Published: 22 April 2019

Flames and smoke rise from the blaze at Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris last week

Flames and smoke rise from the blaze at Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris last week

I was brought up a Roman Catholic but I ceased to be a believer a very long time ago. Yet I would describe myself as a Christian atheist, for of all the religions I know about, it is Christianity I most admire and feel at home with.

There is very little Jesus Christ is reputed to have said that I disagree with, and once I grew out of my militant phase I began to take a benign interest in religious art, architecture and music.

Researching a book on the Orange Order then made me at home with hymn singing. When I organised a memorial service for my friend Sean O’Callaghan, the IRA killer who became a warrior against terrorism and who was also an ex-Roman Catholic, it was in a beautiful Anglican church that he had specified in his will, there were hymns, and the vicar prayed for him and his victims.

I also recognise the blindingly obvious truth that Christianity is the bedrock of Western civilisation. I get very upset about indifference to the world-wide persecution of Christians and I abhor the aggressive secularism of our society, which so emphasises rights rather than obligations.

I’ve been thinking and writing a lot in the past few days about my murdered friend Lyra McKee, and a recurring thought was that though she was not religious, her impulses were what many of us think of as Christian.

I recall a distressed call she made to me when she had seen a homeless man being thrown out of a coffee shop although she had offered to buy him coffee to drink there.

There was her deep concern for the weak and the bullied, the ground-breaking work about the terrible prevalence of suicide since the Belfast Agreement, her obsessive interest in what happened to forgotten children who went missing during the Troubles, and her inspiring of young people terrified to admit they were gay.

In a very Lyra/Christian way, her advice to them was to be brave, to be honest, and never to treat those who disapproved of homosexuality as enemies, but rather make friends with them.

I think all that would have met Jesus Christ’s criteria for what made a good person.

Last week, like millions of others, I watched horrified as Notre-Dame was engulfed in flames, so I was particularly shocked by an article written next day about the BBC coverage (

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