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Pastafarianism in the military

Published July 26th, 2011 by Bobby Henderson

Here’s a guest post by Justin Griffith.  Justin is well known for his fight against the idea that “there are no Atheists in Foxholes”.  He was recently profiled in the New York Times for his activism.

FSM_dogtags

A little while ago, news broke about a Pastafarian winning the right to wearing a pasta strainer on his head for his official driver’s license photograph *edit: it seems that there was no legal battle*. Coincidentally, around the same time, I got a few emails from the contributors to a Wikipedia article on Religious Symbols in the US Military asking if I would contribute a photograph of my Atheist dog tags.

Shortly after I donated the photograph to Wikipedia, the photo was added to the Flying Spaghetti Monster entry as well. Awesome.

I actually have a few funny stories about FSM and the Army. *warning: quoting a Drill Sergeant is NSFW*

Why the Flying Spaghetti Monster was bigger than Jesus in boot camp.

Holy_Book

There are strict rules about what non-military texts you can posses during boot camp. They only allow one book, and it must be a holy book from your religion. As you’d expect from this rule, there were a few Bibles, a Koran, and even a Book of Mormon in various wall-lockers in my company. Most people just didn’t have a book at all.

I, however, brought my copy of The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

My book was incredibly popular, and people kept talking about it during the few short breaks you get during the typical boot camp day. Then other people would hear about it and ask me if they could borrow it. Everyone laughed like a bastard, and really enjoyed it.

Many people told me that the book really made some sense to them. I must have accidentally converted dozens of people, as the humorous parody religion’s messages actually sank in.

Drill Sergeant VS Flying Spaghetti Monster

At one point my Drill Sergeant tried to take it away from me. He thought it was just some book that I smuggled in. Keep in mind that Drill Sergeants are professionally trained in the art of not laughing at anything (yelling and freaking out are more appropriate responses to most situations.)

Anyway, this is the gist of the conversation:

Drill Sergeant: “Private Griffith – is that some contraband?”

Me: “No, Drill Sergeant. It’s my holy book.

Drill_Sargeant

Drill Sergeant: “Give that to me…” *Yoink!* “Flying Spaghetti Monster!? What the fuck?”

Me: ”I’m a Pastafarian, Drill Sergeant.”

[he shot me a look like he was t minus 5 seconds from throwing me into the Sun]

Drill Sergeant: “Are you fucking with me? Are you fucking with me at 0600, Private Griffith? Before I even get some goddamned breakfast?”

[I did my best to return the intensely humorless stone face.]

Me: “No, Drill Sergeant.”

Drill Sergeant: “Flying Spaghetti Monster!? I don’t fucking believe it!!!”

Me:I believe it, Drill Sergeant.”

Drill Sergeant: “What the hell is wrong with you, warrior?”

[I went for broke]

Me: “Drill Sergeant, I’m afraid I can’t really talk to you about this any further unless I’m in my religious clothing. I need to be in full pirate regalia, or at the very least wearing an eye patch.”

….Then he just looked at me for about 30 seconds. Crickets. Time stopped… The other soldiers that were around were extremely scared of the coming mass punishment they imagined that I had surely just earned them.

Then he flipped through the book. He read a few sentences out loud. And then it happened.

He smiled.

Then he handed me my book and told me to do some push ups – a slap on the wrist. And my punishment was really only for making him smile, not for anything else. He just couldn’t bring himself to treat this situation like every other situation.

My recruiter put his own religion on my forms, instead of Atheist.

First off, I actually had quite an ordeal simply getting my ID tags to accurately reflect my atheism. When I was speaking to Army recruiters, the first one that I worked with was a very religious person. Normally, this isn’t relevant. However, when asked what my religion was, I answered “Atheist”. He entered a “Baptist” variation.

At one point he asked me to look over his computer screen for any errors, and I hastily fixed this. I only had a few seconds, so I scrolled through the list and found “NO-REL-PREF”. A few days later, I had more issues with this recruiter and asked to be assigned to another one. He was great, but I guess he forgot to fix my religious preference on my forms as I requested. A similar set of circumstances prevented the mistake from being corrected when they were being issued at Basic Training.

YES-REL-PREF

Religious Preference – that’s the Army’s term. It’s a little garish and awkward, but it does the job. I was pissed off that I was stuck with dog tags that said “NO-REL-PREF”. I do have a religious preference – “none for me please… Atheist!” That’s not the same as “I don’t have a religious preference”.

I’ve thought about religion quite seriously, and I most certainly have a preference. Atheist has been on the military’s approved list of responses to this question for quite some time, so I was not breaking any barriers. I was finally told that I could (and did) change my religious preference to Atheist on my paperwork, but that I couldn’t receive updated dog tags. I was told that soldiers change their last names and religious preferences frequently enough, but must get their updated dog tags made off post at their own expense.

I was a little bit angered that I now had to buy my own set of ID tags to fix this, but at least I had an answer and a way forward.

FLY-SPA-MON

Being a former creationist, I really identified with Flying Spaghetti Monster meme. Leaving creationist indoctrination was a long and painful journey for me. Absurd as FSM might be, it’s as culturally significant to me as religion is to many others. I truly identify with it, appreciating both the humor and the reality underpinning the parody religion.

Obviously, a strictly serious answer to the question about my religious preference is “Atheist”. But given the amount of hassle I went through to get my dog tags corrected – I decided it was time for some levity. Unfortunately, the limited writing space is a factor. I considered these:

FLY-SPA-MON
PASTAFARIAN

But I wanted to include ATHEIST too, so in the end I settled with

ATHEIST / FSM

And I’m happy with that. Yes, these are legitimate ‘officially accepted’ dog tags by the way. Interestingly, there are more than a few that legitimate sets that say “Jedi Knight”.

You can check out Justin’s excellent website Rock Beyond Belief here.



212 Responses to “Pastafarianism in the military”

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  1. Stu says:

    Now that is groovy – thank you for sharing this story with us!

    I’m so glad you actually got a Drillie to smile – though I would have thought his face would have cracked off his skull first.

    My old tags just said “Nil”, which always looked a bit bleak…

  2. Bhevarri says:

    This is a fantastic post! Thanks for sharing <3

  3. Sky says:

    I burst out laughing. That is hilarious!

  4. Sky says:

    While this topic is still fresh, I thought I would try to get your guys’ attention. I emailed Bobby about this, but I’m not sure if he saw it yet.

    My high school is introducing a new class this year, called “bible literature”. We are already having funds cut in most classes (but not sports activities), so how do they justify spending this money on a religious class in a PUBLIC school? What happened to separation of church and state? Why are they teaching the bible, but not the Qur’an, Torah, or Gospel of the flying spaghetti monster? If you want to learn religion, go to church. That’s what it’s there for. I contacted the school to double check, and they are definitely going through with it. Here is an article about the class:

    http://www.derbyinformer.com/news/bible-class-renews-at-dhs

    Our school website, in case you wanted to ask the school board yourself:

    http://www.derbyschools.com/

    • Keith says:

      Sky: That is very disturbing. What do your parents/guardians have to say about it? Introducing religious indoctrination as literature is totally wrong. The buybull has been incorrectly and corruptly translated over the years (in addition to being bronze and iron age propaganda) so it cannot in any way be regarded as “literature”, any more than “Mein Kampf”. I remember when I was in teacher’s college I was required to interpret “Robinson Crusoe” in Marxist terminology. This was, of course, inappropriate as “RC” was written in an age when the nearest thing to socialism was the “Levellers” . To my mind, treating the buybull as literature is an excuse to force religion on kids.

      • Sky says:

        My mom is against this as well. (Surprisingly enough, I’ve only lived with her for about 2 years now. I was raised to believe in god. Interesting the way that works.) I am in no way good with words… so I can’t really defend my side of the argument very well against people. I feel the same way you do, they are just finding loopholes to bring religion into the school.

        • Keith says:

          I hope your mum speaks up for you. Forcing religion on children (no matter what their age) is just another form of child abuse.

        • Lindamp says:

          I din’t know for sure, but The National Center for Science Education might be able to help. They generally work for good science education, not “literature”, but they might have some information you can use in your fight. http://ncse.com/about

        • tekHedd says:

          If you want to push back, it probably wouldn’t hurt to contact the FFRF as well.

    • Randy says:

      Sky,

      You are to be commended for your actions to bring this travesty into the light of day. I hope Bobby is able to help and this thing finds its way into the national media. If these people want to brainwash their children with violent fairytales, then let them do it in church. Taxpayer money should in no way be going to poison the mind of innocent children.

      Good luck Sky and may His Noodlyness be with you!!

      • Sky says:

        Keith: She is helping out a great deal :) she won’t be at the protest, but she is supporting us and contacting people about this.
        Lindamp: Great, thank you! I’ll look into that.
        tekhedd: I have registered to join the ffrf forums, and am about to contact them.
        Randy: Thank you, I can’t take all the credit for it. Originally, a friend named Sabrina Egley brought the issue up. I just made the event pages and started contacting people about it. Bobby responded to my email, I hope an article will encourage people to contact our school board and stop this. We are also going to protest random drug testing. They honestly do not know how to handle their money. Keeping kids drug free is the responsibility of the parents, not the school.

        • Drained and Washed Clean says:

          Amazing when someone who is considered a “child” because they are in high school understands what the responsibilities of a parent are, and most parents don’t understand what the responsibilities of the parents are… This is the sad society we live in.

          (Sky, I am assuming you are still in high school here, but if I am wrong forgive me)

        • Keith says:

          I agree wholeheartedly with you Sky about the responsibilities of parents. They took the responsiblity of having them or adopting them (in most cases, anyway: I know there are exceptions) so it should be their responsibility to educate them about social issues. This includes drugs, religion, politics and sex. I hope your campaign has the desired effect.

        • Sky says:

          I’m 17 :) I’m glad you guys see it that way. It’s not going as smoothly as I had hoped, but I really didn’t expect it to. A lot of people are arguing that because it isn’t a required class, it isn’t a big deal. Of course, that isn’t the case. This class is just one stepping stone, leading up the path to bringing religion into our schools.

    • lord barbecue says:

      Notify the ACLU. They are not automatically opposed to bible as literature courses, but they recognize the potential for improper religious teaching in such classes. Given that you are in Kansas, I think they’d be very suspicious.

      • Sky says:

        Sabrina has contacted them already :) the NCSE replied to my email, they suggested Americans United for Separation
        of Church and State.

        To be honest… I’m feeling a bit sick to my stomach because of this whole thing :P It’s like fighting for nothing, when you know that the Christians will make you out to be the bad guy. It’s getting complicated, with the laws and the loop holes.

        • TiltedHorizon says:

          Should be a simply litmus test, if this is truly not about promoting religion then they should not mind making it a comparative study, equal time for the Torah, Qur’an, or any number of religious texts. The fact the the bible is the only interest implies subterfuge.

        • Sky says:

          If you’re interested, we have the event page up. http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=240646242623295

        • Sky says:

          We are no longer protesting bible literature class. I will still be contacting whoever I can about this, but it’s just gotten too complicated. Sorry guys.

  5. Tracy says:

    That’s an awesome story. I’m over in korea right now (8th army) First thing (after all this monsoon rain) Im going to get my Dog Tags Changed.

  6. Pirate Dan says:

    Nice post.

    And we welcome you to the Church of the FSM. The only church that lets you remain an atheist after joining it.

    RAmen

    • midnight rider says:

      Ramen!

  7. Baby RAmen says:

    That’s pretty sweet. I need to get my dog tags redone, I’m rocking the NO REL PREF because I was too chicken shit in basic to make a stink about it. Well, times have changed!

  8. Keith says:

    “Atheism” has been an acceptable entry since at least the second world war. A number of German Soldbuches have been known to have “Atheist” (gottlos) written under “religion”. I used that on my own “soldbuch” for reenactment purposes and refuse to take part in religious services. (see http://www.dererstezug.com/SoldbuchAnatomy1.htm page 2 item 11)

    • theFewtheProudtheMarinara says:

      Forty years ago my dog tags read “Agnostic”. I was “volunteered” to be an altar boy at a non-denominational service until I explained to the sargent what agnostic meant. “No Religious Preference” would no doubt be interpreted as “generic Christian” by the average non-com.

      • Keith says:

        Non coms rise through the ranks. They should have a better grasp on reality than commissioned officers.

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