Pastafarianism, the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the California DMV
Tl;dr version: I took my driver’s license photo wearing a pasta strainer on my head.
On a recent Friday afternoon, while driving to the DMV to obtain a California driver’s license, I decided I had better practice. No, not for the driving test, but for the balancing act I would perform for the next several hours. The pasta strainer previously sitting in my passenger seat was now firmly on my head, and to my surprise it actually felt fairly comfortable. No sliding around, no falling over my eyes … technically all things were going perfectly. I also became intimately aware of other drivers’ eyes around me. Did they see what I was wearing? What were they thinking? What was I thinking?
I wasn't always a Pastafarian, in fact I was a fairly recent convert. Wearing the sacred pasta strainer in my driver’s license photo was also a fairly new desire. I hadn't even bothered to try obtaining a license with it in Florida for fear that I would just be told no; and I surmised that only the most extreme militant atheists wanted to do such things anyway. But after coming to California and seeing that others had succeeded in their desire for equality, I reconsidered. I also began to change my thoughts on why people would pull such a crazy stunt. Equality is the most simple explanation.
Truly, I don’t care what religious head coverings other people wear, it simply doesn't affect my life. I also understand why the government seeks to have the best security measures in effect regarding photo identification. There exists some debate whether hair, hair color, and those features that a hat or head covering might cover even act as a reliable identification tool, but no matter on that. What I am most concerned with is the special exemption the government grants to some individuals and not others. Why? What makes one person’s rationale more valid than someone else’s? If I really want to wear my favorite baseball team’s ball cap in my drivers license photo why can’t I? Who would I be hurting? It was with these thoughts I decided to embark on my fight against “the man”.
As I arrived to the DMV and got out of my vehicle, my heart began to beat a little faster. Was I really doing this? Oh man, people were already starting to look my way. “Oh well, I might as well finish what I started,” I thought. Luckily for me, my wife made me an appointment so at least I’d skip the long line, the long line of people who were now staring at me with bewilderment as I passed them by. Only 6 people ahead of me in the appointments line … not bad! A couple people glanced my way and laughed, nothing I couldn't handle. Ahead of me, a little girl stared at me with wide eyes, I smiled at her; she continued to stare and I glanced away, though I still felt her glaring eyes. Poor girl, she probably thought I was insane. As I reached the first desk and first DMV employee I was pleasantly surprised and relieved to feel no sense of awkwardness from him. He was helpful and completely professional, wonderful! Maybe I had psyched myself out and everyone at the DMV would be as nice. He gave me a number and I went to join the throngs of people waiting. More stares, giggles and pointing fingers were waiting for me. These people were bored lifeless and I was the most entertaining thing they had seen for quite some time. I tried to ignore them and absorb myself in my phone while I took a quick selfie to post on Facebook and get moral support. My moral support ranged from “We Baker Act folks here in Ocala for wearing colanders on their heads!” to “This is awesome!” One young DMV employee pointed in my direction and directed the two women he was helping to look my way as they laughed. “Please, oh please don’t let that be the guy who helps me,” I thought.
When my number was finally called I made my way to another very pleasant DMV employee who took all my information and charged me for the license and registration. At the end of our encounter she asked, “You like to wear that for a hat?”
“It’s a religious head covering” I replied. She seemed to accept my statement without judgment. Once again, I was surprised, and I made my way to the short photo line.
After one young woman got her photo taken she asked, “Are you going to wear that in your photo?” I told her I was. “That’s fucking awesome! Can I take your photo?”
I agreed, but before she could snap the picture a gruff woman from behind the counter yelled at my new admirer, “No loitering here, you need to move along Miss!” As she quickly scurried away, I noticed the gruff woman was waiting behind the photographer; waiting, as I would later find out, for me.
When I got my turn at the photo booth the photographer took my info and told me to remove my hat. I told her it was a religious head covering and she glanced behind her at her apparent supervisor for support. The woman began, “You will need to remove that before taking …”
I interrupted her, “I’m a Pastafarian and this is my religious head covering.”
“California law states that all hats must be removed …”
“Well actually California has already recognized at least two members of my faith and allowed them to wear the pasta …”
“NO!” she said in the most firm voice I've heard in quite some time.
I felt like I was back in middle school and was being admonished. What had I done wrong? “If you’ll look here…” as I offered her my supporting documents (two photos of recent California licensees with pasta strainers atop their heads; a photo of Christopher Shaeffer, the Pomfret, NY town councilman who chose to be sworn in wearing his sacred pasta strainer; and some brief information on Pastafarianism as a religion).
“You’re going to have to speak to the office manager” she said with exasperation.
“Sure” I replied as I waited where I was told to wait. And there I stood for quite some time.
While I was waiting, a young woman asked me about my pasta strainer and the significance. I told her and she seemed to be both interested and challenged by my assertion that such a religion existed. “Is there, like, a book or something about it?”
“Well, who wrote it?”
“Umm, actually I don’t know, I imagine the man who came up with the religion,” I told her.
She rolled her eyes in contempt, “Have you read it?”
“Well, no actually, just brief parts here and there that I've seen online.”
Her contempt turned to disgust, “You should probably do that before you say you believe in something.”
“You’re probably right” I said. And she was right, but I found myself bothered that the same challenges are frequently encountered with hostility when posed to people who identify with more mainstream religions.
I recalled how in my search to become a better Christian, I read the entire Bible, and it was this process that actually started my doubt and rejection of Christianity. I remembered my insistence that other friends and family members just read the Bible, then they too would surely come to the same conclusion I had (I've since evolved that thinking). In not one instance did the people I challenged take me up; instead I got excuses, disbelief of my experience, or even a reverse challenge. “Have you read The Case for Christ?” one person asked me (I had and was thoroughly unimpressed). Had she read the same book … of course not. In any case, would it be socially acceptable for the young woman to challenge a Jew, Muslim or Sikh about their head covering? And what if their response was similar to my own? Would disgust and contempt be appropriate responses?
The office manager finally came to talk to me and broke my train of thought; but before she had a chance to say anything I presented my case, along with my documents. She took them and asked me to wait again. I saw her make some phone calls at her desk and talk for ten minutes, then she had a conversation with the gruff photo manager who appeared to get more and more angry. I assumed this was good news for me, and when she returned I was told I could wear my pasta strainer as long as the reflection didn't interfere with the photo, and that I’d need to write a statement. After that my photo would go to Sacramento for “administrative review”. Now I knew that California law specifically disallowed such required statements, but the manager was nice enough and I didn't personally feel compelled to fight her on the issue. I wrote “I, (my name), am a member of the Pastafarian faith.” She didn't even read my statement and off I went to get my photo without incident.
Later, while waiting for license plates, another man took interest in my unusual head covering; “What, are you just making up religions now?” he asked. I replied that Pastafarianism is indeed a real religion and he just rolled his eyes and turned away. “What exactly is a “real” religion anyway?” I thought. Aren't all religions “made up” to some extent? Why is it that newer religions like Scientology and Mormonism meet with greater skepticism than older ones such as Christianity and Islam? In the grand scheme of things, are they really that much older? Further, if the oldest religions are the most valid, then shouldn't sun worship be the most valid of them all?
My last personal encounter was with a poorly dressed man who looked as if he hadn’t showered in some time; “Do you have to wear that all the time?” he asked with genuine interest. I told him it was only for special occasions and official photographs. I shared the information I brought with me on Pastafarianism, and he turned and told his friend the name of the religion. He briefly read the information and handed it back. “Cool” was his response. No judgment, no challenges. I smiled. When it comes to open mindedness, personal hygiene seems to be irrelevant.
I left the DMV with a sense of accomplishment, though really I don’t think I accomplished anything that significant. I just followed in the footsteps of others who had already fought for and attained equality. I do think religious inclusion is important, but more broadly I think the special status given to religion should be questioned, challenged, and fought. If exemptions are given to members of any religion for any reason, the same exemptions should be given to all. Your religion isn't special and neither is mine. What is special is your right to do as you please, and I believe governments should minimally interfere with that freedom. You shouldn't have to say you believe in the supernatural in order to exercise those rights.
A week later, my license arrived in the mail, and I excitedly shared it with my wife. I guess the officials in Sacramento didn't find my pasta strainer photograph all that exciting after all. Now I wonder what kind of attention I’ll receive the next time I show my ID somewhere. I honestly hope there is no reaction whatsoever, that whoever sees it thinks nothing of it. After all, why should they?
I’m not fully sure what my goals are in writing about my experience and sharing it with the world. On one hand, I hope others are inspired as I was to go and get their license with an unusual head covering. On the other hand, I don’t actually care whether they do or not; so maybe what I’m really looking for is a world with more inclusiveness and less restriction. If a pasta strainer on my head helps move us toward that goal even just a smidgen, then wonderful. If not, well, at least I have a creative license.
A brief bio:
Ben O is a thirty something year old married man and a recent father. He is a former evangelical Christian of 18 years, and is a current seeker of truth. He has found truth through science and peace through the principles of humanism. He enjoys reading, numismatics, and spending time with his wife and daughter. His shoe size is 10.5 or 11 and as of this writing, he is down 3 pounds from the stated weight on his license. He welcomes comments, critiques and gifts larger than $300,000,000.