Pastafarian headdress controversies show the need for a workable definition of ‘religion’…

Pastafarian wearing pasta strainer on headA Czech man has won the right to wear plastic kitchenware in his ID photo as part of this “Pastafarian” faith. Czech officials ruled that rejecting his request would be a breach of the country’s religious equality laws, and have subsequently turned the other cheek as the 28 year old, from Brno, updated his ID card with the controversial image.

In a statement from Brno City Hall, spokesman Pavel Zara explained: “The application complies with the laws of the Czech Republic where headgear for religious or medical reasons is permitted if it does not hide the face.”

http://praguemonitor.com/2013/08/05/czech-pastafarian-wins-right-wear-kitchen-utensil-official-religious-head-gear

Austrian Niko Alm previously won the right to wear a pasta strainer, but others in the US and Poland have failed.

Austrian driver allowed ‘pastafarian’ headgear photo:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-14135523

Illinois Pastafarian Wants to Wear a Colander on his Head for His Driver’s License Picture, but Gets Rejected:
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2013/06/22/illinois-pastafarian-wants-to-wear-a-colander-on-his-head-for-his-drivers-license-picture-but-gets-rejected/

Whilst this is a lot of fun, I suspect that the one thing all these cases have in common is the lack of a useful definition of religion (at least for legal purposes). Actually defining ‘religion’ is something that has divided intellectuals in religious studies, philosophy, sociology and anthropology etc.  for the last century. Very few satisfactory definitions exist.

Some might view determined Pastafarians who try their luck like this as troublesome time-wasters, but they might just be providing us with the perfect scenario for truly defining what religion is. Afterall, if somebody says they are religious, who are we, or the courts, to argue with them?  Is religion entirely subjective? We need an objective, workable definition of religion not just for amusing cases like in Austria and Poland, but also to settle more serious controversies – for example involving Scientology.

I’m currently working on a theory of religion that I hope will settle cases like the above – I hope to write more on this soon.

 

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