Monday, 17 April 2017

Corbyn and Peter Pan politics

“Every time a child says, ‘I don't believe in fairies,’ there is a fairy somewhere that falls down dead.”

Peter Pan leads the way to a fantasy land
where fairies depend on children's beliefs

“I believe it because it is absurd,” said Tertullian, one of the fathers of the Christian church. It’s a powerful and highly sophisticated statement.

Christianity, like any belief system, requires faith, an ability to believe despite a lack of evidence, even against all evidence. After all, you need no faith to believe that the sun will set in the West: that’s the definition of the West. To believe that a man can be executed and rise on the third day, that does require faith.

This is as true of trivial beliefs as these more profound ones, such as Peter Pan’s statement about fairies. Or the belief that a portly, white-bearded man in a red suit will come down a chimney to bring good children presents.

I find it impossible to make such an act of faith. I say that even though I know the great comfort that faith provides. It’s no accident that the words “communion” and “community” are linked: shared belief creates a community and belonging to one is a deep human need and a source of consolation in a difficult world.

Even so, I can’t make that leap. Like Diderot, I find it less of a miracle that Lazarus was brought back from the dead, than that nobody, but nobody, chose to record the fact. Surely, somewhere there’d be something from a neutral third party: a spice merchant from Asia Minor, a Roman officer writing home, perhaps a sailor from Alexandria, even if all they were saying was “there’s a really weird tale going around this place at the moment, about a guy called Lazarus. They say, would you believe, that he died but a visiting miracle-worker brought him back to life.” Instead, nothing, nada, nix. The only authority is from the gospel writers themselves, those who were promoting the belief in the first place.

Not a problem, of course, for those like Tertullian who believe because it is absurd. But for someone like me, looking for evidence to support a point of view (which isn’t quite as strong as a belief: it can be overturned by new evidence), I simply can’t accept the story on such thin backing.

So I’m deprived of the child’s joy in waiting for the tooth fairy to call, believing in the fairy even though no one’s ever seen her. Or indeed the sense of belonging that inspires a mass at its best, even though no one’s ever documented the conversion of a biscuit and a chalice of wine into flesh and blood. Or indeed, the atmosphere at a meeting of Corbynistas, encouraging each other to further acts of faith, even though no Opposition leader in history has ever won an election from a base of unpopularity as dire as their guru’s.

That’s a double misfortune for me. In the first place, because I can’t enjoy the simple comfort of the believer drawn from the mere fact of belief. There must be joy in the fervour of the Corbynist who can, like Tertullian, convince himself of the truth of an absurd notion, such as John McDonnell’s that Corbyn can turn the poll position around in twelve months. I can’t share in it.

Then there’s the second misfortune. A child whose parents are sufficiently indulgent, and sufficiently well-heeled, will wake up in the morning to find that a coin has replaced the tooth she placed under the pillow on going to bed. Unless the parents are exceptionally indulgent, an adult who does the same with a lost tooth is likely to suffer acute disappointment. Generally, indeed, we expect adults to grow out of such childish beliefs.

In the case of Corbynist fancy, not growing out of it has serious consequences for everyone in Britain: clinging to the belief that Corbyn can defeat the Tories prevents us replacing him by someone who might make some progress against them. That simply ensures continued Tory rule. The results are all about us to see: hospitals offering doctors nearly £1000 to do a shift in A&E to prevent complete collapse into unsafe service, kids from poor backgrounds far less likely to attend good schools, families of dying invalids deprived of basic support.

Unlike the Peter Pan claim, in the Corbyn fantasy, it isn’t lack of belief that kills. On the contrary, it’s belief itself. The longer we cling on to that absurd faith, we ensure the suffering, even death, of more people – not fairies, let me stress, but people.

Personally, I can’t believe that fairies exist and depend on the belief of children to assure their own survival.

I can’t believe that the universe is run by a God who took human form to suffer and die to redeem humankind from a fate to which he’d condemned it in the first place.

And I can’t believe that the least popular Opposition leader in my lifetime has the slightest chance of winning a general election.

Well, it would be absurd, wouldn’t it?


Awoogamuffin said...

My personal point of faith is that the world will come to its senses and begin to put into place a universal basic income. A solution that clever people on both the left and the right agree would be a good idea. Pity none of those people are running.

David Beeson said...

I think we need to recover some sanity, and then we can start looking at intelligent ways of doing things. Including this idea.