I spent two successive mornings shedding tears of despair over my morning cereals as I read your excellent, wide-ranging coverage of the appalling and tragic events in Woolwich.
Then I read the article by the humanist, A C Grayling, (letters, 25 May; Voices, 24 May) and felt a degree of hope at his logical and well-argued case for children to be taught to think for themselves, rather than to be indoctrinated into the dogma of religion from an early age.
But, for thousands of years, it has been in the very nature of the human race to invent a supreme being to explain the great questions of life.
Fair enough before science came along, but over time Man has used these “gods” to excuse all manner of extreme behaviour, thus saving us from the inconvenience of being responsible for our own actions.
I’m afraid it will take more than reasoned arguments from sensible people like Grayling and Dawkins to overcome this inbuilt characteristic. Back to despair ...
Louise Thomas, Abingdon, Oxfordshire
As Salman Rushdie once observed, most religious people aren’t particularly theological. At the deepest level, their ties to religion are those of family and community.
But the same cannot be said of converts, who are over-represented in Islamist attacks in the UK. Professor Grayling’s proposal to stop the religious indoctrination of children is of no relevance to the Woolwich suspects, who chose rather than “inherited” someone else’s “picture of the world”.
Peter McKenna, Liverpool
A C Grayling says that most of the world’s ills are caused by dogma. He then proceeds to give us two-thirds of a page of his own dogma.
John Williams, Chichester, West Sussex
I admire the letters from the British Muslims (24 May) who are deeply upset by the Woolwich incident. But we need to seek a deeper reason for this outrageous act.
The core problem is the intolerance of all the world’s major religions. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all assert that they, and they alone, are the purveyors of the truth about God. So conflict is inbuilt. Christian and Muslims at loggerheads in Nigeria; Hindus and Muslims in India; and Buddhists and Muslims in Burma.
Religious belief grew because human beings were puzzled about what their purpose was in the universe and how they got there. The world’s religions came into being long before the modern scientific age demonstrated the hopeless inadequacy of their origin and tenets.
The Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees, is a strong believer in the multiverse theory. That is to say, there are countless universes out there of which we have no knowledge. If true, humans are unlikely to be God’s unique creatures, made in his own image. We may, in fact, be in a situation of virtual reality. Yes, there may be a creator (or creators) out there somewhere.
Our existing religions are emotional crutches which we could do without. Then we would stand a much better chance of us all living together in harmony with one another.
David Ashton, Shipbourne, Kent
Gay marriage no threat to justice
Jane Hayter-Hames (letters, 24 May) complains that gay civil partners receive fiscal benefits not available to single people. Civil partnership is about far more than fiscal benefits. It shows social acceptance of relationships akin to marriage formerly considered as unworthy and even evil.
There may be a case for allowing some of these fiscal benefits in the other circumstances she mentions but that is a completely different issue from that of conferring a status equivalent to marriage.
The differences between civil partnerships and marriage are legally minimal, but many perceive them as a signal that such relationships are inferior to equivalent heterosexual relationships. Strong feelings of injustice should be redressed unless doing so risks harming others. It is hard to find evidence of such risks in gay marriage.
John Eekelaar, Oxford
According to Ms Hayter-Hames, it is “infuriating and deeply unjust” that gay couples are accorded the same rights as those of heterosexual married ones. In fact, what is infuriating and unjust is that she still sees homosexual relationships as nothing more than sexual (quote, “Anyone can have sex; you don’t have to be given tax breaks to get that together”).
People who like to reduce their arguments against gay marriage to a sexualised issue should open their minds to the idea that any committed relationship is a tiny bit more sophisticated than to revolve around what goes on in the bedroom.
Alex Guthrie, Newcastle upon Tyne
What is the difference between register office weddings and civil partnerships (letters, 23 May)? In the register office, one recites an order of words imposed on one by the establishment, so that every marriage is exactly the same.
Civil partnership can be in any form one chooses, with any mode of ceremony or none. My partner and I simply signed on the dotted line and concluded the business.
Peter Forster, London N4
Act of equality
You repeat the word “actresses” in your article “Women in movies” (Arts & Culture, 17 May). We have no difficulty in talking of female singers; imagine the alternative of singesses. I think we have forgotten “usherettes” and “stewardesses”. Let us delete “actresses” too, the word, not the people.
Celia Jordan, Warrington, Cheshire
The hypocrisy that surrounds company tax
Margaret Hodge is surely right that tax raises a moral concern (“Companies have to pay their share”, 27 May). One moral concern unmentioned is the way in which company directors and government are typically disingenuous in their arguments.
First, directors often proclaim a legal duty to maximise profits for shareholders and hence to minimise tax. No such duty exists. The Companies Act 2006 makes it clear that directors must seek to promote the company’s success, explicitly noting, for example, that regard should be had for company reputation, employees’ interests and the community.
That is clearly a far cry from the “maximise profits” mantra. It is clearly a near-cry to “stop wriggling through loopholes to avoid tax”.
Second, parliament simply legislates that, unless explicitly permitted in the legislation (perhaps for ISAs, for example), operations which it is reasonable to believe as primarily for tax avoidance are deemed undone.
HMRC already has powers to treat certain artificial tax-avoiding operations as undone and, further, a whole range of legislation and legal judgements rest on what it is reasonable to believe about individuals’ intentions, motivations and knowledge.
Peter Cave, London W1
We applaud Margaret Hodge’s campaign to force companies to declare their tax avoidance strategies. In the interest of balance, and to avoid the possibility of charges of hypocrisy, should MPs make a similar declaration or declare that they are not using any strategies to avoid or mitigate their tax liabilities?
Clive Georgeson, Dronfield, Derbyshire
The problem of tax avoidance, we are often told, can be solved only by international co-operation on this issue, which Peter Popham hopes the EU, after many years of failure, will soon achieve, (Voices, 23 May).
While we all hold our breath and wait for such a miracle, I propose another idea. First, let’s declare that any income, to any party in the UK or elsewhere, derived from transactions which pass through or involve parties within the UK economic sphere, is fully subject to UK taxation.
Second, allow that any taxpayers who can prove that they have paid, or are required to pay, a specific amount of tax elsewhere on all or part of this UK-derived income can deduct this (typically small) amount from their UK tax bill.
Surely such a system would render most forms of offshore tax-dodging futile?
Andrew Clifton, Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire
Divorce not part of housing crisis
Penelope Keith’s comments on women divorcing in later life (“Crisis in housing stock? Must be women divorcing for the fun of it”, Voices, 23 May) appears to underestimate the issues and concerns that many women face when their marriage breaks down.
Ms Keith claims that divorcées in their fifties and beyond are causing house prices to rise, as separated individuals seek to purchase smaller properties or flats to pursue their new-found single lives.
Whether or not this contributes to the growing housing problem this country faces is debatable. But in my experience as a family law solicitor, couples who decide to separate in later life often find their split to be far more amicable and less troublesome than those who do so early on. By removing the prospect of disrupting a young family, disputes and disagreements in “silver splits” can be kept to a minimum.
And, by deciding to end a marriage after 20 or 30 years, the couple have demonstrated a commendable effort to making the marriage work.
Sarah Thompson, Manchester
A tiptoe through the tulips with Lee
Geoffrey Macnab’s review of the film Liberace (22 May) reminded me of a totally outrageous meeting I arranged between Lee (Liberace) and the late, great Kenny Everett.
I was head of promotion for Warner Bros Records in the early 1970s. Lee was doing a TV special for ATV at Elstree Studios. I got a call from Kenny who said: “I’d love to meet him”, so I drove him to the studios where I was a spectator at a bizarre conversation.
Kenny’s conversation was full of double entendres and Lee was playing it totally straight so, although in English of course, it was not a common language.
After half an hour I drove Kenny back. “Don’t expect me to play a track from his [Lee’s] album on Radio 1 tomorrow morning, just because I’ve met him,” he said. As we drove on Kenny spotted a magnificent magnolia tree, “I’ve always wanted a tulip tree like that” he said”.
The next morning, a Saturday, on air Kenny played a short track from Lee’s album with the back announcement, “I just love the tulip tree”. Not payola so much as plantola.
Brian (Hutch) Hutchinson, London SW4