Christopher Schaeffer was recently elected to the Pomfret Town Board in New York. The image of his swearing-in went viral after pictures of him wearing a colander on his head (he’s a Pastafarian, after all) were published online in The Observer:
I had a chance to speak with Schaeffer last night to get more insight into what he was hoping to accomplish, what message he hoped to convey, and what the response has been like for him.
On why he wore the strainer:
Wearing the holy head gear is encouraged by the Pastafarian religion during official events.
On his personal beliefs and how they might play a role in his decision-making:
… I prefer thought and logic. By nature I am a hard agnostic, and we can never know the truth. The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster does not require belief of the acceptance of dogma. While I am a minister, I am not a preacher. I will administer to the needs of the faithful but will not preach. It is hard to separate one’s core beliefs from one’s actions; my plan is to serve my community to the best of my ability, and to ensure all citizens are represented. I may very well vote against a proposition that I agree with if I feel there is a segment of the population whose voice is being ignored. I see very few unanimous decisions by our town board in the next four years.
On how no one at Town Hall knew what was going on since he didn’t tell them he was a Pastafarian beforehand:
I walked up there and I just popped [the strainer] on my head, and took the oath of office, and took it off, and then we had a two-hour meeting.
On what he has to say to other Pastafarians:
To other Pastafarians I say follow your heart, and remember “Nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys its own special laws.” — Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
On the outsized attention he’s received:
As for his critics, including those who felt he was making a mockery of the political system, Schaeffer allowed me to share this statement that he planned to convey to them:
There was another guy who got elected, too. They didn’t put his picture in paper at all. He worked just as hard to get that job as I did. I thought that was disrespectful to him. But I’m not the editor of a newspaper and I’m not trying to sell copy.
It has come to my attention that my religion has become a topic of debate. Although it is not in my nature to discuss my religion unless asked about it, I do not want my beliefs to be a distraction to this board while it carries out its duties. Therefore I have prepared this statement.
My religion encourages adherents to wear the holy headgear under certain situations; the taking of official pictures is one of these situations. I did not take this action out of disrespect for the office, quite the opposite I have great respect for this country and the citizens of Pomfret. Our constitution allows for, we the citizens, to practice our religions without fear of oppression. This was one of the greatest gifts our forefathers left us.
I do not ask that you accept the beliefs of my religion, I do ask you to treat it with the same dignity and respect that I treat yours. I will not apologize for the beliefs and customs of my religion. Even though my religion is satirical, that does not make it any less valid than any other. The one apology I will make is to [Town Clerk Allison] Dispense [who administered the oath]. She was unaware of my religious practices, and she did her job as required by law. There are people who would paint her with the same brush as me. This is unfair to her. Had I let her know ahead of time she could have been prepared for the reaction and not informing her is my one regret.
Under similar situations I would insist on the same dignity and respect being extended to a Jewish Councilman wearing a Kippah, an Islamic Councilwoman wearing a Hijab or a Christian Councilperson wearing a cross. My first action as a Councilperson was to remove the holy headgear and start working.
I am uninterested in personal attacks on me; I don’t expect everyone to like me. What I am interested in is how well I discharge my duties as a Councilperson. If citizens are concerned with how the town is being run, I want to hear it. If there are problems, I want to hear it. If someone feels their rights are being ignored, I want to hear it. My job is to represent every citizen in this town, and I take that responsibility very seriously. If you want to judge me, judge me on the proposals I put forward and on my voting record, not based on my religion.
There are some serious points to be made with this whole story: Critics may argue that Schaeffer shouldn’t have been allowed to wear his strainer, but what separates a parody religion from a real one? How was Schaeffer’s colander any different from a Jewish man who wore a yarmulke or a Christian woman who wore a cross necklace (and who would certainly not have been asked to remove them)?
In any case, this may be the only time Schaeffer wears the colander. For the time being, anyway, he doesn’t plan to run for re-election after his four-year term is up.