NEIL Mackay's disparaging contentions on Christian faith ("Must someone be respected just because they're religious?", The Herald, February 21) need to be challenged on several grounds.

I'd like to focus in particular on his observations about the Old Testament. Like many commentators he likes to contrast what he regards as its brutality and bloodthirstiness with what he sees as the more gentle New Testament. He then uses this to denounce Christianity's status as a faith founded on hope and love. He cites the story of Abraham and Isaac as well as a bloodcurdling incident from Deuteronomy.

The Old Testament was of course written by many individuals over many centuries and in many places with different cultures and social practices. It was written by people striving to understand the nature of God and his relationship with creation. In many instances they may well have had divinely-inspired insights.

But like all of us these authors were subject to error: their written word is not infallible. It also needs to be interpreted within its historic context and its significance and relevance explained for our contemporary situation. As an English Literature graduate and as a novelist, Mr Mackay surely appreciates this.

At the time of Abraham and Isaac, the sacrifice of children was a regular occurrence. The outcome of this story is that Abraham rejected this practice. Abraham was a man of his time and influenced by the mores and pressures of his time. But he abandoned them for what we probably all agree is a better way. Are we not entitled to interpret that as God opening Abraham's eyes and inspiring towards that better way?

History is usually written by the winning party of a conflict. The victors lavish praise on their side and denigrate their defeated adversary. In Russia today the leaders of the Orthodox Church appear to be supportive of the Russian government. Religious leaders don't always get it right. Might this help us to understand the background to some of the more bombastic statements in the Old Testament, such as the reference to Deuteronomy? As I stated earlier, the writers of the Bible, like those of our time, were not infallible.

In that brutal Old Testament we also read about the days when the lion will lie down with the lamb and swords recast as ploughshares. We also read of those such as Hosea denouncing those who distort religious faith and worship for their own selfish ends. There is also that paean to love: the Song of Songs. And of course Mr Mackay's "Golden Rule" was also mentioned in the Old Testament (in Deuteronomy as well as elsewhere).

Maybe after Mr Mackay has read through his Bible for the third time we can look forward to reading about his damascene conversion.
Douglas Scott, Greenock

Don't take driving lightly

I WRITE in full support of Iain Stuart (Letters, February, 21). We hear so many times that collisions on our roads, particularly such as the A9, are caused by drivers who are tired and fall asleep at the wheel. Too many drivers appear to treat driving as a leisure occupation, as they sit in their comfy seats, with the music on. It's not, it's a safety-critical activity.

Can you imagine the outrage there would be if a heart surgeon fell asleep and dropped onto their patient? Both these occupations have the power of life and death and both must use that wisely.
Patricia Fort, Glasgow

We should fear nuclear move

THE news that HMS Anson is on its way to the Clyde ("Sub HMS Anson makes maiden journey bound for Clyde ahead of sea trials", The Herald, February 20) makes Defence Secretary Ben Wallace “proud” but fills me with dread and despair. At a cost of billions at a time of austerity it is truly money down the drain and puts Scotland in an ever more vulnerable position as a target for any nuclear exchange. Don’t forget that Nagasaki being a military base in the Second World War was the excuse for its obliteration.

Last weekend nuclear weapons were being carried up and down the roads and motorways of Scotland in between the regular traffic. Should we be “proud” or scared?

Scotland needs real jobs that create a better world not its destruction.
Susan Martin, Glasgow

Gamekeeper turned poacher

IN 1960, Penguin Books went to court to defend its right to publish Lady Chatterley's Lover. Sixty-three years on and it's censoring children’s books ("Sanitising Roald Dahl? Only twits want that", The Herald, February 21). How sad.
Stuart Neville, Clydebank

The true Jelly Belly

I FEAR Brian Chrystal's memories of teachers' nicknames (Letters, February 21) have let him down a little. Bob Morton was not Jelly Belly; I believe that was someone I knew simply as George who along, with Willie, taught me maths well enough to be able to help my granddaughter with the cosine rule six decades later. It was good to meet George in Glasgow's Exchange Square years after school and to find that he had loathed the place as much as I did.

My abiding memory of his classroom was the bullet hole in a window caused by the accidental (I think) discharge of a .22 rifle by someone in the school's cadet force. George kept it blocked off with a piece of chalk.
Gilbert MacKay, Newton Mearns

• READERS' memories of Latin lessons have been leaning towards matters disciplinary.

At Hillhead, my excellent teacher of English, Mr Burt, gained the rapt attention of every noisy class when, on entering, he used his alliterative skills by shouting " Sit down, sit up and shut up".

As simple as that.
David Miller, Milngavie

Below the belt

SO enjoying the recent letters on teachers' nicknames. In the early 1950s at Pollokshields Senior Secondary School we had a Latin teacher, Miss Agnew, whom we nicknamed "Rag Bags". This came about because when she sat upon her very high desk and crossed her legs we could see her not-very-modern underwear. In fact getting on to the very high chair was, in itself, an achievement for a lady of uncertain age.
Moira M Lang (Mrs), Oban


Letters should not exceed 500 words. We reserve the right to edit submissions.