I remember, in what seems almost a previous life, a quite attractive girl asking me whether I had seen the light. Because it was a quite an attractive girl asking and I was fifteen, I didn't give the glib answer - "just flip that switch over there, love".
If I remember correctly this quite attractive girl was talking about god. Although the rather damp church hall on Bingham Road in Addiscombe seemed an unlikely place for damascene revelation, I persevered (unsuccessfully) with talking to this quite attractive girl. Which led to the next bit of the induction - "do you believe?"
Tricky thing believing. We can be like Thomas and believe only when we stick our hand in the gory reality or we can be Mary Magdalene and believe on the flimsiest of evidence. Belief has become more important than truth - indeed, that I might believe has become truth revealed.
All this brings us to politics, to the manner in which political communications now manifest a sort of religious fervour, an appeal to belief rather than any attempt to analyse, assess and decide. Politicians will say things they know to be nonsense merely to press a little belief button among their followers:
"Some of you may be cynical and fed up with politics. A lot of you may be disappointed and even angry with your leaders. You have every right to be. But despite all of this, I ask of you what has been asked of Americans throughout our history. I ask you to believe.”
Take this statement at its face. Is it not the most cynical, exploitative and deceptive of observations? We are cynical and fed up with politics because it has failed us or because we sense its vacuity, its amorality - yet we must believe. Just as half starved European peasants were asked to believe while watching bishops and friars living high on the hog, we are expected to believe in 'politics' unequivocally - our suffering (not theirs, never theirs) is for a greater good, for that belief.
Well I don't believe. No politician deserves support on the basis of "believe" for this is a con - we have tested to destruction the idea that elected representatives can magic us a better life. In the end the sorrow falls on our shoulders not theirs, we'll hear their sobbing sympathy but it is mere glamour, an illusion to fool us.
When Obama tells us to "believe" it is the language of the huckster - "trust me, I'm not like them" he's saying. Are we so foolish that we believe this to be true? Or will we be wise enough to tie the hands of politicians with the constraints of liberty - to say that we are free people, free to choose, free to fail and delighted to succeed. We do not need your "believe" but rather to stand in our own boots, make our own mistakes and, in the end, look at the far horizon with a job done.