Most humans are religious in one way or another. There are more than 2 billion Muslims and Hindus – for almost all of these people their religion is an intimate and essential part of their daily lives. Thirty-six per cent of Americans believe the Bible is literally true.1 There is an instinct for ritual, an important element in most religions, among many life forms, including humans. This tends to indicate that religions are indeed a basic social cement, if only because they cater for that deep seated human need for ritual, for the mysterious.

But there is also the view that the conservatism of religions, their reliance on dogma, their subjugation of the human mind to an inscrutable ‘divine will’, and ...

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