Wednesday, July 13, 2011

But does he keep a little plastic meatball on his dashboard?

In a bit of silly foot-stamping characteristic of New Atheism, an Austrian man has won the right to be pictured in his driver's license photo with a pasta strainer on his head:

An Austrian atheist has won the right to be shown on his driving-licence photo wearing a pasta strainer as "religious headgear".

Niko Alm first applied for the licence three years ago after reading that headgear was allowed in official pictures only for confessional reasons.

Mr Alm said the sieve was a requirement of his religion, pastafarianism.

The Austrian authorities required him to obtain a doctor's certificate that he was "psychologically fit" to drive. [...]

In the same spirit, Mr Alm's pastafarian-style application for a driving licence was a response to the Austrian recognition of confessional headgear in official photographs.

You see, by Mr. Alm's atheistic spirit, it's unfair for Catholic nuns or Muslim women or others to wear headgear in photos unless he is allowed to wear the pasta strainer, showing his disdain for all religion by his pretend-worship in the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Truth be told, I have no problem with Mr. Alm's pursuit. If atheists want to adopt the practice of wearing pasta strainers on their heads to showcase their deep devotion to nothing, I will support their right to do so, not only because their doing so harms no one, but also because I'm in favor of being able to recognize the village idiot whenever possible.

The funny thing is that it's so hard to illustrate that one worships nothing. Atheists find themselves compelled to create cute little dodges like the Spaghetti Monster in an attempt to be clever about what they really, really don't believe. Never has non-belief had such a zealous and evangelical spirit, has it?

We live in strange times.

For those waiting for further literary postings, as I promised Monday--I've fallen a bit behind this week what with one thing and another. I'll try to get cracking, and get that new blog up and running as soon as possible.

12 comments:

JoAnna said...

If atheists want to adopt the practice of wearing pasta strainers on their heads to showcase their deep devotion to nothing, I will support their right to do so, not only because their doing so harms no one, but also because I'm in favor of being able to recognize the village idiot whenever possible.

Ha! Well put!

Geoff G. said...

There's a little background here that's being overlooked.

First of all, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster started in the first place when evangelical Christians got themselves elected to the Kansas School Board and promptly set about attacking the teaching of evolution in public school biology classes on the grounds that alternative theories existed (i.e. creationism/intelligent design) and ought to be taught alongside. The FSM was "invented" to highlight how ridiculous this position was: if Christian ideas about creationism had to be taught in the classroom, well where exactly was the line to be drawn?

So whenever you see this cited in public, remember that the whole point of the FSM is to keep religious theology (which by its very nature is revealed and so cannot be proven or empirically observed) out of science education (which only permits empirical observation as a form of proof).

The other thing to keep in mind is that the European experience of religion is rather different from that in the United States. Because of the historically close association of religion and secular authority there and the ensuing abuses, it's not terribly surprising that religion is more often viewed with a more skeptical and jaded eye. Indeed, these constant pushes to write religious morality into civil law do far more to discredit religion rather than uplift the general morals.

Perhaps if religious authorities hadn't been so eager to embrace secular power, it might have a little more relevance in places like Austria.

Turmarion said...

Geoff, what you say about religious authorities embracing secular power in Europe is exactly right. It's no coincidence that in Europe, where most nations had (or still have) state churches, Christianity is essentially dead, whereas here, where the tradition has been separation of church and state, it's still kicking. Most Americans don't get that. We also, by and large, are unaware that the Thirty Years' War (Catholic vs. Protestant) resulted in the death of nearly a third of the population of central Europe. Sectarianism thus left a bad taste in people's mouths, leading directly to the Enlightenment (whether one likes it or not).

I'm just wondering what Flying Spaghetti Monster would be in German--der fliegende Spaghettimonster? ;)

Hector said...

Re: It's no coincidence that in Europe, where most nations had (or still have) state churches, Christianity is essentially dead, whereas here, where the tradition has been separation of church and state, it's still kicking

That is simply not true. It's probably true of Scandinavia, it's true of some of the big countries like Germany, England, and arguably France (though the pilgrimages t Lourdes and the like would make one wonder about France), but it's assuredly not true of everywhere. It's definitely not true of Poland, it's not true of Ireland, and it's not true of Greece.

Ireland has higher weekly attendance at church, their abortion laws are a pro-lifer's dream, and more Irish people (Catholic, Anglican, and otherwise) are serious about their beliefs then Americans.

"Europe" is a big continent and it has some very religious people in it.

Turmarion said...

Hector, that's true, but two points. One, Poland and Ireland are anomalous. In both, religion historically served as a bulwark against oppression (Communist in the first place, British in the latter); thus, church attendance wasn't necessarily about spirituality.

Second, see this article about Poland and this one about Europe in general with a specific mention of Ireland. The upshot is that though church attendance in Poland and Ireland is still much higher than in most parts of Europe, it has been declining precipitously even in those two countries.

As to Greece, I'm not familiar with the situation there.

Anyway, I'm not saying that Europe doesn't vary and that there aren't very religious people there; just that Christianity is in far worse shape there, by and large, than here.

Patrick said...

"Truth be told, I have no problem with Mr. Alm's pursuit."

Yeah - I'd rather face the New Atheists - a bunch of school marm scolds who can think of no worse than wearing a pasta strainer (take *that* major world religions!) - over the Old Atheists (communists) putting Orthodox priests in gulags.

c matt said...

I do have to give him props for the clever name of his religion - pastafarianism

science education (which only permits empirical observation as a form of proof)

If that is the case, then much of what passes for "science" is nothing of the sort.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

What an infinite number of ways the human mind can find to be utterly ridiculous!

While studying some of the legal arguments about granite boulders inscribed with the Ten Commandments that had sat quietly in city parks for half a century, and the "Summum" demands for equivalent presentation of its "Seven Aphorisms," I mulled over what would be a legally sound set of criteria which would satisfy "Equal Protection of the Laws."

I would, if I were writing laws and regs, require that a religious obligation reflect a body of spiritual devotion with a continuous history of practice by at least ten thousand people, over a period of at least 100 years. (Signing a petition would not do, there would need to be a prescribed order of worship actually practiced in corporate assembly). I might have said two hundred years, but that would leave out the Mormons -- who actually are quite averse to their sacred undergarments that the rest of us aren't supposed to know about appearing in photo ID.

The point being, that it should be more than an individual personal preference or passing fad. On the other hand, as long as his face is showing, does it really hurt anyone for him to have a collander on his head?

Turmarion, I was so glad to see there is someone besides me pointing out the rather obvious empirical fact that religion flourished in the U.S., where church and state are separated, and declined in Europe, with its history of state churches. Nor am I surprised that Hector objected -- Hector is ecstatic enough about certain doctrines that he would probably be quite comfortable with an Established State Church, as long as it is His choice -- Elizabethan Anglican with all the rituals of the Roman church but no loyalty to Rome, more or less.

Hector actually proved the point by listing a number of countries in which the trend is obvious, then listing two exceptions, in both of which the church is now declining. Nothing makes a church into an object of horror and revulsion like being closely associated with the inevitable corruptions of state power.

As to evolutionary biology, the Flying Spaghetti Monster was funny, but hardly on point. If there is a mountain of evidence for evolutionary biology, and there is -- it is routinely taught in Roman Catholic parochial schools -- then obviously any omniscient God would know all about it. Perhaps we poor humans missed something. Oh, indeed we did. The foundations for evolutionary biology are all laid out in the first two chapters of Genesis. It is we poor humans who didn't see what must have been obvious to God.

Evolution is not "just another viewpoint," and the Flying Spaghetti Monster is not "just another way of thinking about God."

Turmarion said...

Here's another sobering article about the Church in Ireland.

Hector_St_Clare said...

Siarlys Jenkins,

Religion is also strong in Latin America, which has a strong history of close ties between religion and politics. And even if religiosity is 'declining' in Poland and Ireland, it remains a fact that the Poles or Irish on a bad day are still more religious then Americans on a good day.

Ironically, Ireland is the only place in the developed world where the Anglican Church is growing right now (mostly due to disaffected Catholics converting in the wake of the sex scandals).

Hector_St_Clare said...

In any case, that 'the church is declining in Ireland' may be true, but it's also irrelevant. If Ireland goes from 90% to 50% weekly mass attendance, that's still higher than the United States, which was my only point.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Latin America also has one of the highest abortion rates in the world, although it is strictly illegal, and a rapidly growing Protestant charismatic movement. In Guatemala, there was, briefly, a brutal dictator who embraced one of these denominations, but for the most part, it marks a significant departure from the Established Church.

What is more relevant though, are the vast areas of Europe on which you have conceded the argument, and the specific reasons the same trend didn't apply to the exceptional countries. They are exceptional.

But perhaps we should shift gears. What is your problem with the notion that religion flourishes when church and state are separated? Do you support some form of Establishment? Are you an Antidisestablishmentarian? What is the point of principle behind your protests?