Only an optimist could describe ours as a “culture of trust.” Google that phrase and you will turn up a dozen disciplines where the subject is being addressed. Books abound representing disciplines from corporate management, organizational development, real estate development, health care and social psychology to international relations, information technology, financial management and product quality control. Theologian Martin Marty has joined the discussion, proposing ways to improve the level of trust between religion and other disciplines, especially science and politics. Marty wants religionists, scientists, and politicians to develop habits of honesty and risk-taking in their relationships, leading to ongoing conversations. Typical of Marty’s writing, his is a scholarly approach to the issues he addresses.
He examines seven areas where risk and trust meet: What it means to build “cultures of trust; scripted resources; humanistic reflections; correcting “category mistakes”; conversation and “what it means to be human;” where science and religion meet in public life; how to build cultures of trust: relating science, religion, and public life. Marty is concerned that spokespersons for these disciplines are focused more on debate than conversation, on scoring points than building trusting relationships. Conversation implies that each side will listen to the other, respond to the other, and come to understand more about the other, without an expectation that either will dominate.
Without trust there is little basis for a relationship of integrity, but building trust involves a willingness to risk. He observes:
“In the mind and heart and gut of anyone who bids for trust, then, calculating risk is a key element, whether extending or receiving trust. If the future were known, there would be no need for trust – or risk.”
Since the future is not known, and in a sense is being constructed as various elements of the society interact, risk-taking is essential to moving forward together, a process of “building cultures of trust.” It is significant that the noun is plural since a complex society consists of many cultures existing symbiotically in a context where trust is not a luxury but an essential element of existence.
In a concluding dialogue between the author and a skeptical reader, the author asks, “What is the alternative?” … “Are we better off when [we] are isolated from each other, hostile to each other, indifferent to one another? … Are paths of cynicism, arrogance, exclusion, or apathy better than trying to build cultures of trust?”
Marty chooses the risk of building cultures of trust throughout the society. Is that a utopian dream or is it a roadmap to the future?
John C. Bush is a retired minister member of North Alabama Presbytery and currently is interim pastor at Fellowship Church, Huntsville, Ala. He is author, editor, or contributor to six books, including Interchurch Families, published by Westminster John Knox.