This week, a Russian man won the right to wear a knitted yellow colander on his head on his driving licence, after insisting the kitchen utensil is part of his religious beliefs. Andrei Filin, like thousands of others, is a Pastafarian – a follower of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, one of the newest and fastest-growing religions in the world.
Although technically a parody faith which satirises fundamentalist believers, many claim Pastafarianism is a legitimate religion. It all started over a decade ago when 24-year-old physics graduate Bobby Henderson sent a letter to the Kansas State Board of Education, protesting its decision to allow the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in school science classes.
"I think we can all agree that it is important for students to hear multiple viewpoints so they can choose for themselves the theory that makes the most sense to them. I am concerned, however, that students will only hear one theory of Intelligent Design," he wrote. "I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster.
"I think we can all look forward to the time when these three theories are given equal time in our science classrooms across the country, and eventually the world; One third time for Intelligent Design, one third time for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, and one third time for logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence," he wrote, signing off as a "concerned citizen".
He added a doodle of the deity – a pile of spaghetti with meatballs – creating a "mountain, trees and a midget" and then posted it on his website. Within one year, he received over 60,000 emails regarding Him, sometimes referred to as his Noodliness.
Not all of the messages were supportive, as seen on the "hate mail" section of the website. But FSM took off and has since been featured on a number of websites, including Fark and Uncyclopedia. Its number of followers have steadily grown, some devout Pastafarians and others fans of the religious satire.
The website explains more about what FSM is and why it was set up: "Some claim that the church is purely a thought experiment or satire, illustrating that intelligent design is not science, just a pseudoscience manufactured by Christians to push creationism into public schools," it reads.
"These people are mistaken – the Church of FSM is legit, and backed by hard science. Anything that comes across as humour or satire is purely coincidental. These people are mistaken – the Church of FSM is legit, and backed by hard science. Anything that comes across as humour or satire is purely coincidental."
Some Pastafarians wear colanders on their heads. Others say religious humans evolved from pirates, and end their prayers with "ramen" – the Japanese noodle. The FSM heaven includes a "stripper factory" and a "beer volcano", which no doubt lured in more supporters. Every Friday is a religious holiday and supporters are encouraged to dress as buccaneers, after the FSM founder discovered a causal relationship between global warming and a decline in pirates.
Henderson even addresses FSM's version of creationism. "We believe that the Flying Spaghetti Monster created the world much as it exists today, but for reasons unknown made it appear that the universe is billions of years on (instead of thousands) and that life evolved into its current state (rather than created in its current form)," it reads.
Yet aside from bizarre mythology, the true message behind FSM is not forgotten. Kansas has long been subject to a battle between those who want a separation of the church and education and schoolboard creationists. In 2013, Kansas became the fifth state to pass controversial civics education legislation which critics say enabled the teaching of US history with a religious slant. And so, behind Pastafarians, pirates and colanders lie an important message.