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Saturday 18 September 2010
Letters: The Pope
We're atheists, not Nazis
I am writing to express my outrage at the Pope's Holyroodhouse speech in Edinburgh. This speech was a slander on modern Britain. I refer chiefly to the Pope's description of Nazi Germany and the British resistance, with its references to "how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live" and "the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the 20th century".
Hitler's political philosophy was not based upon atheism and had no connection with atheism. Hitler was nominally a Roman Catholic. He enjoyed the open support of many of the most senior Catholic clergy in Germany and his birthday was celebrated until his death by Vatican mandate.
Even if Hitler had been an atheist, the rank-and-file Germans who carried out the extirpation of the Jews were almost all Christians, primed to their anti-Semitism by centuries of Catholic propaganda about "Christ-killers" as well as by Martin Luther's seething hatred of Jews.
Britain's secular, not necessarily atheist, modern culture should be maintained, not slandered with veiled allegation of Nazism.
Goxhill, North Lincolnshire
As a former member of the Hitler Youth, Joseph Ratzinger must surely know it is not true that the Nazis "wished to eradicate God from society" in an act of "atheist extremism", as he puts it. As the words of Adolf Hitler himself attest: "I will never ally myself with the parties which aim to destroy Christianity ... We have ... undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out."
The Pope has spoken of "a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society".
Hitler, along with all other dictators in history, was not an atheist – he became the godhead. Dictators use all the mechanisms of religion: pervasive imagery of themselves; the special book (Mein Kampf, the Little Red Book); the abolition of churches to be replaced with the new "god".
The young Ratzinger saw this in person. He knows how it works, and should not be allowed to link honest atheists with despots.
As an atheist, I should like to apologise to the Pope for the scourge of Nazism, for which I – along with my fellow hellbound unbelievers – seem somehow to have been responsible, notwithstanding Hitler's pronouncement that he had in fact stamped atheism out. We atheists are a tough bunch, so I suppose a little thing like that wasn't going to stop us championing evil.
While I'm at it, and just to be on the safe side, I'd also better apologise for the global paedophilia scandal and subsequent cover-up in the Catholic Church; the Spanish Inquisition; the persecution of Galileo for being right about the solar system; the brutality of the Magdalene laundries; and the spread of misinformation about condoms and HIV, all of which are probably down to me as well.
Bolton, Greater Manchester
Can anyone explain to me why it is OK for the Pope to liken my code of beliefs to Nazism, but if I pass any comment on the teachings and practices of his church, he brands me as an "aggressive atheist"?
I would think that any fair-minded person, regardless of their beliefs, would conclude that it is not me who is the aggressor.
Crawley, west sussex
I am pleased that the Pope has highlighted what he calls "aggressive forms of secularism". In this part of the world it's a constant nuisance. Many times during the week we are interrupted by atheists knocking on our door to inquire as to our beliefs.
As a Catholic reader of The Independent, I cannot afford to be over-sensitive. As a priest, I can fully share in your stringent indictment of the Church on its mishandling of paedophilia. I can appreciate the forceful criticism of the Pope by Johann Hari. I can even raise a wry smile at the provocations of Julie Burchill. But I cannot stomach gratuitous offence.
When I saw the cartoon you printed on the morning of the Pope's arrival in the UK, I began to wonder why, if you felt your criticisms of the Pope and the Church were so well-founded and well argued, you saw the need to resort to crude ill-manners.
This head of state is here as a guest because our head of state, through her prime minister, invited him. Does that not suggest a measure of common courtesy from us all, whatever our opinions?
Fr Terence A Carr
I am among those who object to the whole concept of a state visit for a religious leader, but it is happening and all we can hope is that there will be no repeat performance.
However, since the Pope is here as our guest it behoves him to respect the attendant courtesies, which include the avoidance of gratuitous insult to the host. He apparently sees no insult to those among us who don't share his faith in God when condemning us as "aggressive secularists" whose influence has to be stopped.
This is a state visit, not a crusade paid for by the Vatican, but he sees no distinction.
Some A-levels are easier
I have been teaching mathematics for nearly 20 years. The last five of these have been as a private tutor, which means I teach the specifications of every English exam board ("A sickness in our schools", 17 September). It is undoubtedly true that, for example, the OCR exam papers at A-level are harder than the ones set by Edexcel.
If you seek proof, simply sit down and work through the Core 1 question paper set by each. Though this will make me sound like a schoolboy myself, "everybody knows" that Edexcel is easier, which is why more schools take Edexcel maths than any other.
Paradoxically, however, the two exam boards give out roughly the same numbers of each grade. I don't know why this is. Perhaps the OCR examiners are easier markers. Perhaps students studying for the harder OCR exam rise to the greater challenge.
Or perhaps it's because of the calculations heads of mathematics make. If I were a head of maths at a comprehensive school, I would enter my candidates for Edexcel maths because the weaker members of my mixed-ability classes will get higher grades than they would under OCR. If I were a head of maths at a selective private school, I would enter my candidates for OCR because the bright students will still get A grades, but they will also be better prepared when they get to university.
Whether university admissions tutors are aware of these choices that heads of departments make – and of the consequent differences between applicants for their courses – I don't know.
Tax the rich – they can take it
Dominic Lawson ("Rich and poor agree on cutting taxes", 14 September) repeats the hoary old myth that the super-rich are too few to tax further to any purpose. Then he conjures up the more recent defence that the top 1 per cent of earners already contribute about 22 per cent of total income tax.
However, our rates for really high earners have been ridiculously low since Thatcher's reverse Robin Hood regime, especially when considering that most regressive of taxes, National Insurance. Furthermore, the super-rich pay accountants mini-fortunes to avoid contributing even these modest amounts and still they cough up 22 per cent of the total.
The explanation to this conundrum is in the hyper-inflated bubble of affluence in which Lawson's cherished 1 per cent have virtually floated free of our civil society. So over-remunerated are this group of by no means our brightest and best that there is plenty of fat to be cut here before taking even a penny from vital public services. Just to emphasise this, a recent study estimated that the 1,000 richest individuals in this country now had a combined wealth of £333.5bn (well over twice our current budget deficit), and they represent less than .004 per cent of the working population.
Haywards Heath, west Sussex
Insulting to women
I am disappointed that Terence Blacker's article (14 September), on the sorry Wayne Rooney affair, contained references to women as "tarts" and "floozies".
Prostitutes do, by Blacker's own admission, carry on a profession; if their profession is a necessary one and fuelled by male sexuality, it is hardly PC to label them "tarts".
But then, this is the old, dual mentality, isn't it? A man will go to a prostitute, get his short-lived satisfaction, and then use demeaning language to describe her, so that he's not the bad boy, she is a bad girl.
Also objectionable is the statement about a "night club floozy whose area of special interest is going to bed with famous footballers". Women have every right to sleep with whom they choose – or not. If footballers put themselves about among young women with healthy sexual appetites, why should these women be insulted by cheap epithets?
If we seek to beatify a Newman (letter, 17 September) I can think of no better than Alfred E, a young man of open countenance and impeccable morals, and known the world over for his refusal to allow global strife to alter his aimless purpose in life. His motto, "What? Me worry?" is an inspiration to us all to chill.
Cowling, North Yorkshire
Inspired by the Scottish Conservative Leader's "hoots of laughter" in response to Prince Philip's question about her knickers (report, 17 September), I tried it on the next woman I met. In my case it was met with a broken nose and a visit to the magistrates' court. It must be the way he tells them.
Perspectives on unemployment
Jobs lost to factory robots
Hamish McRae's analysis (16 September) of "Why the EU has been unable to create jobs"', refers fleetingly to high productivity as one of the virtues contributing to the "triumph" of the European economy over the past half-century. But he neglects to point out that increased productivity, most obviously in manufacturing, is invariably accompanied by job losses. The greater the output per employee, the fewer employees are needed to achieve the same level of production.
Automation, a term spoken of a lot less than it was 30 or 40 years ago, but nevertheless ever more widely embraced, leads to redundancies. Robots have replaced a high percentage of the production-line workers employed by car manufacturers and similar manufacturing companies.
Those robots bring a host of benefits. They guarantee a standard of quality in the end product which could not previously have been assured. There are no rogue "Friday afternoon" cars today. Furthermore, production-line robots do not constantly agitate for pay increases, threatening to withdraw their labour if their demands are not met.
So even if the UK economy and those of our European "partners" were not struggling to get out of the recession of the past two years, unemployment would still, regrettably, be on the rise.
Tough times in the world free market
Vince Cable might like to rethink his opposition to caps on non-EU immigration. The benefit to British firms of unrestricted entry is marginal compared with the cost to UK society and the taxpayer.
The world free market in jobs – globalisation – is possibly the single greatest cause of the stubbornly high levels of unemployment in the USA and EU, highlighted by Hamish McRae. Furthermore, our workers have most to lose, being less mobile on account of poor language skills.
Dr Yen-Chung Chong
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