* The language of salvation and redemption finds its way to the heart of advertising, particularly at Christmas.
A recent hoarding declared that a local commercial complex offered 100,000 square feet of heavenly shopping. Not far from that, I observed the promise of salvation for those willing to imbibe a particular drink. The lottery is advertised as if winnings were dispensed by God. Lotions and potions promise everlasting youth.
Everybody seeks salvation in some form, fired by the hope that things could be better.
The symbolism of Christmas touches our deepest sensibilities and, understandably, is acknowledged and exploited by the advertising world.
However, lamenting the secularisation of Christmas is misguided; Christmas is, inescapably, a mixture of the sacred and the secular.
The human imagination breaks free at Christmas, urged on by the desire to see our world as it isn't.
We express inspiring truth in music, art and stories, particularly the story of the Nativity.
What is extraordinary is the way some of the most profound stories ever told are dismissed by those who purport to have had the benefit of a liberal education.
The gospel stories are treated as a botched historical narrative, revealing a failure to understand how these texts functioned in the lives of those for whom they were written.
History as we know it is a relatively recent invention.
The story of the birth of Christ cannot be construed as a collection of facts but as a narrative embodying a range of profound truths.
The account of the angels, shepherds and kings and the birth of a baby is intensely expressive of all that is best in our world.
The story of Bethlehem has touched the hearts and minds of people for over 2,000 years.
The truth is not about the history of Bethlehem but about compassion, generosity, self-giving and expectation.
Happy Christmas to all.
EDITH ROAD, OXFORD
FEW FRIENDS IN EUROPE
* Early in the week, Ajai Chopra, former IMF reviewer for Ireland, said it was unfair for Irish taxpayers to suffer the cost of bailing out the banks when senior bondholders got their money back.
We know this to be true, particularly in the case of Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide, both of which ultimately proved not to be of systemic importance to the Irish banking system. Yet their creditors were paid in full.
Then we had EC President Jose Manuel Barroso addressing a news conference by saying it was our own entire fault. It didn't take long for our masters in the EU to begin rewriting history; well, I suppose that is what the victors do, for there can be little doubt that Ireland are the losers.
In Mr Barroso's mostly vitriolic speech he lambasted Ireland (there was minute praise for Ireland's progress) and blamed much of the EU's woes on us. Not once, though, did he mention that most of the so-called 'bailout' went towards paying reckless banks on the Continent and in the US. Behind all the smiles and handshakes, we have very few friends in the EU.
PAUGHANSTOWN, DUNLEER, CO LOUTH
* European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso's assertion that the euro was the victim, not the cause, of Ireland's financial catastrophe is like claiming that potato blight was the victim of the Famine.
DR JOHN DOHERTY
CNOC AN STOLLAIRE, GAOTH DOBHAIR, CO DONEGAL
* It's a bit worrying that someone like Mr Barroso still doesn't seem to understand the difference between the eurozone financial crisis and the resulting sovereign debt crisis it caused. The sovereign debt crisis arose because, instead of banks' investors having to face the fact they made a bad investment and lost, the ECB decreed that as a state could not access normal lending, the only way it would be allowed access ECB funding was if it took on the entire debt of its banking system.
Ireland's misfortune was to be the first country in that position to have such a craven government.
It seems, like most of the politicians and civil servants who chose austerity but were not affected by it, Mr Barroso prefers to wallow in denial and perpetuate the dangerous myth, so close to elections to the European Parliament too, that it wasn't the ECB that forced the Irish taxpayer to take on the private-sector debts of the banking industry, instead of the Irish taxpayer just having to deal with the debts we would have had to take on anyway as we adjusted to a fall in tax revenue and increases in welfare spending, as lending was withdrawn from the domestic economy.
Mr Barroso would have us believe that there was no alternative at the time, but we know from Iceland that there was an alternative and while neither option was ever going to be pain free, the point remains that there was a choice at that time.
Mr Barroso and his Commission made the wrong choice and he failed to stand up to the ECB on behalf of EU taxpayers.
Mr Barroso should be careful with the 'facts' he throws about in that glasshouse he lives in.
CANARY WHARF, LONDON
DRIVEN TO USING CARS
* Conor Faughnan (Irish Independent, December 19) is right to be sceptical about the Government's consultation document for setting out a low-carbon roadmap for the transport sector.
We already pay more than enough carbon tax (in addition to the usual taxes) on our vehicles and at the filling stations.
Any attempt to increase taxes and toll charges with a view to encouraging public transport use is both flawed and disingenuous.
I would not be surprised if this document is yet another means of increasing the State's coffers.
The Government knows (or should know) that, with a few exceptions, our egregious public transport system is inadequate to cater for the masses.
Consequently, in most cases, people have little choice other than to continue using their cars.
If the Government decides to go ahead and impose increased road/transport taxes on its civilians, then they will be punishing motorists for nothing other than their own failure to deliver a properly functioning public transport system.
PAUGHANSTOWN, DUNLEER, CO LOUTH
* The Irish motorist is heavily burdened by vehicular taxation and anything to do with owning a vehicle, from the expensive initial cost, including VAT and VRT, to excessively high road taxation, followed by road tolls, annual testing, taxation on fuel, insurance, parking and training and licensing of the driver.
For Leo Varadkar to suggest even more motoring tax is utter nonsense, bordering on lunacy.
The idea, especially in rural Ireland, of taking the bus or train to work is another silly notion.
There is insufficient frequency and joined-up planning for anyone in rural areas to take public transport to work with any hope of either getting there on time or getting home in time to get to bed and be up again for the next bus or train.
If I were to take the bus to my place of work, I would first have to walk two miles, catch the bus and then walk another two miles, to get to work at 8am.
I would need to begin my day at 6am and would not get home again until 8pm, and I'm one of the lucky ones. Is this what Mr Varadkar wants for us?