'I, Pastafari: A Flying Spaghetti Monster Story': Film Review

Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures
An entertaining but not at all unserious doc.

Michael Arthur observes the legal issues raised by freethinking devotees of a 15-year-old religion.

Where did the universe, humanity, our planet and chocolate ice cream come from? They were all created by a giant, all-powerful being made of spaghetti, with two googly-eyes on raised stalks and a pair of meatballs where cheeks would bulge. This is the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM), and if there were any justice in the world, His story would stand as good a chance of being taught as fact in American schools as the anti-evolution narrative called Intelligent Design.

An entertaining look at some of the legal ramifications of embracing a religion founded in 2005, Michael Arthur's I, Pastafari: A Flying Spaghetti Monster Story embraces its subject's comic value while being completely serious about the special status governments give to adherents of older but equally fantastic faiths. Its sauce could be meatier when it comes to how this goofy church began, but it's a welcome change from news reports that treat FSM worshippers like mere jokers. (Admittedly, that's an easy stance to take.)

The "revelation" that launched this faith was granted unto an American named Bobby Henderson in 2005, as the Kansas State Board of Education was pushing standards that would cast doubt on evolutionary theory and promote Intelligent Design. Henderson wrote an open letter to the Kansas group, in which he explained his beliefs and argued they should get as much classroom time as those of Creationists. The internet loved the tone of the letter, and soon people around the world were claiming they believed as well.  

Frustratingly, Arthur doesn't interview Henderson or tell us much about him, instead focusing, years later, on spaghetti-worshipping Pastafarians in Europe. In Austria, the Netherlands and elsewhere, FSM worshippers are suing governments for the right to wear colanders on their heads in official ID photos.

(Early in the religion's existence, the idea developed that a noodle-based deity would want followers to wear pasta strainers as hats. But as in any good religion, there are factions: Other believers feel their Lord demands pirate costumes — "for us, the colander is blasphemic.")

These cases are meant to point out that, though all headwear is prohibited in driver's-license photos, exceptions are made for those whose religions require scarves and the like. Based on the genial, modest people we meet here, the trivial nature of this protest says something about the Pastafarian agenda. Perhaps because they've seen how ineffective outrage has been in reining in abuse of religious legal protections (Arthur offers a montage reminding us of rapist priests, Orthodox anti-vaxxers and TV pastors who live like sheiks by bilking the faithful), they've chosen a target so silly it will spark conversations instead of protest.

While the pasta-friendly lawyer Derk Venema is presenting reasoned arguments about how governments decide which religions are "real" and which aren't, two American scholars provide outside context. Philosopher Daniel C. Dennett speaks broadly about how governments have clumsily tried to design legal protections for believers, while legal historian Edward J. Larson offers some eye-opening background on evolving Christian attitudes toward Darwin. In his telling, even the Scopes Trial's famous William Jennings Bryan was more accepting of science than today's fundamentalist fringe; Larson sees the origin of anti-science Christianity in the two world wars and fear of the horrific weapons scientists designed to fight them.

But I, Pastafari feels little urge to become a full-blown doc about church and state, and who can blame it? Like its heroes, it walks a fine line between pointing out the ridiculousness of the world's creation myths and not wanting to insult those who use faith to aid and comfort their fellow humans. Given how often godlessness is repped by insufferably smug folks like Bill Maher and Ricky Gervais, it's a relief to see the same points made by mild-mannered folk willing to sit in front of judges and lawmakers wearing salad strainers on their heads.

Production company: Bread Bag Boot
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures (Available Tuesday, July 7, on VOID and digital)
Director-Screenwriter-Producer: Michael Arthur
Editors: Michael Arthur, Zandy Ariss

56 minutes