Reading Time: 2 minutes Joe Mabel [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Pastafarians have hit the headlines in various forms over the last few weeks. Firstly, Pastafarian weddings have been allowed in New Zealand (and someone I work with is the cousin of one of the first wedded couple, and I am hoping to get a first hand account). Then, a court in the US declared Pastafarianism as not a religion. It seems like the movement is getting established. It’s on the media map.

The Guardian has reported:

judge in Nebraska has ruled that Pastafarianism is not a religion and that prisoner Stephen Cavanaugh may not wear a colander on his head; he had claimed that this was a requirement of his beliefs, and so protected under the first amendment. Since Pastafarianism was clearly invented as a spoof on fundamentalist Christianity, and, in particular, the demand that literal creationism be taught in science classes, the judge was obviously right.

But the case of Pastafarianism does raise the question of what makes a religion religious. To a certain sort of secularising imagination, the answer is obvious: religions are distinguished by demanding belief in ridiculous things that can’t possibly be true. That’s certainly the reasoning behind Pastafarianism. Of course it is absurd to suppose that the universe was created by a giant bowl of spaghetti, but is it any more absurd than to suppose that dead men can be resurrected, or live prophets ride horses through the sky?

When Bob Marley shouted “Rastafari! Appointed by God” at the end of a concert in London, no one laughed but, if he had shouted “Pastafari! Appointed to God”, the effect would have been very different, even though you would have to have a brain baked to the consistency of a hash brownie to suppose that Haile Selassiewas actually divine. Absurdity on its own will not usefully distinguish religion from other forms of belief.

So we come to this interesting question of what defines a religion. Do you have to show that you really believe in some other entity for the system to be defined as religious? What about humanism? What about Buddhism? What about, as the article goes on to hint at, the belief in the US Constitution? I have had arguments with people of all religious persuasions who seem to treat the Constitution as more sacred than the Bible or any other holy book.

Of course, as a conceptual nominalist, labels we ascribe to properties are conceptual, of the mind, and don’t have ontic or objective reality. So we can decide what the hell we want is religious, as long as there is consensus.

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...