Our personal histories, like History itself, are full of examples of misplaced trust. Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, trusted “Herr Hitler”. Native Americans thought they could trust the treaties signed by the white invaders. Americans thought they could trust Richard Nixon but Watergate proved that he was a crook after all. It remains to be seen whether the people who voted for Trump will continue to trust him.
You and I trusted that salesman who turned out to be a “confidence man”. Parents think they can trust their children but are sometimes sadly disappointed. Parishioners presume they can trust their priests, but too often discover that the “men of God” to whom they had entrusted their children had criminally, sexually, betrayed that trust.
Often we are obliged to trust without solid reasons for doing so, but without trust society cannot function. Paper money is itself worthless. Its value comes from the trust that people put into it as recognized, legal tender; Hariri in “Sapiens” said that “money is the most universal and the most efficient system of mutual trust ever devised”. We are fortunate indeed if everyone in our family and our closest friends are genuinely trust-worthy. Do they all trust us ?
Dwight Eisenhower added to the quotations on the dollar-bill a statement he hoped all Americans believed : “In God we trust”. It was self-evident to him and to the majority of his compatriots, who never question whether such trust is justified. If we have learned from experience to be prudent in trusting our fellowman, and parsimonious in according our trust to people who have not already proven they deserve that trust, it makes sense to me to ask why we should trust God. For the atheist, the question is, of course, meaningless. But for the atheist it remains a mystery as to how believers, for whom His existence is beyond question, can so readily and automatically put their trust in Him.
On the face of it, if God is in fact the God of love and justice in whom they profess to believe, if they not only believe that God exists but proclaim that they believe IN Him (“Credo IN unum deum”), one would expect that they have learned from experience that He can be trusted. For many, the “experience” is, at best, vicarious, not personal. OTHER people claim to have had their prayers answered, their illness cured, their financial burdens lightened, their ambitions for themselves and their children realized. Many are less fortunate and have to resign themselves to not having their prayers answered and their legitimate needs and desires met. And yet they continue to trust a God so absent and apparently indifferent that atheists consider the only explanation is that He does not exist, except in the fantasies and wishful thinking of the believer. The supreme mystery for the atheist is to understand how believers can trust what their holy books tell them about the afterlife promised them when they die. In spite of dungeon, fire, sword and often excruciating, lengthy terminal illness – and a total lack of evidence – believers allow themselves to be conned into the least trustworthy of religious illusions : pie in the sky when you die. This is blind, irrational trust, blind faith and blind folly.