To me, the Camino embodies the essence of true Christianity, with its camaraderie, generosity, hospitality, and the openness of priests who welcome believers and non-believers alike to the pilgrims' mass.
I appreciate this Christian element of the chemin.
Once, when I was walking the Chemin du Puy, a group of Christians who were eating their lunch beside the road invited me to join them. When we had finished, one of them took me aside and said, "Can I ask you a personal question?" Oh, no, I thought, here it comes. "In English Canada," he said, "Do they teach French in the schools?"
No one on the Camino has ever probed into my religious beliefs.
So I don't walk the Camino for religious reasons. At least I don't think so. Just after leaving a stone at the cross of iron in Spain, my Aussie mate George and I arrived at the pilgrim's refuge in the wilderness run by the hermit, Thomas, I think his name was.
He was quite famous. The authorities had tried to close him down, because there were no facilities, just the woods out back, but he went on a hunger strike on the steps of Leon Cathedral until they relented.
We didn't need to use the facilities, but thought we'd have a cup of something. As we entered his primitive dwelling I was overwhelmed by the strains of the Hallelujah Chorus. What, I thought. Is this a sign? Is this my moment on the road to Santiago? That I should arrive at this moment in the Messiah!
I listened, and waited for the familiar opening to the next aria. But no, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, it began again. The bugger was playing the Hallelujah Chorus over and over again on a circular tape.
I have drifted on the edge of Christianity all my life, and have probably read as much on the subject as most Christians. Ultimately, it wasn't the atheists Dawkins and Hitchens who convinced me that there is no God, but theologians like Karen Armstrong and Bishop Spong who confirmed for me what really happened in the days of the early Church.
Some Christians say that you have to take a leap of faith, but that's a load of old codswallop. If there is a God, he gave us a mind to think with, not to let "fust in us unused".
I am not a believer, but I am glad to be part of the great cultural tradition which gave us the magnificent works of art, music and literature, created by Christians inspired by their faith.