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A colander on your head "to honor God, the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It sounds absurd, but the underlying message is very serious: With their self-proclaimed religion, the Pastafari oppose the privileges that religions have. However, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Pastafari should not be included among officially recognized religions. Researcher Tim Wolff took a closer look at the case.

Pastafari are people with a colander on their heads who promise a heaven with beer volcanoes and a stripper factory. Do they actually want to be taken seriously?

'I think that's ambiguous. Wearing a colander as a religious duty and the "Rather-Nots" instead of the Ten Commandments are clearly meant to be funny. But I think the reason they started the Pastafari movement is serious. They are agitating against the privileges of recognized religions: the exemption from the ban on unanaesthetized slaughter, being allowed to wear a headscarf on a passport photo, being able to treat men and women differently in an organization. The Pastafari find it unjust that such exceptions are made for religions.'

Why, according to the European Court, should Pastafarianism not be included among religions?

'According to the court, Pastafarianism does not meet two requirements for an official religion. It does not meet the "seriousness requirement." The court is not convinced that the Pastafari themselves believe what they claim to believe. A parody the court does not take seriously. That gives us a lot of new information, because from that ruling you can see that the seriousness requirement is not about the nature of the belief, but about the mental state of the adherents.'

On what other grounds was the Pastafari's case dismissed?

'The other ground was the lack of "cohesion". The crazy thing is that until now it wasn't really clear what was meant by that. The ruling in the Pastafari case gives new information about that. The Dutch judge said that all sorts of implausible connections are made in Pastafarianism. For example, they "believe" that climate change started in 1800 because the number of pirates has been declining ever since. According to the judge, that is an incoherent story and thus they do not meet the cohesion requirement. The European Court now seems to go along with this reasoning.'

So an official religion is not allowed to make incoherent connections?

'This ruling does say that by clarifying for the first time what cohesion actually means. That implies quite a bit. Are the assumptions made in recognized religions really that plausible? For example, if you believe in reincarnation, you are saying that if you behave badly after death, you can return to the world as a worm. It would be a landslide if cohesion was consistently applied in this way, but I don't expect it to be.'

Isn't that kind of arbitrariness unfair?

'It does seem that big religions obtain rights easier and that's not fair. If you say you are Pastafarian, first you have to explain what that is and only then is it decided whether Pastafarianism is considered a religion. On the other hand, it's also understandable because with existing religions they don't test every time whether it's a religion.'

Did the Pastafarians have a chance in this case?

'The court ruled that the parody was a joke, but the message behind it was not. The Pastafari are serious critics of the privileged position of religions. If they had invoked that serious political conviction, in my opinion, they would have won. Secularism, for example, is also officially recognized as a philosophy of life. But that is not what they want: the goal was to show that with a strange belief you can get the privileges of religions.'