Letters: Perspectives on religious belief

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Truths about the Nativity

Before Christmas, Nativity scenes appeared in homes and in shop windows and under public Christmas trees. Children dressed up for annual Nativity plays, although most were focused on what Santa might bring in the form of presents. But how many are aware that the Wise Men were not present at the birth of Jesus? These Nativity scenes certainly give the impression that they were.

If we refer to the Biblical text, the Wise Men appeared much later than the shepherds, when Mary and Joseph were in a "house", not in a stable, and the infant Jesus is described as a "young child", not a baby (Matthew 2:9-10). He may have been two or three years old, it is not certain; but He was not a baby.

This means that the Nativity scenes and plays misinform about the true facts of the Gospel accounts. The Scriptures also do not say "three wise men", only "wise men from the east", so there could have been any number – 50, 10 or 100 – who knows, for an event as momentous as this? They did bear three kinds of gift, gold, frankincense and myrrh, which leads people to conclude that there were three people.

They were not described as "kings" either, neither will you find the traditional names of Caspar, Melchoir and Balthazar in the Bible. These are fictitious embellishments and mere legend.

Next year, when you hear carols about "We Three Kings", remember what is actually written in the Bible and what is not.

Colin Nevin, Bangor, Co Down

When teaching turns into brainwashing

Tom Sutcliffe, in his article "Jesus wouldn't want kids forced to worship" (28 December), uses a hatchet where someone more skilled would have used a scalpel.

He does not distinguish between infants and teenagers; brainwashing from indoctrination or basic teaching; compulsion from being forced. An infant has no choice in being taught to be kind, but a teenager may challenge its application; brainwashing assumes physical and mental disorientation; schooling and basic subjects are de facto compulsory, but a child may not feel forced.

Sutcliffe has a point but he amputates a limb to remove a boil.

Dr D I Lloyd, Upper Tything, Worcestershire

Dirty words to a Christian

If Joan Smith doesn't want shopping, her "core activity at Christmas", to be labelled as a "dirty word" (Comment, 28 December), then she could start by not labelling the core event celebrated by Christians at Christmas as a "rather uninteresting event that happened 2,000 years ago". If those are not dirty words (at least to a Christian such as myself) then I don't know what are.

Wendy Clark, Milton Keynes

A true miracle?

Here we go again, writers making smart-ass comments about a birth being an "immaculate conception" ("Elton John's new baby", 29 December). If you're going to use technical theological terms, at least get them right.

The term Immaculate Conception means someone is born without propensity to sin. Is that what the writer of the article really meant? The term that should have been used was "miraculous conception".

Sheila Corbishley, Newcastle upon Tyne

Herbal ban is ludicrous

A sweeping ban on herbal medicines ("Europe to ban hundreds of herbal remedies", 30 December) would be ludicrous and unworkable. A European standard would be a lot better. There is so much blatant lying about the medicinal properties of herbs, food "supplements" and animal products, that it is time for science to be much more widely brought up against the untruths.

There are many fine herbal practitioners out there who have a proper scientific training, but also a lot more who peddle folklore, distortions of the facts, placebo effects and absolute lies. It is impossible for those of a trusting nature to distinguish the truth.

So if herbal remedies, on which so many of our "proper" medicines are based, should continue to be sold to the public, they should at least bear a badge of acceptance which shows that they have passed scientific proof of efficacy and also a list of possible harmful effects. Just as all "proper" medicines do.

Dr Tim Lawson, Sutton, Surrey

Those who resort to herbalists and other therapists use herbal or other treatments because they have been recommended by satisfied clients, not something that often happens where pharmaceuticals are involved.

In these difficult economic times, has the UK government considered how much choosing and paying for treatments saves the country instead of adding to the burdens of the overstretched NHS?

And where the safety of unlicensed herbal medicines is concerned, have any figures ever been produced showing these products to have caused suicidal tendencies, liver or kidney failure, or death, all well-recorded side-effects of licensed drugs? In fact, reading the list of possible side-effects that come with any prescribed drugs is enough in itself to make people feel ill.

Lesley Docksey, Buckland Newton, Dorset

On the whole, a good article, were it not for the complete absence of the crux of the matter. As most people know, this is motivated by the pharmaceutical companies who stand to gain by getting rid of "natural" herbal remedies and those who provide them. So why no interview, investigation or comment on this?

Mora McIntyre, Hove, East Sussex

RSPB is the natural choice

I must take issue with Frank Broughton (Letters, 29 December) when he says that Natural England is the only body with the requisite range of expertise to run nature reserves in the varied terrain in which they occur.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has reserves in all types of terrain, from mountains to coastal and all types between these two. Their reserves also include farms.

As a consequence, the RSPB has a range of expertise among its staff sufficient to manage nature reserves in any location. What they may lack is expertise in managing the non-avian fauna, but this is easily addressed by hiring the relevantly qualified staff.

What may be more of a problem is the question of funding: both the purchase of additional reserves and raising the money to pay for the ongoing costs.

The RSPB is a relatively wealthy body but it cannot be expected, nor, I suspect, would it be able, to absorb the additional costs. So it will be incumbent on the Government to pass back some of the money raised by selling the reserves to those organisations which show up to run them. Well, we can always hope.

John Crocker, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Your article "Plans to dispose of nature reserves in chaos" (27 December) is not accurate and could give your readers a misleading impression of the Government's intentions.

We have been investigating different management options and have involved civil society partners in these discussions. Many nature reserves are already in private ownership and while we continue to analyse the costs and benefits of different approaches to government-run sites we have made no firm decisions about the role that the Big Society will play in the future of these important places.

National Nature Reserves are some of our most precious wildlife sites and we will not take any risks with their future.

Jim Paice, Minister of State, Department for Rural Affairs, London SW1

Menace of this hi-tech age

The article by Susan Maushart on "pulling the electronic plug" (21 December) had resonance for me. In 2003, I casually mentioned to a Year Nine class that I did not have a television, and the resulting shockwave travelled the classroom in a nano-second.

"How do you live, Miss?" cried the appalled adolescents. "That's the point," I replied. "I live."

This prompted me to repeat an experiment I had conducted with a similar class in 1986, when I gave them a sponsored challenge of doing without TV, radio or telephone calls for 12 days, their sponsor money to go to a charity of their choice.

In the 1986 trial, all the class managed the full 12 days, with the support of my telephone number if they were about to "crack". Reporting on their experiences, it was clear that many had rediscovered old hobbies, had socialised more face-to-face, gone to live events such as cinema, theatre and concerts (allowed), or engaged in sports. All had gone to bed earlier and felt more prepared for the school day, and some had even taken up cooking, thus eating more healthily.

While teaching overseas, in the 1990s, I tried a similar exercise with my then Year Nines, with the addition of banning computers and mobile phones, videos and the like. This was harder, because clearly electronic entertainment had advanced considerably, but many of the children did complete the 12 days, and I was heartily thanked by grateful parents, who vouched for the children's unwonted dedication to their homework and improved grades.

But in 2003, although several of the class expressed themselves willing to try the experiment, others flatly refused. Of the handful who finally committed to the challenge, not one pupil succeeded, the best effort being a mere day or two.

Is it not frightening that over less than 20 years, young people have become so addicted to life at the touch of a button or the click of a mouse that they could not contemplate even a day without electronic gadgetry?

Susan Harr, Hull, East Yorkshire

It's thanks to South Africa

The success of the England cricket team, welcome as it is, needs to be put into perspective. Without the four South Africans, Strauss, Trott, Pietersen and Prior, the England team would be quite ordinary because there are no obvious home-grown replacements for them.

If these South Africans had opted to qualify for Australia rather than England, I suspect that we would all now be drowning our sorrows after another drubbing by the Aussies.

John Rogers, London SW16

When I was a youngster in the 1950s, we Scousers saw cricket as a bit of a posh game, the preserve of the upper classes and those who aspired to join them.

Though I do not wish to pour cold water on our celebrations, cricket may wish to ask itself whether a team of 11 white men, not one of them even a Scouser, can really be considered to be a "national" side?

Colin Burke, Manchester

Certainly not a CAPITAL idea

Rhodri Marsden (Cyberclinic, 29 December) obviously hasn't been sending out festive cards this year. Otherwise he'd know that the caps lock key is MARVELLOUS for typing POSTCODES, because computers include both capital letters AND figures in the caps lock facility.

For my own postcode, it takes out FOUR key strokes as compared with the manual Imperial typewriter I learned on many decades ago. I do not want them put back by losing caps lock.

And my son advised that I should always use "all caps" for emphasis in emails, because caps ALWAYS survive, unlike italic or bold text. And what about those of us who regularly refer to organisations by their initials: NATO, UNICEF, CPRE, etc?

If you really want to identify the bane of the typist, it's that auto-editing function that, inter alia, gives you a cap letter after any full stop or "carriage return". If I want, e.g., to use stops after the e and the g, who is this crazed gauleiter in the machine to tell me otherwise just because the system was set up in the 1970s or early 80s when getting rid of stops was the height of graphic design fashion?

And self-designed keyboards would make it impossible to exchange documents with colleagues, so please don't let's go there.

Vicky Allen, Loughborough, Leicestershire

Media structure inquiry needed

Your leading article "Media plurality matters more than Mr Cable's indiscretions" (22 December) raised important issues about the planned takeover of BSkyB by News Corporation and how media policy is developed in the UK.

We should not be distracted by Cable's indiscreet remarks from the key issue, which is that a News Corporation/ BSkyB merger will fundamentally reshape the UK media landscape and threaten media plurality.

That's why it is important for Ofcom to conduct a robust and thorough inquiry. Also, in recognition of the widespread public concern expressed about this case, after Ofcom has reported, Jeremy Hunt should acknowledge this and refer the case to the Competition Commission for a full-scale investigation.

Rupert Murdoch already owns more of the UK media than would be allowed in Australia or the USA. How have we got to this position? Surely it is time for some kind of media commission to look at UK media policy and come up with ideas to develop and protect high-quality diverse media in the UK.

Granville Williams, Upton, West Yorkshire

Vince Cable's remarks to the undercover reporters were undiplomatic, yes, but heartening nevertheless.

What Cable didn't say was why he thinks so little of Murdoch. If he had, he would perhaps have cited the long-term and insidious effect the man has had on this country's culture and values, which includes his subversion of fairness and good taste in the press (Sun and News of the World) and of intelligent and impartial journalism (Times and Sunday Times), the hijacking of the mass television audience for free viewing of the national sports (cricket and football) in favour of a smaller relatively rich subscribing elite (Sky), and the consequent distortion of the game of football itself by bathing it in a dominant and corrupting commerciality.

Through these and other activities, including the opportunistic support for political leaders by his media (Tony Blair first, now David Cameron), he has undermined the essential qualities and sensibilities of the British identity more than any other living person. This is quite a feat considering he isn't even British. That's why a good man like Cable doesn't rate him. I agree with him.

David Gibbs, London SW4

I don't want to pay more tax

I have an income at just under the threshold where the higher rate of income tax applies. As far as I am concerned, I pay enough tax already, thank you. The suggestion by Ian Watson (Letters, 28 December) and other letter-writers, that they would be happy to pay more tax is not acceptable to me.

Families faced with mortgages and fuel and food bills on the increase already struggle. VAT and fuel duty are about to increase, as are train fares. To add a further 1 per cent on to their personal tax bill would mean someone earning £40,000 paying an additional £335 per annum.

Peter Salter, London SE16

Although the offer of your older readers to forego their winter fuel allowances and bus passes is admirable, the fact is that the major cost for most families with children or university-age adults is housing.

Most recent building has been in one- or two-bedroom dwellings, yet many older people whose children have left home continue to live in four- or five-bedroom houses. This greatly reduces the supply of such houses to the type of families who actually require the space, thereby pushing up the price.

A great national round of downsizing by empty-nesters would have several beneficial effects. It would increase the supply of larger houses, thereby reducing their cost; it would generate additional tax revenue in stamp duty, it would enable the downsizers to reduce their running costs, and if they spent their bonanza it would provide a boost to the economy and additional VAT receipts.

Steve Travis, West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire

The point of HS2

In Graham Norwood's otherwise balanced and informative article (Postcode lottery, 24 December), he seems to be under a serious misapprehension about the HS2 rail line. It is true that the communities quoted such as Great Missenden and Princes Risborough benefit from the existing admirable rail links provided by Chiltern Trains; the whole point of HS2 is that it will run non-stop between London and Birmingham, and is thus completely irrelevant to local travel needs.

Peter Draper, Banbury, Oxfordshire

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