What makes a religion? Do all worldviews have the same validity? How are we to judge? Those are all worthy questions for consideration. I had hopes that I, Pastafari: A Flying Spaghetti Monster Story would provide some insight to those issues, but in the end I was disappointed.
This rather brief film (56 minutes) centers on the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a parody created in an open letter from a scientist following a Kansas School Board decision to have Intelligent Design taught in schools alongside evolution. In that letter Bobby Henderson sought to have equal time for a story of creation involving a flying spaghetti monster. The point being that just because someone believes something (i.e., Intelligent Design) doesn’t make it science. Science classes should teach science. That seems pretty basic.
But the parody has grown in the years since. Most recently Pastafarians (members of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster) have battled in courts (mostly in Europe) to allow them to wear their religious headwear (colanders) in identity photos. The film spends most of its time with this aspect of Pastafarianism, without ever making a case as to why it matters—or even what those involved really want to happen. The film implies that religion gets special privilege (and sometimes it does), but it never makes it clear if that privilege is inappropriate. For example, why is it inappropriate to allow a Sikh to wear a turban in his driver’s license photo? (Is there possibly an anti-immigrant or racist agenda? The film doesn’t ask that question.) What is gained by being able to wear a colander on one’s head as a Pastafarian?
Parody and satire are excellent tools in examining our culture—and religion certainly has plenty of things that are ripe for satire. The letter to the Kansas Board of Education is a nice example of that. But to what purpose does the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster continue its efforts in other areas? The film branches out at times to see religion’s negative impact on our culture. Does the film want to imply that religion is only a negative? What of the negative ways science has impacted society? The film has a very one-sided view of religion.
There is also a sense in which I, Pastafari fails to live up to the teachings of its own religion. Instead of the Ten Commandments, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has the Eight I’d Really Rather You Didn’ts. The first is “I’d Really Rather You Didn’t Act Like A Sanctimonious, Holier-Than-Thou Ass When Describing My Noodly Goodness.” There is a smugness close to arrogance in the subjects of the film as they make their cases in court to wear a colander. That conceit infests the film overall.
The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster could well be an interesting way to raise questions about religion and its place ion society. But I, Pastafari fails to live up to that potential.
I, Pastafari is available on VOD starting July 7.
Photos courtesy of Gravitas Ventures