The Spectator

Spectator letters: The trouble with religion, alternatives to HS2, and whisky-drinking dogs

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A history of persecution

Sir: Colin Brown (Letters, 7 June) ignores some good reasons for keeping religion out of society. Small groups of believers are fine, but not totalitarian dictatorships. The early Christians were treated as heretics until 313 ad, when Constantine made what became the Roman Catholic Church the official religion of the Roman Empire. The church promptly started persecuting all other religious groups. In the Middle Ages the Church let loose the Inquisition and decimated civilised communities such as the Albigensians.

As for his statement that ‘all religions have provided society with ethical and moral rules’, how ethical were the laws and morals that subjugated women and slaves and persecuted anyone who questioned the authority and dogma of the Church? In fact, it was the humanitarian and moral rules of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, the Enlightenment and the 18th-century Age of Reason that gave us ‘the fundamentals of a civilised society’.

Communism was a new totalitarian society taking its revenge on an old one. Now we have an even newer religious tyranny, as described in Tom Stacey’s piece (‘Witness to a stoning’, 7 June), where women are publicly stoned for daring to think for themselves.

Joshua Fox

Uckfield, East Sussex

Islam’s dissenters

Sir: It is hard to maintain, as Tom Stacey does, that debate is forbidden in Islam, and has been for centuries. There are four schools of traditional Sunnite Islam (Hanifite, Malikite, Shafiite and Hanbalite), and it requires no imagination to realise that four schools breed controversy.

One could add that, in 1717, before the rise of Wahhabiism (the version of Islam practised in Saudi Arabia), Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, travelling in Ottoman Turkey, was informed by her courteous guide that Islam was ‘plain deism’.

In the 19th century, the reformers al-Afghani and Abduh created a considerable impact, but they were discouraged by foreign representatives, who saw them as fomenting political radicalism. Abduh pointed out that Islam had never forsworn reason, and that the virtuous society was one that accepted God’s commandments and interpreted them in terms of reason and general welfare. That is certainly a radical idea today, but there is no reason why it could not be rediscovered.

Christopher Walker

London W14

Money better spent

Sir: Whatever the economic arguments in favour of HS2, Charles Moore’s remark about its electoral toxicity (Notes, 7 June) will strike a chord with many. Grandiose projects such as this never go down well with the electorate, who can imagine the effect that the spending of even a small proportion of the amount involved would have on our lives. The glaring example down here is Stonehenge, which has been a bottleneck since before I started driving between Somerset and London 50 years ago. If the government committed the relatively footling amount of £800 million to building a tunnel under it, many voters would be impressed.

I could name half a dozen other dangerous and congested roads round here which could easily and cheaply be improved at minimal cost and with benefit to the local economy. Another relevant question for us is: how can HS2 be justified while a stretch of 150-year-old single track on the main line between Waterloo and Exeter remains unimproved?

Such economical improvements to the transport system must be repeatable all over the country, using local contractors and creating local jobs. It would be more electorally sound if the £40 billion or so committed to HS2 were tossed into a hat and bids invited from communities all over the country for worthwhile projects aimed at improving the local infrastructure.

Donald Clarke

Barton St David, Somerset

Time for a sugar tax?

Sir: One passage in Carol Sarler’s piece rang true: ‘a “wholesome” loaf of brown bread ... hides half a ton of sugar’ (‘Heavy mob’, 7 June). One doesn’t need to be told that on the packaging. It tastes disgustingly sweet, as do many so-called healthy foods. The rot, i.e. sugar, set in when it was decreed that fat was the baddie, and thus began the ‘obesity epidemic’.

Surely the answer is to levy a massive tax, similar to that on alcohol and tobacco, on sugar. I fear, however, that this would backfire spectacularly as the alchemists in the food industry would promptly come up with something even more poisonous with which to pollute our food, and make us all fatter than ever.

Julia Pickles

Lower Binton, Warwickshire

Bring back the Bourbons

Sir: France should indeed do away with the Fifth Republic (‘French suicide’, 7 June). She should instead restore the monarchy: I believe that the legitimate king of France is a Spanish duke.

We ought to have the same electoral system for all Europe — a large number of MPs elected by alternative vote, a smaller upper house with equal power elected simultaneously by PR, a single transferable vote for local authorities, referenda on major issues, and a British-style constitutional monarch above the political fray in countries where there’s a history of monarchy. Let the Hohenzollerns, Habsburgs, Bourbons, Romanovs, Savoys and Braganzas be put back in their proper places, and politicians put in theirs.

Mark Taha

London SE26

Man’s best malt

Sir: Bruce Anderson (Drink, 7 June) states that lurchers do not steal claret. I have never owned a lurcher, so cannot comment. However, I once owned an English setter that would steal my whisky — but only the best single malt.

Nick Ridout

Ingham, Lincolnshire