Too many atheists miss the point of religion, it’s about how we live and not what we believe, writes John Gray.

When he recounts the story of his conversion to Catholicism in his autobiography A Sort of Life, Graham Greene writes that he went for instruction to Father Trollope, a very tall and very fat man who had once been an actor in the West End.

Trollope was a convert who became a priest and led a highly ascetic life, and Greene didn’t warm to him very much, at least to begin with.

Yet the writer came to feel that in dealing with his instructor he was faced with “the challenge of an inexplicable goodness”. It was this impression – rather than any of the arguments the devout Father presented to the writer for the existence of God – that eventually led to Greene’s conversion.

The arguments that were patiently rehearsed by Father Trollope faded from his memory, and Greene had no interest in retrieving them. “I cannot be bothered to remember,” he writes. “I accept.”

It’s clear that what Greene accepted wasn’t what he called “those unconvincing philosophical arguments”. But what was it that he had accepted?

We tend to assume that religion is a question of what we believe or don’t believe. It’s an assumption with a long history in western philosophy, which has been reinforced in recent years by the dull debate on atheism.

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