I want you to offer you a choice between two worlds.
In the first, most people believe that democratic government is a sham, and that the real power is raw, brute force, the well-equipped and trained mercenaries doing the bidding of the power elite. Since it is much cheaper and easier to control people through deception, however, there is the window-dressing of democratic elections and representative government, all aimed at keeping the populace distracted and either content (with their token representation) or resigned to their powerlessness (either because they think they have lost the democratic process fair and square, or because they perceive that they can do nothing against the power elites). Since democracy and the rule of law are shams, almost no one bothers to try to call attention to the powerful and those few who do find it difficult to motivate anyone to do anything, because everyone knows they have no power and can do nothing.
In the second, most people believe in democratic government and the rule of law. Fundamental to these ideals is the power of reason, of persuasion, of discourse. If there is a conflict, people expect to resolve it by reasoned argument with reference to "rights", by negotiation rather than violence. They obey the law because they believe that's what decent people do, and when people don't, they expect something to be done about it. Moreover, they obey the law because they trust that if the law turns out to be unjust, they can change it through the democratic process or the courts. While there is corruption and abuse of power in this world, the corrupt need to be especially careful and discreet, because they cannot rely on apathy or despair to keep anyone from doing anything about it.
People in both worlds are not especially stupid. They both see their own world pretty much the way it is. In the first world, most people really are powerless and there is really is no point to political engagement and reasoned argument. In the second world, most people really do have some power if they are politically engaged with reasoned arguments.
Which world do you think we actually live in? If you like to think of yourself as a cynic, a realist, wise, mature, experienced, and so on, you probably think we live in the first. And objectively, you're probably right. It probably is naïvely idealistic to think we actually live in the second.
But which would would you rather live in? I don't think there's really much controversy here. The second sounds much more appealing, which is perhaps why it seems so unrealistic. Sure, we might want to live in a world of fair elections and responsible government, but isn't that just a pipe dream?
Well, here's the thing to notice. The only difference between the two worlds is that in one, most people believe it's one way, while in the other, most people believe the opposite. All of the actual, tangible differences between the way the two worlds operate derive from those different perceptions. If most of us believe and act as if we are living in the first, then we really are in the first; if most of us believe and act as if we are living in the second, then we really are in the second. Your belief, therefore, is actually a kind of a vote.
Now, I've often argued here that belief is not simply a question of choice. I believe something to be true not because I want it to be true, but because it appears to be so regardless of what I want. Moreover, I hold that it is preferable to believe the truth than a more palatable lie, so if we are in fact living in the first world and not the second, it is absolutely better to be aware of that objective fact than to deny it.
This is where faith comes in. As I've also argued before, faith and belief are not the same thing at all. You may well believe we live in the first world. But you can "vote" for the second, as it were, by acting as if you believe that's where we live. Engage in the political process, even if you're sure it's a total sham, and assert your constitutional rights as if you expect them to be respected, even if they won't. Provide intelligent, reasoned discourse as if you expect people to take it seriously and think about it, even if you privately believe they won't.
It's exactly like voting, in that we will only succeed if enough other people do the same, and there's a very good chance that our effort will be in vain and we'll lose the election. Our chances are better if we persuade others to join us, and that is what I'm trying to do here. Make that leap of faith, and vote for democracy, even if you don't actually believe it exists.