Lesson 14: Trust

I decided to do this series when so many of my friends were in a quandary about talking to people on the other side of our deep cultural divide. Many could find no way to have decent conversations with lifetime time friends or family. All were worried about their inability to talk about community issues in any kind of reasonable, calm manner.

For at least five months, I have been reading and watching all sorts of stuff from both sides. I was expecting to come up with some creative examples of breakthroughs. I found none. Instead, I consistently encountered both sides accusing the other of the same thing. Both claimed the other was motivated by big money, practiced violence, and told lies. Both latched on to extreme statements from the other side to prove their points. Both felt the other side was out to get them. Both insisted there was nothing to be gained with conversation because the other side simply followed the party line and had no ideas or arguments. Every time I thought I had found an exception, I was soon disappointed.

For example, I followed Robert George, the respected conservative Princeton professor known as the Roman Catholic authority on natural law. He argues all of us should be willing to engage with “reasonable people of good will” on all issues as long as there are acceptable recognized boundaries. He practices this by holding many public debates with Cornell West, a well known progressive.

However, every lecture I read that he delivered to Roman Catholic groups does not take this approach. He describes progressives operating with a secular liberal political philosophy that is at bottom pagan. Even though he claims this is a technical term with roots in a group from the Roman Empire, he refuses to recognize anyone in that camp as Christian. When identifying this opposition, he frequently mentions, without any kind of qualification, people whose programs include abortion, gay rights, climate control, and race theories. His talks often conclude with statements about these people coming to get us so “we Catholics must fight for what we believe.”

My experience leads me to think our basic problem is trust. Words from Sissela Bok’s Lying fairly jump out. She writes, when we think of trust, we think “that you will treat me fairly, that you will have my interests at heart, that you will do me no harm. … Whatever matters to human beings, trust is the atmosphere in which it happens…. Trust in some degree of veracity functions as a foundation of relations among human beings: when this trust shatters or wears away, institutions collapse.” Sadly, this seems to be what is happening.

Many leaders in technology studies have warned about this development for several decades. They have charted a loss of trust with the rise of technology, often citing The World Values Survey that reports the number of people who say that they trust others has fallen from 55 percent in 1960 to 35 percent in 2000.

The question becomes if and how it is possible to restore any kind of trust between people on opposite sides of our cultural divide. My son and I addressed this issue in our book. Faith, Hope, and Love in the Technological Society. We had hope that local Christian communities could provide an environment in which people could again trust one another. I still think that is possible, however, things have certainly gotten worse in the larger church. And at least in the present time, I see nothing happening in our society.

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  1. Kerry says:

    I really think you’ve put your finger on something important here. At one time – and, I suppose, to a certain extent still – I believed, along with Proverbs, that the people perish without a vision that unifies them into an organic whole. But I now realize that the ideal unity is one that embraces wide diversity, and that this kind of unity is impossible without trust. So, without trust a people perish.

    I’m guessing that the “my group vs your group” tension is endemic to humanity; to one degree or another, I establish my identity in opposition to yours. But there surely has to be a more irenic way for this to happen than what’s playing out now. It’s curious and disheartening that the media which we once thought would bring the world’s people closer together has created so much disharmonious fracturing. Like you, Fritz, I don’t see things improving in the near future.


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