­­"We're having a religious related talk, at about 4 pm, do you wanna join?"

We all exchanged looks and shook our heads at the same time. "Sorry mate," one of us said, "we're not religious."

His face dropped for a second, but then his smile was back. "Right, right, sure thing! Sorry for bothering!"
No pushing; no trying to convince us; no telling us we should find God or faith. Respectfully backing down from our group. Key word: respect.

In this world burning with hatred, consumerism, emotional scarring, and unstable powers radiating more than a burnt out supernova, where do you find respect? You don't always find it walking down the street, or with peers. You tend to grasp it and then someone says something about your beliefs, your gender, your sexuality – or lack thereof – and it's gone.

Some time ago, the non-religious students from the London South Bank University’s Atheist Society put up a modified version of Michelangelo’s iconic “Creation of Adam”. The piece featured the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the “deity” of the eponymous Church. According to The Independent, the installation “came about as a humorous response to the teaching of intelligent design in American schools in 2005”. The poster was taken down for being “religiously offensive”.

Freedom of expression, right? Respect for other people’s beliefs, right? Well, no, it seems.
It is absolutely fine, even encouraged, to stick traditionally religious posters up. It’s alright to invite people to talks about religion. It’s alright for people to chastise their peers for engaging in sexual intercourse before marriage, and justify it with “it’s a sin, you will be punished”. It’s alright for people to sneer at a satirical representation of prophets – not even offensive, just a pamphlet of sorts. It’s okay to express yourself however you want.

Except it’s not; not when it is not in line with the standard religious practices. So, someone handing out religious texts and books, even when you explain you don’t want one – is acceptable. Photoshopping a satirical deity on the image of a fresco is condemnable and should be punished.

There is a shameless expression of double standards pummelling people everywhere. In an ever-shifting, adapting, struggling-to-be-kind world, how can we still rely so much on oppression? An allegedly welcoming city such as London should not have these problems.

Ideally, no place in the world should have this problem, but it is beyond unattainable. So, one would argue, let’s start with a smaller, ‘democratic’ part of the world. Let’s teach it, let’s nourish it and most of all, let’s reinforce it time and again. In theory, anyway. In practice, things are different. In practice, I would be sneered at for my lack of belief. I would be asked to bring forward tangible paperwork to prove evolution (I have been asked that before and laughed endlessly.)

If universities can’t provide a safe environment for their students to express beliefs, as well as themselves, what else have we got? Usually, a little after essential formative years, yet not fully moulded adults, this is a time to allow ourselves to shape our identities further. Oppressing us will do nothing else than function as a prime example of reverse psychology. Foucault phrases it as such: "Where there is power, there is resistance [...]”

Universities: allow your students to think and choose for themselves. Allow them to put the Flying Spaghetti Monster up. You allow them to put Jesus up. It’s a belief. It’s a conviction, and it’s a choice.

There has been great progress in allowing people to declare and stand by their gender, their sexuality, etc. Yes, religious issues go back in time. Yes, it is difficult to make a point in a country that is still ambiguous about its secularity. But we need to try.

Don’t call people out because they don’t believe in what you do. Equally, don’t pick people up on their beliefs. Stay out of it. In time, people will learn to stay out of your business as well.

Be fair. Weigh your choices, and in case of indecision, keep weighing. Both as a person and as an institution ran by people.


By contributing writer, Jo Lazar, as part of our Year 2 Creative & Professional Writing degree Work Experience module.