As Wordsworth pointed out, it is because the world is too much with us that we so often fail to notice it.

There can be no other explanation for the fact that we blithely accept so many things as natural which are self-evidently stark staring mad.

This tendency is apparent in one of the principal things which distinguishes human beings from animals – language. Having been fashioned from the crooked timber of humanity, it often says the opposite of what we can see is the case. Think, for example, of that most uncommon thing, "common sense", or the obviously oxymoronic "social services".

Few words, though, manage to fight against sense (both their own, and reason) quite as thoroughly as those appropriated by militant atheists: "secular" and "humanism". Secular means something temporary, generational, of the spirit of the age; the British Secular Society, however, seems to imagine it has a monopoly on eternal verities. The chief feature of humanism, meanwhile, is its startling lack of humanity; nicely embodied in the doctrines of Sir Julius Huxley, the first president of the British Humanist Association.

He was a tireless proponent of the notion that the lower orders "must not have too easy access to relief or hospital treatment lest the removal of the last check on natural selection should make it too easy for children to be produced or to survive", rounding off this cheerful doctrine by adding that "long unemployment should be a ground for sterilisation."

This attitude springs naturally enough from the position he took in Evolution: The Modern Synthesis, where he announced: "The ordinary man, or at least the ordinary poet, philosopher and theologian, always was anxious to find purpose in the evolutionary process. I believe this reasoning to be totally false."

If anything, this statement is more inhuman than Sir Julius's advocacy of eugenics. Holding other people in contempt and planning to murder them is at least a recognisable human trait. A mania for stripping all meaning and purpose from life and the world, by contrast, is an attempt to eradicate another of the main characteristics which separates people from beasts.

That impulse to seek meaning, like language (the medium in which we do so), is a function of the human qualities of consciousness. It includes our knowledge of our own mortality, our desire to understand the universe and ourselves, to find patterns and to formulate ways of behaving towards one another.

And it has found expression, throughout human history, in the fields of law, religion and science, which collided last week in the Royal Courts of Justice; specifically, in the case brought by the National Secular Society and Clive Bone against Bideford Town Council, of which Mr Bone had previously been a member.

One thing which doesn't seem to have been noticed much in the coverage of this case is that the claimants lost on what were their principal points of complaint. The judge found that the fact that prayers were said at the start of the council's meetings did not infringe the human rights of Mr Bone (who is an atheist), nor did they unlawfully discriminate against him.

But there was a great brouhaha because, as it turned out, Mr Justice Ouseley nonetheless ruled that it was unlawful for councils to have prayers as part of the set agenda of their meetings. He did this on the basis that Schedule 111 of the Local Government Act 1972 prohibits it.

Having read it, and Mr Justice Ouseley's judgment several times, I still can't see that it does anything of the sort, but no doubt that is why he is a High Court judge, and I am not. And there is always the possibility that he is wrong, as the House of Lords decided he was when he ruled, on a previous occasion, that it was perfectly all right for the last government to detain indefinitely and without trial any foreign nationals it didn't like the look of. Bideford Council has permission to appeal, and the current Government has, in any case, announced that it will change the law if necessary.

What I find odd about the case, though, is the motivation of the claimants. The National Secular Society wants to "remove religion from politics" and claims that England and Wales are the only countries in the world where prayers are said before Parliament. That is untrue, by the way; there are no prayers in the Welsh Assembly and Holyrood has the mealy-mouthed Time for Reflection, which sounds about as useful and vacuous as Radio 4's Thought for the Day, but Canada, Australia, New Zealand and both the US House and Senate open each session with prayers. In fact, according to a survey a few years ago, every American state senate except Massachusetts begins every session with prayers.

But it is ridiculous to argue that prayers before (or during) meetings of political bodies are some sort of imposition on those who lack belief. No-one is being forced to believe anything. Were I on some committee with a majority of Muslims or Sikhs, and they wished to pray as part of the proceedings, I can't see that it makes any difference to me, as long as I'm not compelled to join in.

The newly aggressive atheism promoted by the likes of Professor Richard Dawkins (like Sir Julius, an evolutionary biologist) and the National Secular Society makes the mistake of thinking that freedom of religion and freedom from religion require secularism. But they are not the same thing; secularism is optional, but freedom to practise any religion, or none, is a human right (something the European Court of Human Rights upheld, incidentally, in the case of Lautsi v Italy last year).

Whether or not one is religious, these tiresome attempts to marginalise Christianity ought to be resisted. As a matter of plain, straightforward, historical reality, the institutions and traditions of these islands have been thoroughly bound up with Christianity for at least 1500 years.

It is a pointless and offensive act of cultural vandalism to attempt to deny that, when it is a fact which is every bit as material and evident in this world as Christians believe it ought to be in saecula saeculorum.