Articles

I, Pastafari (2019)

I, Pastafari: A Flying Spagheiit Monster Story is a 56-minute documentary film about a “religion” founded in 2005 by Bobby Henderson. I place “religion” in quotes because much of the film concerns itself with the question of whether Pastafarianism is–or isn’t–a religion, and who gets to decide whether it is–or isn’t.

How society answers this question can have very practical, real-world consequences. For example, i
n many countries, the law requires driver’s licenses to contain a photograph of the individual’s face and upper torso unobscured by hats, scarves, or veils, with an exception for religious headgear such as a yarmulke or hijab.

Pastafarians claim that pirates are the chosen people of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM), their creator-god. (Their church traces global warming to the decline of pirate: as pirate populations have dropped off, so as the mean global temperature.) A tenet of their faith is to wear pirate headgear (e.g., the Jack Sparrow-style tricorn, or a more modest skull-and-crossbones bandana cap). Whether Pastafarians may don their pirate caps in their driver’s license photographs therefore depends on whether Pastafarianism amounts to a “religion” or not–a decision vested with the government.

Interestingly, a bit of a schism has emerged within this new “faith” with one branch of adherents sticking with pirate headgear and another insisting upon pasta colander caps. But the definitional problem–whether their headgear is religious–is the same.

Indeed, a secondary definitional problem is also introduced by the filmmakers:whether intelligent design theorists who reject evolutionary Darwinism qualify as “science” (as opposed to religion) for purposes of public schools’ curricula. The founder of Pastafarianism originally got the whole pasta-ball rolling (today he’s accumulated 10 million followers!) with a letter to a school board asking for equal classroom time to be devoted to the Pastafarianism creation belief–that the world is merely a few thousand years old. (Pastafarians reason that each time a scientist undertakes carbon-dating analysis, the spaghetti god intervenes to alter the data “with His Noodly Appendage.”)

The Church of FSM is more satire than religion–it replaces “Amen” with “R’amen.” It parodies the Christian heaven with an afterlife with strippers and a beer volcano. It mocks the ten commandments with its eight “I’d Really Rather You Didn’ts.” Its ironic guide for evangelizing is captioned a “propaganda guide.” And, it lampoons creationists at the same time.

From a Christian perspective, Pastafarianism amounts to apostacy. Still, although the adherents in the film certainly employ humor, they also seem authentically invested in their belief system. Just because something is funny does not mean it’s a joke. Who is to say that a religious system may not include humor? The Department of Motor Vehicles?

Greater tolerance and relativism does lead to a situation in which one may not criticize another’s religious beliefs, even silly ones–or argue that their belief system is invalid. Moreover, religious freedom means an insistence that judging the relative merits of a belief system is to be made by the faithful, but never by the government. Yet to a certain degree we do invest the government with deciding upon the legitimacy of a religion since qualifying as a religion carries certain civil privilegesamong them, tax exempt status and accommodations relating to driver’s license photographs.

The Church of FSM embrace their “church” because they have found certain elements common to humanity–a built-in need for explanations about how and why we are here; a desire to participate in something greater than oneself; a hunger for community; an inherent inclination toward an invisible divinity at work in the world.

The members of the Church of FSM who speak in the film reveal much about religious belief in the West. The spaghetti believers are not absolutely convinced of the truth of a spaghetti god’s omnipotence, but they have seen plenty of Christians who are only lukewarm about a virgin birth and papal infallibility. The spaghetti believers compare the tenets of their “faith” like shoppers compare automobile makes and models. Their religious texts are superior because they are more contemporary. Their religious framework beats out its competitors because for them, going to church is optional. Their heaven is better because it includes beer.

When truth is removed, a cost-benefit analysis suggests that Pastafarianism is a "good buy" in the marketplace of religious offerings. We shop for spaghetti sauces by assessing quality, quantity, and price. If this is how we choose a religion, then the spaghetti religion is superior. It places fewer demands on its followers and promises greater rewards.

Although free from profanity or gore, this is a film which ought to be reserved for mature audiences. Prepare to be offended. But the film is worthwhile insofar as it provides a portal into what religion is for many contemporary thinkers–both seriously and satirically.

Two tiaras

Review by Thomas E. Simmons at thomasesimmons.com.