The three words, trust, faith and belief are very closely linked but in the twenty-first century are beginning to seem far apart. To have ‘faith in’ and ‘to trust’ clearly are almost interchangeable. Likewise ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ might be assumed to be synonyms.
But ‘belief’ has been going through a remarkable change over recent years. Not just in what people believe but what believing means. Sociologists have measured belief by counting attendance at religious events, like service at churches or prayers at mosques. But Grace Davie towards the end of the last century identified the phenomenon of ‘believing without belonging’. People were not going to Church but still said that they believed in God or said they were Christian when asked in the national census. Other scholars began to talk about ‘belonging with believing’ pointing variety of beliefs amongst those who attended worship. Quakers are one of the prime examples of a worshipping community with a very wide spectrum of beliefs, including a significant number who profess not to believe in ‘God’.
One of the disturbing discoveries for sociologists is that respondents to questionnaires give the same answer to questions but mean different things. This is particularly true about questions of belief. Also, some respondents will give different answers to the same question depending on who they think is asking! This is revealed when respondents are interviewed in depth. One study I read recently explored how it was that people declared themselves to be Christian yet were quite explicit about their lack of belief and non-attendance at worship. ‘Christian’ for them meant being ‘English’ or ‘White’, because it is the dominant culture of the country.
Part of the problem is that sometimes ‘belief’ is understood as agreeing with statements, this is ‘propositional belief’, which is quite different from the belief which is ‘in’ a person, and expressed through relationships. So for example, ‘I believe that God exists’ is different from ‘I trust in God’. The former may think that God made the universe and then has left it to its own devices. Whereas the latter may have a close personal experience and relationship with ‘God’.
Another problem is that ‘God’ means so many different things to different people. ‘Force’, ‘Love’, ‘Divine’, ‘Meaning and Purpose’, ‘Spirit’ are just a few of the possible interpretations of the word. What is intriguing is that though fewer people express a ‘belief’ in ‘God’ many people say they ‘believe’ in spirits, ghosts, fate, angels, and so on.
Believing in people, especially those close to you, family and friends, is one of the common expressions of belief. Which brings us back to ‘trust’.
Whom do you trust? Do you trust in ‘God’ or whatever you call it? Do you trust in yourself?
I am a ‘Trustee’ carrying the trust of Local Quakers, in both a legal and community sense. So it is important that I am both trustworthy and faithful.