A parody religion or mock religion is an imitation belief system that challenges spiritual convictions of others, often through humor, satire, and/or burlesque (literary ridicule). They are frequently created to address specific religions, sects, gurus, cults, and or new religious movements, but may also be a parody of no particular religion, instead parodying the concept of religious belief itself. In some parody religions, emphasis is on making fun and being a convenient excuse for pleasant social interaction among like-minded, e.g. the Church of the SubGenius. Other parody religions target a specific religion, sect, cult, or new religious movement.
Several religions that are classified as parody religions have a number of relatively serious followers who embrace the perceived absurdity of these religions as spiritually significant, a decidedly postmodern approach to religion. For instance, in Discordianism (begun in 1965), it may be hard to tell if even these ‘serious’ followers are not just taking part in an even bigger joke. This joke, in turn, may be part of a greater path to enlightenment, and so on ad infinitum.
One approach to parody religion aims to highlight deficiencies in particular pro-religious arguments — the thinking being that if a given argument can also be used to support a clear parody, then the original argument is clearly flawed. An example of this is the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which parodies the equal time argument employed by intelligent design Creationism (also known as ‘Teach the Controversy’). Atheist Stephen F. Roberts counters, ‘I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.’
Many atheists, including Richard Dawkins, use parody religions such as those of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Invisible Pink Unicorn — as well as ancient gods like Zeus and Thor — as modern versions of Russell’s teapot to argue that the burden of proof is on the believer, not the atheist, illustrate that the philosophic burden of proof lies upon a person making scientifically unfalsifiable claims rather than shifting the burden of proof to others, specifically in the case of religion. Philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote that if he claims that a teapot orbits the Sun somewhere in space between the Earth and Mars, it is nonsensical for him to expect others to believe him on the grounds that they cannot prove him wrong.
Dawkins also created a parody of the criticism of atheism, coining the term ‘athorism,’ or the firm belief that the Norse deity Thor does not exist. The intention is to emphasize the claim that atheism is not a form of religious creed, but instead merely denial of beliefs. A common challenge against atheism is the idea that atheism is itself a form of ‘faith,’ a belief without proof. The theist might say: ‘No one can prove that God does not exist, therefore an atheist is exercising faith by asserting that there is no God.’ Dawkins argues that by replacing the word ‘God’ with ‘Thor’ one should see that the assertion is fallacious. The burden of proof, he claims, rests upon the believer in the supernatural, not upon the non-believer who considers such things unlikely. Athorism is an attempt to illustrate through absurdity that there is no logical difference between disbelieving any particular religion.
Parodies of specific faiths include: ‘Eventualism,’ a subtle parody of Scientology in Steven Soderbergh’s 1996 film, ‘Schizopolis’ (‘Kibology,’ a humorous Usenet-based satire of religion, is also partly parodying Scientology); ‘Pastafarianism,’ or the ‘Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster,’ a parody of intelligent design Creationism, and religion in general as a modern version of Russell’s teapot; ‘Landover Baptist Church,’ a satiric parody of Fundamentalist Christianity; and ‘Last Thursdayism,’ a joke version of omphalism (the belief that the world is only 10,000 years old or less), created to demonstrate problems with unfalsifiable beliefs, and the variant ‘Next Wednesdayism’ inspired by John Landis’s running movie gag ‘See You Next Wednesday.’
Parody religions in popular culture include: ‘The First United Church of the Fonz,’ a religion founded by ‘Family Guy’ character Peter Griffin after disagreeing with the religious views of his father; ‘Dudeism,’ or the ‘Church of the Latter-Day Dude,’ based on the cult classic, ‘The Big Lebowski’; and ‘The Western Branch of American Reform Presbylutheranism,’ the Christian denomination attended by most residents of Springfield on ‘The Simpsons.’ It has been used to parody many religious beliefs and activities, though its absurdly long, qualifier-filled name is a parody of Protestant denominations in particular, as is the history of its founding: centuries ago, Presbylutherans split from the Catholic Church during the ‘Schism of Lourdes’ to defend their ‘holy right to come to church with wet hair,’ a right the Presbylutheran church later abolished.
Postmodern religions include: ‘The 24 Hour Church of Elvis,’ an art museum and gallery, which is also a commentary on the extreme awe often accorded the Rock musician Elvis Presley; ‘Bokononism,’ a fictional religion from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel ‘Cat’s Cradle,’ where one major point is that human happiness is more important than truth, even scientific truth (Bokononism freely acknowledges that all its tenets are false); ‘Church of the SubGenius,’ often regarded as a parody of religion in general, with elements of fundamentalist Christianity, Scientology, new-age cults, pop-psychology, and motivational sales techniques amongst others, has become a movement in its own right; ‘Discordianism’ (although many Discordians specifically view the label of ‘parody’ as dismissive, arguing that the inlaid humor and silliness are just as profound and legitimate as that of any other form of spiritual pursuit); ‘Jediism,’ the fictional ‘Star Wars’ religion; and ‘Kopimism,’ the belief that file sharing is a sacred virtue which must remain protected.