Wednesday, July 16, 2008

In Defense of Satire

If you glance to the right-hand side of this page, you will see a link to the webpage of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I remember reading about the site in passing several months ago, but only visited it recently. The open letter to the Kansas School Board is a wonderful example of satire, one of a few pieces that truly deserves the misused label "Swiftian." Bobby Henderson (the author) wrote the letter as a humorous, yet smart attack on the theory of Intelligent Design. He makes an excellent point: If Intelligent Design backs the claim of an unidentified Creator, then any diety can be plugged in, hence the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I added the link button because anybody who knows me well knows my love of sly humor and satire (The Onion being one of my favorite publications).

However, I almost took the link down when I read that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is becoming a symbol for athiests. I personally don't have any strong religious beliefs, and there's no need for me to get into my own thoughts on the existence of a God (whatever the definition may be). My grappling with the subject is no different from anybody else's. However, I do try to take a benevolent approach. If someone is religious and religion plays a healthy part of his or her life, I support that unequivocally. Two things I don't support are the theory of Intelligent Design or religious fundamentalism. To me, it seems that some athiests sometimes adhere to a sort of fundamentalism, not much different from the strict fundamentalism (whether it be Christian, Jewish, Islamic, or otherwise) that it tries to attack and discredit.

Yes, a wild card can be dealt with the idea of agnosticism, but I want to stay focused on athiesm. The subject has been relevant in the past couple of years, evidenced by the sales and publicity of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great. I have not read these books, nor have I done any serious research for this topic, save for some skimming at Wikipedia. However, it seems that public, outspoken athiests are trying to "convert" people, insisting that their views are wrong. Again, how is this not a (anti)religious fundamentalism? Using religion wisely, as a guide to do good personally and for meditative purposes is wonderful. It's when fundamentalism comes into play that problems arise. If an athiest wants to respectfully speak out to defend science, to explain the dangers of fundamentalism, to point out the hypocrisy of Intelligent Design, and to ensure the separation of Church and State (an idea that seems lost today), that's honorable. However, there are scores of people who believe in the same things but happen to identify themselves with religion. To shoot them down because they attend masses is embarrassing.

I'm keeping the link up for its intended purpose, in my mind: intelligent satire against Intelligent Design. I only post these thoughts because using the Flying Spaghetti Monster as a symbol of athiesm takes away from that purpose. As Mr. Henderson is quoted on his website: "I don't have a problem with religion; I do have a problem with religion posing as science."


Michael Peterson said...

Well said.

Bob Turnbull said...

Hi Jamie,

I've long been a fan of the Flying Spaghetti Monster as well. And though I mostly agree with what you are saying, I can't quite equate atheists like Dawkins and Hitchins with religious fundamentalists. Sure those guys are overly cranky in their approaches to stomping on the Intelligent Design folks and other aspects of religion, but I've always found that the heart of their message isn't necessarily "I know there is no God", but "we see no compelling evidence that proves God exists". Which is why they get cranky when religious dogma gets thrust upon societies.

Granted I have not read their books either (I have "The God Delusion" hanging around here, but haven't cracked it yet), so I suppose they may be very bold in their statements about the existence of a Supreme Being. But I find that most outspoken atheists do not approach the issue by trying to disprove God, but by either tearing down attempts to wrap religious beliefs in science OR by showing that logic and evidence does not require that God exist.

But getting back to your initial comment about Satire...The Daily Show had a great piece the other night about how satire can get lost on people - it stemmed from the controversy over the New Yorker magazine cover depicting Obama as a terrorist fist bumping with his wife. The cartoon was obviously satirical, but many media outlets were up in arms about it. You should be able to watch the show from the Daily Show's web site - look for the July 15th show (I think the first two segments were devoted to it).

James Yates said...


You've made some great points, and I was hoping to have some discussion come about from my post. I mentioned having not done any research, and your first paragraph makes me realize that there are some gray areas I didn't cover. My definition of "athiesm" was a little too extreme.

Whatever the Flying Spaghetti Monster means to anyone, my hope is that the hilarity and satire remain intact. Religious topics do tend to make people's little things like FSM that try to help everyone lighten up a little.

On a different note, your note on "The Daily Show" made me think of an episode from a few weeks ago: Jon Stewart made a Barack Obama joke that the audience didn't respond which Stewart said: "You're allowed to laugh at him."

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