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Tuesday 20 December 2011
Letters: Hitchens and religion
Some Christians don't 'mewl' at death
I am sorry that Christopher Hitchens has died; by all accounts, he was a cultured and intelligent man. I am sorry that Richard Dawkins (17 December) has lost a close friend and fellow-fighter in his war on religion.
But I am also very angry at what Dawkins has written in praise of his friend's courage in the face of death. "Leave it to the religious to mewl and whimper at the feet of an imaginary deity in their fear of death; leave it to them to spend their lives in denial of its reality".
My father is a committed Christian who is dying from cancer. He looks his illness in the eye every bit as much as Hitchens did, and faces up to death as squarely and honestly. How dare Dawkins say that he mewls and whimpers in fear. What does he know of how another person, a person of faith, thinks about these things?
Why does Dawkins always have to tell us that atheists are better, cleverer, more honest (etc ad nauseam) than Christians or other people of faith?
Richard Dawkins believes that there is no God. I believe that there is a God. One of us is right and one of us is wrong, I know not which. We will find out in the fullness of time. Until then, let us accept that both of our views are sincerely held, freely entered into, and both, until proven otherwise, of equal intellectual validity.
I am glad to learn from Richard Dawkins that Christopher Hitchens died a noble and dignified death, but am sorry that he is silly enough to use this as a knock-down argument for atheism. Many believers have died equally worthy deaths in extreme circumstances, so that proves nothing.
It is obvious that Mr Hitchens was a very clever writer and a very pleasurable companion, but it is equally obvious that he was deeply flawed (coming "short of the glory of God" like the rest of us, as St Paul would have it), and without any personal lifestyle that could be a shining model for humanity.
Mr Dawkins, too, is a charming man (to some), as well as a brilliant biologist and talented writer, but it would be nice if he could learn a little charity, even if it meant sharing that virtue with some of the believers he so seems to hate.
"Farewell, great voice", cries Richard Dawkins, in his panegyric on Christopher Hitchens. "A symbol", he says, "of the honesty and dignity of atheism". In a two-page spread, you quote Hitchens' comments on Mother Teresa, "A lying, thieving Albanian dwarf ..." No argument there then.
What wit and what intelligence this displays (two of the many qualities ascribed to Hitchens). A "great voice"? I beg to disagree. This writing comes across to me as hate-filled, vitriolic, and personally demeaning (with an undercurrent of xenophobia).
And against a "soft" target, too; but, then, it's a Christian, so that's all right then. But I guess such a view is unlikely to find much space in the adoration of atheism espoused in your columns.
Time politicians had Cameron's'proper morals'
I heartily agree with Mr Cameron (report, 16 December); it's about time we had "proper" morals. Perhaps we could start by not allowing the government to claim that people are responsible for their poverty. The cultural phenomenon we have that stigmatises poverty is immoral and wrong.
Politicians – and by default those who elect them – wonder why we had summer riots, and why the mostly young people involved in them are seemingly unhappy. They are obviously out of touch with modern society.
Our politicians appear to value bankers and fund managers above other forms of endeavour, politicians who promote a system in which employers would prefer to employ immigrant labour at £7 an hour than pay decent livable wages, politicians who prefer to use private companies to provide essential services such as patrolling borders, politicians who are considering using a credit agency to seek out "bad" benefit recipients, politicians who appear comfortable with giving welfare to wealthier homeowners through tax breaks on their mortgages and welfare to companies through tax breaks, yet stigmatise welfare to individuals without means.
People really don't wish for a lot out of their government; a fair and equitable tax system in which the wealthy contribute according to their means, an education system that subsidises everyone's education equally, a health-care system that is free at the point of use, protection from harm, and perhaps most important, politicians who actually stand up for what they believe in.
David Cameron's comments, made in Oxford of all places, show a lack of rigour in his thinking. To say that he is a "vaguely practising" Christian is meaningless.
If he believes in the resurrection after death of Jesus, the unique and fundamental tenet of Christianity, he may claim to be a Christian. If he does not believe this, he is not a Christian. As he confesses to be "full of doubts" on theological issues, I suspect he falls into the latter category.
Second, Mr Cameron says that Christianity is inherently involved in politics because so many political questions are moral questions. The fallacy here is to conflate theology with ethics. They are two distinct and separate disciplines.
Our European code of morality predates Christianity by several centuries. And atheists and non-believers can be, and often are, decidedly more moral in their conduct than practising Christians.
I do not share David Cameron's view that religion is a force for good, since its promotion of divisiveness and ignorance more than offset any perceived benefits he has claimed. Although religion also plays a role as an agent of social control, this is not as consistent as Mr Cameron would like.
One religious revival more than two centuries ago may be of some relevance for Mr Cameron. As the Industrial Revolution progressed and the working poor in the towns and cities remained neglected by the established church, the growth in Methodism started to fill that void.
This development played an important part in mobilising the disadvantaged, and helped provide the early beginnings for the friendly societies and the trade union movement.
I would have hoped the government has something better than religion to offer today's disadvantaged.
So David Cameron thinks Christian values should be defended? Are these the values that allowed priests to abuse children without any constraints, the values that allowed neighbours in Northern Ireland to cheerfully blow each other to pieces and the values that allow gay men and women to be victimised and worse?
And Cameron should remember that the best of Christian values, tolerance, caring and love, were hijacked from a period 1,000 years or so before the appearance of Christ (read a little Cicero).
Perhaps Cameron should have suggested that we defend the values of British humanists which are those of tolerance, care and consideration for all, without the absurd baggage of a supernatural being in the sky taking note of our every move.
Professor B S Everitt
Now that Dave has identified us as a Christian country, perhaps he will give us a lead by tithing his earnings and encouraging his chums the bankers to do the same. (Luke 11:42, plus many others).
Right to appeal referee decisions
Ian Herbert's report of Stoke City's 2-1 defeat of Tottenham Hotspur (Sport, 12 December) identifies refereeing errors which, individually and collectively, had a decisive impact on the result of the match and, perhaps ultimately, on the Premier League title.
While it is clearly right that players and clubs must respect the officials (and Harry Redknapp has a reputation for not complaining about referees' decisions) is it not time, now that every Premiership match is broadcast on television with instant replays and studio analysis, for clubs to have a right of appeal or challenge against perceived errors?
Such challenges have been introduced in cricket and tennis without too much controversy and the results are seen as contributing to the integrity of the outcome of a match, rather than as undermining the authority of the umpires and linesmen. As with those two sports, a limit could be placed on the number of challenges for each team, with a challenge forfeited if unsuccessful.
Any objection that such appeals in football would interrupt the free-flow of the game can be met with the reply that such hold-ups frequently occur now when a goal is scored, with the referee, opposing side, and crowd forced to wait while the team scoring the goal celebrates its success before play is resumed.
Simple dosages for children
So five million children in this country are getting the wrong dose of penicillin (16 December). On holiday in France, I had to take my three-year-old daughter to the doctor with a urinary tract infection. She was weighed (18kg, apparently what English doctors think a five-year-old should weigh) and the penicillin and analgesics she was prescribed came with their own dosing syringes, clearly marked in kilograms, so that it was easy to deliver exactly the right quantity of each medicine. No hi-tech, just common sense.
The article "European Commission president [...]" (13 December) refers to a nameless "Mr Cameron's spokesman" explaining the Deputy Prime Minister could not be accommodated at future European Council negotiations because there [is] "one seat and that is the seat for the head of state for the country". Could you reassure readers that the Rt Hon Mr David Cameron MP has not ascended to be head of state, and that remains Queen Elizabeth II?
Buenos Aires, Argentine
That's fine, is it?
Croydon Council has just proudly published collecting parking fines of £265,177 in Purley High Street in 2011, compared to £105,480 in 2010. Shop sales are down 40 per cent. Most people shop elsewhere. Is this part of the the Mary Portas non-joined up solution for retail (letters, 16 December)?
It's a certainty
The Olympic security costs have doubled because of the "uncertain international situation". Presumably, the international situation was certain when costs were estimated, or are we taxpayers being mugged again?
BBC, take note
I have heard a rumour that some of the music on Frozen Planet was not actually there when the film was shot, but was dubbed on later. I think we should be told the truth.
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