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3 April 2024

Letter of the week: Articles of faith

Write to letters@newstatesman.co.uk to have your thoughts voiced in the New Statesman magazine.

By New Statesman

In his perceptive review of Heresy by Catherine Nixey (The Critics, 22 March), John Gray refers to her thesis that there were multiple versions of Jesus in the early church, which were repressed at the end of the fourth century. However, the 27 major writings of the New Testament were substantially in place by the middle of the second century. Argument over a few books continued but the core was held in common. What is remarkable is that after some 230 years of vicious persecution, this understanding of the faith had won the hearts and minds of perhaps half of the population in the East and a majority in the West. As Gray pointed out, it was this vision of the equal worth of every human and an awareness of our imperfection that helped create the civilisation we inherited.
Richard Harries, House of Lords

Too light a Supper?

I love the New Statesman but was dismayed by the front cover of the Easter special. It is not possible to parody Da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper without, for Christians, parodying the story itself. At that meal, Jesus is said to have washed his disciples’ feet and instituted the Eucharist. Unless you intended to evoke these acts of humble, self-giving leadership, it was inappropriate to trivialise them.
Judith Cox, London HA5

Éire-opean politics

Finn McRedmond is correct (Out of the Ordinary, 22 March). Ireland hasn’t lurched to the right. If anything, it has never been more European. It spent half a century catching up with Europe economically. It has now done the same politically. That transformation turned the page on abortion rights. It also injected an ugly immigration debate into Ireland’s political bloodstream. The Irish political class has struggled to grip that debate precisely because it is so new, so incompatible with our national story of huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Any leader who feeds this crocodile will simply be eaten last. The lesson of the Dublin riots and the botched referendums is straightforward: Ireland’s convergence with the rest of Europe is complete, for good and ill.
Ross Nugent, London SW1

Central thesis

In his review of my book Vulture Capitalism (Reviewed in Short, 15 March), Jonathan Ball makes two key points: that the state in fact shrank under Margaret Thatcher, and that my proposal for “democratic planning” is akin to the centralised planning practised in the Eastern Bloc.

Thatcher did reduce state spending as a percentage of GDP, but she also unleashed the full violence of the state on miners who resisted her. Perhaps more importantly, the state provided “implicit guarantees” to the finance sector, the importance of which was only revealed in 2008. Finally, state power was exercised in many subtle ways, for example, through “nudging” citizens to adopt certain behaviours. The neoliberal state is weak for some and strong for others.

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Part of my book is dedicated to real-life examples of “democratic planning”, from citizens voting on how local government budgets are spent to communities creating their own local energy companies. This is a far cry from anti-democratic centralised planning. Vulture Capitalism is not a call for more state, nor for more market. It is a rallying cry for those seeking to wrest the reins of power from those at the top. I know from my time writing for the New Statesman that many readers will find that appealing.
Grace Blakeley, Newquay

Westoe Methodist Church, RIP

How beautifully Robert Colls described the death of a chapel, and the melancholy absence that follows (Personal Story, 22 March). As Larkin asked in “Church Going”, “What remains when disbelief has gone?” The answer lies all around us.
Michael Henderson, Rochdale, Lancs

Robert Colls’ article about the Methodist church in South Shields was a poignant account of the death of a church that has nurtured its local community for many years. Sadly, increasing numbers of churches and chapels are at risk of closure, with around 3,500 having shut their doors for good in the last ten years. This is threatening the support churches provide – from food banks to mental health care – worth at least £55bn a year, using the Treasury well-being valuation methods.

A major problem is a lack of funding to pay for repairs to what are often historic buildings that are costly to maintain. Unlike in European countries, in the UK,  aside from a refund of VAT on repairs, the government does not provide any regular funding for upkeep to church buildings. The National Churches Trust calculates that annual public funding of at least £50m is required for major repairs. Without financial support from government, more churches will close.
Eddie Tulasiewicz, head of policy and public affairs, National Churches Trust

I recognised much in Robert Colls’ eloquent eulogy to Methodism. Despite being a generation younger, I learned similar life lessons from the Boys’ Brigade in the late 1980s, and followed the same path into Christian youth groups in the 1990s. At university, I even read a faded copy of EP Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class.

It was while a student I first subscribed to the New Statesman. I’ve valued ever since the way it takes faith seriously in debates about improving society. For a time, I thought its influence might lead me to join a political party. Instead, I became a vicar.  Now my life is enabling precisely the kind of complex, intergenerational community, shared humanity and thinking faith that Colls laments is lost. Our congregation meets in a medieval church and the IT professionals, lab researchers, pressured parents and restless teens among us all value the screen-free space. Instead, we are present to one another and a love beyond ourselves. I have never been happier.
Philip Lockley, Cambridge

Institutional memory

Andrew Motion’s review of Charles Spencer’s book about Maidwell Hall cannot go unchallenged (The Critics, 22 March). I was a pupil at Maidwell when Oliver Wyatt (“Beak”) was headmaster. To describe him as “ferocious” and to say that “the pursuit of academic excellence was always secondary”, as Motion alleges, is a complete travesty of the truth. Beak was an outstanding headmaster and the school consistently nurtured academic talent. He ran a disciplined but extremely fair regime. I gained a huge amount from my time at Maidwell, as did my contemporaries.
James Loudon, Wye, Kent

Power shower

Reading Nicholas Lezard’s column (Down and Out, 22 March), can I suggest that he joins a gym? Mine is part of a national chain and the bottom rung of membership is £14 a week. I use their showers nearly every day, and it saves on my water and electricity bills.
Glen Cheney, Twydall, Kent

Prime numbers

Since 1976, Labour has had one prime minister who won an election and two others (Leader, 22 March). Conservatives have had five who won and two others.
Peter Bottomley, House of Commons

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[See also: Letter of the week: In search of empathy]

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This article appears in the 03 Apr 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The Fragile Crown

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
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