“Are you religious?”

No. I was brought up in the Church of England, and I loved (and still love) the language and the music. But when I was 14 I realized suddenly that I didn’t believe a word of it. I found this revelation an immense relief: suddenly the world made sense to me, whereas the world I had been told to believe in made no sense to me at all. My atheism comes with two important caveats, though. First, some of the people I most admire are profoundly religious. Second, I think many atheists make precisely the mistake that defines all the worst religious people: they think that what matters in life is saving other people from their false beliefs. To me (and at least some religious people) the most striking thing about the great religious teachers is how little they cared what people believed, so long as they behaved better towards one another. The person who believes the air is full of invisible gnomes, but treats other people (and gnomes) with generosity and compassion, is light years more spiritually advanced than the sophisticated Catholic or Sunni theologian – or atheist – who treats other people with indifference or cruelty.