0 Liked

Why We Trust Others

Due to time restraints caused by my moving out-of-state, Skeptical Faith for the next few weeks will be, as they say in show biz, “encore presentations.” This one was published in 2021.

Some conservatives wouldn’t be caught dead reading the New York Times. Some liberals wouldn’t watch Fox News if their lives depended on it.

More and more, we seem to be caught in a morass of conflict, seemingly arising from seeing the same reality in two startlingly different ways. And a lot of it, I believe, has to do with a lack of trust, which is both the cause and effect of the conflict.

And it’s not just in politics. The lack of trust is present in families, churches, businesses, the military, the police – in virtually every sector of life. We increasingly judge each other according to our wildly different perceptions of reality.

How We Feel

David Brooks, the New York Times columnist who was considered a conservative until the Trump era, believes it’s not so much a matter of what we think we know as how we feel, arising from an irrational distrust of one another.

“The collapse of trust, the rise of animosity — these are emotional, not intellectual problems,” he wrote in a recent column. “The real problem is in our system of producing shared stories. If a country can’t tell narratives in which everybody finds an honorable place, then righteous rage will drive people toward tribal narratives that tear it apart.”

Say what you will about sharing narratives and stories, and shared political ideologies, I believe contemporaries’ indifference toward God and religion, and the consequent absence of hope, is partly to blame.

What makes us trust each other? I think it’s something that many people would believe is the ultimate naiveté about human beings – that we’re basically good. And flowing from that is another fantastically optimistic view that is an alternative to the doom and gloom that many see as humanity’s future – the ultimate triumph of good over evil.

Ways of Seeing the World

Both of these views are traditionally religious ways of seeing the world that are alternatives to one that views human life as an absurdity, one that says we struggle through a meaningless rat race in a cold, indifferent universe, facing oblivion at the end.  

In his book, “What’s the Point of Christianity,” British theologian Timothy Radcliffe tells of his first visit to the museum at Auschwitz, the famous concentration camp of Nazi Germany. He notes that the place was filled by young people from around the world who had made a pilgrimage there to remember the camp’s victims.

Visiting a place like Auschwitz, he writes, “is a pilgrimage that places the greatest challenge to our hoping.

“The Church was born in a crisis of hope.” (“But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel,” said the disciples to an unrecognized Jesus on the road to Emmaus.) “Crises are (our specialty). They rejuvenate us. The one that we are living through now is very small.”

Radcliffe also recalls the gospel story of Jesus, appearing to be weak and vulnerable, before Pontius Pilate, who asked Jesus, “Do you not know that I have the power to release you, and the power to crucify you?” It reminded Radcliffe of the more modern version of Pilate, Josef Stalin, who cynically asked, “The Pope? How many divisions does he have?”

Little More Than a Footnote

Ironically, Pontius Pilate is little more than a footnote in history, and Stalin is now considered to be a god in the pantheon of evil dictators. Jesus is considered by billions to be the Savior of mankind.

In the absence of the hope provided by religious belief, we are prisoners of a world dominated by the quest for stuff, power and prestige. In such a world, why would we trust others – especially those others who see the world in a light different from ours?

Radcliffe quotes Vaclav Havel, playwright and former president of the Czech Republic, who said, “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it will turn out.”

Jesus, he writes, represents “the ultimate and unimaginable victory of meaning.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email