Pastafarianism in Perspective

Hot on the showing of PBS’s excellent documentary on the battle over intelligent design, the American Academy of Religion has announced that they’re offering a panel on intelligent design’s most eloquent spokespasta: the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Included in the panel is a discussion of the status of Pastafarianism as a “real” religion- if a set of purported beliefs motivate a community to act together in a way other than they otherwise would, but by what standard can we really say that their religion isn’t “real”?

While humor in religion has a long and very real history, I have some doubts that the study of FSM as a social phenomenon has a great deal to reveal about religion. Pastafarianism, like Discordianism and the Church of the Subgenius before it, adopts the trappings of religion in order to point out the foibles of certain aspects of the religious viewpoint. Such shortcomings should already be readily apparent to an academic body, if not always to the believers who are being parodied.

Meanwhile, is Flying Spaghetti Monsterism a “real” religion? While the seemingly religious- or at least cultic- actions taken by its adherents argue in favor of such a conclusion, ultimately I think FSM’ism fails by the same standard that skewered Intelligent Design in the Kansas debate.

On the stand, one of the Discovery Institute’s experts on ID was forced to admit that if intelligent design was a science, then astrology had to be admitted as a science by the same definition. If the acolytes of the Flying Spaghetti Monster are engaged in a religious activity, then almost anything given a thin veneer of religious observance would also have to be considered under the same heading. A definition of religion this broad would provide as little insight into religion as intelligent design provides into the origins of life.

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