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Letters to the Editor

21 April 2023


Photo ID at the polling station

From Mr Norman Harper

Sir, — Your report (News, 31 March) relating to the new photo-ID requirement for all who vote in local or general elections was timely, and I hope that it will be taken as a call to urgent action.

It was disturbing to note that even the eloquence of our bishops in the House of Lords and the efforts of Opposition parties in the Commons were insufficient to prevent this measure becoming law last year, or to delay its implementation until everybody had been officially informed about its implications.

More disturbing still is the continuing delay in announcing via the various media to the general public precisely what the requirements are; also how to apply for a Voter Authority Certificate for the many people who do not possess passports, driving licences, or freedom passes. I wonder whether you could help people with this procedure by publishing the following link: www.electoralcommission.org.uk

This could make the difference between obtaining the necessary certificate in time for the next election (local elections are soon taking place in parts of the country) and turning up at a polling station to find that one has been disenfranchised.

The article by Tichafa Chitumba about elections in Zimbabwe (Comment, 6 April) should serve as a warning to us all. Many nations have discovered how easy it is to see democracy slipping away by degrees, never to be restored. I am sure that nobody would want to see this happen in the UK.

Spreading the news about these developments and giving people the Electoral Commission link may be a vital way of trying to stem this tide. Our parishes and dioceses might be a good place to start now, using every kind of communication available to us.

50 Elmwood Road
London SE24 9NR

View benefit fraud in proportion to tax evasion

From April Alexander

Sir, — Frank Field’s reflection (Comment, 6 April) that there was “more fraud in the [welfare benefits] system than Labour ever allowed for” may well be correct, but this was a “reflection on how [Lord Field’s] theological beliefs shaped the policy programmes that he sought to implement”. That being the case, one might expect that a Labour politician who was also a Christian would include an equal and opposite reflection on damage to the taxpayer inflicted by the obscenely rich. The convenient blurring of the line between avoidance and evasion is not one to which the poorest have recourse.

Lord Field might also usefully have wondered aloud why it is that “You’re 23 times more likely to be prosecuted for benefit fraud than tax fraud in the UK, yet tax crimes cost the economy nine times more. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) employs three and a half times more staff in compliance than HMRC does, and eight and a half times more prison sentences (immediate and suspended) were imposed for benefits crime than tax crime over the past 11 years” (The New Statesman, 19 February 2021).

He might also wonder why HMRC had, by then, taken no notice of the recommendations to it from the Public Accounts Committee of 2016 to “do more to tackle tax fraud and counter the belief that people are getting away with tax evasion . . . increase the number of investigations and prosecutions, including wealthy tax evaders, and publicise this work to deter others from evading tax and to send out a message that those who try will not get away with it”.

There is little, if any evidence to suggest that HMRC is any better staffed or more effective at tackling tax fraud in 2023 than it was in 2021 when it caught the attention of The New Statesman. It had apparently taken years to bring Nadim Zahawi to book recently, and, even then, a tax bill of 13.7 per cent on his capital gain is a rate that most of us would envy. He paid a mere 33 per cent of the tax in question as a fine, which compares very favourably with the prosecutions and prison sentences imposed on thousands of errant benefit claimants.

“The current system, which ends up jailing thousands of benefits claimants whilst tax fraudsters walk free, cannot be justified if we are to have equality before the law,” George Turner, executive director of TaxWatch, said.

Might this be of interest to those bishops who take a great interest in the plight of benefit claimants? Might they remind their noble colleagues of it when an opportunity arises in the Lords?

59 High Street
Redhill RH1 4PB

Don’t let article about Iain McGilchrist put you off

From Mr Gregory P. Smye-Rumsby

Sir, — It seems that the Very Revd Hugh Dickinson (Comment, 14 April) has provided evidence to support Dr Iain McGilchrist’s diagnosis, but not in the way in which he intended: an article with a collection of examples of where left-hemisphere thinking can go wrong.

He writes: “The only place where truth is necessarily sacrosanct is surely in the physicist’s laboratory.” Meanwhile, Dr McGilchrist quotes N. T. Wright (one of those ignorant, bigoted, legalistic fundamentalists) on page 624: “Everything else is suspect; give us facts. Science says, ‘Well, we’ll try’; scientism” — and, I would add, Dean Dickinson — “says, ‘Here you are — and you must take our philosophy as well.’”

He celebrates Mr Mainstream Science, Sir David Attenborough, and doesn’t seem to have noticed that a great theme in The Matter with Things is a critique of the current state of mainstream science: biology and public science scrutinised in particular.

I would heartily recommend The Matter with Things, particularly to those put off by Dean Dickinson’s article.

76 Burnt Ash Road
London SE12 8PY

The former ASSP convent in Margaret Street

From Dr Yvonne Craig

Sir, — As a 98-year-old associate member of the All Saints’ Sisters of the Poor, I have always been grateful, as have so many other people, to this Benedictine religious community for the “warm and welcoming hospitality” (Letters, 6 April) given at its children’s hospice, nursing home for elders, food kitchen for the homeless, and many other charitable activities based on worship.

Founded in Victorian times, its mother house in central London had a consecrated chapel, while its blue-clothed Sisters worked in All Saints’ Parish Church opposite and as hospital chaplains, while helping Anglican students “to prosper and flourish” in its many rooms. Like cathedrals, however, they were under pressure, and through no fault of their own had to leave and relocate to Oxford. All Saints’ House is now at the mercy of developers, but left empty for many years because of its conservation status.

It is tragic that Benedictine principles are not enabled to restore this spiritual centre with agreed governance, filling its rooms with Anglican students who can assist the All Saints’ Church community in its important work and worship. Although your correspondents have focused on cathedrals, parish concerns are about a valuable Anglican historic building and resource that is being wasted.

40 Ridgmount Gardens
London WC1E 7AT

Monks and eclipses

From Professor Kevin Walsh

Sir, — The article “Monks’ records of eclipses analysed” (News, 14 April) was a joy to see; and it is quite right to be highlighting the growing interdisciplinary needs of historical research.

While, however, the figure accompanying the article does indeed correctly depict the relative positions of Earth, Sun, and Moon for both a solar and lunar eclipse, I think the source may have been misattributed. Johannes de Sacrobosco (an interesting character, almost certainly English, and known also as John of Holywood) did discuss the causes of eclipses in his treatise De Sphaera Mundi (1230), but his text was accompanied by a different diagram from that printed. The diagram printed looks as if it was from a later text of 1454, Theoricae Novae Planetarum, by Georg von Peuerbach.

In his treatise, Sacrobosco noted that the darkening of the Sun which occurred during the crucifixion could not have been a solar eclipse — the obvious explanation — since at Passover, the Moon is full; so any eclipse would need to be lunar. He concluded that “the eclipse was not natural, but rather a miracle, contrary to nature.” Later scholars have, coincidentally, attributed the darkening Sun and sky to volcanic ash. The article was thus particularly good to see just three pages before a regular column entitled this week “Nature and scripture not in conflict”.

5 Izane Road
Bexleyheath DA6 8NU

Place of Canterbury in the Anglican Communion

From the Revd John Ray

Sir, — The letter from Mr Philip Johanson (24 March) on Canterbury and the Anglican Communion, a subject that appears regularly in your paper, doubtless represents the views of many English Anglicans, and it certainly points to an increasing problem: Archbishop Welby doing two very full-time jobs!

I will put forward another angle. For 25 years from 1962, my wife and I served with CMS in the diocese of Amritsar — Anglican, and then, from 1970, Church of North India. Having initially been a lay Reader, I was ordained presbyter in CNI and, for the last six years of our time in India, served as secretary of the diocesan council. Then, in Birmingham diocese, I was a clergy member of the diocesan synod up to and into retirement.

In Britain, Christians have daily reminders of our secular and secularist culture. The Anglican Church here is embroiled in and divided over the battles raging within it, sexuality and gender questions currently topping the list.

While we were in Asia — 1968 was the pivotal year — this country threw away both its religion and its culture. Its apologists might say we discarded outworn deference, but Indians returning eastwards after a visit to England repeatedly said to us “You people have thrown it all away!”

To me, remembering the many fond personal links that Indian Christians, including Bishop Chandu Lal, whom I gladly served, have of this country, it is sadly becoming inconceivable that they would choose another head of our common worldwide Communion from Canterbury as it now is. We seem to be near a point when, to quote Canon David Banting’s cogent letter (6 April), “the received historic Christian understanding and disciplines of marriage” are under ceaseless attack from without and within.

“Culture trumps religion.” Of course, Jesus trumps culture, and we should not confuse the current state of religion with the gospel; but we do face a choice, and our synodical arrangements have given us a perilous form of democracy in the ruling councils of our segment of the worldwide Church of Christ.

In immediate practical terms, there is need, before the present Primate retires, to seek an arrangement for an orderly transfer and degree of separation between the leadership of the Church of England as it now is and the leadership of the great majority of Anglican Christians who live beyond these shores.

2 Birchfield, Hook, Goole
East Yorkshire DN14 5NJ

Further reflections on hands and the crucifixion

From Canon Andrew Willie

Sir, — I found the Revd Lore Chumbley’s article (Holy Week and Easter, 6 April) very moving, even though disagreeing with one small but important detail.

She writes of the discovery of skeletons of crucifixion victims showing that nail holes were made not in the centre of the feet, but through the ankle-bone: this was to ensure that victims’ feet would not tear away, but be securely held. A similar problem existed with victims’ hands, for which there exists no skeletal evidence. Perhaps the solution lies with your illustration from Grünewald’s magnificent altarpiece, with nails placed through hands, but resting on the crossbar.

Another solution, however, is suggested by a source that also confirms the evidence of nail holes through the ankle. This is the Turin Shroud. On the Shroud, the nail holes actually penetrate from the hands through the wrist.

Cornerstone, 6 Cordell Close
Llanfoist, Abergavenny NP7 9FE

Animadversions on a judicial plain-speaker

From Anne Eyre

Sir, — “Eheu! Eheu! Your Honour,” is what I would say (Letters, 6 April). I know, I know: we must all have a chance of understanding; but please do not destroy the wild joy of the sound of words. “Sombre bocage!” rang out, followed by the response “Umbrageous grotto!”, every time we entered one green tunnel composed of wind-bent trees with our four-year-old in holiday mode. Now they have taught my grandchildren, and they repeat it. They love repeating Metasequoia gliptostroboides as we have a drink beneath the tree as the sun goes down.

Please do not banish the “soporific” bunnies. The rhythm and echo of language is the territory of curiosity, enchantment, and beauty.

32 Exe Vale Road
Exeter EX2 6LF

Perplexity over the Easter extended preface

From the Revd Bill Mash

Sir, — During the weeks after Easter, those of us who celebrate the eucharist using the Common Worship extended preface find ourselves semantically separated from the rest of the congregation. We refer to “men and women” as “them”.

We wait anxiously for Ascension Day, when we become “us” again, included among the “human race” that Christ came to rescue. Or have I missed some theological nuance?

20 Mahogany Drive
Stafford ST16 2TS

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