In the spirit of the annual evangelical Christian push to “Keep the Christ in Christmas,” the United Church of Bacon (UCB) placed a holiday themed billboard in Las Vegas, Nevada featuring two strips of bacon hiteheadearing a Santa hat and a Star of David respectively. This billboard’s slogan reads “Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah from the 13,000 Atheists and Skeptics at the United Church of Bacon,” replete with the tagline, “Bacon is our God because bacon is real.”
Since its inception during a meeting at Penn Jillette’s house in 2010, the church proclaims to welcome all who love the smell of bacon (which can be turkey or vegetarian bacon for those of kosher sensibilities). Also, UCB members like donuts because they are holey as evidenced by Jillette’s Bacon and Donut party held ever year in Las Vegas as part of the Amazing Meeting (TAM).
While the UCB consists primarily of skeptics and atheists, the nine commandments of bacon states they will accept anyone into the church and members of the UCB may worship another God besides Bacon. “Baconists love people of all races, backgrounds, sexual orientations, genders and beliefs. The divine smell of bacon is bestowed equally on all people (except those who have no sense of smell, for whom baconists feel much pity).”
According to John Whiteside (aka Prophet John), founder of the UCB, they can appeal to the growing contingency of ex-Christians because in his estimation, “We do not have commandments that leave anyone out, and we do not judge, we do provoke questions, mock ourselves and our strange belief and others. But we leave judgement to the courts. We may not agree with every court decision, but we are always looking for proof.” He adds that the reaction he gets from Christians about the UCB depends on the Christian. “There are good Christians and bad Christians, and there are good atheists and bad atheists. The ability to reason right from wrong is the key.”
In the spirit of seventeenth century pioneer of religious liberty Roger Williams, the UCB promotes the separation of church and state and an end to the discrimination of atheists. As Prophet John reflects, “It is wrong to judge people just because they do not share your religion. It is wrong to judge within a religion, as some Christians currently do.”
Even though they already have tax exempt status under the IRS guidelines for a church, in May the UCB applied for 501(c)3, or non-profit, status. Unlike some parody churches such as Landover Baptist Church or activist outreach efforts like the God Hates Shrimp campaign, the UCB is an actual church housed in a physical building and is recognized by the state of Nevada and the Department of Defense.
Currently, the UCB has three approved and sanctioned sermon/podcasts. Over 600 church officiants, or “friars,” conduct services including baptisms, funerals and free weddings. These communal actions appeal to the universal need for ritual and community. Some approved friars are religious, including seminary students and preachers. Also, like many churches, the UCB give a percentage of their budget to charitable causes aligned with their beliefs, though they remain volunteer based with no paid church staff.
For those who compare the United Church of Bacon with the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, another atheism-inspired church with similar goals, Prophet John notes “bacon can be proven to exist, but we have no evidence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.” They are cool with the pastafarians though they prefer bacon as the main ingredient in bacon and pasta dishes. Both churches ordain clergy, though only some pastafarians don religious headgear (yes it’s a colander) when they’re sworn into public office or have their driver’s license photo taken. However bacon believers who wish to self-identify as a member of the UCB could wear a baseball cap adorned with the UCB logo with the phrase “Praise Bacon.”
As the UCB’s membership drive reaches toward their goal of 100,000 members by 2020, Prophet John declares they will “continue with the philosophy of fighting fundamentalists of ANY religion.” Heather Henderson, Bacon High Priestess, concurs with Prophet John’s assessment. “We are not dogmatic about our stupid rules. The benefits of becoming a member of the United Church of Bacon are joining the 13,000 members who support our 9 Bacon Commandments and our mission to end discrimination, fight superstition and expose religious privileges in the law.”
The growing discontent with the current crop of Republican candidates’ blatant disregard for the First Amendment coupled with the increase of those who describe their religious affiliation as “none” signifies there may be an increased interest in passing by the church potluck and picking up the bacon.
[Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated John Whiteside’s name as John Whitehead. RD regrets the error. —The Eds.]