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KeywordsAtheism Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster Iglesia Maradoniana Mock religions Popular culture Secularism
A mock or parody religion usually takes one of two forms. The first is a fictional religion that highlights the deficiencies of existing religions, like Bokononism in the novel Cat’s Cradle (1963) by Kurt Vonnegut. The second form of mock religion is a deliberately created institution and belief that mimics in structure and content traditional religions such as Christianity. An example is the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, founded by Bobby Henderson to protest the teaching of “Intelligent Design” (creationism) in Kansas schools. The existence of mock religions is linked to the rise of secularism and atheism in modernity.
Since the colonization of Latin America by Europeans in the sixteenth century, Catholicism has been the dominant, and only legitimate, form of religion. Until 1960, approximately 90% of the population was Catholic; the Pew Research Centre’s survey of November 2014 indicates that figure has fallen to 69%, with 19% now identifying as Protestant, and 8% (60 million people) being atheist or agnostic. There are differences among the nineteen countries: for example, 37% of Uruguayans are religiously “unaffiliated,” whereas in Paraguay the figure is only 1%. Thirteen countries have 9% or less unaffiliated citizens, and six range from 10% to 37%. Unaffiliated Latin Americans generally say they have “no particular religion” rather than “describing themselves as atheist or agnostic” (Pew Research Center 2014).
It is important to state that very few atheist and agnostic Latin Americans will be interested in “mock religions,” and is possible for participants in mock or parody religions to possess multiple religious identities (Cornille 2013). Another issue is that “mock religions” is a critical outsider term, and members of such groups often insist they are religious, and to deny their faith the status of true religion is an act of religious discrimination. The category of “mock” or “parody” religion exists because in the West the normative status of Christianity means that all traditions apart from the Abrahamic monotheisms have had to fight for the status of “authentic” religion. Indigenous religions, new religious movements, and, more recently, religions based on popular culture have all been dismissed as inauthentic at various times (Cusack 2016b).
The members of “invented” (Cusack 2010) or “fiction-based” (Davidsen 2013) religions are active in contesting this discrimination. In 2001, the categorization of Discordianism on the Internet as a “parody religion” resulted in a protest by Discordians, who insisted that their faith be granted the status of “real” religion. One Discordian demanded, “I ask that either you move us into the same category as the rest of the religions, or tell me what the criteria [are] to become a ‘real’ religion so that I might show how Discordianism meets [them]” (Chidester 2005: 209). In 2008, Iglesia Maradoniana’s cofounder, Hernán Amez, stated “I am not a Catholic. Religion is about feelings and we feel football. I’ve been doing this for ten years now and it’s not just a bit of fun, it’s a religion” (Howland-Jackson 2008). Scholars of religion have to date been more open to invented religions than the popular media or government bodies such as census collection agencies (Possamai 2003: 74).
This discussion of “mock” religions focuses on the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (CFSM) and Iglesia Maradoniana, and examines the relationship of these pop cultural phenomena with the rise of secularity and atheism, and also with nontraditional forms of religious identity and belonging. The first form of mock religion that found in novels and literary texts but not in social reality is briefly mentioned. The study of invented, fiction-based, or hyper-real religions connects with the equally new subfield of atheism, nonreligion, and secularity (Bullivant and Lee 2012).
The Study of “Mock Religions”
Belgian-Australian Adam Possamai pioneered the study of what he called “hyper-real” religions in an analysis of the “Jedi Census phenomenon” of 2001. Possamai, following Jean Baudrillard, called Jediism “hyper-real” as it was a simulacrum of religion crafted from popular culture (Star Wars) and disseminated on the Internet (Possamai 2005: 72–76). Different approaches to these religions developed: Carole M. Cusack proposed the name “invented religions,” arguing that these religions’ “self-consciously fictional status and rejection of traditional legitimation strategies” were core characteristics (Cusack 2016b: 245); and Markus Altena Davidsen’s study of religious groups based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Jediism led him to distinguish “fiction-based religions” from traditional religions and fandoms, arguing that fans did not accord reality to fictional texts, but members of fiction-based religions “really believe … that Middle-earth exists on another plane … [or] really believe that the Force exists” (Davidsen 2013: 381).
This academic discussion is valuable, as if members of a “mock religion” argue that they “really believe” in the tenets of the faith, the possible association of such phenomena with atheism and secular modernity becomes problematic. Yet it is clear that the reason that mock religions exist is that in the developed world the power of institutional Christianity has been in retreat since at least 1960, and probably since the mid-nineteenth century. New religions (Mormonism, Spiritualism, and Theosophy) were founded and the control of the Christian churches over morality and public life was further weakened by the two World Wars. In the 1960s, new religions included Hinduism and Buddhism, which were “old” religions in the East but “new” to the West, and Western examples like the Church of All Worlds and Scientology appeared (Cusack 2010: 80–81). Secularization is now understood to refer to a process of religious change, not decline, which results in the uncoupling of the sacred from institutional religion. Thus, a range of practices, experiences, and texts are now used in new religions and spiritual currents, including novels, film, rock stars, and sporting heroes.
The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster
Latin America tends to be more religious and conservative in social attitudes than other Western nations, yet the secular trend is observable in Brazil’s Republican Constitution of 1889, which broke with the Portuguese crown and disestablished the church, though the “secularization of civil life and education … [involved] continuous compromise and negotiation with the Catholic Church” (Montero and Dullo 2017: 51). With 60 million religiously unaffiliated citizens, atheist groups have emerged, for example, the Chile Atheist Society. Mónica Moreno Rubio, one of the organizers of the First Atheist Congress in Mexico, says it is important for organizations to challenge the stereotype of atheists as “satanical and … amoral people” (Herrero 2015). It seems that few Latin American atheists are involved with “mock religions” like the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (CFSM).
The CFSM began when Bobby Henderson sent a letter to the Kansas State Board of Education arguing that Intelligent Design (that is, creationism) should not be taught in schools. Henderson, a physics graduate, claimed that the “Intelligent Designer” was the Flying Spaghetti Monster and not the Biblical God (Cusack 2010: 113–114). His letter got no answer, so Henderson founded the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and published The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (Henderson 2005). He did not intend the CFSM to become a religious (or even “mock religious”) organization. It was a critique of Christian doctrine, like Bertrand Russell’s teapot or Vonnegut’s Bokononism, noted above. These “mock religions” have no real-world institutions, but serve to point out illogical aspects of Christianity. For example, Russell’s teapot was proposed in 1952: “consider the hypothesis that there is a teapot orbiting the sun … in outer space. We can’t … prove that there isn’t one, but we possess … no evidence that there is. The reasonable conclusion is not merely to suspend judgment, but to conclude that there isn’t one” (Garvey 2010: 9). This argument is still popular with atheists.
However, the Flying Spaghetti Monster became an Internet meme and groups of people began dressing as pirates and campaigning to be allowed to wear pasta strainers as religious headgear in official photographs (usually driving licenses), so it resembles a “real” religion. Henderson welcomes all as members of CFSM and emphasizes that it “is NOT an atheists’ club” and that Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus have joined (Rico 2014), suggesting multiple religious belonging is likely for members. A branch of CFSM, the Nueva Iglesia Pastafari di Costa Rica, led by José Castro, started in Costa Rica in 2014. Information about its membership and activities is limited to websites; members meet every 15 days to eat spaghetti and meatballs together, which Castro said is like “what is done in Catholic worship, we eat our God and [sic] done as a type of communion, we chat and spend time in the company of people who think alike, it’s very nice” (Rico 2014). He agreed that the church is “partly facetious” and confirmed that members do not all “believe exactly the things proposed” (Rico 2014). It is not possible to know if members of Nueva Iglesia Pastafari di Costa Rica are atheists, though it is likely that some are.
Evidence from Latin America is scanty; in 2009 three Pastafarians in Mexico, Ana Pimentel, Diego Ramirez, and Alfonso Ballesteros, posted an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe being supported by the Flying Spaghetti Monster and claimed to be “working hard at spreading the message” in Mexico (Henderson 2009). The Brazilian Church of the True Flying Spaghetti Monster has a Facebook page in Portuguese, and in 2011 in Colombia a Facebook group, Primera Iglesia del Monstruo de Spaghetti Volador de Barranquilla, was launched after the first meeting of 25 Pastafarians in April of that year (Henderson 2011). The attractive Internet meme of the FSM has fans in Latin America, and possibly some of these adherents are atheists, but at present the research data to prove this contention does not exist.
Alejandro Verón and Hernán Amez founded Iglesia Maradoniana (Church of Maradona) in 1998 in Rosario, Argentina. Members worship Diego Maradona (b. 1960), the Argentinian footballer from the slums (villa miseria) of Buenos Aires, whose brilliant career ended in health problems, drug addiction, and a chaotic personal life. The Iglesia Maradoniana liturgical cycle is dates from Maradona’s life: Christmas is 30 October, his birthday; and Easter is 22 June, “the day new disciples get baptized by recreating the Mano de Dios, jumping in front of a life-size cardboard [England goalkeeper] Peter Shilton and trying to recreate, by means of a punchy left hand, that perfect parabola loop over his head and into a net” (Chadband 2014). His autobiography, I am El Diego of the People (2005), is their Bible, and years are counted from his birth, so 2018 is 58 AD (After Diego).
Iglesia Maradoniana is a religion focused on a celebrity, but sport is central, and members come to faith through fandom. Members view Maradona as Christlike; he suffered for humanity when he was exploited by the corrupt sporting world (Free 2014: 203). The Ten Commandments include: “3. Declare unconditional love for Diego and the beauty of football … 5. Spread the news of Diego’s miracles throughout the universe … 8. Preach and spread the principles of the Church of Maradona. 9. Make Diego your middle name. 10. Name your first son Diego” (Cusack 2016a: 478). The mood of Iglesia Maradoniana is playful and whimsical, yet the founders and members alike are dedicated; in 2018 the church celebrates 20 years in existence and is growing despite the fading career of Maradona, its savior. Ian Chadband says that younger stars like Lionel Messi (b. 1987) “do not inspire the same mad love” (Chadband 2014).
Members told him that their faith was serious, that they were “born Maradonian” and devoted time and energy to Iglesia Maradoniana, proudly wearing the religious symbol D10S, “a combination of the word Dios (God in Spanish) and Maradona’s shirt number 10” (Howland-Jackson 2008).
in a state of some consternation at the sight of so many Maradona shirts, videos, books, flags, paintings and Christmas trees, I was flabbergasted to see the procession of the “Ten Apostles.” All veiled in white, ten apparitions filed out of a back room, parading themselves with an eerie gravity. They carried different relics representing their faith, ranging from a football boot or a faux world cup trophy to a rosary with 34 beads (the number of goals Maradona scored for his nation), and even a bleeding football adorned in a crown of thorns. (Howland-Jackson 2008)
“Mock religions” are deliberately created narratives or social institutions that reflect critically on aspects of traditional religions (chiefly Christianity). Such religions are linked to atheism because they are able to exist in the secular space of Western modernity because of the loss of power of the Christian Churches. Some are more closely linked to atheism because they were created by atheists; examples include Bertrand Russell’s teapot and Kurt Vonnegut’s Bokononism. In Latin America, the most prominent mock religion is Iglesia Maradoniana in Argentina, but it is a problematic case in that a majority of members claim to be sincere in the faith (and therefore cannot be atheists). The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, originally an American movement objecting to the teaching of Intelligent Design in schools, was here examined as an Internet meme that has gained traction in Latin America. While it can be demonstrated that there are individual Pastafarians in the region and loosely organized groups in Colombia, Costa Rica, and Brazil, the question of whether members are atheists or not is presently unanswerable.
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