On the third day of Christmas...

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hensMy true love sent to me: three french hens, which in the song apparently represent the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity (or, if you would like to be modern, love).

Of these, faith is the most problematic. There is something odd about a religion that wishes evil on people, solely because they do not happen to share it. For many centuries the Christian religion was strictly intolerant of others; then even particular strains of the Christian religion refused to tolerate each other. Three or four hundred years later, it is not exactly a love match, but at least they now mostly get along (mostly) without killing each other. Let us hope that such enlightenment eventually comes to today's religious extremists too. I would rather like to live in a world where different religions live in peace, and where we don't have to cancel school nativity plays or stop using the word 'Christmas' in case others find it offensive. A world where people pray for unbelievers, rather than set out to slaughter them.

A word on charities. The UK government plans to rely more and more on private charities to deliver its Big Society agenda; but governments can really mess up charities. They can become completely reliant on the state, turning into political campaigners for more state funding, rather than the doers of good work that they started as; or they can find their private backers deserting them. An interesting case of this was the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which was created in 1824. Thirty years later it ran out of money. So in 1854 it started accepting government subsidies. But it found that, for every £1 it took from the government, it lost £1.40 in private donations. People couldn't see why they should fund something that the government was paying for. Now the RNLI proudly refuses all government money and still manages to rescue some 6,000 people a year. Bravo!