Andreas Whittam Smith (20 December) bemoans the decline of Christianity throughout Europe, but fails to address the cause. This is simply that Christianity has lost the intellectual argument, and now relies on tradition and emotion to keep going.
In earlier centuries, God was needed as an explanation for what we did not understand. But our scientific understanding has now grown to the extent that we no longer see the need for a deity to explain any phenomenon. It is not that science has explained everything; rather that we can now see the futility of plugging the remaining gaps in our knowledge with the supernatural.
Nor does turning to the New Testament any longer offer the honest believer any hope. Modern New Testament scholars recognise that the historical Jesus was a very different figure from the Jesus of faith. The former was a devout Jew, who never intended to found a religion outside Judaism, and who believed that God’s kingdom was about to come on Earth – a prediction that failed to come true. The latter figure is largely a construction of later followers, from St Paul onwards.
A couple I know attended their local Methodist church for many years, playing a large role in its music-making and pastoral care. Their reasons for attending that church were their desire to worship with a congregation which shared their faith and with ministers who brought a deep and thoughtful level of substance to the sermons and activities of the church. They left recently, along with many others, when a new minister arrived trying to engage with the young generation.
In the pursuit of families the sermons became bland and simple, the content of the music became poor and the long-serving volunteers were brushed aside. That church is now struggling.
Most churches can’t put on a show to rival modern entertainments, but in the pursuit of this aim there is less time for enlightening and thoughtful words. People grow into or return to the church as they experience life and feel the need to explore a different dimension to their lives. When the church fails to put flesh on the bones of the questions these people ask it becomes irrelevant.
Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire
Perhaps children are not going to church because they see no evidence of the existence of God or that prayers to him are answered, but plenty of evidence of people conducting their lives in a manner blatantly at variance with the doctrines they supposedly believe in.
BRITAIN’S UGLY BUILDINGS
As an architect, I have great sympathy with Alain de Botton’s comments (4 December). However nothing is likely to change fundamentally in our construction industry as a result of Sir Terry Farrell’s report, until our population begins to appreciate the benefits of living and working in a good environment. To many, good design is confused with kudos or ego – the smart car parked in the drive of a developer’s boxy house.
At the heart of our problems are the methods we use to procure many of our buildings. This is particularly true in the pubic sector. Working for a main building contractor, I see it first hand. Crucial design decisions affecting the lives of many people are frequently made by government officials with no training in design.
Today the only items on the agenda are process and bureaucracy. The end product, a piece of architecture, is totally subordinated and lost. And sadly, nobody appears to have noticed its absence.
Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire
WHO PAYS TO KEEP THEATRES SAFE?
Of course, any period property is expensive to maintain. Alice Jones (21 December), commenting on the ceiling collapse at the Apollo Theatre in London, says: “Spending on restoration (must be) prioritised. If private investors lack the resources, then the Government must step in to assist.”
This, I think, is already done in the case of royal palaces, but I wonder if it would be wise to extend the system to all period property. Would this not represent a further transfer of resources from taxpayers to wealthy individuals and corporations?
MUSLIM STAFF AT THE CHECKOUT
Marks and Spencer have overplayed their hand in their decision to allow Muslim staff to refuse to handle pork or alcohol products; moving them into different sections does not amend the mistake.
It is unfortunate that a small number of religious people choose to interpret their doctrines as having no room for the rights of others, and that they are encouraged to do so by well-meaning but deluded liberals.
For a shop as well established as M&S to allow them is even worse. Plenty of people are required to do things during their working lives which they do not choose to do in their private lives; it is called being professional. Nobody is asking the staff to consume the products, only to touch the packaging. If people’s views are really so intolerant as not to be able to do that, then perhaps they should work elsewhere.
There are halal and kosher meat providers who are allowed to only employ people of their own faith (no double standards there!) so why not work for them if mainstream British stores are too offensive?
In the meantime people should boycott M&S until they rescind such a backward policy. Pandering to the most extreme elements does not help social inclusion.
TIME IS UP FOR PRIVATISATION
Despite their huge profits, in the face of weather chaos, Britain’s privatised utilities and public services are letting the country down once again. Already facing soaring bills, electricity customers have been literally left in the dark, while the privatised National Grid can barely cope with demand even in normal conditions. All this despite two decades of private management which promised, but plainly did not deliver, improved, cheaper energy supply.
The worst offenders are the airports and railways, where customers have been let down in the Christmas storms with a lack of coordinated information due to the fragmented structure of the industry. Time and time again, in the face of even light snowfall or heavy rainfall, the privatised public services have proved they are not up to the job.
It is time to consider bringing the majority of major utilities and transport services under state control or merging them into larger units with vertically integrated command and control structures. Time is up for privatisation; it is a dogma whose abysmal record in ripping off the public while letting down the bill-payer and pocketing the spoils says it all.
Never mind the wrong kind of snow, Britain has the wrong type of profit-driven public services and it is time to pull the plug on them all.
RATTLING THE BONES OF T E LAWRENCE
It would be heartening to think that David Cameron’s enthusiasm for Lawrence of Arabia was due to his admiration for this intelligent, complex man, whose knowledge, empathy and understanding of Arab culture gave him the unique distinction of having been able to unite the Arab tribes of Mesopotamia against a common foe, the Ottoman Turks, in 1916-18.
In Cameron’s whizzy plans for the centenary of the First World War, will he be celebrating the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, by which Britain and France managed to carve up what was Mesopotamia, thereby sowing the seeds of much of the present-day Middle Eastern conflicts?
Brothers are not always the best assessors of every aspect of each other’s character (Letters, 18 December) and Peter O’Toole’s brilliant performance as Lawrence did capture much of the essence of a man who was so upset by the British establishment’s treatment of Faisal and the Arabs that he left the Army, changed his name and “backed into the limelight”.
Lawrence himself said, “After I’m dead, they’ll rattle my bones about, in their curiosity.” He was right.
Douglas, Isle of Man
TRAPPED AT HOME AT CHRISTMAS
It is Carol Wood’s attitude (Letters, 23 December), not Gudrun Parasie’s, that is self-serving, and indeed selfish. Not a thought for people on their own and without transport who are unable to visit friends at Christmas because there is no way to reach them.
When I was young, in the 1950s and ’60s, there was limited public transport, including rail services, on Christmas Day; but not any more. We are all expected to cocoon ourselves within our so-called “families” and “stop, think and enjoy life”, as Ms Wood puts it.