It’s curious how often a militant commitment to humanity goes with a deep dislike for the human animal. Joseph Conrad wrote that while H G Wells wanted to improve human beings but didn’t care for them, he himself had no hopes for human beings but loved them all the same. Whether Conrad was really so fond of humanity may be doubted, but he had a point: humanism – at least of the modern secular variety – is very often a species of misanthropy. The animus of humanists against religion is telling, for if anything is quintessentially human it is the religious impulse: every culture is, in some degree, animated by it, while no other animal displays anything remotely similar. To despise religion is to despise humanity, so it cannot be the real human animal to which secular humanists are devoted. The object of their piety can only be some kind of ideal creature, a figment of the imagination that has never existed (and fortunately never will).