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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”

  1. nun ya biz says:

    has any1 ever been discrimin8d against 4 displaying pastafarian symbolism?,,,just curious. 4 example, id had mezzuzahs stolen off doorways (2 separate doors)…it was pointed out 2 me that the guy routinely visiting neighbor living in our building that kept pushing disussions on judaism (after flashing several people in my apartment & other lewd stuff) may have taken these, but not witnessed it outright/ firsthand…among other things going on ( symbolic jewelry disappeared)- do not c y any1 would otherwise do this while place i occupied- i am talking something nailed 2 the woodwork. Without going in2 detail, its something of religious significance (& was a set of gifts)- just wondered what with 4 example, the outright hate mail, if any1 has been treated poorly in relation 2 displaying any of the things sold in merchandise section? I once wanted 2 get a license plate with the phoenetic spelling of hebrew word for ‘peace’ & was warned against it…due 2 fears id have tires slashed, etc. I had my car vandalized numerous times anyhow (no ‘note’ was left, so not clear on y…i had not gotten the plates, tho). some1 in our family was ‘befriended’ by members of a supremacist group -not kidding- in same state, a few towns away. Maybe not far enough, away. In any event, wondered how this religious movement, fsm, has fared as far as this sort of thing goes…& if not an issue, etc. If i m going about posting this in wrong spot, or offend, or nobody interested so b it, but again not my intent (2 offend).

    • nun ya biz says:

      Did not c any other spot 2 post this…& was wondering about above as i m giving merchandise as gift, would prefer receiver not b spat @ (unlikely) or whatnot? If i hadnt been mistreated in a clinical setting by person with very pre set beliefs on my afterlife, & aftermath etc which was kind of traumatic considering i shared ZERO religious conversation nor made ANY referrence…am just concerned i not set some1 up 4 any weirdness-( he liked the artwork…compliments 2 artist/artists)

      • nun ya biz says:

        …the person i plan 2 give item, 2…& appreci8 any1 willing 2 share & not trying 2 drum up negativity-
        thanks.

        • Blizno says:

          OW! OW! OW!

          nun ya biz, learn to type in language!
          Your grunts that mix letters and numbers are painful to the eyes of one who is able to read text.

          Either learn to type words and sentences or else shut up.

        • Emma says:

          We cn not rd yr writin & etc bro

    • Danny says:

      “has any1 ever been discrimin8d against 4 displaying pastafarian symbolism?” Well, when I go to school every Friday dressed in full Pirate regalia, people are confused and often question me about my beliefs, but most are actually quite respectful and I’ve had at least a couple converts.

    • Corey Q. says:

      Generally people are more commonly discriminated against for being illiterate; I suspect this may be your larger challenge.

  2. Linda says:

    I am beginning to think as a FSM member my rights are being discrimated against in the new AZ, KS, OK etc laws regarding birth control and my freedom to make a decision regarding my body.

    • Bill in SF says:

      Drugs, too, not just birth control.

  3. Shuklack says:

    Talking about dogtags getting corrected, mine still say I’m a Seventh Day Adventist despite putting Atheist…. I just never bothered to change them because I found it kind of funny. I’ve been out of the service several years now, so no changing it anymore. I wonder, if I died, if my parents would have been like “When the hell did he convert to Seventh Day Whatsitfaces?”

    • jdube says:

      how about Seventh Day Atheist ?

      • Fred says:

        My grandfather-in-law called himself an “8th Day Bathtiste.”
        Thank you for your service, Justin Griffith.
        Yours In Sauce,
        Fred

  4. AFatheist says:

    I finally got mine changed a couple of months ago. Straight up Atheist, just the way I like it.

  5. Gonzo says:

    I have USMC tags with ATHEIST on them from ~1989.

  6. Mark says:

    Being a former Drill Sergeant, and atheist, I would like to say I would love it if all my trainees were like this guy. I would push my guys ( verbally ), to see if they would have the balls to fight back. You think I wanted guys on my team in combat who meekly submitted to authority?

    • Rog says:

      @Mark – You, a ‘former Drill Sergeant’. I think not. Another in a long line of Mittys.

      ‘You think I wanted guys on my team in combat who meekly submitted to authority’ – that is EXACTLY what you would want. Had you set foot in ANY army in ANY capacity you would realise that this is the sole tenet of the operation of an army.

      • Don Fitch says:

        Not IMHO — my oufit (40th Division), activated National Guard c. 1950, in 1951 when I was drafted) had mostly RA Drill Sergeants. I’m pretty sure (in retrospect, and after some much later conversations with my Outfit’s Master Sergeant Kinardo Metzler) that what they really wanted was men who would Play The Game Properly, According To The Rules. That’s _very_ different from “conforming” — consider the significances of “play” and “game”. Mind you, when push comes to shove — as it did for us in Korea for eight months On The Line — “meekly submitting to Authority” is the same as “Instantly Obeying Orders” … which (depending partly or whether the orders were good or not) was a major factor in the survivial of most of us. Think you on’t. Someone with the Authority to Speak Out commands “Take Cover”; most of those who exercised their Independence and refused to mindlessly obey made work for me, who had to put their remains into Body Bags. I _really_ didn’t like doing that.

        Yeah, the whole idea of “War” is stupid. So what other Brilliant Ideas are we going to develop?

        In a few weeks, it’ll be Memorial Day Weekend, and I might attend one of the many American Indian Powowows in Southern California at that time. There’ll be at least one set of four Veterans’ Songs, and I’ll stand and dance in place on the sidelines. A couple of guys will probably approach (partly because I’m obviously non-Indian), I’ll cite my qualifications (not that they’re needed for Honoring Veterams. but “40th Division, 160th Infantry, Medical Company, Korea, eight months On The Line 1950-51″ is fairly impressive, and hey, if guys twice as big as I am gesture with eagle-wing fans I’ll dance out into the Area as best I can.

      • Reverend Captain Mal says:

        I also have to disagree here, Rog. I was an infantryman in the Marine Corps, and we were constantly stressing that Marines need to think for themselves. The underlying message was to obey orders because they were right or the best current course of action, not simply because it was an order.

        Your argument for absolute obedience is a bit disturbing. Have you ever served?

      • Sgt Atsap Revol says:

        Rog, there are times in combat when authority is absent. For example, if the squad leader is killed on patrol, someone must assume command. This requires a person who can think for himself. Ideally, that person would be a good follower obeying orders that are given, but when required, he steps forward to make decisions. Such a person could be a PFC.

        An army of “bobble-heads” that blindly follows orders would be an army of losers. Leadership requires being a good follower, but it also requires being able to adjust to a changing situation when there is no one to give instructions.

        I held the rank of SFC in combat in the Korean War, so I’m not a “Mitty.” I’ve been there and done that.

        SFC Atsap Revol

  7. fuyura says:

    When I went into the army I had No Pref too. When I got my orders for Vietnam, I decided to change it. Fortunately I knew a guy in the personnel office, so he changed my records to read Bokononist and made me a couple of new dog tags with BOKO on them (I still have one).

    • AlHazred says:

      This is officially the second-coolest thing I have heard of all week, after the OP.

      • fuyura says:

        Thanks. Aside from being a big Vonnegut fan, I have to admit to a little magical thinking: “Maybe if they can’t find a Bokononist chaplain to do the funeral, they won’t send me to…”
        Didn’t work (not that I thought it would).
        But mostly I just wanted to be a Bokononist on my official record.

  8. xponti says:

    I have a set of officially issued Royal Australian Navy Dogtags that have Jedi as my religion on them….:)

    • Olio says:

      “A Jedi Warrior; He’d know where all the lights were. He could walk through a room, tell you how many power outlets there were. People are walking around with their eyes closed. At level 1 we were trained to instantly absorb all details.”

      ‘What’s a Jedi Warrior?’

      “You’re looking at one.”

      George Clooney and Ewan McGregor from movie ‘The Men Who Stare At Goats’

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