Trust and Faith

One of the most important components of social life is trust. Trust is the basis of human relationships. It is the expectation that people will do what they say they will do, the belief that people are basically honest. Trust is the expectation that people will take into account your interests as they make their decisions, that they are not self-centred.

In her seminal book, Trust in Modern Societies, Barbara Misztal sees trust as a dimension of the view that people have of the society in which they live. It is a belief that the social world is stable. At the same time, the building of trust can be a strategy for securing the stability of the social order (Misztal 1996, p.11). It is interesting to note that the level of trust in society is seen by the United Nations Human Development Programme as one of the measures by which societies should be evaluated.

Because people tend to trust others who are like themselves, there is a tendency for people to distrust foreigners or people from different backgrounds (Misztal 1996, p.192). Australia is a highly diverse and multicultural community and it might be expected that the diversity would contribute to lower levels of trust than would be found in more homogeneous societies.

As the psychologist, Erik Erikson (1950), pointed out, the development of trust begins with the early experiences of human beings. As a baby finds that it can trust its parents to fulfil its needs within its first year of life, so an attitude of trusting the world develops. Erikson argues that the failure to develop that trust results in fear and a belief that the world is inconsistent and unpredictable. However, trust does vary according to one’s situation after those early childhood years. To some extent, it has to do with one’s control over one’s situation. Those people who have most control generally feel the most secure and have the highest levels of trust.

It has been noted that, internationally, the level of religiosity is negatively related to trust. However, in Australia religious faith in general, and involvement in religious communities in particular, correlates positively with trust. Indeed, regression analysis shows that the frequency of attendance at religious services is the second most important variable in determining a person’s level of general social trust and accounts for about 10 per cent of the variation in people’s levels of trust, over and above the 24 per cent that is accounted for by education.

However, the level of church involvement has a much greater impact than one’s confidence in belief in God or than one’s particular beliefs. It would appear that, in general, the experience of church attendance contributes to people experiencing a community that is trustworthy and supportive, and this experience helps people to trust others in the wider community.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 24, No. 2, Pages 5-8

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