I went walking in the Chess Valley at the weekend, enjoying some glorious views on a 10 mile hike from Chorleywood to Chesham. I particularly liked this view on the slopes above Latimer.
A few steps further on along the footpath, sheltering from the sun beneath a canopy of trees, I stumbled upon a large group of youths. They might have wandered in from the adjacent country house hotel, but they had a snappy staffie with them so it was more likely they were from the local village. There were enough of them to form a football team. A few were wearing a soccer jersey. I wondered how they'd react as I walked by.
The closest lad stopped chatting as I approached, turned to face me, and said "It's coming home!"
He actually means that, I thought. He genuinely thinks it is.
The tone of his voice was confident and smiley. He'd clearly been discussing the football with his mates before I arrived. He also felt certain enough in his beliefs that he could turn to a complete stranger walking by, make explicit his view of the future and expect them to agree too. I gave a brief response which must have sounded like I agreed, because I got a matey laugh in reply, but was in fact carefully judged to be utterly neutral. And I thought to myself, wow, what must it be like to have that level of belief in a process entirely beyond one's control.
I don't do belief. I've had every chance over the years, but I cannot place blind faith in something which might turn out to be entirely incorrect.
I could have believed in God. I got taken to church every week as a child, and got to experience all kinds of worship as a member of the choir. There was enough religion at school too, it being the default part of every assembly and the focus of a regular lesson every week. But I don't ever remember being convinced that the big invisible deity in the sky ever existed. My parents were good at leaving me to make up my own mind, and my own mind said don't believe, because I don't do belief.
I could have believed in politics. A lot of people get swept up, to left or right, and believe there's only one true way of doing things. They know their position, they know how they want their country to be, and they have unshakeable faith in how best to get there. I should make clear that most supporters of political parties are pragmatists, as are most politicians, willing to give or take according to debate. But fervent supporters plough their furrow no matter what the facts, and cannot be turned, and that's not me, because I don't do belief.
I could have believed in football. I latched onto a team aged six, and sort of followed them, but never took it as seriously as I could. I liked it if they won, but I didn't punch the sky if they won big, and I didn't feel despair if they lost. I worked out at an early age that my support wasn't going to make a blind bit of difference to whether my team won or not, that shouting at the TV was pointless, and that my life didn't end if results went the wrong way. I had every opportunity, but I never made football my credo, because I don't do belief.
In particular, I have never believed in my national team. I smile if they win, but I never expect them to be successful just because of who they are. I cannot tie my state of happiness to the one-off performance of a bunch of men solely because they happen to represent the country I live in. I am never 100% certain of the result before kick-off. I do not wake up on match days thinking "we are going to absolutely smash them". Football may be coming home, but I don't believe in my heart that it must.
To be clear, I'm not entirely indifferent about all of these things. To be even clearer, I'm not saying I don't do hope. I hope that all sorts of things will happen, and I suspect you do too. I hope that certain teams will win, that certain political ideas will be successful, that the future will be a better place, even that the weather will be nice. But I can never bring myself to move up the scale into the box marked blind faith, because I don't do belief.
I like evidence. I can be swayed by an argument. I understand cause and effect. I know things aren't necessarily going to go the way I prefer just because I want them to. I'd say it stands to reason, but those who believe don't need a reason, they just believe.
I also have a grasp of probability, so I know there's a decent chance any football match could swing either way. It's fantastic that we've reached the semi finals of the World Cup, but to win the trophy we still have to win two more matches, and that's no dead cert. It's a bit like having to flip a coin twice and getting heads both times, which is a long way from impossible, but still less likely to happen than not. And yet some people reckon England's coin is heavily biased and should always come up heads, and they're the ones who believe.
I sometimes wonder if my life would be easier if I believed. A God who loves me for who I am. Brexit delivered no matter what the consequences. A devotion to anything Jeremy Corbyn suggests. Certainty that anyone who isn't white and British is a lesser being. And a national football team I could blindly follow to the ends of the earth, the right to victory guaranteed.
I have a theory that society is shaped, and democracies swung, by people who believe. But I'm more than happy not to be one of them.