In The Last Jedi, a mature Luke Skywalker has retreated on a remote planet. He has lost faith, not only in the Jedi religion but also in the Resistance against the Empire. By contrast, his sister Leia still has faith although the Resistance is a tiny movement and its troops are decimated. They send out a distress call for help, knowing there are many people on the outer planets who are sympathetic to them. But nobody comes to the rescue, except Luke. It is a sobering, lonely film, about the tenacity of faith in what you find good and worthy, in spite of setbacks. There is no decisive victory (sorry I should have prefaced with spoilers.) A member of the Resistance, Finn, is even prevented from carrying out a glorious suicide mission.
It is now less than one year until Brexit and many of us are tired, disappointed, disheartened, and are losing our faith. It happened to me when I read this article in the Financial Times, setting out coolly and rationally why we cannot avert Brexit. There is no noticeable shift in public opinion. Labour, the main opposition party is pro Brexit and unlikely to change its mind. There is no political will to go back. The idea is now we should not try to stop Brexit but just try to make the best of it.
But now I know I was wrong in giving up my faith that Brexit can be stopped. This does not mean I am changing my mind about the likelihood that it will happen, or that I am no longer aware of all the factors that make it likely to happen. As the philosopher Ryan Preston-Roedder writes in his analysis of faith, faith requires risk. By having faith in someone or something, say, a teacher who has faith in a student who struggles or a social worker who has faith in a young delinquent, there is a real risk that our faith will be disappointed.
Faith is often seen as something that only happens in a religious context and also as insensitive to evidence (captured in the ableist phrase “blind faith”). But genuine faith, as Preston-Roedder explains, occurs in a wide variety of contexts: we can have faith in friends, in our family, and in the basic decency of humanity. Such faith is not unaware of obstacles, but we deliberately place a fundamental trust in others. This is risky, because the outcome is unsure, and thus requires courage. Giving up is easier than fighting for what we believe is right. Preston-Roedder gives multiple examples such as civil rights activists, Martin Luther King and others, who kept their faith in the basic moral decency of humanity.
What does faith mean for pro Remainers? It means believing that all is still to play for, that the will of the people is not immutable, and that the British people have not abandoned their virtues of openness, tolerance, and pragmatism. As a non British person I want to keep the faith in my fellow citizens here in the UK, both British and non British, that they will not want to harm the country at all costs, and that they are not bigoted people who want to stop free movement at all costs.
There are three chief reasons for having faith in Remain. First, by keeping faith we resist the tendency to uncritically adopt the government backed narrative, aided by a media blackout in the BBC of Pro EU marches, that people are over it and want Brexit. We know this is not true. As OFOC (Our Future, Our Choice) reminds us, the vast majority of young people are opposed to Brexit (pictured is William Dry, an OFOC activist who originally voted Leave). By losing our faith we give in to this psychological warfare.
Second, by having faith in the British people we resist being fragmented and we can build communities. Brexit has divided and destroyed a sense of community. It has pitted so-called liberal elites against authentic people with real concerns. It says that the interests of immigrants are fundamentally opposed to those of native born British. Having faith Brexit can be stopped or reversed resists this narrative. We refuse to play this game, which sets up Leave against Remain voters, or immigrants against native born British people. We all live here, or have an interest here, and the interests of our fellow human beings are also our interests.
Finally, faith has the power to transform. By believing in the moral decency of the British people, we can help to effect that change. Would Martin Luther King have accomplished what he did if he did not believe in the moral decency of white Americans? We can be wrong, we can be disappointed, of course, but we must try. When we paint all Leavers with a broad brush stroke as beyond reason and with bad spelling, we have forfeited the ability to change their hearts and minds.
This is not easy. Fortunately we are a community and when our spirits are low, others can help us keep the faith. I am grateful to fellow Remainers in restoring my faith. Doing this requires courage, a conscious and continued exertion of the will, and a conscious resistance against narratives that seek to divide us. Don’t give in to them, and don’t give up.