While discussing the legitimacy of certain obscure religions, I offhandedly made a perhaps rash comment comparing the Jedi Church to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. In penance for possibly undercutting one of these two electronic churches, I decided to do a little research on the Pastafarians (as they call themselves), in order to determine if I was at fault over my sweeping generalization. I went to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s website with the goal of finding the three factors we talked about in class: individual, community, and social aspects of this electronic church.
In regards to an individual transformational experience, I did not experience one. The website, though aesthetically-pleasing and easy to navigate, provided very little religious substance. Instead, the majority of the content was discussion regarding the legitimacy of the religion, which, without knowing better, would seem to be the backbone of the faith. In fact, the “Join Us” section ends with
FSM is a real, legitimate religion, as much as any other. The fact that many see this is as a satirical religion doesn’t change the fact that by any standard one can come up with, our religion is as legitimate as any other. And *that* is the point.
While the website affirmed my weariness with the fine line between legitimacy and illegitimacy, it didn’t provide anything that shattered my world view or validate their pasta-based deity. To grant the church of the FSM the benefit of the doubt, I am left to assume that the “good stuff” isn’t available on the website. Like most electronic churches, there is a handy link to purchasing a copy of their gospel (in the right column on the home page), though it suspiciously lie under ads for more advertising merchandise, like car emblems, clothing, and posters.
Where the website shines, however, is fostering a community. Most of the website is devoted to hosting various congregation-submitted tributes to the FSM, including poems, desserts, and a whole mess of fliers under their “materials" section. Also, the website is well-integrated with social media, with links to twitter feeds, an RSS feed, and Facebook "Likes" on every article. There is also a forum to socialize and organize with other Pastafarians.
An element I found particularly interesting is in the website’s Q&A section, it compares the Church of the FSM to the young religion of Mormonism:
Q: In 1000 years will FSM be a mainstream religion?
A: This is something I think about constantly and it keeps me up at night. I sometimes wonder what the Church of Scientology — or lets say the Mormon Church looked like 5 years after Joseph Smith transcribed the scriptures out of the hat with the seer stones…yes, I do worry where FSM will go. My hope is it continues to be a positive force in the world. We will need to keep an eye on it for sure.
The website grants authenticity to FSM by comparing it to the process that the Church of Latter-Day Saints, and really every religion, had to undergo in order to gain legitimacy. What if the first five years of existence of every religion started with the same amount of skepticism the general public holds for FSM currently?
Another element of the website I found interesting is a blog post regarding the UK census, which mentions the 2001 effort made by the Jedi Church to be recognized as a legitimate religion. Initially, the blog post urged members to put “Pastafarian” down as their religion on the census, but a carefully-worded revision did its best to suggest that non-“True Believer Pastafarians” put “No Religion” on the census, in order to not inflate the statistics regarding religion. This was not the first, but probably the greatest difference to other religious websites. Their justification,
While there are many True Believer Pastafarians, a large number of us could be described as not literally believing our own scripture. That’s not all that unusual in religion (many Christians don’t take the Bible literally) but that we are honest about our own reservations *is* unusual (and an important part of our religion). I often hear this brought up in arguments why Pastafarianism is not a “real” religion. My feeling is that defining religion is always done with some agenda and we’re best off not fitting into anyone’s small-minded definitions. But this problem remains – there are a huge number of people who get something positive out of Pastafarianism without literally believing the scripture. This census question, when asking people to define themselves in such simple terms, can’t fully capture a person’s view of a very complex subject.
is sound, but not a convincing argument for why serious members of a serious religion would declare themselves non-religious. Sounds like a bunch of satirists got caught in their joke, and realized that by while proving religion is as sacred as we make it, they were at danger of their voices being heard too well, becoming (in the eyes of statistics) legitimate religious individuals despite only doing it to make a point. Well, that, and census fraud.
After my survey of the website, it seems to be that the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s electronic church is one that doesn’t fit with conventional religion. For one, it emphasized community, socialization, and spreading the word far more than the actual content of the doctrine. Also, this shyness of considering oneself, or being officially labeled as religious, supports my impression that if you grant FSM a sort of religious credibility, than you have to consider it a new-aged, altered version of religion. As a young institution, only time will tell if its members, the general public, and the tax-exempt board will validate it as a new take on religion, as opposed to a politically-minded satire.
- aseroff posted this