I know, there are many decent people who are deeply religious, and even some intelligent ones. There are even some decent things that religion has promoted and accomplished (along with a stunning number of indecent things). And I also acknowledge that ridicule isn’t always the best way to take issue with those whose ideas one dislikes … even, despises. But I need to tell you that I have a soft spot in my heart for the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a “religion” that originated a few years ago, to counter one absurdity – actually, a whole farrago of absurdities – with another.
In case you haven’t yet encountered It (or Her, or Him, or Whatever), the Flying Spaghetti Monster is perhaps the most recent and definitely the most benign manifestation of the supernatural to have received faith-based worship. Devotees maintain that the Flying Spaghetti Monster (henceforth, FSM) is a deity – according to some, the deity – deserving their devotions. Followers, many of whom self-identify as Pastafarians, have incorporated various holy relics into their worship services; among which the pasta collander is especially beatific, and theologicially redolent.
I have long been bothered by the fact that although people are most assuredly not free to profess belief in whatever they choose – rather, they are not licensed to do so without evoking skepticism and indeed, risking well-deserved contempt – they receive a “get out of ridicule free” card if they cloak said beliefs, no matter how bizarre, absurd, counter-logical and counter-factual, in a atmosphere of religious profession. If I were to claim, for example, that the world is orchestrated by a deity in the shape of a fire hydrant, I would expect to be laughed at, taken to task, even peed upon … and not just by golden retrievers. But when people make claims that are no less specific, no less ridiculous, and no more supported by even the most basic of evidentiary requirements, such professions are typically treated with tolerance and respect, even verging on reverence. No less an authority than Mohandas Gandhi can be expected to confirm, in fact, that “all religions are true.”
Which brings me to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, as good a candidate for divine status as any currently on offer; indeed, significantly better, given that the FSM has never sanctioned any killing, looting, book or heretic-burning, hasn’t demanded sacrifices (human or otherwise), refrains from punishing apostates, has never sanctioned the sexual abuse of children, encourages equal rights for all sexes, has no objection to same-sex marriage, permits – indeed, encourages – inquiry, unfettered even by traditional standards of “polite discourse,” and doesn’t even demand any tax breaks.
Imagine my delight, therefore, when I learned that Pastafarian Eddie Castillo had the theological cojones to pose for his driver’s license photo - and in Lubbock, Texas, no less: one of many locations in that benighted swath of the USA that proudly proclaims itself “the buckle of the Bible Belt,” and to do so proudly displaying the stunningly al dente manifestation of his faith: a pasta strainer. Not only that, but the local authorities permitted him to do so! So let’s hear it especially for Mr. Castillo, who clearly was acting in concert with the loving, benevolent, and abundantly garlic-suffused Holy Spirit of the FSM (probably topped with fresh parmesan cheese … as are we all).
David P. Barash, an evolutionary biologist, is professor of psychology at the University of Washington. His most recent book is Homo Mysterious: evolutionary puzzles of human nature (2012, Oxford University Press)