This spring, the Infrastructure Ministry in Brandenburg, Germany, found itself litigating what counts as religion. The ministry typically concerns itself with worldly issues like road signage. But then the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) sought a road sign of the sort that local Catholic and Protestant churches receive from the German state.
The ensuing legal skirmish—a court ultimately sided with the Infrastructure Ministry, which argued that FSM wasn’t “a recognized religious community”—was the outgrowth of a different controversy more than a decade ago and 5,000 miles away. In 2005, the Kansas Board of Education voted to let public schools teach the creationist theory of intelligent design alongside evolution, arguing, among other things, that you couldn’t prove a supernatural being hadn’t given rise to life. A 24-year-old with a degree in physics named Bobby Henderson responded on his website that you also couldn’t prove a flying spaghetti monster hadn’t created the universe. Why not teach that theory as well?
The Kansas board reversed itself within two years, but the semi-parodic Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has outlasted the dispute, spreading via the internet to countries around the world. As FSM has taken root in Europe, where evolution is fairly uncontroversial, its purpose has shifted somewhat, with followers using it to test the relationship between Church and state in countries ranging from relatively secular France to heavily Catholic Poland.