Anyone familiar with the New Atheism movement will be familiar with the supposedly hilarious comparisons of the idea of a god to that of a ‘flying spaghetti monster’. In the same way that it is impossible to disprove the prospect of a god, it is also impossible to disprove the existence of a ‘flying spaghetti monster’. Ergo, the onus to prove the existence of an all-mighty supreme being lies with those proposing it. Observe any debate between the partisans of New Atheism and their religious opponents, and soon you will encounter this argument being wheeled out, with the usual self-satisfaction of Dawkinites. This rhetorical device, along with other roughly-correct-but-tired clichés, forms a central part of the lexicon of the New Atheism movement.
So it was only to be expected that the spaghetti monster would find itself being used as an advertisement by a group of students united in their lack of belief, the South Bank University Atheist Society. As a design for a poster, the society decided to replace the image of God in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel fresco, The Creation of Adam, with the image of a spaghetti monster.
As has become an all-too-familiar occurrence in recent years, the big wigs of the students’ union swung into action, resulting in the poster being removed and the Atheist Society being banned from a start-of-term student event. Originally, the society was told the ban was due to a shame-free Adam bearing his bodily all in the poster, as shown in the original image in that great den of licentiousness, the Vatican. However, the students’ union soon changed its mind and decided it was the edited part of the poster – the replacement of God with spaghetti – that was the cause of offence.
The case is similar to the incident at the London School of Economics (LSE) freshers’ fair last year, in which a group of atheist students decided to don t-shirts depicting Jesus and the prophet Muhammad in cartoon form. University officials forced students to cover up the offending images, citing religious offence.
Both cases are similar in that they are both instances where claims of religious offence have led to censorship. The supposed right of certain, seemingly unidentified students not to have their religious sensitivities offended has trumped the right of groups of atheist students to wear moderately funny t-shirts or display unfunny posters – a trampling of their freedom of expression. In both cases, the authorities eventually reversed their decision after an outcry.