New Zealand 'Pastafarians' approved to conduct marriages as officials grapple with odd group

They claim the world was created by a monster made of noodles and that global warming is caused by pirates vanishing from the high seas. They call themselves Pastafarians, but just how seriously to take the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is vexing officials Down Under.

New Zealand this month recognized the group as suitable to officiate weddings. Australian authorities, meanwhile, have so far rejected their efforts to register as a nonprofit religious organization.

Adherents say there's a beer volcano in heaven and wear upside-down colanders on their heads for religious purposes. Their only dogma? There is no dogma.

But behind their silliness, Pastafarians have a serious message about the separation of church and state. The group was formed in 2005 as a protest against efforts in Kansas public schools to teach not only evolution but also "intelligent design" — the idea that the universe must have had a creator.

"We are not a parody. Our religion is light-hearted and fun, and uses satire to teach people about our beliefs," said Tanya Watkins, captain of the Australian branch, in an email. "We believe that religion does not have to be about guilt and sin and fear, but can instead be about having fun, enjoying life, and being nice to each other."

Jeff Montgomery, New Zealand's registrar-general of births, deaths and marriages, noted the group's philosophies on issues like human rights and spiritual diversity in approving it to officiate weddings.

"While some claim this is a 'parody organization,' members have rebutted this on a number of occasions," he wrote in his decision. "Most approved organizations are faith-based and cluster around well-known religious views, however a number have what might be considered an 'alternative philosophy.' These include Yoga, Wicca, Scientology, Heathen, Druid, Humanist, Spiritual Healing and Reiki followers."

But Australia sees it differently. In an August decision, Dini Soulio, the South Australian commissioner for consumer affairs, wrote in his decision that while he accepts adherents believe in Pastafarianism, he doesn't consider it a religion.

"The eight 'I'd Rather You Didn'ts' and 'The Random Number of Not Commandments, Suggestions' mostly contain moral admonitions, worldly advice or pragmatic advice, and thus, have no supernatural or spiritual significance," Soulio wrote. "Other canons are clearly a parody on other established religions and thus have no supernatural significance."

The group is appealing the decision.

Pastafarians have had mixed success elsewhere trying to get official recognition. Last month, a Pastafarian from Massachusetts was allowed to wear a colander on her head in her driver's license photo after citing her religious beliefs. But the group doesn't have broader recognition in the U.S. as a religion.

There are now branches around the world, including the Kirche des Fliegenden Spaghettimonsters in Germany.

In New Zealand, the group's "Top R'Amen" said she hopes to officiate her first wedding next month after her personal application to be a celebrant is approved. She asked her name not be used for fear it could jeopardize her employment.

She said she still needs to discuss with the wedding party whether they will wear colanders or pirate outfits, or perhaps both. But one thing's for certain — the menu.

Pasta, of course.