Fundamentals of faith

It takes courage for the media to investigate religious issues (“At the end of faith”, October 6). Likewise, it takes bravery for adherents to confront the trauma of leaving Islam. Their punishment for apostasy may include death, family harassment and social ostracism. The power of disciplined introspection (Why am I reciting something I don’t understand?) and critical reasoning is evident among ex-Muslims who reject dogma.

Fundamentalism in any of its many forms should not be confused with decent religion or living faith. A Muslim hafiz who could recite the Koran from memory, presumably in Arabic, while understanding none of it, is a case in point. It is paralleled by Christians who turn the Bible into a literally infallible
holy book, and are in denial of science or serious literary criticism or plain history. Silly shallow superstitions are another form of fundamentalism.Whether it is Islam or Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism or Hinduism, it needs to be intelligent and rationally taught. Otherwise it is a cult, and these days is swiftly seen as such. The proper response to any cult that limits, dictates or controls, however hallowed or welded to the family culture, is to leave it. Clear spiritual air lies beyond, and much freedom.For God to be credible, moreover, God’s followers need to have renounced violence, sectism and racism. Living faith is intelligent faith. It is marked by humility, openness to difference and hospitality, and is sustained by love.

The October 6 Editorial’s highlighting of the hypocrisy of the Catholic priesthood only falls short in neglecting to mention the murderous cruelty inflicted by the church over centuries upon the indigenous populations of the Americas, Africa, India and the Philippines. It does, however, stand out as one of the truest and bravest statements of what has always seemed to me to be the obvious explanation for their appalling behaviour.

Before introducing a capital gains tax, the Government should learn from the experience of the UK. Many changes have been make to its tax, brought in in 1965, as a result of unforeseen problems, litigation and avoidance schemes. It is only fair for tax to be assessed on gains on disposal of investment property and shares quoted on stock exchanges, which should not require much administration. The real problem will arise in assessing tax on the sale of business interests, especially in valuing unquoted shares, which is an imprecise art that can result in the net yield being reduced by admin costs.

I thank Dame Jenny Gibbs for her public support of assisted dying (Shelf Life, September 29). People of influence are of enormous value to any progressive movement. In Australia, three experienced doctors stunned the nation late last month when they appeared on 60 Minutes and revealed they had helped a number of desperately ill patients to die. Western Australia is likely to introduce an assisted-dying bill, similar to that of the state of Victoria, early next year, following the recommendations of a select committee of its state Parliament. There is 88% voter support for it.

The “Exotic paradise” article that was part of Sally Blundell’s “All shook up” (September 29) cover story brings to mind myths that have been spun by ideologically driven sectors. For example, the tenet that New Zealand’s vegetation evolved in the absence of browsing animals has been used to demonise introduced herbivores such as possums, deer, tahr and chamois, despite the views of ecologists such as Graeme Caughley. Yet, around that myth bureaucracies have been spawned within government departments and ad hoc agencies such as the Animal Health Board, now Operational Solutions for Primary Industries (OSPRI). So was born the Predator Free 2050 dream. Predators are not necessarily evil. Predators have existed as long as there has been life. The herbivore moa – numbering several million, according to Caughley – were preyed on by the haast eagle. Similarly, the extinct adzebill was also a predator. New Zealand’s ecosystem is no different from any other where herbivores browse vegetation and predator-prey relationships abound.

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