Letters: God is above religion and atheism

These letters appear in the Friday 25th October edition of the Independent

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Jane Merrick (“Let children learn about all the ‘one true Gods’”, 24 October) implies that we can all be classified into three groups; religious, atheist or agnostic. There is surely another way.

We all recognise that there are powerful forces, both physical and spiritual, that we have no understanding of but are sensible to be in awe of.

God is a good name to use, well understood throughout history. If we recognise “God” but not the power of religions to own “it”, what is our classification?

Jan Barker

East Dean, Hampshire


I wish the designers of a new programme in religious education good luck. It is almost impossible to find a definition of religion that encompasses the centuries-old rituals of a Benedictine abbey and the raucous processions that accompany statues believed to have miraculous powers.

We are dealing with a phenomenon, deeply rooted in all cultures, that takes myriad forms.

Nor is Christianity coherent. While we can applaud the Christian faith of William Wilberforce in his fight against slavery, he was opposed by many who believed, with textual backing, that the Bible enjoined slavery.

And how many teachers can give a coherent definition of the Trinity? It comes as a relief to know that five-year-olds are starting off with the easier questions such as “Where does the universe come from?” There are wonderful myths from across the world for them to play with before the scientists come along to tell them it is a little more complicated than that.

Charles Freeman.

Brandeston, Suffolk


Beside religious education, a place should be found for the ethical teaching of the ancient Greeks who (with the Roman Stoics) gave us much of what we consider today to be Christian morality.

Consider Socrates’ answer, in Plato’s Republic, to the question “Why should I do good and not bad?”  The answer is not easy. Socrates looks at the elements in the human mind and concludes that human wellbeing, full development and happiness are better assured by doing right and not wrong.

Some may consider that answer inadequate (I do not), but at least it provides a starting point for an important debate.

Christopher Walker

London W14


Ban anonymity  to stop the cyber-bullies

Campaigners are right that to boycott websites is not enough to tackle the growing problem of cyber-bullying (“Cyber-bullying now just a part of life, most children believe”, 21 October) but “better education” is no straightforward solution either.

Online abuse is a spiteful form of cowardice and the most effective and simple way to tackle it would be to remove all anonymity on social networking and blog sites. Tormentors hide behind pseudonyms and don’t think twice about sending threatening and demeaning messages, but they will if they must face the consequences. If many of their posts were said face to face, they could be arrested for stalking, harassment or aggression.

People join social networks to keep in contact with friends and make new ones. When so many of someone’s peers are on a forum, it’s natural to want to take part, and many young people subjected to cyber-bullying will stay on the web just wanting to fit in.

If it reaches a tragic point where someone can’t handle the emotional and mental anguish any more, that is not the victim’s fault or the family’s. It’s the fault of the bullies, and yet these people are being protected.

Emilie Lamplough

Trowbridge, Wiltshire


Why we banked on the Co-op

Sean O’Grady’s analysis of the meaning behind the Co-op Bank debacle (“Mutual – the magic word that doesn’t mean so much”, 23 October) misses the reason it has been such a cause of concern to many people.

He is right that the accountability of the Co-operative Group is shamefully complicated; reminiscent of the old-style trade unions in its clear intent to keep out all those not committed to “the right way of thinking”.

But the bank (and the few remaining mutuals, perhaps) was until recently a staid, unexciting bank not rushing into madcap get-rich-quick schemes – that was why so many of us kept our money there.

That senior executives should suddenly decide to play “me too” without properly counting the cost demonstrates why so many people feel something has been lost as the bank starts its inexorable progress towards being just like all the rest.

Clive Tiney

Haxby, York


Sean O’Grady’s article has the effect of tarring the whole of the mutual sector with the difficulties faced by one institution by suggesting that building societies’ approach to customers was “not markedly different from the supposedly wicked main high street clearers” and that mutuality was “a demonstrable irrelevance so far as building societies were concerned”. 

But independent research consistently shows customer views about the service they receive from their building society to be much more favourable than their views about the service they receive from their plc bank. 

For example, 62 per cent of consumers, in a survey that the Building Societies Association commissioned from YouGov in September, said that they trust their mutual provider to act in their best interests. The equivalent figure for banks is 42 per cent.

And 66 per cent of consumers said their mutual provider gives them value for money, compared with 45 per cent saying the same of their bank.  

The biggest financial scandal of the past decade has been the mis-selling of payment protection insurance – PPI.  The latest data released by the independent Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) shows that financial firms generally have a much higher “customer complaint uphold rate” at the Ombudsman than the building societies.

Typically, the FOS agreed with customers on 75 per cent of adjudicated PPI claims for all firms; the figure for building societies was well under 20 per cent.

Building societies exist to serve their customers – their owners. Banks exist to pay dividends to shareholders by making profits out of consumers. This major difference between the two types of organisations is fully reflected in the customer experience.

Adrian Coles

Director-General, Building Societies Association, London WC2


Think again, Archbishop

Archbishop Justin Welby used to be an oilman. As such, he must know the writing is on the wall for fossil fuels, and that as oil and gas become harder to find and complicated to extract, energy prices will inevitably go up, never mind any profiteering.

This has been understood for some time. It is one of the reasons governments across the world are shifting away from fossil fuels, the other reason being carbon emissions.

The interest in fracking is the proof that fossil fuels are getting harder to find. Instead of exploiting easy oil wells and gas fields far from public gaze, energy companies are bringing their operations closer and closer to people’s homes, bringing more risk and expense with each operation.

The Archbishop should focus his attack on energy efficiency and energy waste.

The UK is wasting billions of pounds a year heating the skies above our power stations, instead of creating district heating networks as they have across much of Europe.

And we waste a fortune  on winter fuel payments to pensioners, instead of spending the money transforming the  insulation of their homes so  that their fuel bills are permanently lowered.

Christian Vassie

Wheldrake, York


The other side of one-sidedness

I can only agree when Yiftah Curiel, spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy, writes about one-sidedness in the Israel/Palestine conflict (letter, 24 October). The Israelis maintain their dominance by using the latest aircraft, tanks and weaponry – as against the primitive use of tractors by the Palestinians who have suffered decades of occupation.

Eddie Dougall

Walsham-le-Willows, Suffolk


Ordinary William  – the big picture

I’m shocked if Grace Dent (“It’s extraordinary how ordinary these royals seem”, 24 October) believes a royal christening without the pomp means it’s a new era of British monarchy.

William’s career has been a masterclass in appearing ordinary – who could forget those fascinating pictures of him making tea between stints as a rescue pilot? Or cleaning a toilet on his gap year?

We are charmed by the careful snapshot and forget the bigger picture. He has led a life of privilege inaccessible to the majority of young people today.

Ian McKenzie



Congratulations on your near-perfect coverage of the royal christening: 19 words in the bottom corner of page 27 was exactly what it needed. (It would have been perfect but for Grace Dent’s column.)

Paul Harper

London E15

When is murder not murder?

Your report “Marines ‘murdered man live on camera’” (24 October) left me bemused.

The report stated that the killing of a wounded Taliban “fighter” followed a strafing attack by an Apache helicopter.

So, if the man had been killed by helicopter rounds, that would be acceptable? Yet, if he was shot after being injured – that is murder? And is the killing of non-combatants by drone attacks not murder?

David Toresen

Bletchley, Buckinghamshire


Fuel price folly

The Government proposes to help Britain’s “squeezed middle” by posting fuel prices along motorways. Motorists should have been aware for decades that fuel is cheaper in towns. Most cars carry enough fuel for several hundred miles, so only the unprepared need to stop for fuel on a motorway. The cost of erecting these unnecessary signs will have to be borne by the prudent motorists, resulting in a another “squeeze”.

Peter Erridge

East Grinstead


£500m question

It appears there are two ways to save £500m of hardworking taxpayers’ money: plugging a tax loophole for big business or stamping out health tourism by foreign people. Easy to see what this Government’s priority will be.

David Wallis

Cirencester, Gloucestershire