Letters: Place of Christianity in national life

These letters appear in the Wednesday 23rd April edition of the Independent

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Like Katherine Scholfield (letter, 21 April), I would call myself a humanist, albeit a Christian one. Her perception of Christianity seems to be based mainly on the wacky American right-wing fundamentalism so beloved of the media in this country.

Like Katherine, I try to live a life of compassion, kindness and fairness; and like her, I do it because I think it’s the right thing to do. I certainly don’t do it out of any fear of hellfire and damnation, nor is that any part of the teaching I have passed on.

On the question of clerical celibacy, I am ambivalent. Having been married for 43 years, I have found tremendous strength and support in being married to the right person. But I am aware that there is another side to the picture. A celibate priest is deployable at a moment’s notice: a married priest has a family to consider before agreeing to move somewhere else. A celibate priest is cheap to employ: a married priest has to be paid something like a living wage. These are the practical problems the Roman Catholic Church will have to face.

As to the separation of church and state. France has this: but all the parish churches and cathedrals are state property, and are maintained by the state. Germany has it as well; but they also have the Church Tax, collected by the state and passed on to the churches for their work  Meanwhile, in England, the establishment of the Church of England brings more responsibilities than privileges. A priest of the Church of England is vicar not of a church but of a parish. Within that area, anyone, Christian or not, has the right to seek his or her help and support over any matter whatsoever.

John Williams, West Wittering West Sussex

I am so glad that Katherine Scholfield enjoyed her Good Friday. As a Christian, I also gained a lot from it. Her description of the views I am supposed to have about heaven and hell were of the straw man variety.

The heaven I and many other Christians believe in might well include Katherine, and if we meet, I would be delighted to carry on the discussion throughout eternity. You can recognise me by the pleased expression and the “Hug a Humanist” T-shirt

Brian Dalton, Sheffield

Whatever one thinks about the contribution of Christianity to our national culture it is wrong to see this as equivalent to that made by other faiths, as many now like to. The most distinctive thing about our culture, and the wider Western culture to which it belongs, is the status given to the individual as a moral agent, the right to freedom of conscience and the equality of all before the law. All these traits have their roots in Christian beliefs, though they may have been refined over two millennia by other agencies.

These traits may now be part of global culture but they did not appear by accident. One has only to look at non-Christian cultures, such a Chinese or Islamic, to see how different social conceptions can be. We would be foolish to ignore this.

Dominic Kirkham, Manchester

Christians have claimed the UK is a Christian country, This idea was quashed by the House of Lords ruling in the Bowman case of 1917.

Charles Bowman was a wealthy supporter of the secularist movement who left a substantial sum to the Secular Society Ltd. The bequest was challenged and eventually heard by the Lords of Appeal. The appellant’s case rested on the “Christian Country” myth. During their Lordships deliberations, Lord Sumner observed: “The phrase, Christianity is part of the law of England, is really not law. It is rhetoric.” The majority agreed  and ruled in favour  of the Secular Society.

Commenting on the judgment, the Church Times declared: “England is, no longer, in law, and has ceased to be in fact a Christian country.”

Elaine Ansell, Worthing, West Sussex

The cartoon on Page 3 of today’s Independent (22 April) is blasphemous. You would not print a similar cartoon about any religion other than Christianity. It reflects very badly on your newspaper.

Joan Walker, Tony Walker, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands

Over recent years we’ve become inured to an annual religious pep talk from our head of state (this surely happens nowhere else in the western world). For the Prime Minister to start on that tack as well takes the biscuit. Does David Cameron think it will increase his electoral chances? If so we must seriously doubt his political judgment.

Tim Hudson, Chichester, West Sussex

“Days of the celibate priest are numbered” (Letters, 19 April) and, after all these centuries of frustration, may his nights be numberless.

Peter Forster, London N4

Health and safety ‘jobsworths’

In rightly supporting health and safety legislation (editorial, 19 April), you mention the unnecessary implementation of restrictions by “jobsworths”.

I suggest that the growth of the ambulance chasing sector of the legal profession has a lot to do with the hyper-caution shown by organisers of events. Watch daytime television and you will see a constant stream of advertisements touting for clients, suggesting they may win thousands of pounds in compensation for injuries incurred in an accident.

It is hardly surprising that organisations err very much on the side of caution when they know that in the very unlikely event of an actionable occurrence they could be liable for damages. Health and safety rules represent a very convenient excuse for organisations to cite to prevent the risk of litigation. Blame the men in wigs.

Patrick Cleary, Honiton, Devon

 

We all have a stake in troubled G4S

G4S shareholders are dismayed at their CEO’s 23 per cent pay rise in the face of heavy losses and an ongoing criminal investigation (Laura Chesters, 15 April). You or I might not own any shares ourselves but we pay 37 per cent of the company’s revenue, and as users of the services they provide we actually have a lot at stake.

Eighty per cent of people think that when a contract – say for probation monitoring or detention centres – is put out to tender, a public option that might be better value for money should always be considered. It’s not hard to see why.

Cat Hobbs, Director, We Own It, Oxford

Ukip loves other European cultures

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is entitled to her own feelings about Nigel Farage (Another Voice, 21 April) but the idea that Ukip loathes other cultures cannot go unchallenged. It is precisely the awful uniformity which is the aim of the EU, cutting across countries’ beliefs, traditions and way of doing things, that we most dislike. Vive la différence!

Mary Lees, Littlehampton,  West Sussex

A new revenue deal to avert NHS crisis

Steve Richards is right to call for a new debate on tax and spending (21 April). And the crisis into which the NHS and social care budgets are beginning to be engulfed is the best place to start. From now until the end of the next parliament the NHS faces a £30bn deficit.

This will prove to be the mother of all crises, particularly as taxpayers are not prepared to concede authority to government to raise large additional sums by traditional taxation.

For 54 years of the post-war period governments spent very significantly more than they’ve been able to raise in taxes. Voters have declared a general strike if taxes are pushed up for more than the odd year over 38 per cent of GDP. So how do we get some financial buoyancy into the public accounts?

We certainly need a new tax deal. I propose that funding for the NHS and social care should be put to a new mutual.

It will be the mutual’s job to raise the revenue by way of National Insurance contributions (with corresponding tax cuts) but it would do so on the basis that the money was owned by the mutual and that politicians couldn’t get their sticky fingers on this new source of revenue.

We would then have a more grown up debate with our mutual discussing with the electorate how much we’re prepared to put into health and social care, on what terms would we put in that new money, and to what extent the budget would cater for the new advances in medicine.

Political action is urgent as we have only 12 months until the election. Are any of the parties going to face up to how severe the crisis is in financing health and social care, or are we all going to be hit by the fallout in the next parliament?

Frank Field MP, (Birkenhead, Lab)

House of Commons

Steve Richards considers a referendum on the NHS. But would people vote for what they want, or for what they are prepared to pay for? Our problems with the NHS stem from our refusal to confront this issue.

Martin London, Henllan, Denbighshire

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