Nial Fergusson spør seg hvorfor britene er blitt avkristnet. Det er flere som går til moske på fredagen enn det går til kirke på søndager! Fergusson begynner med å sitere Chesterton: «When men stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing. They believe in anything.»

I am a hard-shelled materialist myself, I suppose. But I was reminded of Chesterton last week by a report of a conversation between one of the would-be Islamikaze bombers, Muktar Said-Ibrahim, and a former neighbour of his in Stanmore, the suburb of north London where he grew up. «He asked me,» Sarah Scott recalled, «if I was Catholic because I have Irish family, and I said I didn’t believe in anything, and he said I should. He told me he was going to have all these virgins when he got to Heaven if he praises Allah. He said if you pray to Allah and if you have been loyal to Allah you would get 80 virgins, or something like that.»

Now it is the easiest thing in the world to make fun of the notion, apparently a commonplace among jihadists, that a suicide bomber who successfully blows up a decent number of infidels is rewarded in heaven with 80 virgins. (I personally can think of nothing more terrifying than 80 virgins; I can just picture the belles of St Trinian’s running amok.) But is it, I wonder, significantly stranger to believe, like Sarah Scott, in nothing at all?

Miss Scott’s recollected conversation with Said-Ibrahim is fascinating because it illuminates the gulf that now exists in this country between a minority of fanatics and a majority of atheists. «He said,» she recalled last week, «people were afraid of religion and people should not be afraid.» I am not sure that British people are necessarily afraid of religion, but they are certainly not much interested in it these days. Indeed, the decline of Christianity – not just in Britain but right across Europe – stands out as one of the most remarkable phenomena of our times.

There was a time when Europe would justly refer to itself as «Christendom». Europeans built the continent’s loveliest edifices to accommodate their acts of worship. They quarrelled bitterly over the distinction between transubstantiation and consubstantiation. As pilgrims, missionaries and conquistadors, they sailed to the four corners of the earth, intent on converting the heathen to the true faith. Now it is we who are the heathens.

Heaven knows how we’ll rekindle our religion, but I believe we must