Blessed are the cheesemakers

I suspect we may have a gay prime minister before an atheist one. Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hi

I'm sure the Sunday Times, which bought the serial rights to my new book, meant well when it printed Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel masterpiece and superimposed my head on the body of Adam being given life by the hand of God. It's a pretty impressive body and one of the great works of art. But Adam is not - how can I put this tastefully? - especially blessed in one area of his anatomy. I have a message for the woman sitting facing me in the restaurant where I had breakfast on Sunday, staring from her paper at me and back again. Madam, it is not funny to crook your little finger and giggle like a naughty schoolgirl. She was not the only one. It has not been an easy week.

It's a year since I did a series of interviews for Radio 4 called Humphrys in Search of God. The letters, Bibles and helpful tracts are still arriving in the post. Most of my correspondents try to save my mortal soul with guidance and tales of their own salvation, for which I am grateful, if a little overwhelmed. But aren't we supposed to be on the way to becoming a godless nation?

I commissioned a survey from YouGov for the book. Well over half those who took part said they believe in some sort of god. Only a quarter described themselves as atheists. Which suggests that Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and their fellow militant atheists have their work cut out - even if their books are selling by the shedload. There's a better test, I think, for judging the religious temper of the nation. Try to imagine a prime minister - or the leader of any of the main political parties - publicly declaring they're an atheist. I suspect we might even have a gay prime minister before that happens. But perhaps not.

The price of the market

When I am reincarnated I want to come back as an olive farmer. I tried dairy farming for a few years and I can tell you, there's no contest. I spent most of the holidays in Greece and some of it on a dairy farm in west Wales. At this time of year the olive farmers water the trees in the mornings and sleep in the afternoons. In the autumn they harvest the olives and in the winter they prune the trees and use the wood for fuel. It makes superb firewood. Owners of small dairy farms work 14-hour days, seldom get a day off, and have to worry endlessly about sick cows, rain-sodden silage and the worst that the bureaucrats can throw at them.

My friend is a superb organic farmer, treats his cows with loving care and the land as the precious, irreplaceable resource that it is. He is as proud of the birds, insects, hedges and wild flowers as he is of the herd he has built up over the decades. He is borrowed up to the hilt. Last year he made about £4,000. That's a loss of £4,000. The price he was paid for every litre of milk was less than it cost him to produce it. This year world milk prices have risen because the Chinese have suddenly developed a taste for it - but he's had enough. He's borrowing even more to build a dairy to produce cheese. He will get much more for the cheese than for the raw milk - assuming he sells it all - but his costs will, obviously, be much higher. He knows it's a gamble. In Greece many olive farmers lost their trees to the fires this summer. In this country most small dairy farmers have lost their businesses to an even more implacable force: the untrammelled market. Pretty soon, if we go on like this, there will be none left.

Uniform service

Here is the perfect metaphor for the tacky shopping mall sometimes described as Heathrow Airport and the unmitigated pleasure it brings to travellers. I wait an hour for the first bags to appear on the carousel after my holiday in Greece. Much, much later, I realise mine isn't among them. A man in uniform tells me to find the customer service desk. I notice his lips twitch just a little at the concept. I fight through mobs of mutinous passengers, scale mountains of unclaimed baggage, and get there. Almost. Lights flash and signs warn: "Danger! Keep out!" I ask another uniform why. She tells me raw sewage had poured through the ceiling earlier. We both agree there is nothing more to be said.

John Humphrys's book "In God We Doubt" is published by Hodder & Stoughton (£18.99). The fee for this article is going to his charity, the Kitchen Table Charities Trust

This article first appeared in the 10 September 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Why Boris and London deserve each other