In the wake of a religious revolution, the ongoing questions about faith, science, and religion have reached an unprecedented level of pertinence within the American public sphere. Especially relevant to the discourse generated by the upcoming presidential elections , the religious landscape of the American public seems to be undergoing a process of increasing polarization. On one side of the spectrum resides the anti-clerical and scientifically-inclined non-religious, whilst on the other are fundamentalists who advocate the dissemination of Creationist theory. As a tongue-in-cheek response to both extremities, we witness the emergence of a parody religion that heralds a pair of meatballs and appendages of pasta as both the creator of man and agent behind science.
The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster originated from a letter that Bobby Henderson, a graduate physics student, sent to the Kansas Board of Education in response to their proposal to incorporate the teaching of Intelligent Design in the classroom. The concept of so-called ‘Pastafarianism’ grew into an Internet sensation and has now become a widely-recognized phenomenon within popular culture.
Although the Flying Spaghetti Monster was initially used as an amusing symbol for protesting the evangelizing of Intelligent Design within the education sector, Henderson has since developed the Church into a comprehensive parody religion. He has published a wide-selling “Gospel” of the Church’s beliefs whilst actively contributing to and maintaining the website where the Pastafarian community congregates. Henderson directly parodies Christian beliefs through these aforementioned forms of media: God is a flying pasta dish, Heaven contains a stripper factory, and prayers are concluded with the utterance of the term “ramen.”  Although Henderson intentionally avoids promoting evolutionary theory as well, the motif of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has been adopted by prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins. Rather than burdening critics with the task of disproving them, is the philosophic responsibility of Pastafarians and Christians alike, argues Dawkins, to provide the proof for their respective scientifically unfalsifiable claims. 
Rather than taking sides in the controversial decision of the Kansas State Board, Henderson aimed to point out the absurdities in both sides of the political debate. Polarizing the conflict between Intelligent Design and evolutionary theory leaves no middle ground for productive discourse, and it is evident that debates of this nature have become a combative exchange of arguments that are backed up with minimal logic or scientific justification. many of these debates consist of Evolutionists and Creationists “advocating their own ideologies while denouncing the other; without sensible conversation, a resolution or compromise will never ensue.”  By adding a third party with a uniquely humorous stance to the table, Henderson hopes to force these contenders to step back, rationalize, and realize the fallacies that exist within their own arguments. Henderson’s open letter not only served to catalyze a discussion among the members of the Kansas Board of Education, but to the stretches of the wider public. Through starting his discussion blog, Henderson created a community of diverse opinions; the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster only provided the platform for this religious debate and an example of this discourse can be found here. Utilizing the tools of controversy and offense creates a provocative starting point for dialogue, and Henderson has created a scapegoat of sorts; on his website, Christians, Hindus and Atheists alike have argued against the mocking nature of Pastafarian doctrine. 
Ostensibly, it would appear that Henderson has created a derisive anti-religious movement that aims to make a mockery of the convictions of mainstream religions. However, the public discourse that has emerged must undergo critical analysis in order to reveal its merits. The defining characteristic of Pastafarianism is that it is a parody; notable Judeo-Christian figures are substituted by pirates, strippers, alcoholics, and a spaghetti monster. Through the technique of reductio ad absurdum, Henderson has invited religious followers to denounce Pastafarian beliefs as incredulous and absurd. By doing so, they are in fact applying the same logic that atheists exercise to criticize the merits of their own religion. Through defining his religion with exaggerated and ludicrous beliefs that openly provoke criticism, Henderson holds a mirror up to religious fundamentalists to make them grasp the irrationality of their own flawed literal approach to religious texts. This essentially is a process that encourages the separation of what we perceive as a priori and a posteriori biblical truths; arguing that intelligent design is a scientifically-valid theory that should not be held at the same regard as arguing that an ideal society should be governed by morality and benevolence.
The public reaction to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is incredibly polarized; Pastafarianism possesses a fervent community of proactive followers whilst also inciting impassioned criticism. One of the most notable characteristics of the Church is that almost all relevant activity pertaining to it occurs online. Through the medium of the Internet, the Church has gained a mass following due to its unique ‘viral’ appeal.  Through wit, satire, and slapstick humor, the Church serves as a potent contrast to the proselytizing techniques used by traditional religions; Sarah Boxer of the New York Times owes its success to the fact that “parody is contagious.” Ultimately, the Church has served to engage the non-religious in religious dialogue; you no longer have to be a godless proponent of evolutionary theory to criticize the overwhelming presence of theocracy within both the political and educational sphere. Henderson’s website exhibits a plethora of ways that his religion has mobilized the masses towards his version of rationalism.
On the other end of spectrum, however, those who do not realize its satirical nature have denounced it as a “cult”  and manifestation of lunacy (see the hate mail page to explore the negative criticism the church has received). Henderson posts these letters to point out just how irrational some people seem, and the inability of sectors of the public to discern what is normal and acceptable. It is sensible to assume that Scientology and Mormonism bear more credence than Pastafarianism, but we must question why this is so when the former two religions advocate scientifically-illogical and historically inaccurate beliefs as well. Not only does this force us to question what prerequisites allow a religion to bear mainstream appeal, but also what can qualify as faith itself: if followers are aware that their church is a parody, then are they actually exhibiting “faith?”
Whilst the popularity of Pastafarianism may initially appear to only be a result of its novel appeal and inflammatory nature, the discourse that it has generated on both sides of the religious debate demonstrates the value of its existence within the public sphere. Rather than serving as an attack on religion, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster parodies it to highlight the absurdity of fundamentalist claims in both religion and science, and the need to quell theocratic influence within American politics and education. Through his noodly appendage, he touches us all to just simply rethink America’s approach towards religion.
- Fifield, Anne. “Religion on display in Republican debate.” FT.com: 2011
- Henderson, Bobby. “The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.” Random House Publishing Group: 2006
- Paulson, Steve. “The Flying Spaghetti Monster.” Salon.com: 2008
- Strandberg, Tod. “Evolution vs. Creationism: A Pointless Debate.” Raptureready.com: 2005
- Various contributors. “Hate Mail.” Vengaza.org: various dates
- Berg-Cross, Gary. “Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster Goes Viral.” American Humanist Network: 2011
- Schultz, Jason. “Cult of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.” Law Geek: 2005