Satire Ethics: Carrying A Joke Too Far


The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s Australian wing applied to be formally recognized as anon-profit charitable entity, but was rejected on the grounds that the purported religion is nothing more than a “hoax.” Ya think? This is the deliberately ridiculous parody religion devised to mock all organized religions and those who believe in them. Pastafarians, as “believers” call themselves, have extended a gag web post ridiculing the logic of every other religion to the point of diminishing returns. Its “heaven” has a Stripper Factory and a Beer Volcano; its argument for the existence of the deity with noodely appendages involves the world distribution of pirates. Very funny. Now stop wasting everyone’s time. Ethics Alarms discussed two abuses of process by Pastafarians here and here, but as with the career of Jimmy Kimmel and the persistence of tofu, I assumed that this joke would have run its course by now. Sadly, no.

Adelaide, Australia’s Tanya Watkins is a self-described “captain” of the church (like on a pirate ship, see) , has made repeated attempts to have the “church” be granted incorporated association status. After her latest attempt was scoffed at by the Corporate Affairs Commission, Watkins sought a review by the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (SACAT), claiming the movement was formed for a “religious, educational, charitable or benevolent purpose”, thereby meeting the criteria of South Australia’s Associations Incorporation Act.

Hilarious! She should be fined.

SACAT Senior Member Kathleen McEvoy rejected the arguments for incorporation, explaining, with more detail than this stunt warranted, that the various “Pastafarian texts” Watkins offered as proof that she was representing a legitimate religion “contain[ed] some surprising articulations”, such as references to the books of the Bible as the “Old Testicle” and “New Testicle”.

Stop! Stop! You’re killing me!

“I do not accept the applicant’s explanation of the use of these expressions (and numerous other similar expressions, many expressed in racist and sexist terms, referencing texts or practices of other religions) as examples of humour, and for the purpose of generating curiosity,” McEvoy explained, concluding that she was satisfied that the “Pastafarian texts present a hoax religion”.

“It is my view that the Pastafarian texts can only be read as parody or satire, namely, an imitation of work made for comic effect. In my view, its purpose is to satirise or mock established religions, and it does so without discrimination,” she wrote. Ms McEvoy thus upheld the Corporate Affairs Commission’s decision that there was no evidence the church engaged in “systematic teaching and learning processes, nor of any structured, consistent, and broad-based charitable activities”.

“I am satisfied that the proposed incorporated association merely presents as having a religious purpose, but is a sham religion or a parody of religion,” she wrote. “It was not formed for a religious purpose. On this basis, to conclude it is eligible for incorporation as a body with a religious purpose could clearly not be a preferable decision.”

Imagine all of the productive activities everyone involved in this elaborate charade might have been able to engage in, had not Watkins and her tired antii-religion pranksters insisted on beating an already tired joke into the ground.

For her part, Watkins denied that the church was a “sham” and a “hoax”, which she said came “from a misunderstanding”. “You’ll find that there is a core group of people who really believe in Pastafarianism and that it can change people’s lives for the better,” she said.

Yes, Kathleen, such people are known as “imbeciles.”

She added, “Satire does have a serious purpose, because satire makes people think.”

And abusing satire to waste the time of government agencies and tribunals makes me think the people who do it are unethical assholes.

One tiny bit of reality in the Pastafarians’ favor: their hoax religion is no more ridiculous or a sham than Scientology, just funnier. The adherents of science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard’s efforts in Australia took a long time to overcome reason and logic, but after many legal battles, including a mandated name change, the Scientology cult, or whatever you want to call it, has tax exempt status in Australia and is recognized as a genuine religion.

I’ll take the Flying Spaghetti Monster any day.

7 thoughts on “Satire Ethics: Carrying A Joke Too Far

  1. Unfortunately, many might be drawn to their imagery of heaven; especially after they are denied communion for supporting abortion. I can envision a day where the Pastafarians take over that church across Lafayette Park near the White House.
    When people are promised material rewards in heaven (or their Utopian societies) many gravitate toward such ideologies.

  2. “Although the church repeatedly lost in court cases heard up to the level of the Supreme Court, it undertook negotiations with the IRS from 1991 to find a settlement. In October 1993, the church and the IRS reached an agreement under which the church discontinued all of its litigation against the IRS and paid $12.5 million to settle a tax debt said to be around a billion dollars. The IRS granted 153 Scientology-related corporate entities tax exemption and the right to declare their own subordinate organizations tax-exempt in the future.

    I lost a credulous friend to Scientology in the late 1970s and have followed it’s slimy trail ever since.

  3. The US Constitution ensures freedom of religion. I do not think the Founders ever envisaged “satire religions” or even Mormonism or Scientology. Coming from a background of Catholics vs the flawed (founded by Henry the Eight so we could get yet another divorce) Church of England, I assume they thought that was as far as it would go.

    Nevertheless, who is in charge of deciding what religion is serious and what is not? I for one cannot even vaguely take Scientology seriously, though many do. Your example of a hilarious, satirical religion still begs the question: who decides?

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