Letters: Our bloodiest century

The Enlightenment, not God, is to blame for our bloodiest century
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The Independent Online

Sir: I, like Professor Dawkins, am an atheist, but I cannot agree with the overly simplistic view that God is, essentially, to blame for everything ("Is God the root of all evil?", 6 January). I have come to the view that most of the evils of the 20th century were the products of the age of enlightenment, and the notion that, by applying rational principles, humanity could be perfected. This belief spawned the twin evils of Fascism and Communism

The 20th century was arguably the most bloody and brutal period in all of human history, and virtually none of this industrial-scale slaughter had ostensibly religious roots. To assert, as Dawkins appears to do, that Hitler's problem was his Christianity, is a fact that has apparently escaped all serious historians. He is also noticeably silent on the mass murders carried out under both Stalin and Mao. Is this because he has failed to uncover even the most tangential religious link?

I accept that historically much evil can be laid at the door of religion, but I also find that I have, regretfully, to accept that the unprecedented slaughter of the 20th century is one of the end products of the rational atheism that I adhere to. This is a possibility that Professor Dawkins appears to be unwilling to accept.



Sir: I applaud Richard Dawkins for his concise, penetrating analysis of the evils of religion . To his quotes of song lyrics he could add "You've got to be taught to hate" from South Pacific. The religious tribalism that Dawkins describes is underpinned by faith-based schools. The increase in such establishments, encouraged by the present Government, is highly worrying. We are building trouble for the future by segregating children by religion. We should strive to integrate our citizens of the future and ban all religion from our schools. I hope that Dawkins' message will be heard and acted upon.



Sir: Professor Dawkins asks us to imagine a world without religion. Would that mean a world without the influence of Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr, not to mention the majority of progressive thinkers and campaigners, from William Wilberforce to Aung San Suu Kyi, who have been religious people? Furthermore, hasn't a world without religion been tried before? One thinks of Stalin's Soviet Union, Mao's China and Pol Pot's Cambodia. Yes, just imagine a whole world like those states.



Kennedy's fall has damaged his party

Sir: The resignation of Charles Kennedy was sad but necessary. Since the last election, Mr Kennedy has been ineffective as an opposition leader. Since May, he has failed to take the opportunities presented by a repressive government and incompetent opposition.

Where Mr Kennedy has done himself, and his party, no favours is in the manner of his departure. The announcement of his battle against alcoholism on Thursday has had the effect of making the opposition to him seem opportunist and cruel. In fact, the issue is Mr Kennedy's leadership, not his personal problems.

The manner of Mr Kennedy's resignation has done a great deal of unnecessary harm to the Liberal Democrats. The party's support depends heavily on people who believe that they are more honest and statesmanlike than other politicians. By confusing the issues of his alcoholism and his leadership and by failing to accept that his position was growing untenable, Mr Kennedy has unwittingly done a great deal of harm to that image and therefore to his party.



Sir: In your leading article of 6 January you refer to Charles Kennedy's drinking and state: "The public have a right to expect they will not be told outright falsehoods by a politician who is asking for their votes."

I think the exact opposite is true. We, the public, are not so naive. We know that politicians lie to us all the time and that being economical with the truth is part of their stock in trade.

And this is not just cheap cynicism. The country would be ungovernable if our politicians were expected always to be completely open to public scrutiny, where every moral lapse results in public humiliation. I would guess that one of the reasons why the intellectual standards of our elected representatives has fallen is the requirement that they are expected to behave at all times with the moral rectitude of a Carmelite nun. Flawed but capable people will see the pitfalls of going into politics and choose a career elsewhere.

Politicians in general do not believe that the public have a "right" not to be told falsehoods. My impression is that politicians withhold, or distort, as much of the truth as they think necessary and they can get away with. Just like the rest of us.

It is strange, is it not, that we expect such high moral standards from our elected leaders when politics is such a filthy trade? Fortunately we have the great British press - a group completely free of drunks, adulterers and liars - to do our sententiousness for us. Speaking for myself, I do not want to be governed by non-smoking, teetotal, uxorious, vegetarian moral paragons. Which is just one reason why I am not a member of the Liberal Democrat Party.



Sir: The real tragedy of Kennedy's leadership in recent months, drinking problems aside, is that he has failed to act decisively to convince his party that their progressive agenda during the election campaign was the correct approach. If Vince Cable's free-market cabal now force a leadership change in favour of the so-called "modernisers", will the British electorate now be left with a choice between three essentially Thatcherite parties at the next election? A strong Liberal party is essential to resist the repressive, statist agenda of New Labour.



Sir: The best damage control procedure now that Charles Kennedy has resigned and the Deputy Leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, has taken over is to allow Ming to go forward for election as leader unopposed. That way, instead of being distracted from political campaigning, we simply close ranks behind the most statesmanlike figure we have in the party and allow him to take us into the next election. If after that he is not in government it will be entirely reasonable for him to make way, and our Young Turks can contest the party leadership with the benefit of the necessary experience of the House of Commons.

Just as Disraeli famously "dished the Whigs" by doing the unexpected, we can dish the Tories and Labour now. No time wasted on internal elections, no spectacle for our opponents to relish of Liberal Democrats dividing into hostile camps. Sir Menzies is the potential leader of our party the others most fear. If we make the mistake of electing another young leader, he will live in the shadow of almost daily comparison in the media with David Cameron.



Sir: John Rentoul asserts that it is unfair to accuse Charles Kennedy of dishonesty, when previously denying that he had a drink problem, because Mr Kennedy is entitled to privacy (Opinion, 6 January). Journalists had asked Mr Kennedy whether or not he was addicted to a drug - alcohol. Mr Rentoul implies that the question was improper. In fact, it was always legitimate, because voters have an entirely proper interest in knowing whether or not the leader of one of our three major political parties is pathologically addicted to a drug that can affect personality, performance and judgement.



Sir: Charles Kennedy's drink problem is described as having been one of the worst-kept secrets at Westminster. Many more may have suspected, but the fuller picture was confined to a few hundred or thousand people. In this it is probably similar to the cases of Edward VIII's liaison with Wallis Simpson.

What is the media's motive for complicity in such cases? When so many already know, continuing secrecy seems to me to be less an issue of privacy than of elitism. Edward VIII might well have benefited from a much earlier encounter with public opinion. Charles Kennedy might have begun his treatment a lot sooner and now be facing a better medical and political prognosis.

The prevalence of alcoholism among MPs, and no doubt the media, seems to foster an attitude of protectiveness. Their response is that they must band together to protect politicians from the public not, as it should be, to protect the public from politicians.



Sir: I suspect that many Lib Dem voters will agree with me that a man of principles, however flawed, is preferable to a lickspittle who does whatever a foreign reformed-alcoholic president tells him.



Make Poverty History successful

Sir: Maxine Frith (report, 27 December) gives a misleading assessment of the Make Poverty History campaign by ignoring the end-of year verdict issued by the coalition behind it.

The 540 organisations supporting the campaign, along with the millions of campaigners and including many high-profile figures, can be proud of what has been achieved. If governments keep their promises without imposing harmful conditions, millions of lives that would have been lost could now be saved.

A key element of the campaign was popularising the issues, which meant that more people than ever before got involved in a global movement to end world poverty. In combination with grassroots activism and face-to-face lobbying, this gave politicians a mandate for dramatic action on economic justice.

There is no doubt that governments internationally could have done much more and we will all continue to urge governments to deliver the changes needed that will start to make poverty history.




Fox numbers and the hunting ban

Sir: Louise Guinness calls on opponents of hunting to "learn about the reality of fox control" (letter, 6 January). Would that include the peer-reviewed scientific study, published in Britain's most prestigious scientific journal (reference: Baker, Harris and Webbon, Nature, Vol. 419, 5 September 2002, p.34), which showed that the year-long national hunting ban during foot and mouth in 2000/2001 had no discernable effect on fox numbers? Or the evidence from concealed videocams showing artificial earths constructed by hunters to encourage foxes to breed to keep up their numbers for "sport"? I thought not.



Your constituents are watching you

Sir: George Galloway appearing on Big Brother (Opinion, 7 January) may be the most curious example of an MP moonlighting but it is not the only one. At least Galloway's constituents can see what he's like. For those who have an MP who doesn't appear on reality TV, the best way to check their outside interests and whether they affect their day job is to look up their parliamentary record at www.theyworkforyou.com. If they appear not to your taste, then take your cue from Big Brother and vote them out of the house!



Murderous English hosts

Sir: Colin Buckley (letter, 6 January) reminds us that "no group of English abused Welsh hospitality to slaughter their hosts", unlike the Glencoe Massacre. But Welsh tradition recalls several instances of English hosts murdering their Welsh guests, as when the 5th-century Saxon chieftain Hengist invited 300 native British leaders to a banquet and slaughtered them all, apart from the famous Vortigern. And here in Abergavenny, the local Marcher Lord William de Braose invited his Welsh rivals to Christmas dinner in 1177 and promptly killed them all. Puts bickering with the in-laws over the turkey into perspective, doesn't it?



Enough of drunk women

Sir: I am disappointed that your newspaper has jumped on the bandwagon of using the familiar image of drunk women to illustrate an article on binge drinking. ("Binge-drinking blamed for increase in liver cirrhosis across Britain", 6 January). Why do we never see pictures of drunken men knocking someone senseless in the street or women who have been beaten by their drunk partners? Women usually only harm themselves when they drink too much. Sadly, this is not always the case with men.



Sir: You state that "three to four glasses of wine" is the recommended daily alcohol limit for men (report, 7 January). In fact, since many wines are 14 per cent alcohol by volume, and small wine glasses of 125ml are largely a thing of the past, this means that many people are drinking way over the daily limits without realising it. Some beer companies have started putting the amount of alcohol units on the labels of bottled beers (eg 330ml bottle of Stella = 1.7 units). Perhaps the wine industry should be persuaded to do the same.



PC intolerance

Sir: Political correctness may have been launched to make the world a more tolerant place but as with other such initiatives (Christianity comes to mind), there are always those like Ruth Kelly (letters, 6 January) who will use it to justify impeding the free expression of views they disagree with.



Health-care 'passports'

Sir: Val Gooding has no right to claim that all those who pay for private medical insurance were disappointed by David Cameron's decision to abandon health passports (letter, 6 January). I can afford such insurance, but I do not expect this luxury to be subsidised out of general taxation. The job of Government is to protect the interests of the community as a whole by regulating the effects of self-interest, not enhancing them.