“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.
“Can’t you?” the Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said. “One can’t believe impossible things.”
“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast! There goes the shawl again.”
Lewis Carroll – Through the Looking Glass
I once knew a man who thought God was a slot machine. All you had to do was keep your nose clean, insert the right prayer and you’d get whatever you wanted. Your bank account of good behaviour had to be in credit, of course. And you had to have enough ‘faith’, which in his world, seemed to me to be a kind of grit-toothed determination to believe things that were blatantly untrue. You could ‘have faith’ for a Rolls Royce. A million pounds. A bungalow in Clacton. You could claim it right now. In fact, it was already yours. You just couldn’t see it. Because you didn’t have enough faith. Or you were harbouring a secret sin. Or maybe because it wasn’t really there …
Now for all I know, the guy’s flying over my head at this very moment in his private jet, en route from his Caribbean island to his mansion in Belgravia. Maybe he did have enough faith after all. In which case, all I can say is, I’m sorry. You were right. I was wrong. And I didn’t want that chateau in the south of France anyway. No, really. I didn’t.
All that was a good few years ago. I like to think he got what he wanted in the end. Whatever it was. Even now, I have to confess to a sneaking admiration for his doggedness. The sheer determination to hold on to a belief that flew in the face of all reason. That has to be some feat. I don’t think I’ve got that level of blinkered persistence. Sheer stubbornness. At least I like to think not. After all, I’m an educated woman. I have more than half a brain. Although there are some who’d argue that point. I learn from my experiences. Quite slowly. But I get there in the end. I don’t have to believe six impossible things before breakfast to stop my world from falling apart. I don’t need that kind of security blanket.
I had no internet connection a while back. I won’t bore you with the details. The events that left me with no income for three weeks are not part of this story. There was a time when I’d have thrown the few toys I had left out of the pram. Ranted about injustice. I need my internet connection. I can’t work without it. Don’t Sky understand that for heaven’s sake? One of my all-time favourite security blankets is the belief that no-one understands how terrible my life has been. Anyone else dragging that one around too? No, I knew you wouldn’t be. I told you so. Nobody understands …
The blanket’s a tad threadbare these days. To be honest it’s worn down to the last few sticky strands twiddled around my thumb. The world’s full of injustice. On a scale of one to really minor, my troubles don’t even put in an appearance. I have a roof over my head. Food in my stomach. An internet connection … most of the time. And nobody hits me, shouts at me or threatens my life these days. Compared to say a Syrian refugee, an AIDS orphan in Uganda, a street sex worker in Bristol my life’s pretty good. It all depends on your point of comparison.
Now this next bit would work so much better if I had a ten pound note … or a twenty … if I grit my teeth and pray … no? Oh well. Not enough faith I guess … I’ll have to do it from memory instead.
‘I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of …’ Hmm. So, what exactly does that mean? Where’s my ten pounds? Does it actually exist? Can I see it, please? And if I could, what would it look like?
I’m led to believe that once upon a time there was a real, shiny gold bar in a vault somewhere that equated to my crumpled tenner. Well, my non-existent tenner … maybe if I grit my teeth a little bit harder …? These days, there isn’t even that. My ten pounds exists purely because we all believe it does. Like the Rolls Royce. The million quid. That bungalow in Clacton. Maybe I shouldn’t have given up on the chateau quite so easily.
Money has such incredible power over all our lives. Power of life and death. But at the end of the day it really ain’t worth the paper it’s written on. It doesn’t exist. Literally. And I don’t mean figuratively, for anyone who’s using the insane new browser plug-in designed to eradicate incorrect use of the word ‘literally’.
We all collude in the belief that money is real. It takes on a life of its own. One that radically affects our planet. The lives of seven billion people and counting. The quality of life of every sentient being in creation. Children die of hunger or preventable diseases. Why? Because ‘there isn’t enough money’. Hundreds of species of plants and animals become extinct every year. Why? Because someone can make more money if they’re not there. Nothing is sacred before the great god mammon. I know the analogy is hopelessly inadequate, but I can’t help being reminded of the scene where Peter Pan asks all the children to clap if they believe in fairies. The children do as they’re asked. Tinker Bell lives on to fight another day. Maybe it’s our applause that actually keeps the money god alive.
The truth is, money is our security blanket. It’s five of the six impossible things we have to believe before breakfast every morning to stop the world as we know it from falling apart. To that extent it works for all of us. But it’s a blanket that knits up a whole lot better for Mark Carney or Rupert Murdoch than it does for me or you. A Bolivian street kid. A worker in a Bangladeshi garment factory. A child soldier in the Congo. Perhaps we just don’t have quite enough faith …
So what if we all stopped believing? If we refused to clap our hands? Saw it for the cruel farce it really is? Started to believe that people matter more … Who knows where that might lead?
You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one …