That’s Between You and Your God

Sorry, you can only pick one.
Sorry, you can only pick one.
I’ve discussed religion up here before and managed not to be car bombed. So, today, I’m going to try and keep that streak intact. Religious beliefs make complete sense to their believers, but tend to look a little odd to outsiders. If you tried to describe Christianity to an alien it would come off as though you were involved in zombie worship. Buddhism would land you in a long, and circuitous, conversation about the difference between a philosophy and a religion. Hindu? That sounds like an acid trip I once took in the 80’s. And on and on it goes. For the most part, as long as your religion doesn’t try and prevent my religious beliefs, we all can get along pretty well. Contrariwise, as long as I can make it through a conversation without offending your beliefs, the world can move slowly forward to happiness. Some people believe there is no path to God since, to them, God doesn’t exist. Others, who clearly missed the memo on what a religion is, believe that all paths to God are valid.

In the main, I don’t care what your beliefs are. They’re yours and they give you comfort, that should be all that matters. But there are times I wonder what the heck people are thinking. A guy in Florida listed his religion as Redneck when he was busted for inappropriate acts with a minor. There are too many jokes in that one sentence for me to need to add any more.

In Utah women are suing the state to allow them to engage in polygamy (multiple wives). That whuffing sound you just heard was 10,000,000 feminists doing a simultaneous face palm. At least, in their case, there are biblical references to support that stance. And, fair is fair, since there are several parts of Africa where polyandry (multiple husbands) is legal I see no reason why they should be denied.

Of course you have to be careful which parts of the Bible you focus on. Otherwise you could find yourself at the local market selling your daughters.

There are entire web sites devoted, if you’ll pardon the term, to the vagaries of different beliefs. One man’s “Jesus made from lint” is a holy relic, while to others it’s one step away from proving the artist is completely insane.

I’m guessing you can see the problem now. Any attempt to impose your belief structure on someone else is going to be met with, at best, incredulity. All of which led to a logical conclusion in Austria. A Pastafarian, someone who worships the Flying Spaghetti Monster, demanded, and won, the right to have his driver’s license photo be taken while he was wearing a pasta strainer.

Frank Fredericks at Huffington Post managed to take the whole thing seriously enough to write a very good article, so I’ll share that with the class.

While doing my daily routine of scanning religious freedom articles, I came across a rather striking headline: “‘Pastafarian’ Wins Religious Freedom Right to Wear Pasta Strainer for Driving Licence.”

To save you the effort of reading the original story, essentially a guy in Austria got the pasta strainer head piece in his official photo identification on grounds of religious freedom. Pastafarianism, according to Wikipedia, is known as the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which was founded in 2005 “when Oregon State physics graduate Bobby Henderson wrote an open letter about a ‘Flying Spaghetti Monster’ as a satirical protest against the decision by the Kansas State Board of Education to permit the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution.” But what happens if his pasta strainer became a yarmulke or a hijab?

This raises a very interesting question about what constitutes absurdity when it comes to religious freedom. Obviously, putting a pot on your head and claiming allegiance to a hovering pasta dish best described as a punch-line to a joke doesn’t warrant religious freedom protection. While religious freedom is an essential component to a democratic and free society, most would find this to be too ridiculous to warrant protection.

“But isn’t all religion absurd?” Even if my opinion is a clear “no,” the diversity of perspectives blurs the line between sanctity and silliness. The slightly older faith tradition of Rastafari (whose adherents prefer not to be referred to with “-ism”) apparently crosses the line of what’s protected under religious freedom. Rastas, numbering only in the hundreds of thousands, recognize Haile Selassie I as God incarnate, and believe that marijuana is a gateway to spiritual enlightenment. Yet, this practice is not protected under religious freedom, limiting the religious practice of this community. While one can recognize the pragmatic aspects of rejecting a religious exemption, including the likelihood of every pothead in America claiming Rastafari observance, this still should trouble us that a religious practice can be prohibited even when practitioners are not hurting themselves or one another.

So then religious drug use is out, right? Then why was the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1994 passed? This law allows the use of peyote, mescaline rendered from cactus, to be used by Native Americans in their ceremonial traditions. Clearly psychedelics are considered higher class drugs than marijuana, so why are freedoms granted to one religious community and not the other?

Constitutionally, we value diversity of opinion in America, and everyone — from conservative to liberal, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu and non-religious — cherishes the protections we each have to dress, act, think and speak differently. If we must err in one direction between absurd and restrictive, I would have to embrace the absurd. Regardless of how I feel about the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I know that even if everyone considered my own faith tradition as inane, I would demand my right to express my faith freely.

Few would argue that religious freedom should protect the ability to hurt others, ourselves or society at large. As an example, no one can get away with murder by claiming that human sacrifice is part of their religious expression. But what about practices which could be considered by outsiders as ludicrous, and even illegal? While intention plays a significant role, I question whether a governmental body effectively can and ethically should rule on what is fair game for religious freedom. In the short term, I think that means I’ll need to put up with more kitchen wear apparel in official identification cards.

Unlike Mr. Fredericks, I don’t see this as my being forced to put up with anything. If this guy is comfortable tooling around Vienna with a strainer on his head, then more power to him. The world could use a few more folks who thumb their nose at authority and strictures without causing harm. As Gandhi proved, it’s entirely possible to change the world without firing a shot. Not that I’m comparing a Pastafarian to Gandhi, but the core concepts are similar enough to warrant notice.

Besides, it isn’t like this guy is like those crazy people who claim to have found a second Loch Ness monster in Alaska. Compared to them he’s perfectly rational.

Listen to Bill McCormick on WBIG AM 1280, every Thursday morning around 9:10!

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