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The Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) is the deity of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster or Pastafarianism, a movement that promotes a light-hearted view of religion and opposes the teaching of intelligent design and creationism in public schools. Although adherents state that Pastafarianism is a genuine religion, it is generally recognized by the media as a parody religion.
The "Flying Spaghetti Monster" was first described in a satirical open letter written by Bobby Henderson in 2005 to protest the Kansas State Board of Education decision to permit teaching intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in public school science classes. In that letter, Henderson satirized creationist ideas by professing his belief that whenever a scientist carbon dates an object, a supernatural creator that closely resembles spaghetti and meatballs is there "changing the results with His Noodly Appendage". Henderson argued that his beliefs and intelligent design were equally valid, and called for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism to be allotted equal time in science classrooms alongside intelligent design and evolution. After Henderson published the letter on his website, the Flying Spaghetti Monster rapidly became an Internet phenomenon and a symbol used against teaching intelligent design in public schools.
Pastafarian "beliefs" are generally satires of creationism. They are presented both on Henderson's Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster website, where he is described as "prophet", and in The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, written by Henderson and published by Villiard Press in 2006. The central belief is that an invisible and undetectable Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe. Pirates are revered as the original Pastafarians (a portmanteau of pasta and Rastafarian), and Henderson asserts that the steady decline in the number of pirates over the years has resulted in global warming. The FSM community currently congregates at Henderson's website to share ideas and crafts devoted to the Flying Spaghetti Monster and post "sightings" of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Because of its popularity and exposure, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is often used as a contemporary version of Russell's teapot – an argument that the philosophic burden of proof lies upon those who make unfalsifiable claims, not on those who reject them. While generally praised by the media and endorsed by members of the scientific community, the Flying Spaghetti Monster has received criticism from proponents of the creationist intelligent design philosophy. Pastafarians have engaged in religious disputes, including in Polk County, Florida, where they played a role in dissuading the local school board from adopting new rules on teaching evolution.
In January 2005, Bobby Henderson, then a 24-year-old Oregon State University physics graduate, sent an open letter regarding the Flying Spaghetti Monster to the Kansas State Board of Education. The letter was sent prior to the Kansas evolution hearings as an argument against the teaching of intelligent design in biology classes. Henderson, describing himself as a "concerned citizen" representing more than ten million others, argued that intelligent design and his belief "the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster" were equally valid. In his letter, he noted,
I think we can all look forward to the time when these three theories are given equal time in our science classrooms across the country, and eventually the world; one third time for Intelligent Design, one third time for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, and one third time for logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence.—Bobby Henderson
According to Henderson, since the intelligent design movement uses ambiguous references to a designer, any conceivable entity may fulfill that role, including a Flying Spaghetti Monster. Henderson explained, "I don't have a problem with religion. What I have a problem with is religion posing as science. If there is a god and he's intelligent, then I would guess he has a sense of humor."
In May 2005, having received no reply from the Kansas State Board of Education, Henderson posted the letter on his website, gaining significant public interest. Shortly thereafter, Pastafarianism became an Internet phenomenon. Henderson published the responses he then received from board members. Three board members, all of whom opposed the curriculum amendments, responded positively; a fourth board member responded with the comment "It is a serious offense to mock God." Henderson has also published the significant amount of hate mail, including death threats, that he has received. Within one year of sending the open letter, Henderson received thousands of emails on the Flying Spaghetti Monster, eventually totaling over 60,000, of which he has said that "about 95 percent have been supportive, while the other five percent have said I am going to hell". During that time, his site garnered tens of millions of hits.
As word of Henderson's challenge to the board spread, his website and cause received more attention and support. The satirical nature of Henderson's argument made the Flying Spaghetti Monster popular with bloggers as well as humor and Internet culture websites. The Flying Spaghetti Monster was featured on websites such as Boing Boing, Something Awful, Uncyclopedia, and Fark.com. Moreover, an International Society for Flying Spaghetti Monster Awareness and other fan sites emerged. As public awareness grew, the mainstream media picked up on the phenomenon. The Flying Spaghetti Monster became a symbol for the case against intelligent design in public education. The open letter was printed in many large newspapers, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Chicago Sun-Times, and received "worldwide press attention" according to one journalist. Henderson himself was surprised by its success, stating that he "wrote the letter for [his] own amusement as much as anything".
In August 2005, in response to a challenge from a reader, Boing Boing announced a $250,000 prize—later raised to $1,000,000—of "Intelligently Designed currency" payable to any individual who could produce empirical evidence proving that Jesus is not the son of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was modeled as a parody of a similar challenge issued by young-Earth creationist Kent Hovind.
According to Henderson, newspaper articles on the Flying Spaghetti Monster attracted the attention of book publishers; he said that at one point, there were six publishers interested in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. In November 2005, Henderson received an advance from Villard to write The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
In November 2005, the Kansas State Board of Education voted to allow criticisms of evolution, including language about intelligent design, as part of testing standards. On February 13, 2007, the board voted 6–4 to reject the amended science standards enacted in 2005. This was the fifth time in eight years that the board had rewritten the standards on evolution.
Although Henderson has stated that "the only dogma allowed in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is the rejection of dogma", some general "beliefs" are held by Pastafarians. Henderson proposed many Pastafarian tenets in reaction to common arguments by proponents of intelligent design. These "canonical beliefs" are presented by Henderson in his letter to the Kansas State Board of Education, The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and on Henderson's web site, where he is described as a "prophet". They tend to satirize creationism.
The central creation myth is that an invisible and undetectable Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe "after drinking heavily". According to these beliefs, the Monster's intoxication was the cause for a flawed Earth. Furthermore, according to Pastafarianism, all evidence for evolution was planted by the Flying Spaghetti Monster in an effort to test the faith of Pastafarians—parodying certain biblical literalists. When scientific measurements such as radiocarbon dating are taken, the Flying Spaghetti Monster "is there changing the results with His Noodly Appendage". The Pastafarian conception of Heaven includes a beer volcano and a stripper factory. The Pastafarian Hell is similar, except that the beer is stale and the strippers have sexually transmitted diseases.
According to Pastafarian "beliefs", pirates are "absolute divine beings" and the original Pastafarians. Furthermore, Pastafarians believe that the concept of pirates as "thieves and outcasts" is misinformation spread by Christian theologians in the Middle Ages and by Hare Krishnas. Instead, Pastafarians believe that they were "peace-loving explorers and spreaders of good will" who distributed candy to small children, adding that modern pirates are in no way similar to "the fun-loving buccaneers from history". In addition, Pastafarians believe that ghost pirates are responsible for all of the mysteriously lost ships and planes of the Bermuda Triangle. Pastafarians celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day on September 19.
The inclusion of pirates in Pastafarianism was part of Henderson's original letter to the Kansas State Board of Education, in an effort to illustrate that correlation does not imply causation. Henderson presented the argument that "global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are a direct effect of the shrinking numbers of pirates since the 1800s." A chart accompanying the letter (with numbers humorously disordered on the x-axis) shows that as the number of pirates decreased, global temperatures increased. This parodies the suggestion from some religious groups that the high numbers of disasters, famines, and wars in the world is due to the lack of respect and worship toward their deity. In 2008, Henderson interpreted the growing pirate activities at the Gulf of Aden as additional support, pointing out that Somalia has "the highest number of pirates and the lowest carbon emissions of any country".
Pastafarian beliefs extend into lighthearted religious ceremony. Pastafarians celebrate every Friday as a holy day. Prayers are concluded with a final declaration of affirmation, "R'amen"; the term is a parodic portmanteau of the Semitic term "Amen" and "ramen", referring to instant noodles.
Around the time of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, Pastafarians celebrate a vaguely defined holiday named "Holiday". Holiday does not take place on "a specific date so much as it is the Holiday season, itself". Because Pastafarians "reject dogma and formalism", there are no specific requirements for Holiday. Pastafarians celebrate Holiday in any manner they please. Pastafarians also celebrate "Pastover" as a parody of Passover, and "Ramendan" as a parody of Ramadan.
Pastafarians interpret the increasing usage of "Happy Holidays", rather than more traditional greetings (such as "Merry Christmas"), as support for Pastafarianism. In December 2005, George W. Bush's White House Christmas greeting cards wished people a happy "holiday season", leading Henderson to write the President a note of thanks, including a "fish" emblem depicting the Flying Spaghetti Monster for his limousine or plane. Henderson also thanked Walmart for its use of the phrase.
In December 2005 Bobby Henderson received a reported US$80,000 advance from Villard to write The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Henderson said he planned to use proceeds from the book to build a pirate ship, with which he would spread the Pastafarian religion. The book was released on March 28, 2006, and elaborates on Pastafarian beliefs established in the open letter. Henderson employs satire to present perceived flaws with evolutionary biology and discusses history and lifestyle from a Pastafarian perspective. The gospel urges readers to try Pastafarianism for thirty days, saying, "If you don't like us, your old religion will most likely take you back." Henderson states on his website that more than 100,000 copies of the book have been sold.
Scientific American described the gospel as "an elaborate spoof on Intelligent Design" and "very funny". In 2006, it was nominated for the Quill Award in Humor, but was not selected as the winner. Wayne Allen Brenner of The Austin Chronicle characterized the book as "a necessary bit of comic relief in the overly serious battle between science and superstition". Simon Singh of The Daily Telegraph wrote that the gospel "might be slightly repetitive... but overall it is a brilliant, provocative, witty and important gem of a book." Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute, the hub of the intelligent design movement, labeled the gospel "a mockery of the Christian New Testament".
In September 2005, before Henderson had received an advance to write the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a Pastafarian member of the Venganza forums known as Solipsy, announced the beginning of a project to collect texts from fellow Pastafarians to compile into the Loose Canon, the Holy Book of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, essentially analogous to the Bible. The book was completed as The Loose Canon: A Really Important Collection of Words and made available for free download in 2010.
Some excerpts from The Loose Canon include:
The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster now consists of thousands of followers, primarily concentrated on college campuses and in Europe. According to the Associated Press, Henderson's website has become "a kind of cyber-watercooler for opponents of intelligent design". On it, visitors track meetings of pirate-clad Pastafarians, sell trinkets and bumper stickers, and sample photographs that show "visions" of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
In August 2005, the Swedish concept designer Niklas Jansson created an adaptation of Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam, superimposing the Flying Spaghetti Monster over God. This became and remains the Flying Spaghetti Monster's de facto brand image. The Hunger Artists Theatre Company produced a comedy called The Flying Spaghetti Monster Holiday Pageant in December 2006, detailing the history of Pastafarianism. The production has spawned a sequel called Flying Spaghetti Monster Holy Mug of Grog, performed in December 2008. This communal activity attracted the attention of three University of Florida religious scholars, who assembled a panel at the 2007 American Academy of Religion meeting to discuss the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
In November 2007, four talks about the Flying Spaghetti Monster were delivered at the American Academy of Religion's annual meeting in San Diego. The talks, with titles such as Holy Pasta and Authentic Sauce: The Flying Spaghetti Monster's Messy Implications for Theorizing Religion, examined the elements necessary for a group to constitute a religion. Speakers inquired whether "an anti-religion like Flying Spaghetti Monsterism [is] actually a religion". The talks were based on the paper, Evolutionary Controversy and a Side of Pasta: The Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Subversive Function of Religious Parody, published in the GOLEM Journal of Religion and Monsters. The panel garnered an audience of one hundred of the more than 9,000 conference attendees, and conference organizers received critical e-mails from Christians offended by it.
Since October 2008, the local chapter of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has sponsored an annual convention called Skepticon on the campus of Missouri State University. Atheists and skeptics give speeches on various topics, and a debate with Christian experts is held. Organizers tout the event as the "largest gathering of atheists in the Midwest".
On the nonprofit microfinancing site, Kiva, the Flying Spaghetti Monster group is in an ongoing competition to top all other "religious congregations" in the number of loans issued via their team. The group's motto is "Thou shalt share, that none may seek without finding." As of 21 August 2012 [update], it has funded more than $1,190,000 in loans.
In December 2007, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster was credited with spearheading successful efforts in Polk County, Florida to dissuade the Polk County School Board from adopting new science standards on evolution. The issue was raised after five of the seven board members declared a personal belief in intelligent design. Opponents describing themselves as Pastafarians sent e-mails to members of the Polk County School Board demanding equal instruction time for the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Board member Margaret Lofton, who supported intelligent design, dismissed the e-mail as ridiculous and insulting, stating, "they've made us the laughing stock of the world." Lofton later stated that she had no interest in engaging with the Pastafarians or anyone else seeking to discredit intelligent design. As the controversy developed, scientists expressed their opposition to the claims of intelligent design. Hopes for a new campus focused on applied science at the University of South Florida in northeast Lakeland were reportedly in question, but the university vice president, Marshall Goodman, expressed surprise, stating, "[intelligent design is] not science. You can't even call it pseudo-science." While unhappy with the outcome, Lofton chose not to resign over the issue. She and the other board members expressed a desire to return to the day-to-day work of running the school district.
In March 2007, Bryan Killian, a high school student in Buncombe County in North Carolina, was suspended for wearing "pirate regalia" which he said was part of his Pastafarian faith. Killian protested the suspension, saying it violated his first amendment rights to religious freedom and freedom of expression. "If this is what I believe in, no matter how stupid it might sound, I should be able to express myself however I want to," he said. However, the school denied that Killian's faith played a role in his suspension, instead citing classroom disruption and insubordination as causes.
In March 2008, Pastafarians in Crossville, Tennessee, were permitted to place a Flying Spaghetti Monster statue in a free speech zone on the Courthouse lawn, and proceeded to do so. The display gained national interest on blogs and Internet news sites and appeared in Rolling Stone magazine. It was later removed from the premises, along with all other long-term statues, in an effort sparked mainly by controversy over the statue.
In July 2011, an Austrian atheist, Niko Alm, won the legal right to be shown in his driving license photo wearing a pasta strainer on his head, after three years spent pursuing permission and obtaining an examination certifying that he was psychologically fit to drive. He got the idea after reading that Austrian regulations allow headgear in official photos only when it is worn for religious reasons.
On September 21, 2012, Pastafarian Giorgos Loizos was arrested in Greece on charges of malicious blasphemy and offense of religion for the creation of a satirical Facebook page called "Elder Pastitsios", based on a well-known deceased Greek Orthodox monk, Elder Paisios, where his name and face were substituted with pastitsio – a local pasta and béchamel sauce dish. The case, which started as a Facebook flame, reached the Greek Parliament and created a strong political reaction to the arrest.
In 2012, Tracy McPherson of the Pennsylvanian Pastafarians petitioned the Chester County, Pennsylvania Commissioners to allow representation of the FSM at the county courthouse, equally with a Jewish menorah and a Christian nativity scene. One commissioner stated that either all religions should be allowed or no religion should be represented, but without support from the other commissioners the motion was rejected. Another commissioner stated that this petition garnered more attention than any he had seen before.
According to Justin Pope of the Associated Press,
Between the lines, the point of the letter was this: there's no more scientific basis for intelligent design than there is for the idea an omniscient creature made of pasta created the universe. If intelligent design supporters could demand equal time in a science class, why not anyone else? The only reasonable solution is to put nothing into sciences classes but the best available science.—Justin Pope
Justin Pope praised the Flying Spaghetti Monster as "a clever and effective argument". Simon Singh of the Daily Telegraph described the Flying Spaghetti Monster as "a masterstroke, which underlined the absurdity of Intelligent Design", and applauded Henderson for "galvanis[ing] a defence of science and rationality". Sarah Boxer of the New York Times said that Henderson "has wit on his side". In addition, the Flying Spaghetti Monster was mentioned in an article footnote of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review as an example of evolution "enter[ing] the fray in popular culture", which the author deemed necessary for evolution to prevail over intelligent design. The abstract of the paper, Evolutionary Controversy and a Side of Pasta: The Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Subversive Function of Religious Parody, describes the Flying Spaghetti Monster as "a potent example of how monstrous humor can be used as a popular tool of carnivalesque subversion". Its author praised Pastafarianism for its "epistemological humility". Moreover, Henderson's website contains numerous endorsements from the scientific community. As Jack Schofield of The Guardian noted, "The joke, of course, is that it's arguably more rational than Intelligent Design."
Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute, which promotes intelligent design, contested this, saying, "the problem for their logic is that ID is not an arbitrary explanation, because we have much experience with intelligent agents producing the type of informational complexity we see in nature." Columnist Jeff Jacoby wrote in The Boston Globe that intelligent design "isn't primitivism or Bible-thumping or flying spaghetti. It's science." This view of science, however, was rejected by the United States National Academy of Sciences. Peter Gallings of Answers in Genesis, a Christian apologetics ministry, noted, "Ironically enough, [Pastafarians], in addition to mocking God himself, are lampooning the Intelligent Design Movement for not identifying a specific deity—that is, leaving open the possibility that a spaghetti monster could be the intelligent designer... Thus, the satire is possible because the Intelligent Design Movement hasn’t affiliated with a particular religion, exactly the opposite of what its other critics claim!" He concluded that "We are not worried that Flying Spaghetti Monsterism is going to lure away Christians... Nevertheless, it reflects a growing attitude of mockery toward not just organized religion, but also toward any suggestion that there is something—or Someone—'out there,' beyond ourselves and our fallen notions." Mark Coppenger, a pastor who teaches at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, commented, "I'm happy to say I think FSM hurts the evolutionists' program since, by mocking the Christian tradition... it reinforces the correct impression that there is genuine contempt for biblical faith in that camp... Besides, the parody is lame, and there are few things more encouraging than cheap shots from one's opponents."
Due to its popularity and media exposure, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is often used as a modern version of Russell's teapot. Proponents argue that, since the existence of the invisible and undetectable Flying Spaghetti Monster—similar to other proposed supernatural beings—cannot be falsified, it demonstrates that the burden of proof rests on those who affirm the existence of such beings. Richard Dawkins explains, "The onus is on somebody who says, I want to believe in God, Flying Spaghetti Monster, fairies, or whatever it is. It is not up to us to disprove it." Furthermore, according to Lance Gharavi, an editor of The Journal of Religion and Theater, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is "ultimately... an argument about the arbitrariness of holding any one view of creation", since any one view is equally as plausible as the Flying Spaghetti Monster. A similar argument was discussed in the books The God Delusion and The Atheist Delusion.
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