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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. Alyssa says:

    Justin is well known for quoting M*A*S*H. “There are no Atheists in foxholes!” is a classic M*A*S*H quote. Just sayin’.

    • Keith says:

      Is that prior to or during the Alan Alda Ego Era?

    • foyertopp says:

      If you will recall, when Colonel Potter says this to the priest when they first meet, Father Mulcahey answers him with a look of “Oh, my, what do we have here?”, saying, “I’ve heard that.” In other words, the maxim had been around for a very long time, well before M*A*S*H. That’s why it is funny when Potter says it–it’s such a trite cliche (from our Department of Redundancy Department).

      • Olio says:

        ‘Department of Redundancy Department’

        LOL

      • Keith says:

        I’ll certainly take your word for it. Much of the series is a blank to me. I think I must have erased a lot of my memory after Captain Pierce turned into Captain Emo and sunk the series.

  2. Aaron says:

    I’ve been an Atheist forever(on my wrist it says “Atheist in a FoxHole”) when I joined the military there was no “Atheist” designation on the tags, it was simply “No religious preference”.

    I’m not sure these tags are real.

    • Reverend Captain Mal says:

      Calling into question the veracity of the dog-tags is hardly necessary. My official dog-tags clearly state Athiest, though the ones I actually wore simply did not have a line for religion.

      Perhaps things have changed since you got your dog-tags. I was able to write in my religious preference instead of checking a box.

    • Eric Jones says:

      It really depends on who is filling them out. If you get someone that doesn’t care, they’ll put anything on them. You can also purchase them off base for pretty cheap, and put anything you want in them as well. I originally had “no religious preference” on mine. When I lost mine, and had to get new ones, I asked if they could put atheist and the guy making them said no problem. He just typed it up, and it the machine printed it out. He actually had to do it again because accidentally spelled it wrong.

      • Keith says:

        I would lay bets that he was better at spelling “atheist” than some of the hate mailers.

  3. Amanda says:

    It seems weird that religious preference would be on your dog tags, along with your blood type and your name- obviously two very relevant pieces of information. If it’s decided only 3 pieces of information go on dog tags, why those three? Does it affect how your body is handled if you die (or how you’re treated as you’re dying)? Is that why?

    • Reverend Captain Mal says:

      That’s exactly the reason. Last rites and funeral rites are drastically different in some religions, and for some of those rites to be properly respected, some things need to be done as soon as the body is identified. That’s all it really is.

  4. MarkNS says:

    I was in the Canadian military and when I got my one and only set of dogtags in 1981, their default for atheists was No Religion Expressed or NRE on the dog tags. I had no problem with that as it was literally true. I’m not sure but one could probably get atheist nowadays.

    • Keith says:

      Interestingly, the Wehrmacht during WW2 had “gottlos”, ie “atheist” as an acceptable entry in their soldbuch. http://www.dererstezug.com/SoldbuchAnatomy1.htm. I don’t know what the allies allowed. My father was registered as C of E and I knew a kid whose father was Jewish and in the British army but was registered as C of E for obvious reasons. Acceptance of atheists is evidently not a new thing but I guess it partly depends on the politics of the time.

      • Olio says:

        ‘but was registered as C of E for obvious reasons’

        There are accounts of people having survived the war, former camp victims, children sent to safe houses, switching their affiliation permanently to for example catholicism , in order to guard against persecution in an attempt to be ‘safe’. The politics of the time can never really guard against discrimination involving intentional damage to people, when it can be inflicted in subtle ways. Those camps included other so called ‘sub classes’ of people, including anyone identifying as homosexual and the mentally ill. It was not merely about religious classification in that instance. Placing a choice on the dog tags does not limit people anyway from exploring ideologies other than such, if so interested and if the environment is free of restrictions from doing so. This is a label we are referring to, not a definition of a person in entirety.

        • Keith says:

          Olio: I am aware of what happened to sections of the civilian populations in many countries during that time. I am talking about what was found acceptable in the military. My friend’s father explained to me quite specifically that he volunteered to “do his bit” and was told quite categorically that they could not put “Jewish” as his religion, so they’d put C of E as a default. It had nothing to do with exploring other religions or other identities. Whether the politics of the time allowed for “atheist” to be put on Commonwealth service books I don’t know. I could ask for more information but, as with my father, I’d need a ouija board.

        • Olio says:

          I understand, thank you for elaborating.

          What I was meaning to say more precisely is that I was acknowledging the part where you note the pressure existed to conceal ones identity for the sake of personal safety, the ‘obvious reasons’ you noted.

          What you have cited is an extension of the persecution you had highlighted. I gather he was in an environment where had he defied convention of the time and somehow had prevailed in having that placed on his dog tags as he wished, he would not likely have lived to tell anyone further about it, or the potential is very there.

          I was also trying to point to people getting dog tags in any environment, even today. Because it is, ultimately still a label in part and wonder do people still face pressure as that which you describe?

        • Keith says:

          Yes, I daresay he would have got short shrift if captured. As regards what happens today I can only talk about the Australian armed forces: and even then only from my dealings with them as a public servant. There is still prejudice in a number of areas. Quite possibly religion is one of them although curiously it never seemed to rear its head. As for Britain I am aware that a member of the “Church of Satan” applied for permission to perform rites on board ship in the British Navy. This put the Catholics’ noses out of joint http://www.ncregister.com/site/article/satanist_seaman_granted_permission_to_perform_rites_aboard_british_vessel/ Whether he succeeded in getting it recognised as a registered religion I don’t know but I think its founder Anton La Vey formed it as a bit of a giggle.

        • Olio says:

          ‘can only talk about the Australian armed forces’

          I see. Well, here in the US I have personally known people to have placed religious markers on their dog tags. The issue is, the person in particular coming to mind has been permitted to hide behind the respect of god and countrry. He was only ever in the military to avoid serving a jail sentence he confided, it was offered as an alternative ‘punishment’ to jail. The person sort of a bully. I am not sure this is typical, but alluded to things like, paying off another enlisted to take his high school equivalency. Other things. What was put on that persons dog tags is irrelevant to me, but that is just one person. I do not see this as indicative of the norm. He told me all sorts of things that left me pause and would just as soon not know about. Anyway thank you for that interesting bit about unusual requests on the dog tags.

  5. Eric Jones says:

    As a former soldier, this kind of religiosity from leadership was common. It was one of many reasons that I got out of the military. It was always just barely within regulations so that they wouldn’t get in trouble, but it was definitely a large part of daily operations. If you ever have trouble with your dog tags, just go off base and have a pair made with whatever you want on them.

  6. Inge says:

    Just following up this dang spam thing so that it doesn’t appear on the main side people are not forced to click on it. What a pest!

    May whoever put it there be covered in month-old italian sugo!

    • Wayne says:

      I’m cleaning them off now. Sorry about the inconvenience. MYBT!

  7. Timothy Wilson says:

    When I joined the Army in ’85, I was told by a huge ugly- looking first Sergeant after turning in my info card for dog tag stamping that I could not claim “atheist” or “no preference.” I them wrote “Jewish” as a joke (I figured being named Wilson that someone would pick up on my backhanded sarcasm and would ask for explanation (no disrespect to the Jewish faith was intended.) shortly there after, I received my tags “Wilson Timothy serial number b pos Jewish. My entire time in the army all of my records indicated my religion as “Judaism.” I was releved i was never hurt or wounded…I thought I would have alot to explain to the attending Rabbi! My son asked me about my tags a few years ago upon finding them in my valet. I told him I was sort of an “honorary Jew.” though a devout atheist (if there is such a thing) I have since the service always felt that if I was any religion, I figured, at least on tin tags; I was Jewish.

    • Keith says:

      That’s odd. Just out of curiosity, which army were you in?

      • David says:

        I entered the Navy in 1975, and our dog tags were to read one of the recognized “faiths”, or you could select no-preference, as I did. I was “assigned” Lutheran. Another in my recruit company complained and insisted on atheist. He was punished, and eventually kicked out. I do not know the specifics of why he was discharged, but suspect it was something he said.

  8. Jeremy says:

    My tags say Sith Order on them. I am extremely proud of that fact.

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