550105 Views
210 Comments

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.



210 Responses to “Pastafarianism in the military”

1 3 4 5 6 7 12
  1. Sheri says:

    LOVE IT! My dog tags are unique, one of them says “meth” because when asked at first I said none, and the person asked me what my parents were, they started putting “methodist” but by the time he got to “h” I said hey, I am not a methodist, I do not want that on there. So he stopped at “h” On the second tag he put “No-Pref”. SO, my tags say I have “no-pref- meth” I dont like meth :)

  2. Fred says:

    I’ve run into the same issues in my military experience. I just wrote up a blog post over at my place – http://gunscoffee.blogspot.com/2011/08/pastafarianism-in-military.html – in response to this one, including a photo of my dog tags which read “PASTAFARIAN”

    I wish the best of luck to SGT Griffith, and just want to let him know he’s got support from at least one Wisconsin National Guardsman.

  3. Marc in South Africa says:

    I was in the South African Army 1984 and 1985. In that environment it was not only impossible to list yourself as “atheist”, but it was downright dangerous. I am culturally Jewish by virtue of the rest of my family being Jews, but I am an affirmed atheist. I took so much punishment in the army just for being a Jew (for my first week I was the only Jew amongst 1400 new recruits until five other Jews were transferred in), if I’d pushed the issue and insisted on telling people I was an atheist, I almost certainly would have endured extra punishment, mass beatings, victimisation etc. I just wasn’t prepared to go through all of that as an unwilling conscript in an apartheid army that I hated being a part of anyway.

    I did have a funny experience one though. We were doing “Colonel’s Inspection” one Wednesday morning and the Officer Commanding (a humourless martinet with a terrible temper and a reputation for brutality) walked into my tent and stared along the rows of beds all neatly made up. My bed stuck out like a sore thumb! 11 of the 12 beds had a bible laid out right next to the stripped rifle and canteen set on top of a crisply ironed and folded brown wash towel. One bed however, had a gaping open wound where the bible was supposed to be. The Colonel came straight up to me and went ballistic in Afrikaans, which roughly translated as “Where the flying fuck is your fucking bible, you blob of pus?” I answered that I was Jewish, and my bible came in two large rolls about five feet long and they weigh 66 pounds. :-) The Colonel just moved along without saying anything more about it.

    Later that day I was told that the Colonel had decided that I HAD to have some religious object on my inspection bed, so I suggested that I could put a small silver and blue embroidered velvet bag containing a set of teffillin and a tallit (Jewish prayer paraphernalia) on my bed. The Colonel was well impressed with that and I received merit points for inspections several times after that. A unintended benefit of having the bag on my bed was that the corporals (our version of the US drill instructor) never touched my bed when they routinely trashed our tent because they were terrified of the “power” of the strange religious items. :D

    • Keith says:

      Regarding the bag and the effect on the corporal: It must have been a good feeling to put fear into your opressor for once.

      • nunya biz says:

        mazel tov

  4. Tisi says:

    Like like like like! I was always tempted to make new dog tags minus the “NO-REL-PREF”, but did they actually let you deploy with those?

    You’re not alone.

  5. nunya biz says:

    Thanx 4 serving ur country.

  6. nunya biz says:

    i do not contend there is no such thing as creation, i just think it belongs separate from science class, in a designated separate area, like for me, hebrew school…having gone to a state run school where i was forced 2 attend non jewish services/ made an example of, when I declined attending,,, abuses carried out in the name of religion, in that case state sanctioned go on still- & i doubt i had made any1 smile. i do not deny my heritage or that god exists. i just admit that it has been used as a weapon against me & see that even this- fsm- could b used the same.
    my relative was beat up for in part, being jewish, as a kid, by unamed thugs…whom took his lunch $…in USA.. I calculated the dates roughly correlated with era of nazi germany @ its height…when he got older, his parents were run out of business by persons trashing their shop, in what was not just presumably anti jewish sentiment…the person creating this group, church of fsm, has reportedly received death threats – when all he did was pen a letter which instigated a group forming, around the idea behind his letter…a religion cropped up around the words & deeds of someone named jesus, i was told, & he received more than death threats. unless people want 2 c history repeat itself, how about cut the crap.

  7. nunya biz says:

    & i dont know what 2 make of this story…my experiences have involved far more outright attempts @ conversion,,,& had it been more implied like this, id have considered myself lucky. If we dropped a prayer book on the floor, in hebrew school or temple, we were expected 2 kiss the item as a show of respect…we also were never 2 write out the word God, or use lowercase g…instructed this way: G-d, instead…as a show of deferrence & respect. ..if ever writing about said deity. Just things which have stuck with me. So unfortunately has being sexually assaulted by guy my age @ jewish camp, a counselor also…human rights abuses do not limit due 2 background…I still cannot come forward because of my position relative 2 theirs. . .in society…& there r 2 many things…it becomes intentionally impossible 4 a person 2 defend, against & complicates matters.

  8. nunya biz says:

    A further reply was not posted & was kicked offline, so it was lost. Something about my initial abuse along these lines being accomplished by some1 i recently learned, affiliated with catholic church, how as a kid i had no idea of such distinctions…how i learned our family maintained contact with his…how so many things have pointed to the fact there is no such thing as justice.

1 3 4 5 6 7 12

Leave a Reply