Letters: Secularism Hitlerism? Absurdism!

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Richard Dawkins and AC Grayling must have been mildly surprised to find that they are no better than Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot or Mao, and that they are incapable of compassion, altruism, serenity and enlightenment according to Peter Popham ("No secularism please, we're British", 15 February).

I must remember to renew my subscriptions to the Nazi and Communist parties, cancel my standing orders to the various charities to which I contribute and then to kick the Big Issue seller outside Waitrose instead of buying (and enjoying) the magazine.

I must remember never again to feel the sense of sublime peace that creeps over me when I listen to Bach or Mozart or contemplate the glorious dales in Yorkshire, the lavender fields of Provence, or even the wheatfields of Essex; all this to assert my true nature as a secularist.

In a democratic society, private individuals should be able to believe what they like, but not to assert a special place in the public sphere to impose those beliefs on others who don't share them. Something as contentious and divisive as religion should have no influence in government or education.

And to imply, as Popham does, that Dawkins' secularism is on a direct route to the gas chamber is outrageous.

David Burgess

Little Bardfield, Essex

I had to smile (not too beatifically, I hope) at Richard Dawkins's claim that "faith is a spent force in the UK". I couldn't help but think of Voltaire's boast when he declared the Bible would be nothing more than a museum piece within 100 years. Voltaire died in 1778. In 2012, the Bible remains the world's best-selling book.

Neither could I help but think of Article 37 of the Albanian Constitution, which stipulated: "The State recognises no religion, and supports atheistic propaganda in order to implant a scientific materialistic world outlook in the people." Enver Hoxha, one of the architects of that constitution, died in 1985. Thousands upon thousands of Albanians now attend religious services.

Richard Dawkins and his statements prove the Bible to have been right all along: "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

Major Stephen Poxon

Editor, Salvationist, The Salvation Army, London SE1

The saying of prayers at the beginning of a council meeting, which has now been ruled unlawful, serves a very useful purpose. It reminds those with power over their fellow citizens that such power is to be used for the greater good.

If the use of prayers is an encroachment of religion into public life, then the banning of prayers is equally an encroachment of irreligion into public life, since it serves as a public denial of religion. I remain to be convinced that this would be an improvement.

Rather than either enforcing or banning public prayer, let each council decide what its practice should be and, if prayers are used, let those who are too sensitive to bear the sight and sound of people at prayer be allowed to leave the room. Then surely everybody will be happy.

David Maynes

London E4

I served as a councillor (unpaid) for 44 years and I must admit to being puzzled at the furore over prayers at council meetings. As a non-believer I had two choices. I could wait outside until the prayers were finished or, as a mark of respect to fellow members, I could stand but say nothing. I chose the latter.

When the meeting started, I more than made up for my imposed silence. As one critic grumbled, "I wish you would speak during prayers, Jim, and then keep quiet". Happy days they were, when allowances were not paid or expected. We were true volunteers, not like the council mercenaries of today.

Jim Bartlett

Barnstable, Devon

Silent disaster of starving children

Faced with an intense financial crisis, much of the world is understandably focused on combating economic insecurity. Yet this focus on the short-term crisis threatens to divert the world from life-and-death issues with profound long-term significance and economic cost.

The chronic hunger facing one billion people in the world is that kind of silent disaster, a vast killer of children and a key source of economic and social instability in many of the world's most-troubled regions ("The hungry generation", 15 February). Globally, an estimated 170 million children risk life-long impairment of their physical and cognitive development because of lack of access to a proper diet.

Roughly one-third of deaths of children under five years can be linked to under-nutrition. Adults malnourished in their early years face a lifetime of hazards, including lower earnings and greater disease burdens. National economies pay a heavy price. Moreover, hungry societies are more likely to become unstable, threatening themselves, their neighbours, and the world with violence and mass displacement of populations.

Yet there are clear, low-cost solutions, and success stories such as China and Brazil point the way towards the rapid progress that can be accomplished. Progress can be made through increased agricultural yields, nutritional supplementation, de-worming and other health-care interventions, and the deployment of community health workers who help to monitor nutrition in the community. World leaders have recognised these potential gains in past summits, but current efforts are falling short of commitments made in earlier years.

We call on all world leaders to give greatly increased focus to the solutions to hunger as a crucial investment in peace and prosperity. With young children's lives at imminent threat there is absolutely no time to lose."

Professor Jeffrey D Sachs

Professor Nouriel Roubini

Save the Children, London W6

Football clubs are not a business

Barry Richard's love of football seems to have led him into the odd lapse of coherence in his argument for the game's popularity (15 February). If Russian oligarchs buy football clubs, it can't be because of their popularity, at least judged in commercial terms. It's more likely that they buy one as a status symbol or plaything, such as an ocean-going yacht.

By doing so they take a club out of the commercial equation for as long as they're willing to bankroll the losses (the ever-popular Chelsea: £60m-plus last year). Looked at in this way, it's hard to see how Premiership wages have "increased off the back of football's popularity", at least at home. If you did want to test the popularity as a going concern of a top-flight football club, all you'd have to try to balance income against expenditure, as real businesses do.

Fill up the gap left after TV rights, sponsorship, merchandising, not paying the taxman or St John's Ambulance, and so on, by charging prices at the gate to close the gap. How long would you last?

Nigel Armstrong

Leeds

While I hold no brief for the often excessive bonuses many bankers enjoy, I do wonder at the double standard that the vast majority of our lynch-mob public apply.

Stephen Hester, who was recruited by the previous government to salvage a mere £45bn of our money was bullied into forgoing a bonus of less than £1m in shares. Shock, horror.

England's football manager resigns his £6m-a-year post. How can England survive without a national football manager? In the three years of Capello's stewardship, he has been in charge of fewer than 30 matches, at a cost of more than £600,000 a match. Stephen Hester would appear to be quite good value when measured against that.

John Wells

West Wittering, West Sussex

The disgrace of Guantanamo

Guantanamo prisoner Shaker Aamer and his family are my constituents as MEP. In that capacity and as a human rights campaigner who helped establish the European Parliament inquiry into "extraordinary rendition", I am outraged that Shaker has been incarcerated in Guantanamo for a decade in total denial of due process.

But I am also vice-chair of the European Parliament's delegation to the United States and thoroughly supportive of close and co-operative relations between the EU/UK and the US. I am perplexed that the vital and flourishing transatlantic relationship is unable to deliver the freedom of a legal European resident who has been charged with no crime, in view of the shared commitment to justice and the rule of law.

The EC and the US authorities are trying to persuade MEPs to endorse a draft agreement whereby the US gets personal data of all America-bound European travellers. Of course, I subscribe to the security objectives of data-sharing, but the failure to act consistently within a framework of human rights makes it no easier to vote in favour of this accord. My American contacts will no doubt claim "no linkage", but I'm afraid there is.

Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP

(Liberal Democrat, London), Brussels

Victims pay for insurance failure

Legal costs have already been slashed after the introduction two years ago of a streamlined, fixed-fee system for low-value road-traffic claims (Leading article: "A welcome move to take on whiplash claims", 15 February). Insurers helped to develop this system and are now saving up to £500m a year. So why haven't premiums fallen to reflect this?

The tools for reducing insurance premiums lie in the hands of the insurers. It is utterly wrong to make people with genuine injuries the scapegoats for the insurance industry's failings.

Deborah Evans

Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, Nottingham

Give us Chilcot

Is the Government still holding up the publication of the Chilcot inquiry report into the Iraq invasion by withholding damning information? Will the Government be advising Blair not to be in a country that recognises the International Criminal Court when the report is published? Millions of us against this misadventure from the start have not forgotten. The establishment must publish the whole unadulterated truth.

Geoff Naylor

Winchester

Pity the poor

I am baffled by the headline "Clegg's hope of tax cut for poor hit by bleak news on economy" (15 February). Am I naïve in believing that during times of economic crisis there is even more need for assistance to the poor?

Ron Malings

Rhyl, Denbighshire

Off the rails

Network Rail is threatening staff who live more than 75 minutes from work that they risk losing their jobs (report, 15 February). Does this affect only those who rely on trains to get to work on time?

Nicky Horne

London NW11

Strange spin

More than 100 years spent fighting for female emancipation and we get Fiona Sturges (10 February) impressed by Madonna doing cartwheels in high heels. It's good to know it's all been worthwhile.

Carolyn Thompson

Batcombe, Somerset

Now you see it...

Inflation is coming down. So things are getting better. Or getting worse, but more slowly?

Bernard O'Sullivan

London SW8

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