According to my colleague Melanie McDonagh (Spectator 21st June), religion makes you happy and churchgoing is good for you. Crikey, you could have fooled me.
For sure, an ancient church or cathedral is a peaceful and moving place to visit. Religious music can also be very affecting — I love Haydn’s many masses and adore Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle — as can be its art. But, as the man said when looking at some vast triptych of the Crucifixion, ‘Great story, shame it ain’t true.’
I was confirmed into the Church of England when I was seventeen. I had agonised about this for ages and was a good three or four years older than my fellow confirmands.
To mark the occasion, my godmother gave me a beautiful Omega Seamaster watch engraved with the date – 20th November 1977 – which I wear to this day. My father wrote me a postcard.
‘Dear boy,’ it ran. ‘Your mother is surprised and pleased to hear that you are getting confirmed. I am surprised. Yours ever, Pa.’
My dad was the grandson of a rabbi and had become a convinced atheist at an early age. My ma, on the other hand, is a proud daughter of a rural dean and, without being showy, remains a keen if irregular churchgoer.
All this made for some spirited discussions at home with me, an anxious, parent-pleasing only child caught in the crossfire.
My father explained that since he considered all religions to be ‘complete and utter mumbo-jumbo’ I would understand why he couldn’t come to my confirmation. To his eternal credit, however, he stood outside the school chapel for the duration of the service and presented me with a chilled bottle of Veuve Clicquot and a bear hug when it was all over.