From a distance, it can all seem very silly. These people have gone to Lourdes, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, in the hope that the Virgin Mary might cure them of cancer and heart disease. These people have gone to Medjugorje in Bosnia Herzegovina to pray they might get a chance to talk to dead beloved relatives. And these people are praying at the Western Wailing Wall of the old Jewish Temple in Jeruselam and leaving all sort of notes for God to read in the cracks between the stones. No wonder some Atheists just think the whole of religion is ludicrous, and they aren’t bothered about saying so very directly. But that’s the wrong way to look at religion. What religion teaches us isn’t about what’s true, but about what many of us here on earth desperately want to be true, for some pretty understandable reasons. At one point in the bible, Jesus goes into the house of a man called Jarus, whose 12-year-old daughter has just died. Everyone is weeping and lamenting. But Jesus calmly says that she’s not dead, she’s just asleep. “Little girl, I say to you get up!” He says. We shouldn’t laugh or dismiss the whole thing as nonsense. When your child is very sick, you may well end up believing in miracles. Because at the end of the day, under immense psychological pressures, you love your child more than you care about the laws of physics and biology. And when your loved ones do die, it can take a very robust mind indeed not to imagine, late at night when the sadness becomes overwhelming, that somehow your parent, or child, or friend, is somewhere still around and in a better place than they were. And that they might be able to see us as we go about our daily lives and forgive us and understand what we, perhaps, never found a way to say to them. And when you’re in a complete mess, and all you want to do is cry in shame, you might well start to long for someone who could understand. Someone wise and forgiving, with kindly sympathetic eyes who wont judge and will be patient and kindly, like an ideal mother. Science may very rightly deny the existence of the Virgin Mary, let alone paradise and miracles. But these beliefs shouldn’t just be interpreted as pieces of stupidity. They are signs of extreme emotional distress and desperation, which should rightly elicit in us understanding and sympathy. Religious beliefs are, of course, technically false. But they’re coming from a very tender and vulnerable place, which needs our empathy. Of course Atheists are technically right. But there’s no point getting maddened by the apparent irrationality of the religious. We have to understand it and appreciate the intensity of the longings that lead some of us to believe in fantasies against all odds. Because reality is just sometimes unbearably painful.