What’s Up With the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

You may be wondering “what’s up with a sermon called ‘What’s Up With the Flying Spaghetti Monster?’” You can blame this one on one of my sons who over the summer said “hey Dad, you should preach a sermon on the Flying Spaghetti Monster.” If you have never heard of such a thing, be assured many others have, including, of course, my sons.

So what even is it? The Flying Spaghetti Monster is the god of a new religion called “Pastafarianism.” Now to be clear, most “Pastafarians” do not actually believe this religion per se, rather it is practiced as a parody of religion. When you hear that some Pastafarians get their ID pictures taken with colanders on their heads, you may think that it is a big joke. It kind of is, but at the heart of it are some important issues that the atheist community want people to think about. “Belief” in the Flying Spaghetti Monster all began in the United States with one man challenging a school board to reconsider whether Creationism should be taught alongside Evolution. He was reasoning that if time was given to the story of God creating the universe as found in Genesis, then equal time should be given to his god, “The Flying Spaghetti Monster.” His letter was put on the Internet and it has since become “a thing.”

There are two questions that the The Flying Spaghetti Monster should cause a Christian to grapple with:

  1. Should Creationism be taught alongside Evolution in schools?
  2. Is Christianity just a made-up fable like the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

1. Should Creationism be taught alongside Evolution in schools?

My answer to this may be tainted by the fact that I am Canadian. If a school system is publicly funded, and is made available to all the public, then one particular religious viewpoint should not be privileged over the rest. Many a good Christian will be very disappointed with me right now, but if we Christians were in the minority, and Muslims in the majority, would we want Islamic precepts being taught in our public schools?

However, are we too quick to roll over and play dead? I fear we Canadian Christians often are. There is a field of study that looks at the origins of the universe from no particular religious viewpoint. It is commonly referred to as Intelligent Design (ID for short) and begins not with a religious text, like “In the beginning, God . . . ,” but with the study of our world and the universe. It looks at the apparent elements of design in the universe and infers that behind the design is a Designer. The illustration is sometimes used of flying an airplane over an island and finding the letters “SOS” written in sand. You know someone is, or has been, there based on three letters. Then go on to consider the amazing amount of information stored in DNA. Or how amazing it is that so many things have to be “just so” for life to be possible. Such evidence of design begs for a Designer.

Some think that the more we learn about the universe from science, the less we need any notion of a god to explain things. God has been moved to the margins it has been said. However, this would be like someone taking apart an iPhone and in figuring out how the parts and software work together, saying “there is and never has been a Steve Jobs or Johnny Ive. We don’t see them present with us making this thing work.” You see the misstep. As John Lennox has pointed out, God is not a “God-of-the-gaps” God, that is, the explanation of the things we cannot understand, but rather is the “God of the whole show.” If an iPhone is an incredible achievement in design and engineering, the universe is infinitely more so. As the Psalmist writes:

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)

Should ID be taught in schools alongside Evolution? After all, some would point out, perhaps correctly, that it is not science strictly speaking. It wanders into the realm of philosophy. Whatever it is, it is good, clear thinking. Schools should be places of good, clear thinking.

But does ID get you to Jesus? Or to the Flying Spaghetti Monster for that matter? This brings us to our second question.

2. Is Christianity just a made-up fable like the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

This is an insinuation of those who practice Pastafarianism, namely that belief in Jesus, or in any god for that matter, is as ridiculous as believing in something like the Flying Spaghetti Monster. So is it?

Here we look to the where the evidence leads, particularly with respect to the origins of each religion. For example, if you were to investigate the origins of “belief” in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the evidence would lead to knowing exactly when, where, and even why the whole thing started. You can easily account for the birth and development of Pastafarianism without needing the actual existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster to account for it. It is clearly a people made religion. You can go on to apply this same inquiry of all religions, asking “how did they begin and develop, and can you account for such things without the existence of the god they point to?” This all works very well until you come to Christianity. I am only scratching the surface here, but birth and development of Christianity falls nicely into place if Jesus rose from the dead. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then it is hard to account for why the first Christians believed what they believed, did what they did, and wrote what they wrote. N.T. Wright is one of the best scholars to look up to learn more about this.

If you are looking for a more accessible read you could look up the writings of an expert in evidence by the name of J. Warner Wallace. He was a cold-case detective and an atheist, who upon reading the Gospels came to realize that what he was reading bore the marks of genuine eyewitness testimony. I am only scratching the surface, but he gives us pointers on handling the evidence, some of which are paraphrased poorly by me below, but told in better detail himself. Consider:

  • The variations between the Gospels are evidence of genuine witnesses being behind them. Detectives get suspicious of collusion when witnesses all end up saying the exact same things in the exact same way.
  • The case for the reality of Jesus and the truth for Christianity is a cumulative case, built upon many bits of evidence.
  • While there is no direct evidence for Jesus available to us today, circumstantial evidence is enough to establish truth. All convictions of cold cases are built on circumstantial evidence.
  • Evidence does not need to get you beyond every possible doubt for a conviction, but beyond every reasonable doubt. Some people hold the bar far too high when it comes to Jesus so that no amount of evidence would ever be enough.
  • Not every question that is raised in a case needs to be answered. Belief in Jesus as Lord is reasonable, even when questions linger.
  • Unbiased jurors make the best jurors. That is why there is a process of jury selection, to weed out those who would begin with prejudice and bias. Some people will never believe Jesus rose from the dead because they start with a bias against the possibility of any miracle.

The evidence points to the unreality of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the reality of Jesus. Evidence is spoken of in the Bible:

This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
5 For
there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
6 who gave himself a ransom for all
this was attested at the right time. 1 Timothy 2:3-6 (emphasis mine)

The word for “attested” is a word meaning “evidence, proof, testimony.” That there is one God, and that Jesus is how we can know God has been “attested to,” or “evidenced.” Jesus is the greatest proof of Who the Designer is, and the greatest evidence of His love for us. Which brings us to our conclusion.

The evidence points to what seems too good to be true. If the evidence pointed to atheism being true, that would be a depressing thing. If the evidence pointed to Islam being true, that could be a scary thing. If the evidence pointed to Eastern religions being true with their focus on karma, that would be an unfortunate thing. But the evidence points to the resurrection of Jesus, the reality of God, and the reality of God’s grace and love for the sinner. That is the best possible place for the evidence to lead. It seems too good to be true! Yet that is where the evidence points. So instead of asking “what’s up with the Flying Spaghetti Monster,” we should instead be asking “what’s up with God loving us so much?”

(All scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

Christmas According to Matthew

“What happened to the shepherds?” Or so I wondered on my first time reading through the Christmas story in Matthew as a young lad. I knew the nativity story well enough with the angels, shepherds, and Wise Men, but I did not realize as yet that each Gospel writer fills in a different piece of the story from a different perspective. It is not too often that we take the time to think about each writer’s ’take’ on Christmas so this Sunday we begin a series called “The Christmas Story According to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.” Naturally we will go in order, so Matthew is on the hot seat today.

Biblical scholars point out that Matthew is the most keen of the Gospel writers to speak to a Jewish audience with the same background. So we are not surprised then, that Matthew is the one who takes the most interest in how Jesus fulfils the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament. Consider the following list:

  • Isaiah 7:14 is quoted in 1:22, recognizing that Jesus is “Immanuel, God with us” and so a fulfillment of prophecy.
  • The Wise Men bringing gifts to the king in chapter 2 points to a fulfillment of Isaiah 60:5,6 where nations are said to bring gifts to Israel. This also points to Jesus as representing Israel.
  • Micah 5:2 is quoted by the scribes in 2:5 showing that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem.
  • Hosea 11:1 is found in 2:15, showing Jesus to represent Israel and pointing to a new exodus, an act of deliverance.
  • Jeremiah 31:15 gets a mention in 2:15, which is not a specific “prophecy x leads to fulfillment y” kind of thing, but is a reference to indicate that Israel is still in a kind of exile awaiting the New Covenant that is promised in Jeremiah 31.
  • Exodus 4:19 shows up in 2:20,21 where the Greek wording in Matthew reflects almost word for word the wording of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament popular at that time. Here again we do not find a specific prophecy, but Jesus being identified with Moses and deliverance.
  • In a quirky way Jesus fulfils Old Testament hopes by being a Nazarean. This could be a reference to Jesus being the branch (in Hebrew nzr) as prophesied in Isaiah 4:2; 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5; 33:1. Here we are meant to think of the entire passages alluded to and all the wonderful prophecies found therein including promise of the new Covenant.

Given all these references to the Old Testament, we can go back to 1:1 and know that there is great significance in how Jesus is introduced: “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1 NIV).

  • The genealogies of chapter one ensure that Jesus is from the correct line to be the Messiah.
  • It is stated clearly that Jesus is considered to be the Messiah.
  • That Jesus is the “son of David” should make us think of the covenant promises to David, especially with regards to the throne.
  • That Jesus is “the son of Abraham” should make us think of God’s covenant promises to Abraham in Genesis 12 where the promise is that all nations are to be blessed. It is significant that Matthew’s gospel ends in chapter 28 with Jesus sending the disciples out to reach all nations.

Some biblical scholars see even more allusions to the Old Testament here, but we have seen enough to know that Matthew wants us to see Jesus as fulfilling, not just a few specific prophecies, but the very promises of God to deliver his people and bless the nations.

So why is this important to us today?

First, because it speaks to us about the identity of Jesus. Sceptics will ask why we believe in Jesus and yet will not believe in “other imaginary beings.” Belief in a “Flying Spaghetti Monster” is often referred to as an attempt to show how ridiculous belief in Jesus is. However, the reason we do not believe in “the Flying Spaghetti Monster” and a whole host of other fabled beings boils down to context. The “Flying Spaghetti Monster” and all other supposed beings of his or her ilk have not been promised, prophesied, or prefigured, and certainly not with great consistency over many centuries. The Messiah has. And Jesus is consistent with that.

Furthermore, philosophically speaking, if God exists and God is loving, then we should expect God to reveal Himself and speak to us at some point. The Old Testament including the promises and prophecies is consistent with that expectation, and again Jesus is consistent with the fulfillment. However, He is so in surprising ways, so surprising if fact that no one would have made Him up.

Second, Jesus’ fulfillment of Old Testament promises and prophecies should make us consider the promises and prophecies of the Bible that are yet to be fulfilled. God is consistent in keeping His promises so we can be watching for the Promise Keeper to keep his promises. Jesus will return so people get ready!