What can be achieved by suing for the right to wear a colander on one’s head on a government-issued ID? The “pious” folks featured in I, Pastafari: A Flying Spaghetti Monster Story would have you believe that they don pasta-strainer headwear to do battle in the ever-narrowing trenches separating church and state, a noble pursuit given the specter of theocracy perpetually looming over a complacent society. And yet, whether it can be considered a religion or a worldview—a subject given considerable debate during the documentary’s ultra-slim 56-minute runtime—Pastafarianism is overtly satirical. Does that change the legal calculus?

There’s a reason the Flying Spaghetti Monster iconography has caught on, as it lays bare the absurdity of allowing religious dogma to drive public policy. The Pastafarian movement originated in 2005 with a viral letter of protest written by Bobby Henderson to the Kansas State Board of Education. In it, he used religious parody to argue that, if creationism was to be taught alongside evolution in public school science classes, then shouldn’t equal time also be given to, say, the abstract notion that the world came into existence through the noodly touch of a Flying Spaghetti Monster? For good measure, it also made light of ostentatious religious vestments (opting for “full pirate regalia”) and used clever wordplay (the utterance of “R’Amen”) to jab at the arbitrary sanctimony of organized religion.

But the intent behind the origins of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, an al dente deity whose likeness can be found in place of Jesus fish on the vehicles of many secular drivers, differs from the more recent legal proceedings that constitute the main focus of this documentary. Much like the devil’s advocates in 2019’s Hail Satan?, Henderson (who is conspicuously absent from this documentary) sought to illustrate the unsustainability of allowing religious influence within the governmental sphere. If one particular religion can display its scriptures and symbols, then all must be allowed the same access. But the colander-clad Pastafarians featured in this film—who reside and fight their legal battles mostly in the Netherlands and Germany—aren’t pushing back against a government establishment of religion, but rather against an exception made for religious headwear that’s meant to be more inclusive. Arguing against the government using taxpayer funds to impose a specific religious doctrine on schoolchildren is a far cry from saying it’s unfair that a government’s anti-hat policy accommodates folks who wear yarmulkes or hijabs when issuing new driver’s licenses.

That disparity in intent simply makes much of the Pastafarinism on display throughout this otherwise compellingly produced documentary seem foolish or even in bad faith. When a Dutch attorney argues that the plaintiff is merely a prankster trying to see how far he can take a joke, it’s a valid point. I, Pastafari winkingly structures itself as being in on that joke. The film initially presents the satirical religion’s adherents as actually devout, and the uninitiated could perhaps mistake the silly rituals depicted in the film as offbeat but genuine. There’s an argument to be made that, despite being a parody, followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster are being genuine in that they firmly believe in their activism against organized religion, an angle that’s touched upon but underexplored in this sub-one-hour film. But there’s also the sense that, much like the organized religions they lampoon, the sect of Pastafarians showcased here have splintered off into a direction that’s lost sight of the point.

Summary
This exploration of an anti-religion religious movement presents a tasty concept, but its delivery is perhaps too undercooked to be nourishing.
55 %
Undercooked
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