I am not a Pastafarian, so I can’t really speak on their behalf. I would like to talk about them for a little, though.
The other day on the Universal Life Church Ministers’ home page, I read an article about a Pastafarian minister reading the invocation at some public meeting. Fair enough, if you feel that meetings of the town council or similar public institutions need the oversight of a supernatural being to fulfill their function, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is as good as any other, I suppose.
Or is it?
You see, in the article, it was pointed out that apparently the belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster was instituted as a kind of spoof religion, a take-off of other beliefs. So the question was raised, is Pastafarianism “real”? Which in turn raises the question of whether any belief system is “real.” And what constitutes reality in this case?
Let me hasten to say at this point that if you are a believing Christian, Buddhist, Wiccan, or anything else, I am not casting even the faintest shadow of a doubt on your sincerity. We believe what we believe, for whatever reasons. But let me begin by examining the belief in things that are “made up.” In other words, the belief in things whose beginnings we know about.
Which, by the way, includes Christianity.
I have said I am not a Pastafarian. I am, however, an Esperantist, that is, I speak Esperanto, the language created in 1887 by Dr. L.L. Zamenhof, to be an international, secondary, auxiliary language to facilitate interpersonal and inter-communal communication. It is the most widely spoken constructed language in the world. Estimates vary as to how many people are fluent, and what exactly constitutes fluency, but numbers have grown significantly recently through the use of the internet and language courses such as Duolingo. Duolingo used Esperanto as its first experimental language when the app was launched, precisely because it is one of the easiest languages to learn. After all, it was made to be easy.
Now here’s the first point: Esperanto is clearly “made up.” We know when it was written, by whom, and what it is based on. In this respect it is like the Mormon Church. (Except that Zamenhof never claimed any heavenly guidance in his efforts to create a new language.)
The point is often raised by people who for whatever reason are opposed to Esperanto that it is not a real language. But how exactly would one tell the difference between a real language and one that was not real? People write and read Esperanto, converse in it, write scientific papers in it, broadcast radio programs in it, pray in it, recite poetry, cook recipes, sing songs, hold meetings, make love, and rear their children all through the medium of this so-called “unreal” language. It is estimated that there are over a thousand people for whom Esperanto is their first language—their mother-tongue. For them, Esperanto is entirely real. With an estimated two million speakers worldwide, there are nearly four times as many people who speak Esperanto as speak Welsh. Never tell a Welshman that Welsh isn’t a real language.
It seems to me that Esperanto passes the test of realness by virtue of use, numbers, and history. People died because they spoke it, which indicates a pretty strong level of belief, I’d say.
Now, every speaker of Esperanto knows it is a constructed, artificial language. At some point the ones brought up in Esperanto learn this. This does not make it any less real.
Might not the same be said for Pastafarians—especially the ones brought up in that noodly faith? In the matter of faith, of conviction, it is the quality of belief that is important, not the quality of the thing believed in. After that, it’s what you do with that belief—that conviction—that matters. How what you believe leads you to act.
So with that in mind, let us consider what we believe in.
Our society is based on certain ideas, convictions that are not questioned, which I have referred to as the mythos. Every culture has its mythos, and ours is no exception. One of the base assumptions of the mythos is that the mythos itself is “natural.” We do not question our mythos, because it is the set of assumptions upon which we base everything else. In fact we use the mythos to test the reality of other things, ideas built upon that mythos.
We may argue over which party is the most democratic, or the best (And boy! Do we argue!) but we always work on the assumption that we are a democracy. Do remember, though, that statistically speaking what the majority of people in the country or state support has almost no bearing on the laws our government enacts. The fact has been clearly demonstrated that our governing bodies work almost entirely to the benefit of a small percentage of the population and not the majority. This is neither here nor there. We say we are a democracy, so we must be.
But what if our mythos is no more “natural” than Pastafarianism or Esperanto? What if our assumed core beliefs are just as artificial as they are? After all, to the speakers of Esperanto and (presumably) the followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, there is no way to tell the difference. The language and the religion, work just as well as any other “natural” system. And that’s the whole point: none of our systems is natural. They are all constructed, just like Esperanto.
I chose to learn Esperanto. I find that it is useful, enjoyable, flexible, interesting, and it allows me to reach out to people whom I would otherwise never contact—just like any other new language. And just like any other new language it allows me to think in new ways, to have different understanding than I had before, speaking only English. Looking at the world through a different language, even a made up one, changes the way you see things.
The same, I presume, would be true of religion.
So how about politics?
Or economic theory?
Or value system?
What, if instead of attacking someone because they say they are a Socialist, we look at this idea and see if it works? Not just assume it’s bad, or wrong, but really honestly look at it? And even if we don’t want to do that, how about seriously looking at our own capitalist democracy and see if it’s really doing what we want it to. Even remotely.
I often find it incomprehensible that when people learn that I speak Esperanto, they attack the idea. In what possible way is Esperanto a danger to any established language? How can it possibly hurt anyone, to learn a means of expanding your horizons and communicating with people you would otherwise never be able to reach? Why, in short, do people (especially native English speakers) feel threatened by Esperanto?
Could it be because it makes them question part of their underlying mythos? Is that why they scream at anyone speaking Spanish in a shop? They really can’t believe very much in their mythos, if it’s that fragile, can they? If it can’t stand up to one, tiny, made up alternative? And if their faith in their mythos is so weak, what exactly do they believe in?
Isn’t it more honest to admit that you are pretending? To accept that you don’t really believe that our country is a democracy, and that it has all the answers? Or that our confessed religion is leading us to act in selfish, distructive, bigoted ways? And if that’s the case, why pretend at all?
Because, of course, admitting that we are pretending would require us to change. After all, it’s so much easier to pretend to be a True Believer, when it gives you permission to be a total dick.
Esperanto flag by Gabriel Ehrnst GRUNDIN – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=447664