When I picked up Surrey “Pastafarian” Obi Canuel in my car on Tuesday afternoon, my first observation was that he had swapped out his holy colander for a spaghetti strainer.
He had requested a ride to his vehicle after ICBC left him stranded by denying his right to wear “religious headgear” – a pasta colander – in his driver’s licence photo.
Obi Canuel, an ordained minister in the atheistic Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM), did not break character during the interview, insisting his religion was being discriminated against by the public auto insurer. It’s obvious that Canuel doesn’t literally believe in a Flying Spaghetti Monster who created the world with “His Noodly Appendage.”
For those who don’t know, the genesis of FSM began when Bobby Henderson wrote a light-hearted open letter to the Kansas State school board opposing the teaching of intelligent design and creationism public schools. He suggested a supernatural creator that closely resembles spaghetti and meatballs is just as plausible a creator of the universe.
Since that letter, thousands of “pastafarians” throughout the U.S. and the rest of the world have taken on the spoof to challenge the infringement of church and state.
Most people would probably assume, quite logically I think, that Canuel’s holy colander request is a challenge to religious infringement within secular society. But he insists it goes beyond religion.
“I think as long as no one’s getting hurt, as long as everybody is following the law, I think that every social custom is up for dispute and challenge. And I think that’s healthy. In fact, that’s necessary for modern liberal democracy.”
Canuel says there are even non-religious customs – such as wedding rings – that are so ordinary that society doesn’t even notice them anymore. Challenging these social norms is simply a means of stirring up the status quo.
“I don’t think the world needs more conformists,” says Canuel, as he gestures that I need to make a left turn.
Canuel has another big revelation to add. He’s submitting his papers to run as Surrey’s first Flying Spaghetti Monster council candidate.
On this issue, he’s a little more candid. He doesn’t think he will win, nor does he profess to have a platform on which to run, but he does wants to bring awareness to social issues and councillor salaries that he considers generous.
Canuel says if “by some miracle I were elected,” he would accept $20,000 of the $60,000 salary, and donate the rest to nonprofits in Surrey.
At any rate, it would certainly be difficult to get out and about campaigning without a car. I ask if he regrets pushing ICBC to the point where he’s now dependent on others for transportation. He replies that the Spaghetti Monster has granted in all of us the ability to control how we react to different situations. In this instance, he says it’s an invitation to get more exercise and rely less on fossil fuels.
The irony here is that by denying Canuel and his fellow pastafarians the “right” to
wear a silly object on his head, ICBC opens itself up to a debate on religion and atheism. It’s a debate that Canuel, while not openly admitting it, is happy to have.
“I do think as the importance of religion declines there comes these awful existential questions about how to live your life and give meaning to it,” he says. “It might just be the case that life is meaningless and there’s no purpose to it and I think that the response to that is to try to live your life in a way that makes people happy. And if that means being unusual, then let’s do it. As long as everyone’s having fun.”
Adam Grossman, an ICBC spokesman, said “we will always try to accommodate customers with head coverings where their faith prohibits them from removing it. Mr. Canuel could not provide us with any proof that his faith prohibits it.”
In essence, ICBC is calling Canuel out on his spoof, arguing there are no tenets that literally forbid the removal of the colander. But this opens up the proverbial can of worms about the tenets of all religions, which atheists might quite rightly argue amount to little more than a social construct that has little bearing on the eventual fate or question of a human soul.
Personally, I belong to the “live and let live” camp. As an atheist, I don’t believe in any supernatural beings, but I don’t deny anybody the right to carry on with culturally-adopted delusions of grandeur. Unless it begins harming people – see the current situation in Syria and Iraq – I generally don’t care whether people worship a man from Nazareth, an elephant from India or a Flying Spaghetti Monster.
As I dropped off my passenger, I asked him if he’d prefer a world without religion. He wouldn’t answer the question directly, but offered an alternate perspective.
“As long as nobody’s getting hurt and it’s fostering human happiness, that’s the sort of society I’m interested in.”
Adrian MacNair is a staff reporter with the Now. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.