Trust – Facing Extinction
Is there commonality between the various items of bad, even frightening news, that daily inflict our senses domestically and internationally? Conversely, is there a theme that runs through the occasional glimpses of sunlight with which we are blessed if we know where to look?
I suggest the theme is trust, or more specifically its absence, in the rise and rise of personal or national self-interest, falsely masquerading as security and wellbeing– religious, ethnic, political, or economic.
Trust is a precious commodity; with it all manner of things are possible. In its absence little is possible. Trust expands horizons; its absence shrinks life’s experiences, reducing existence to tiny platforms over which individuals, communities, or nations seek to exercise total control.
We are born with a considerable capacity for trust. Growth in formative years depends on it. However, trust betrayed reduces this capacity and shuts down what should have been an expanding life.
From time to time we have all acted in ways that diminish trust, but equally, in generosity of spirit, we all possess the capacity to build or rebuild trust.
No one in a position of authority can effectively empower those for whom they have been entrusted with responsibility unless they are themselves trusted.
Scott Morrisonʹs sermon at Margaret Court’s Church in WA a few weeks ago was quite shocking. He said we should not trust governments (by implication we should not trust institutions), especially we should not trust the United Nations. We can only trust God.
Trust in God is common to all people of faith, regardless of the religion they follow. For Christians it is founded in belief that God is never other than what we have come to know and experience in Jesus. God serves us and the whole created order with a towel and bowl of water. Christians do not trust that nothing ill will befall us, but that love will nourish us. Further, because Christian belief is incarnational, we believe any trait or character that undergirds relationship with God should also characterise all other relationships. (If you do not love your sister/brother whom you have seen, how can you love God whom you have not seen.) However imperfect, no human relationship is possible without trust.
For governments to govern they require trustful cooperation from citizenry. That the Morrison government was not trusted is now a sad fact of history, leaving the incoming government with the responsibility of restoring trust, a more challenging goal than seeking to pass any single piece of legislation.
Greg Sheridan’s defence of Morrisonʹs sermon was flawed. In his article: ̋Lost in the Secular Desert ", (Australian 22-24 July) he argued criticism of Morrison was an ill directed secular attack on a legitimate expression of Christian belief. Not so. Morrisonʹs speech was not a legitimate expression of Christian belief. To encourage lack of trust in governmental institutions was wrong. Consciously or unconsciously, the sermon may have been an attempt to justify his own, largely discredited, government. In human affairs it must always be the case that legitimate instruments of governance are trusted. The alternative is anarchy.
Sheridan was also in error in not giving sufficient weight to the numerous ways in which sectional Christian voices have undermined validity that might otherwise be given to a Christian voice in contemporary public life. (Sydney Anglican denial of legitimacy to same sex unions, the Catholic Church’s plenary council initial deafness to the voice of women, Hillsong controversy, being recent examples).
Morrison’s reference to the United Nations was also deeply troubling. It is true that the United Nations is no more effective than its constituent members allow. It has been undermined by the self-interest of many nations including Australia. But global challenges are increasing the necessity of mechanisms to deal with issues that are well beyond the capacity of single (or even groups of nations) to address on their own. Many on the religious and political right deride the UN, depicting it as a non-elected power, seeking world domination. This conspiracy theory carries weight in fundamentalist Churches whose sympathetic ear Morrison was presumably addressing. In agencies of the UN that deal with human rights, health, global poverty, and the environment, we need more trust, not less.
The two greatest existential threats to the planet are, as they have been for decades, nuclear and environmental catastrophe.
Apparently nine nations collectively hold about 14,000 nuclear weapons. Given most global tensions involve one or more nations in possession of these weapons, monumental consequences must make their utility unthinkable. Even amongst foes, channels of communication must remain open and sufficient trust exist that will ensure accident or pre-emptive strike do not occur. In this context, it is difficult to understand what contribution was made towards trust and openness by Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei. Australia is not without guilt in the lack of trust that currently exists between us and China. In matters of less weight, laughing about sea rise did little to engender trust with pacific nations and bugging East Timor for financial gain did little to build trust with our poorest neighbour.
On the environmental front the situation could not be more dire, or the way out more clear. At ground zero trust is essential. Trust in the science. Trust in effective policies. Trust that we can turn around and eventually reverse post-industrial revolution harm.
Notwithstanding the defiant rumbling of a small conservative rump, the vast majority now understand a stable and liveable planet is not just a pious ideal, it is in fact mutual self-interest. No one nation, let alone a single individual, can make much difference. We must act, trusting our actions will galvanise others.
The future of the planet will not survive the continuing pursuit of aggressive and at times cynical self-interest. True leadership forges alliances across difference. Alliances offering mutuality are held together by trust.