Joe Guse on Chris Farley

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Flying Spaghetti Monster

The other day I got a letter chastising me for "propagating the myth of the Christian God" after writing about C.S Lewis and quoting a passage from the bible. I found this a tad odd as I am not in fact a religious person. I have however found great comfort in the words of the historical Jesus when it comes to topics such as love and forgiveness.

How did these words get so distorted, twisted, and abused? It's hard to fully understand the historical forces and political inertia that explain this, but suffice to say the current state of religion in the world has strayed a long way from the common denominators found in nearly all religious texts about love, forgiveness and charity to others. Reading the newspaper in America today I am reminded of a quote offered by Mahatma Gandhi upon visiting the United States where he remarked; "I like your Christ, I dislike your Christians, they are so unlike your Christ."

With this in mind, a new religion has emerged in America based on the idea offered by creator Bobby Henderson that, "if there is a God and he is intelligent, then I guess he would have a sense of humor" and this religion is made up of "Pastafarians" who genuflect at the alter of The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster started in 2005 when Henderson wrote a letter to the Kansas State board of education in response to their mandate that schools teach intelligent design theory in the classroom. He reasoned that if the board decreed that schools had to make time to teach intelligent design, it was only fair that they also devote time to teach his doctrine of the flying Spaghetti monster as well as theories based on in his words, "logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence" in line with Darwin's theories of evolution. He magnanimously proposed a one-third split for all three in terms of equal time.

The reaction to Henderson's letter was swift and immediate. His website began to receive tens of thousands of visits each day, and ultimately went on to collect over 350 million hits. Many of the letters he received were intensely hostile, while others were wildly intrigued and expressed anxious interest to join his church. Some even took it in the spirit which it was intended, which was as a humorous and thought-provoking jab at how our country has regressed in terms of scientific education.

Henderson's doctrine makes us hold a mirror to our own hypocrisy in a light-hearted and humorous way. As opposed to ten commandments his church has

8, "I'd really rather you didn't's

  1. I'd really rather you didn't act like a sanctimonious holier-than-thou ass when describing my noodly goodness. If some people don't believe in me, that's okay. Really, I'm not that vain. Besides, this isn't about them so don't change the subject.
  2. 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.
  3. I'd really rather you didn't judge people for the way they look, or how they dress, or the way they talk, or, well, just play nice, Okay? Oh, and get this into your thick heads: woman = person. man = person. Samey = Samey. One is not better than the other, unless we're talking about fashion and I'm sorry, but I gave that to women and some guys who know the difference between teal and fuchsia.
  4. I'd really rather you didn't indulge in conduct that offends yourself, or your willing, consenting partner of legal age AND mental maturity. As for anyone who might object, I think the expression is go f*** yourself, unless they find that offensive in which case they can turn off the TV for once and go for a walk for a change.
  5. I'd really rather you didn't challenge the bigoted, misogynistic, hateful ideas of others on an empty stomach. Eat, then go after the b*******.
  6. I'd really rather you didn't build multi million-dollar churches/temples/mosques/shrines to my noodly goodness when the money could be better spent (take your pick):
    1. Ending poverty
    2. Curing diseases
    3. Living in peace, loving with passion, and lowering the cost of cable
      I might be a complex-carbohydrate omniscient being, but I enjoy the simple things in life. I ought to know. I AM the creator.
  7. I'd really rather you didn't go around telling people I talk to you. You're not that interesting. Get over yourself. And I told you to love your fellow man, can't you take a hint?
  8. I'd really rather you didn't do unto others as you would have them do unto you if you are into, um, stuff that uses a lot of leather/lubricant/Las Vegas. If the other person is into it, however (pursuant to #4), then have at it, take pictures, and for the love of Mike, wear a CONDOM! Honestly, it's a piece of rubber. If I didn't want it to feel good when you did it I would have added spikes, or something.

Henderson also makes the case in his letter that Pirates were misunderstood prophets, whose reduction in number corresponds directly with the rise of the earth's average temperature. His argument was meant to demonstrate the absurdity of implying that correlation always implies causation,which is at the heart of many of the arguments proffered by intelligent design theory.

Eventually Henderson became a bit of a phenomenon, publishing books and being quoted and written about in many of our Nation's largest newspapers including the New York Times, and the Washington Post. His work has spawned a new generation of followers, rivals, and artists to take up his cause, while also rallying his opposition in their steadfast belief in what they see as his blasphemy.

So what is the lesson of Bobby Henderson and his use of humor in holding up a mirror to the current Zeitgeist in America? Perhaps it is that humor is still a most effective way of bringing attention to the rigidity and dichotomous thinking that often characterizes the debate in our current climate. While many choose sides and dig their boots deeply into narrow and decidedly serious trenches, people like Henderson remind us that we can also choose to occasionally laugh at our own human arrogance. Although his message is blasphemous to some, the laughter he has created with his work has shined a bright light into some of the absurdity that characterizes much of our shared humanity. He has made millions of people laugh and think together, and if there is a God, my guess is that he would surely appreciate this.

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