Letters: Atheism and the Church

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What an uplifting article by Mary Ann Sieghart ("You don't have to believe in God to cherish the Church", 20 February). I, like her, thank ... er ... goodness for the Church of England.

I am as committed an atheist as the next man, but wouldn't Mr Dawkins (I was a huge fan of the science writer of that name some years back) be well advised to renounce his job as Archbishop of the Evangelical wing of the Atheist Church, spend less time railing against people who are generally trying to help the least well-off in society, and, if he wants to preach, then do so in a way that helps people to live better in society together?

If we didn't have the Church of England, would we need to invent a community group – the Big Society of England, we could call it – to bring people together and to help the disaffected and the disenfranchised and those who slip between the planks of government support?

Of course, religions get it wrong, when they lag too far behind the mores of society, but overall I would agree that the Church of England is a marvellous institution doing its best in often very difficult circumstances.

So I say Amen, sincerely, in a non-religious type of way.

Peter West

Datchet, Windsor

It was heartening to read Mary Ann Sieghart's spirited defence of the Church of England. It reminded me that just on 30 years ago I was asked by a bishop to look after four rural parishes. At the service that introduced me to one of them, the Archdeacon asked where the church treasurer was, and was told that he never came to church.

When I called on him and asked him why he never attended church, I was told that he did not believe in God. So I asked him how he came to take on the task of church treasurer. He said he had heard that the finances were in a bit of a mess and it was something, as an accountant, he was more than happy to help us with.

He added that he valued the role of the church in the village (which was losing its shop and post office), and if there was no church the place would be a spiritual wasteland (his words, not mine). Needless to say we were grateful for his honesty and integrity and willingness to work for the common good.

Canon Struan H Dunn

Faversham, Kent

I was staggered by the assertion that "compassion, altruism, serenity, even enlightenment" have no meaning to secularists (Peter Popham, 15 February). I have been an atheist and secularist all my adult life.

For most of my time, I worked for charitable organisations providing training and development services in leadership and teamwork. The foundations of my work were openness, honesty, trust and support in encouraging a more collaborative and caring work environment. Why? Because human beings are the most interdependent species on the planet.

Everything we need to survive in today's world, we rely on others to supply. So I believe utterly that we should be good neighbours, that we should help the weak and the needy, that it's better to give than to receive. In fact, I probably share 99.9 per cent of the values of those of a religious persuasion. The main difference is that I do it because it simply makes sense rather than because some mystical god told me to.

Incidentally, I live on the Isle of Skye, because I find serenity, tranquillity and enlightenment in the beauty and wildness of the countryside.

Philip Maughan

Portree, Isle of Skye

It comes as an unpleasant surprise to learn that I'm a threat to society. I may not be perfect but I've never thought I posed a threat to anyone.

But, according to Baroness Warsi, those of us with no religious faith are part of a rising tide of militant secularists who pose a danger to society. By contrast, Christianity is a force for good. It is this sneering presumption about the overwhelming value of religious belief that offends so many of us, but when we say so we are cast as "militant".

Paula Jones

London SW20

What ghost bikes are telling us

In her article "What are these memorials to dead cyclists really trying to tell us?" (18 February), Christina Patterson says that she does not see the point of London's ghost bikes. To some extent, I sympathise with her, for they make their point obliquely. It is this: that for people riding bikes, or on foot, Britain's streets are among the most dangerous in Europe. Our child road deaths are the worst in Europe.

Ms Patterson is aware that she cannot safely walk or cycle along the street – perhaps to her local shop or office – because she might be hit by a very big lorry. She misses the point that it doesn't have to be so. In other countries it isn't so.

Planning and transport policies are needed that treat streets as public spaces, for the enjoyment and utility of people who live and work alongside them. We don't have to have a system that encourages people to drive through neighbourhoods mindless of the danger, the noise, the intimidation, and the destruction they cause. We could have a system that says streets are for people.

Stephen Kinsella

Clevedon, Somerset

Christina Patterson seems to think that the idea of "cyclists' rights" is frivolous. If you're a cyclist who's been killed by a car or lorry, she observes, your death and how it could have been avoided isn't "about your 'rights'. What happened to you [is] about the laws of gravity" – that is, lorries being larger than human beings on bicycles.

Indeed, it is the law of gravity that British lawmakers must keep in mind when making and enforcing the rules of the road. A person who gets behind the wheel of a lorry or a car must understand that he or she is in charge of a lethal device. He or she must exercise due care in guiding this potential weapon at all times. "Accidents" are not usually accidents, but are failures to pay attention to other people's right to exist.

People who drive unnecessarily powerful vehicles in a dense urban environment are the people who must bear the burden of not killing other road users who choose to get around without creating congestion, pollution, and danger. If drivers will not bear this burden willingly, lawmakers must make them. Until they do, "ghost bikes" are a good reminder of this social failure.

Nicole Gelinas

New York

I share some of Christina Patterson's concerns about the aesthetics and message given by ghost bikes. I must disagree, however, when she seems to suggest that if cyclists get injured they have only themselves to blame for engaging in such a foolish activity as cycling on busy roads.

In fact, cyclists have a legal right to use any urban road, regardless of the presence of cycle lanes, and should be able to exercise this right without the expectation of a life-threatening collision. Improved road design, and better education and behaviour by all road users, would go a long way to improving accident rates.

Michael Firbank

Newcastle upon Tyne

Back to the workhouse

No one should shop at any retailer prepared to take part in a scheme which has job-seekers working without pay (report, 18 February). It is patently immoral to design such a scheme which belongs to the days of the Victorian workhouse.

Encouraging people into work should involve payment to those employed, making them better off than if they remained on benefits. It must involve real work experience designed to lead to a long-term benefit and long-term work whether in the host organisation or beyond. The benefit to the host organisation could be designed in, so that a bonus is paid by the DWP where the placement leads to someone coming off long-term benefit dependency.

That would incentivise all parties.

Jonathan Devereux

St Albans, Hertfordshire

Although the jobless figures are higher than we would like, my experience is that there is no homogeneous employment market. The market for skilled and experienced staff in London is still candidate-driven, because there is a shortage of top-tier talent. This contrasts with roles that require less experience, where the market is saturated with people, many of whom could do an excellent job.

The biggest area of concern is the willingness of those seeking new work to apply for roles that require a more competitive mind than most. These roles, even with excellent pay, conditions, benefits and a fully supported training programme, do not attract the levels of interest that they should, which is massively disappointing.

Given the number of people unemployed, on work programmes, and in search of new employment, I would expect to be inundated with CVs and expressions of interest, but that is simply not occurring. So where are all of these people looking for work? There are many employers who would be happy to give them a chance.

Robert Hicks

HR Director, London E1

Tory promises to Scotland

The Prime Minister says that should Scots vote "no" in the independence referendum he would "consider" more powers, as yet not specified, for the Scottish Parliament.

In 1979, former Tory PM Sir Alec Douglas-Home urged Scots to vote against the establishment of a Scottish Assembly on the promise that a "better" assembly would be forthcoming from the Conservatives. No assembly was forthcoming and it took two further decades to deliver a Scottish Parliament.

Alex Orr

Edinburgh

Have I understood this correctly? The Falkland islanders have a right of self-determination, but Scotland does not.

V Crews

Beckenham, Kent

Charter for local government

There already is a 'Magna Carta for local government' (Opinion, Phillip Blond and Graham Allen, 17 February). The Aberdeen Principles on local democracy and good governance have been formally endorsed by all 54 Commonwealth countries.

These principles embrace legal independence of councils and their financial autonomy. At their last summit in 2011, Commonwealth leaders, including David Cameron, further highlighted the role of local government "for promoting strategies for localism, sustainable development and economic growth". Countries as diverse as Belize, India, New Zealand and Uganda are ahead in applying the Aberdeen Principles, but the new Localism Bill provides a building block for local democracy in the UK to flourish as well.

CARL WRIGHT

Secretary General, Commonwealth Local Government Forum, London WC2

The Welsh for 'Goodbye'

Your story on the Welsh language(16 February) referred to many who have deserted Wales and the language. I did in 1968 when I enrolled at an English university. I decided not to return to Wales to work, because I didn't feel the need to have to confront the Welsh orthodoxy prevalent at that time; English speakers were not that welcome in the constituency represented by Gwynfor Evans. A lighter touch might have reduced the number of those who left.

Malcolm Hitchings

Newick, East Sussex

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