Here’s a little side-issue that came out of reviewing D’Souza yesterday: faith and trust. A lot of religious rhetoric uses these words in one of two ways: (1) Even atheists have these things or (2) Religion allows you to have these things, atheism doesn’t. These appeals seem to target something fairly deep, because they tie in with something that goes beyond religion. How many times have you heard a movie character say “you have to trust me” or give some other paean to trust? Then there’s all the talk in politics about the need to have faith in our institutions.
It can seem fluffy, but I’m convinced that there’s a legitimate reason for some of this: the value of trust is actually measurable. One of the excellent lessons contained in the book _The White Man’s Burden_ is that in poor countries, lack of trust is often a barrier to economic development. People only want to do business with those they know well. With strangers, they’ll at most do small transactions and only slowly build up, over many deals, to the point where they trust people for large things. This obviously will make for much slower economic development than the situation in America, where you can hire a stranger to drop you out of a plane (among other things) and trust that you won’t die.
Cultivating trust, then, is a genuinely worthwhile goal. The problem with the religious version is that trust has to have a rational basis. Magically increasing people’s trust in each other in Afghanistan or Zimbabwe won’t magically make their economies work smoother, because those countries have problems which keep trust of strangers from being as warranted as it is in countries with well-functioning free markets.
Broad lesson: When preaching the need for good things, don’t let the warm-fuzzy word get detached from the original thing you value.