Keeping faith with an under-fire Christianity | Letters

I usually respect and agree with what Polly Toynbee writes, but I was sorry about the tone of her article (Christmas comes with good cheer. The tragedy is the religious baggage, 23 December). She is fully entitled to argue her humanist views, but I would hope for a bit of respect for people of faith, whether Christian or other. Those of us who are believers deeply regret that Christianity and other faiths have caused or contributed to many conflicts and harms. However, we are entitled to a fair hearing and not to be abruptly dismissed as having archaic beliefs, damaging traditions and unreason.

It is a gross distortion to describe Christianity as a faith that imposes perpetual guilt, believing in a God who inflicts random horrors on his people while demanding praise, thanks and glorification. At its best, Christianity is an exploration of creation, of human meaning and fulfilment, and of what constitutes good community and society.
Rev Stuart Nattrass
Pinner, London

It may surprise humanists to know that, as a vicar in the Church of England, my job largely comprises visiting people who are ill and lonely, coordinating provision of food for a homeless shelter, running music clubs for children in our local school and doing my best to keep several buildings of importance to national heritage in good shape. And that’s before I’ve started planning and delivering any of that evil, misguided “religion” – which at this time of the year at least is still surprisingly popular. Here we’ve counted well over a thousand people visiting to hear a message of hope, with music and liturgy that touches the poetry of the soul in a way that the takes us beyond humanity (and dare I say, cold, old, rational humanism).

So, before you knock it, maybe give church a try. It might surprise you that (a) normal people go, (b) we’re not all plotting the downfall of humanity, and (c) some of us even read the Guardian.
Rev James Gilder
Wanstead, London

Most of the criticisms that Polly Toynbee levels against Christianity have merit. Like every single culture and religion throughout history, Christianity has a chequered and, at points, grim history and legacy. However, many of us consider ourselves to be both Christian and humanist (also cherishing science, wherever it takes us). Many of her critiques resonate with us, yet we have found that they have forced us to scrutinise our beliefs rather than toss them out wholesale. This kind of journey has taken us to a place where unknowing, compassion and a welcome to the other have been recovered. These are attitudes that the ancient Christmas story, told well, embodies (despite the dissonances of some of the 19th-century carols Polly quotes).

Weary polemics only deepen cultural divides, justify us in our respective fundamentalisms and obscure the common ground that we might share. I long for Polly and others like her to countenance the possibility of creative conversation between atheists and people of faith. It might actually surprise us all.
Rev Kenneth Cross
Minehead, Somerset

I have to applaud Polly Toynbee’s article. It was as if she and I had sat down and talked it over, as everything she wrote is how I have felt for many years but never managed to articulate so eloquently. I think I will keep a copy and simply ask people to read it if they query my feelings about Christmas and Christianity. The phrase “cultural Christian” is to be my stock answer from now on.
Mandi Horwood
Stroud, Gloucestershire


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