There's never been a religion more likely to illicit giggles from people once they hear its name than the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster—or Pastafarianism, as its members call it. While the satirical belief system has long been, for some, a go-to smart-aleck response when they're asked about their faith, a new documentary makes the case for the religion's importance, by focusing on hearings in Europe that are meant to determine whether Pastafarianism qualifies as a real religion.
Titled I, Pastafari: A Flying Spaghetti Monster Story, the film follows the cases of Dutch Pastafarians, which began in 2016, as they fight to have their religion recognized, so they can wear colanders—one official form of dress for members of the FSM church—on their heads in driver's license photos. While this may seem like a ridiculous thing to fight for, director Mike Arthur uses the conflict as a gateway to a more serious and in-depth discussion about religion.
And why shouldn't Pastafarianism be considered a religion? The claims that the Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe thousands of years ago may be laughable, but the FSM Church's guiding principles—including the Eight "I'd Really Rather You Didn't's," which is Pastafarianism's take on the 10 Commandments—do provide meaningful insight into how one should live life. The second "I'd Really Rather You Didn't" goes as follows: "I'd Really Rather You Didn't use my existence as a means to oppress, subjugate, punish, eviscerate, and/or, you know, be mean to others. I don't require sacrifices, and purity is for drinking water, not people."
Even though Arthur identifies as a humanist, he told Newsweek recently that he does feel like he's become something of a Pastafarian. "After making the film, I'd also say I'm a Pastafarian, because literally believing the Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe is not a requirement to be a member, and I do empathize with what I think they're trying to do, which is basically bring more critical thinking into the forefront of society," he said.
For those not hip to the history of the FSM Church, it began in 2005 when the religion's founder, Bobby Henderson, wrote a letter to the Kansas State Board of Education about Pastafarianism and demanded that if the BOE would teach intelligent design alongside the theory of evolution in science classes, then it must also teach that the Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe. The FSM Church has since grown in popularity and has members worldwide.
"Humor is kind of a central tenet of their faith," Arthur said. "The Eight 'I'd Really Rather You Didn'ts'—these are all humorous ways to point out pretty important issues, and they do it in a way that's foundational to their belief system, which is that there are no rules. There are no threats of eternal damnation or 'You have to do this, or else.' They're just friendly suggestions on how to be a decent human being."
The cases the documentary follows seem silly, and as the government organizations debate whether the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a "real" religion, the FSM Church is more preoccupied with how government bodies overstep when it comes to issues of faith.
"They're asking the question: Why does it matter if I believe in Thor or God or Allah or Poseidon or the Flying Spaghetti Monster or no god at all? Why does that impact my rights? Why does that impact my freedoms? Why in a secular democracy does that matter? Why are we not treated equally?" Arthur said. "It's impossible to prove or disprove a real religion."
The irony of releasing the film in the midst of a pandemic as people are debating the science surrounding facts isn't lost on Arthur. "Right now in the U.S., science is treated almost as another belief system," he said. "We have a global pandemic right now, but people won't listen to experts, because a too-large-to-ignore population of the country thinks that science is just an opinion, and Pastafarianism was really created based on this idea, based on exposing this false-equivalency."
Speaking to Newsweek, Derk Venema, who serves as legal counsel for the Dutch Pastafarians in the film, recently explained the thinking behind the Pastafarians' fight to wear colanders in their driver's license photos.
"I don't think freedom of religion can really exist for everyone if there is a court or an administrative body who gets to decide who can enjoy this right and who cannot. So it's also very much about equal religious rights, and I think if you want to take that seriously, you cannot first have the public administration decide who gets to enjoy this right and who doesn't," Venema said. "As long as there are special rights and exemptions and facilities for religious people and organizations in the law, everyone who claims that they are a religious organization [and] at least minimal can show that they are, should be given this right, I think. If that makes things complicated or painful even, then maybe you should not have any special rights for religious people at all."
Arthur put it simply: "They're hoping to make the point that religious freedom can only go as far as somebody else's religious freedom."
The Dutch Pastafarians that Venema has defended have lost their cases, because of a perceived lack seriousness. But one of the film's subjects, Mienke de Wilde, has since applied to the European Court of Human Rights with her case and is waiting to find out if it will be handled by the court.
While they're waiting to hear back from the Court of Human Rights, Venema explained that if the case is heard, it will force the court to define seriousness in determining religions. "We hope that the European Court of Human Rights will actually handle this case, because then they will have to explicitly say how they understand the criterion of seriousness and why they think Pastafarianism is or is not a serious enough religion to count as a real religion," he said.
Even though the Pastafarians share their message in a funny way, the actual values that the FSM Church preaches are not meant to be taken as a joke. "The package of the message is funny, is satirical, is parody, but the message itself, which is nonviolence, tolerance, don't waste money on large church buildings, is a very common ethical, moral message that you'll find in many religions and many other moralities," Venema said. "That's why I think it's an important case, and if there comes a decision on this case, this will determine—I think—what are the chances for other small, unknown, funny, weird religions in the future."
I, Pastafari is available on demand now.