Spectator letters: St Augustine and Louise Mensch, war votes and flannel

11 October 2014

9:00 AM

11 October 2014

9:00 AM

Faith and flexibility

Sir: What a contrast in your two articles on religion last week: one liberal atheist parent (Claire Stevens) concerned about her son’s turn to conservative Islam, and one conservative Catholic (Louise Mensch) determined that her children understand her unbending fidelity to the tradition. 

Ms Mensch’s problem is endemic throughout the western church, Catholic and Protestant alike: greater confidence in human sinfulness than in God’s forgiveness. Mrs Stevens’s problem is the opposite: a lack of confidence in her atheism. Brought up to believe in nothing, one is prone to believe in anything. At least if you bring a child up Christian, he can always choose to reject the faith later, but will do so knowing what he is rejecting, and equipped also to see the flaws of other belief systems.

I suspect that St Augustine’s forbidding doctrine on salvation has a hidden influence on Ms Mensch’s fear of her faith, and Mrs Stevens’s rejection of the same. Happily, he may also offer a solution to both their troubles. In direct opposition to Ms Mensch’s allusion to ‘Jenga blocks’, Augustine says that the faith of the church must not be built such that the removal of one block would cause the whole to tumble. Even the Roman Communion has changed, can change and sometimes should. This means that bishops can quite legitimately reconsider the church’s teaching on Ms Mensch’s communicant status as a divorcee, and offers a rather less rigid alternative to the faith which Mrs Stevens describes. Winners all round.
The Revd Dr Thomas Plant
Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire

Sir: I read Louise Mensch with interest. As a practising Roman Catholic, I have always believed that the church preaches forgiveness. Even the Bible tells us that ‘My Father’s House has many rooms’.

In our enlightened age there are many divorcees. I see no reason, providing they are truly repentant, why they should not receive the sacraments.
Peter Coke
Yarmouth, Isle of Wight

Criminal self-regard

Sir: Rod Liddle’s ‘selfie obsession’ article (4 October) raises an interesting point. If someone receives an unsolicited picture of someone’s genitals, surely the sender is guilty of a number of criminal offences, not least indecent exposure. It can only be a matter of time before such cases are brought before the courts. Of course revenge porn, where someone’s previously private intimate pictures are published online by disaffected lovers, must fall into the same category.
T. Weston
Swannington, Norfolk

War votes are different

Sir: Matthew Parris (4 October) is kind to take up my recent speech on the wisdom or no of prior parliamentary authorisation for military action. He comes to the position that prior votes should be required if reasonable, contingent on circumstances: not a million miles away from my own view. But in getting there, Matthew ignores some crucial differences between these matters and domestic policy, and he sidesteps the fundamental constitutional point. Of course ministers will almost always have more information than backbenchers about domestic policy, and in such cases no one could properly regard parliamentary authorisation as inappropriate. But domestic issues have long lead times; the circumstances rarely change rapidly; expert advice is generally public; there are repeated opportunities to interrogate ministers; and ministerial decisions are rarely irreversible. Not so with military action. And the deeper point remains. Constitutionally, it is for the government, with all the advantages of preparation, information, advice and timeliness, to act; Parliament’s job is then to hold the government to account for its actions. Prior votes risk co-opting Parliament into executive action, weakening both sides — and the accountability from which their legitimacy derives.
Jesse Norman MP
House of Commons, London SW1

More flannel, please!

Sir: Hugo Rifkind’s vignette on the politics of pyjamas (4 October) omits mention of one of the most important cloths used in pyjama manufacturing: flannel, a very apt product for many a politician. My family company, Blamires of Huddersfield, wove these products for over 100 years. Technically difficult to make (generally a blend of wool and cotton, fibres which are often incompatible in length), the existence in the market of these fabrics remains a secret to all but a few connoisseurs. I leave your readers to guess which of our leaders really appreciates proper flannel. I can think of a number of ‘spinners’ of great skill who make very good yarns!
James Sugden Melrose, Roxburghshire

That’s my boy

Sir: I would like to acknowledge The Spectator’s high standard of opera criticism. Michael Tanner and Alexander Chancellor both wrote with generous acclaim in your pages of the recent performance of Lucia di Lammermoor at Winslow Hall Opera (Arts, 13 September; Long life, 27 September). It seemed to me odd, however, that neither of them mentioned the one person directly responsible for the quality of the production, giving credit where credit must surely be due; namely the director, my son David.
Prudence Penn
Anstruther, Fife

Checking the Chipmunk

Sir: Peter McKay’s amusing piece (Learning to fly, 20 September) includes the mnemonic for his aircraft’s downwind pre-landing checks. An even more memorable example is that for the Chipmunk, in which the pilot has to check mixture, fuel, flaps, harnesses, hatches, and brakes — ‘My Friend Fred Has Hairy Balls’.
David Yates
Weymouth, Dorset

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  • The Bogle

    In her article, Claire Stevens concludes: “I’ve learnt is that we’re going to
    have to fight for our progressive democracy, because although you may tolerate
    Islam, Islam might not tolerate you. When it lives in your house, eats your
    food, sleeps under your roof, enjoys all the comforts you provide, all the
    while despising you, then you will be forced to make a choice.”

    Reading this reminded me of the Swiss writer Max Frisch’s play “Biedermann
    and the Fire Raisers” that appeared in 1947. In this play, the decent
    middle-class citizen Herr Biedermann welcomes two fire-raisers into his home
    and feeds them. He even provides them with the matches that they later use to
    set fire to his home.

    At the time, many felt that Frisch was alluding to the Germans who voted Hitler
    into power, but for me the play has a more universal relevance and one that is
    most relevant in our Western democracies today.

  • How many times does it have to be said, forgiveness is dependent upon repentance and sincere amendment of life, or at least the attempted amendment. If you want a woolly doddery old grandparent who overlooks all and passes out the sweeties, there are plenty of religions, and versions of Christianity for you. Reception of the sacraments of communion is dependent upon the state of one’s soul. A sinful lifestyle not only disqualifies you from partaking, it is a danger to your soul, whatever your ‘feelings’ might be.