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What Is the Flying Spaghetti Monster and How Did It Create a 'Legitimate' Religion?
Flying Spaghetti Monster
Pop Culture

What Is the Flying Spaghetti Monster and How Did It Create a 'Legitimate' Religion?

The Flying Spaghetti Monster was intended to make a point about teaching intelligent design in school. Then it took on a life of its own.

Just as people around the world have embraced Jediism, a philosophy inspired by the Jedi in Star Wars, so, too, have they flocked to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a "religion" based on pure satire.

However, that doesn't mean its adherents -- called Pastafarians -- are any less devoted. They simply have their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks.

But what is the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and can it truly be considered a religion?

How Satire Became Religion: The Origin of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

Touched by His Noodly Appendage, Niklas Jansson's parody of Michelangelo's Creation of Adam
Touched by His Noodly Appendage, Niklas Jansson's parody of Michelangelo's Creation of Adam

It started in 2005 as a joke, as you might guess from a name like the Flying Spaghetti Monster. More accurately, let's call it an elaborate and humorous critique. "Joke" is simply too dismissive.

That's when Oregon resident Bobby Henderson wrote an open letter to the Kansas State Board of Education, in response to its decision to permit the teaching of "intelligent design" in classrooms. (Intelligent design is, basically, a rebranding of creationism.) Although worded in an academic style, Henderson's clearly tongue-in-cheek missive stated that his theory of Intelligent design is that "the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster." Citing "overwhelming scientific evidence" of this belief, Henderson requested his theory be taught in classrooms alongside evolution and intelligent designs.

RELATED: Can You Lose Religion But Keep Faith?

The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster was founded soon after, by Bobby Henderson himself. Or, rather, it emerged into the mainstream "after having existed in secrecy for hundreds of years." At least that's what the church's website says.

Adherents flocked to the satirical new religion, chiefly in United States, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Their shared beliefs are spelled out by Bobby Henderson in his 2006 satirical book The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and in a follow-up, The Loose Canon, the Holy Book of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Those beliefs conveniently include that, whenever science contradicts Pastafarian doctrine, it’s because the Flying Spaghetti Monster intended it that way.

They also believe “religious texts tell us that humans evolved from Pirates. Consider that so-called 'science experts; would have us believe humans evolved from primates, pointing towards the shared 99% shared DNA between humans and primates. But humans and Pirates share upwards of 99.9% of DNA.” That's why Pastafarians are frequently photographed while wearing pirate regalia.

Except, of course, they don’t really believe that. But who can prove what’s in their hearts? And that’s the point. Who is to say it’s not a religion simply because it’s so different from other faiths that receive deference, and even preferential treatment? No one is to say that, according to the framers of the Constitution.

What the Courts Have Say About the Flying Spaghetti Monster

Flying spaghetti monster2 1024x576
A depiction of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, generated by an AI (Photo: Bobby Henderson)

Defining what is, and is not, a religion is tricky business on which few courts can seem to agree. Long-established faiths leave little question in legal circles, but what happens when new movements, like Jediism and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster come along?

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states flatly that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Nevertheless, a Nebraska court in April 2016 rejected a religious accommodations claim presented by a Pastafarian. The plaintiff, a prison inmate, argued that he was entitled to wear pirate regalia while ministering to fellow prisoners, as well as a "seaworthy vessel," among other claims.

The court ultimately sidestepped the question of the validity of the plaintiff's beliefs, but ruled that the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster doesn't need to be treated as a "genuine" religion.

However, the church has claimed victories elsewhere, even if some of them were subsequently rolled back. Poland granted the group permission in 2014 to apply for official recognition, only to be rejected by the government. New Zealand officially recognized the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster in 2015, and permitted clergy to perform weddings. And while an Austrian man was permitted to wear a sacred colander in his driver's license photo, a Dutch court ruled against a similar application, claiming Pastafarianism doe not qualify as a religion.

What Does It Take to Become a Pastafarian?

Spaghetti photo by Atie Nabat on Unsplash
Photo by Atie Nabat on Unsplash

If you want to be a Pastafarian, then you already are one. Some religions permit conversion through the heartfelt recitation of a few words. For example, according to many interpretations of Islam, you can convert simply by saying Shahada: "Ash Shadoo an La ilaha illa Allah, Wa Ash Shadoo ana Muhammadan rasoolu Allah.” Or, "I bear witness that there is no true god except God (Allah), and I bear witness that Muhammad is the (Final) Messenger of God." Of course, you have to truly mean it.

RELATED: The Difference Between Spirituality and Religion

To become a follower of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the dogma makes clear that belief is not required. In fact, if you actually believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, then you’d likely be the least-welcome member of the organization. That's because you've missed the point, and exposed yourself as being, say, one meatball short of a full supper.

But what does the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster actually say about joining? “So you want to be a Pastafarian? Great. Consider yourself a member. You’ll notice there’s no hoops to jump through. You don’t need to pay anything.”

All the the church requires is that you help a bit by “spreading the word." "Tell people about Pastafarianism," the website states. "Point out that we’re the world’s most peaceful mainstream religion, having started no wars in our God’s name. As far as [we] know there are no deaths attributed to our religion.”

Want to take it one step further? You can order an official Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster Ordination Pack for $49 that includes a certificate of ordination, a card for your wallet, and vinyl decals for your car. And yes, in some places, you can assert your right to officiate things based on your status as an ordained member of the FSM clergy.

What Is Pastafarian Heaven?

Pastafarian heaven is, unsurprisingly, nothing to take too seriously. According to the church’s own site, “No one knows what the afterlife really holds, but we are told FSM Heaven has a Beer Volcano and Stripper Factory.” So if you like literal mountains of beer and an industrial-level output of naked people, then this is the religion for you.

Ditto if you really like freedom from being told what to do. That's because, in the end, that’s what the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is really about: illuminating the invasive and controlling ways religion tends to afflict civil society.


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