The great God debate continues

SIR – Ms Munday asks why I pray. I didn t say in my letter that I do! Actually I do, if not for compelling reasons. I find that it helps me to view life from the viewpoint of any good God that may exist, leading me to change my inherently selfish attitud

SIR - Ms Munday asks why I pray. I didn't say in my letter that I do! Actually I do, if not for compelling reasons.

I find that it helps me to view life from the viewpoint of any good God that may exist, leading me to change my inherently selfish attitudes. Praying also helps me relax and get to sleep, although this isn't the primary motive! I'm an agnostic (and no longer a Christian as Ms Munday says I describe myself) so I don't know whether prayers are answered.

I've seen and heard of many prayers answered and people recovering from incurable conditions, so maybe praying has some effect beyond changing the person doing it, but it seems that unanswered prayer in most cases indicates a God who cannot or will not help, when you know the prayer is not a selfish one.

I do, however, think the Gospels are flawed in other ways. For example, God seems to be against bullying and blackmail, and yet threatens people with Hell if they don't believe. And must that faith be 100 per cent perfect (not to mention the fact that faith without good deeds is dead, says St James)? Who has such faith (and enough goodness)?

And yet the loss of faith in God, over recent decades, has accompanied moral and social decline at every level.

The argument about wars is weak, as all true Christians are embarrassed to be associated with the Crusades. It must be said, though, that even the New Testament still relies on capital punishment (the Cross) and Hell as part of its creed, while it fails to repudiate the horrors of so-called holy wars and killings by "heroes" in the Old Testament.

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Is Ms Munday as respectful and tolerant as her beliefs demand?

She also says her beliefs are about human happiness/fulfilment - but many people seek these at the expense of others.

Our society is based on consumerism, instead of living simply so we can help others to simply live. This is a global scandal, at least as serious as the awful "holy wars" that go on.

The money spent on selfishness in the West - if even half went to the needy, malnutrition and disease in the Third World could be eradicated. But in reality, the few who do give need to give even more to try and help a bit.



SIR - Oh dear. Ms Munday falls into all the usual embarrassing elephant traps. While she refers us reverentially to the writ of her own chosen holy men and gurus (Freddie Ayer for example), she seems herself actually to have very little tolerance or respect for the customs and opinions of others, and makes no attempt whatever to disguise her own ill-informed hatreds.

On points of fact: Jewish leaders immediately after the war praised the papacy for its assistance to the Jewish people in word ('Mit Brennender Sorge') and deed (saving thousands of Rome's Jews while the Church at large saved hundreds of thousands).

On condoms she would do better to cross swords with Dr Edward Green of the leading Harvard Aids Prevention Research Project (not a Catholic) who confirms that where condoms are readily available in Africa HIV rates go up (apparently because people get reckless and blas�) while in African countries where abstinence is promoted, they go down.

Superficial sideswipes at the Crusades and the Inquisition have to be balanced against the goings-on of the Terror, the Stasi, the Gulags, the Nazis, indeed of all the works of such as Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and others in even recent history not known for their belief in God.

No, I'm afraid Ms Munday's wishful thinking is nothing more than the result of imbibing Christianity in a half-baked form - idle musings about what would be 'nice'. Acceptance of and absorption of the ill-effects of pain and suffering in all their forms, including injustice, for oneself, allied to a sinew-stretching commitment to alleviating their effects for others is what it's all about.

This is the one and only way human beings can learn Love (an extrinsic quality about which they naturally know nothing, whatever they may imagine) which is the very definition of existence. The issue is circular and unresolved in this world, and I'm sorry Ms Munday hasn't the guts to face that fact.

It is not very popular because there's nothing in it for the self. But if everyone had all they wanted just when they wanted it, there would be no love and we'd be in hell.

Haiti, where its inhabitants are not devotees of voodoo, is a Catholic country. Hundreds of Catholic religious, native and otherwise, have shared their lives with its people for centuries, and are currently digging out survivors, opening their quarters up as hostels and hospitals to their brothers and sisters.

No doubt the British Humanist Association and the National Secular Society are sending out teams helpfully to tell the Haitians where they're going wrong, and to avoid all these dangerous people.

Some of us are not all that impressed with the nature or effect of Ms Munday's self-righteous humanist swagger.

She should not confuse natural disasters with man-made evil; but, as to the latter, she might study the famous discussion between Bertrand Russell and Fr Frederick Copplestone SJ (BBC 1948), in which Russell had to admit that having eliminated an external moral absolute, he had no ground whatever for considering Auschwitz either good or bad.


Brampton Road, St Albans

SIR - One can respect the strength of Ms Diane Munday's personal convictions, but her most recent letter arguing the Humanist case claims her beliefs are somehow more rational than those of religious people. That boast cannot be left unchallenged.

Rational evaluation rests on objective reasoning and must not be selective when dealing with evidence.

Regrettably her assertions do not pass this test. She claims, for instance, that "a rational examination of history shows... so called holy men and holy books have been responsible for mankind's worst atrocities..."

That is nonsense, and certainly not a reasoned appraisal of historical events. The last century alone has seen Stalin's persecutions in Soviet Russia, the Nazi holocaust across Europe and the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia. Each of these was systematic and cruel, and directed at innocent, defenceless compatriots.

The motivation for each was entirely secular and aggressively non-religious. Indeed a major objective was the deliberate suppression of religious values and commitment, whether they were Christian, Jewish or Buddhist. It is self-evident that the perpetration of atrocities is in no way the sole preserve of religious fanatics.

Further, Ms Munday's general thesis seems to be that religious passion is essentially corrosive and destructive, resulting in "inequality, suffering, wars, hatred and strife". Again her assertion conveniently ignores other historical facts, in particular, the huge contribution that religious passion has made to transcendent beauty in the spheres of art, music, poetry, song, drama, opera, literature, and architecture - across the centuries on an international scale.

The larger question posed by Ms Munday, on understanding the problem of suffering, has been debated since classical times.

There are no simple answers, as your letters page amply demonstrates. But suffering invariably indicates that something is wrong, and it is perhaps more profitable to focus energy and skill on finding how best to relieve the suffering rather philosophical pursuit of the reason why. And in the quest for remedies, again religious endeavour and commitment has made significant contributions in clinical, social and political spheres.

Attitudes, actions and values are not quite so polarised - humanist good: religious bad - as Ms Munday would want us to accept.

EDWARD HACKFORD Homewood Road, St Albans