game has already begun. In one corner, right-wing blowhards attempt to smear the entire Muslim faith of over 1 billion people with the heinous acts of two fanatics. While in another corner, politically-correct ninnies minimize the horrible killing of these writers and cartoonists by referencing the paper’s history of “xenophobia, racism, sexism, and homophobia” and claiming the publication somehow “provoked” the violence from Islamic extremists.

Both of these reactions are an affront to civil society. We cannot blame the whole of the followers of Islam for the actions of a group of marginalized individuals. Painting with this broad-brush point of view is a major contributor to the ease with which an entire society can label Muslims as “the other”. It’s this mentality that helps support military imperialism and the wholesale torture and killing of people in far off countries. The second mind-set, one that would explain away the barbaric nature of these killings by limiting freedom of speech, takes away one of our most potent defenses against fanaticism on all sides of the spectrum: Humor and Satire.

The writers at Charlie Hebdo weren’t known for pulling punches and as such had often been accused of being in poor taste, but in the paper’s defense they took on all facets of society. No faith, code, or creed whether you be Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or what-have-you was spared lampooning by the magazine. To put this violent raid in perspective it would be like the offices of Southpark were attacked and Trey Parker and Matt Stone were killed by a couple of disaffected and extremist Mormons.

It was Voltaire who said: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” It was that right, and the right to live a life free from violence and oppression that policeman Ahmed Merabet was defending when he was gunned down by the terrorists who stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo. It just so happens that he was a Muslim of Algerian descent, the same nationality, in fact, of the terror suspects themselves. But at the moment of his death, Ahmed was first and foremost a citizen of the French Republic defending its values of liberty, equality, and fraternity. He was not Charlie as the hashtag maintains, but he stood up for right of those cartoonists to poke fun at the absurdities of his religion.

For equality to truly exist in a civilized society the ability to practice one’s faith in accordance with the law and generally accepted standards of decency must be protected. But what is not guaranteed is that you can practice your religion free from criticism or ridicule. The beauty of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution is that while it prohibits the government from establishing a state religion and thus creating a theocracy, in the same breath it allows the citizenry to hold any belief they see fit, by protecting freedom of speech and the free-flow of ideas. However, the flip side to protecting your right to worship and believe in what you want; is also protecting the right of others to call your beliefs ridiculous. The freedom to worship does not trump the freedom to call any belief system to account.

As Pastafarians and members of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, we have a unique perspective to bring to this global conversation. Ours is a religion born, in part, out of satire. In 2005 when it was announced that the Kansas State school board, in all of its wisdom, wanted to include the Judeo-Christian creation myth of Intelligent Design alongside evolution in the science text books, our Prophet Bobby Henderson thought this was a perfect time to make a satirical point. Regardless whether or not you believe that Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs to Sunday school, or hold the equally absurd idea that some process of evolution naturally selected for genetic variations in biological organisms that helped them survive their environment to reproduce and pass on these genes, all those with the inside scoop know it was really the Flying Spaghetti Monster who created the world and everything in it. It’s really ok you didn’t know, we don’t brag very much about our deity, our salvation does not require that we convert you.

However, the Flying Spaghetti Monster works in mysterious ways and maybe evolution, this seemingly logical and scientific explanation of the development of life on earth makes sense because He wills it to be this way!?! Prove that one way or the other with your empirical “science”!! But what mattered most in this specific instance in Kansas was that the Christians were trying to bogart their faith’s shout outs in the school science books. Simply from a marketing point of view we couldn’t let them hog all that textbook glory. Our offer to be included was really just to prove the point that those science books were doing pretty good before the Christians tried to co-brand their message in them. But if you’re going to open that door you can’t discriminate. Our real long-term plan was to see if we could co-opt the school lunch menu, because if your goal is to impact young minds, what 13 year old does their science homework anyway?

But the fact of the matter is that as Pastafarians we could care less if we’re featured in the science textbooks at all. Our offer was made purely in jest and done to mock those know-it-all Christians. I mean, you don’t see the Hindus pushing and shoving with Vishnu’s four arms to have their creation myth included next to social studies, do you? The Flying Spaghetti Monster is not so vain that he cares one way or another whether we pitiful mortals believe in His Noodliness. And besides, all the work it takes to keep up with the new textbook editions that come out every year, well as a religion we’re not that motivated. Frankly we’re kinda lazy.

So in truth, as Pastafarians while our religious beliefs are sincerely held, our actions can be satirical in the effort to prove a larger point. Our religion is not a parody of other faiths. However, we’re not above using satire to point out how nonsensical other religions can be at times. Satire is intended to do more than just entertain; it tries to improve humanity and its institutions. One would think this is a worthy goal of any religion. That’s why we have 8 “I’d rather you didn’ts” versus 10 Commandments. They say more about how mankind should view and treat religion, rather than how religion views humanity.

It was the Prophet Bobby Henderson himself who said “We believe it’s a dangerous thing when religion is seen as above criticism or humor”. It’s the moral obligation of forward thinking people everywhere to mock ridiculousness when they see it. And it is plain to see that in some instances the rapid rate of globalism has out-paced some of our more backward cultural assumptions.  Does your world-view believe genital mutilation is a good thing? Does your faith find it acceptable to stone to death adulterers? Then those fragments of your belief system are worthy of beinge mocked, lest they continue to perpetuate in the world and destroy the positive aspects of your faith. Certainly we Pastafarians are not above ridicule, we don’t care if people call us drunken pirates and slatternly wenches, and certainly some of our table manners could use improvement *belch*. But to steal a line if you will from an earlier holy man of faith, J. R. “Bob” Dobbs  of the Church of the SubGenius: To those humorless bastards who would kill to make a point: Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.

Jonathan Robert is one of the founders of the P.A.S.T.A. Foundation. He brings over a

decade’s worth of experience in the nonprofit world to his work with the Foundation. Of

particular interest to him is how civilized society can respect a diversity of viewpoints while still

upholding the rule of law. When not sampling mirco-brews or hunting for buried treasure,

Jonathan considers himself an amateur anthropologist.

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