Sit down, “Pastafarians”.

A person named Shawna Hammond just wore a colander on her head in her driver’s licence photo because: 

Hammond is an atheist, but she told the department of motor vehicles that she is a “pastafarian.” She says she believes no one should be forced into religious beliefs.

“For me the colander represents freedom, our freedom of religion and to whatever religion we prefer or even lack of religion,” she said.

As for being a pastafarian — it is a real thing. It came into being about 10 years ago when a man wrote a letter to a school board talking about a flying spaghetti monster, equating that to creationism being taught in schools.

I’m seeing a lot of cheering about this online, in progressive spaces. But it doesn’t sit well with me. When I tried to explain why, that answer came out as a list of six reasons:

  1. I am an atheist for sure, and am definitely coming at this discussion from a place of suffering a lot as the result of the religious beliefs of others (specifically the idea that men are head of the household).
  2. I am absolutely troubled by the role that Christianity plays in setting American and Canadian legislative policy.
  3. I find the atheist movement as dominated by patronizing and slut-shaming old white dudes as Christianity is. I do think it has a lot less power to make the world worse, because it lacks the community, resources, and political support that Christianity has. It is sure doing its best, though.
  4. I absolutely think the term “Pastafarian” is the result of a group of thoughtless white people who didn’t think at all about the racist implications of the way they were framing their legitimate reaction to the cultural and political power over their lives of a church they didn’t belong to or support.
  5. A lot of atheists act like “Whoa you guys did you know oppression is a thing?” and behave as if they are the most oppressed people in this world and it is absolutely infuriating and racist and toxic and horrible.
  6. I think that most people who identify as atheists more than they identify as anything else (feminists, socialists, etc) are at best doing nothing to make the world a less oppressive place and at worst actively facilitating and perpetuating most forms of oppression.

I’ve watched a few people be pretty defensive about this today, but I honestly haven’t seen any arguments that don’t completely reinforce the concerns I’ve outlined above. I really recommend reading Agnostic Atheist, But Not Interested In White Supremacist Atheism, on the always stellar blog Gradient Lair.

We get it. You are super oppressed. (photo by Crouchy69)
We get it. You are super oppressed. (photo by Crouchy69)


3 thoughts on “Sit down, “Pastafarians”.”

  1. I “identify” as an atheist. I guess. I also identify as a ukulele player, a cyclist, a whisky-lover, and a fan of Chuck Jones. I think your main point is a strong one — the “Pastafarian” movement runs the risk of becoming too knowingly self-conscious. There are definitely people within the “atheist movement” that qualify as you describe them.

    I guess the only place where I really differ from you is in arguing that “Pastafarian” is a racist term or has racist implications. As I understand the genesis (see what I did there?) of the Flying Spaghetti Monster movement, it was a satiric attempt to point out the problems with those who were being given standing in a creationism trial in Kansas, and the whole idea was to create a “church” that was silly as possible, hence terms like “Touched by his noodly appendage”, etc. Are Rastafarians offended by it?

    Interesting post. Thanks for writing it, Audra.

  2. I wasn’t aware that as an atheist I was part of a movement. I am an old white guy, who doesn’t believe in God, if that qualifies me as a member. Although I don’t recall doing any slut-shaming ever.

    I have never felt oppressed for my (non)beliefs at all and I didn’t know that was a thing.

    I feel this column maybe generalizes about atheists but feel unable to really complain from my position of privilege as a blond, blue-eyed, white male.

  3. I’m a Unitarian humanist. I’m delighted to see people identify as christian, wiccan, atheist, or jedi, because I believe the broadest range of perspectives and beliefs is necessary to move us forward as a species. I’m okay with someone who wears a colander on their heads for religious/spiritual reasons.

    I’m also a fan of satire, especially clever and well-targeted satire. During the Intelligent Design debate, FSM satire justified itself (including any inadvertent bad feelings which the joke-name Pastafarianism may have generated) because it served a social purpose.

    But I agree with Audra that nowadays, FSM has worn awfully thin. The practitioners who still think it’s funny are welcome to their in-joke, but they should recognize that its social satire was never exactly razor-sharp, and has only become duller with time. I’ll take atheists with a sense of humour over the other kind any day of the week, but if they wish to continue using satire to effect social change, it may be time to shelve their colanders and work on some new material.

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