Thanks for taking the time to read the whole book. You're not the first one to say it has the wrong title. Maybe I should have played off Sam Harris' book and called it "The Beginning of Faith." But when I tried to write about politics in these times, I simply found it impossible not to write about religion. Our foreign policy is shaped by a response to religious Islamic extremism; and our domestic politics, as you so ably demonstrate, has become about the use and abuse of religion for partisan poitical purposes.

I was struck in your book by many things that really are not about politics. Your account of your adolescence is honest, and very funny. Hormones are indeed a laugh riot, and I sometimes wonder whether God gave them to us to ensure that we remember to laugh at ourselves from time to time. But I was particularly struck by what you yourself describe as the moment of your epiphany: your brain tumor, your near-death experience when driving a car and blacking out. You may well have died if your wife had not seized the steering wheel.

So here's my question: throughout the book, you seem a man able to examine himself, to reconsider roads taken, to evolve and change. You moved from left to right to beyond both. And yet you also suggest that without this encounter with mortality and terror, your epiphany about what you were doing with your life might never have happened. Or at least not happened the way it did.

I had the same experience eleven years ago when I was diagnosed with HIV, when it was a death-sentence. In retrospect, all my writing since has flowed from that moment. It felt as if God were taking me by the lapels and shaking me so hard I couldn't breathe. (I recount the experience in my previous book, "Love Undetectable." The date inscribed on my prologue to 'Virtually Normal' was also the anniversary of the day I found out I had HIV: June 23, 1993.) I identified with that moment in your book a lot, and wonder how critical you think it was in your evolution toward speaking truth to power?

Or am I being unfair? Was the evolution already in train and this brush with death just a coincidence? Could God work through a brain tumor? Or a virus that is killing countless people, even as I live on?

Or were we just scared into faith?