David Brooks’s essay in The Atlantic, “America is Having a Moral Convulsion,” describes America as a far less trusting society than it was twenty-five years ago. As I think about my own sense of trust in government, institutions and media, I have to agree with him.
Politicians of both parties are more interested in re-election than in doing what is best for the people they pretend to serve. Businesses are all about their bottom lines. I recently watched The Social Dilemma, which I would recommend, and it reinforced the need to limit and be careful with how we interact with social media. Speaking of media, in pursuit of larger audiences, newspapers are more polarized than they have ever been. None of that inspires trust.
Social trust is a measure of the moral quality of a society—of whether the people and institutions in it are trustworthy, whether they keep their promises and work for the common good. When people in a church lose faith or trust in God, the church collapses. When people in a society lose faith or trust in their institutions and in each other, the nation collapses.David Brooks in “America is Having a Moral Convulsion”
Brooks paints a sobering picture of decline from the upbeat 90s, when walls were coming down and economies were stable, to today’s culture of fear, weariness and a loss of financial, social and emotional security. Society has degenerated into an age of disappointment.
Millennials and members of Gen Z have grown up in the age of that disappointment, knowing nothing else. In the U.S. and elsewhere, this has produced a crisis of faith, across society but especially among the young. It has produced a crisis of trust.David Brooks in “America is Having a Moral Convulsion“
There is much more interesting content in this article, and I encourage you to read it, but as you might expect, I’d like to focus on trust; faith.
Trust is defined as confidence in an individual’s or institution’s moral integrity. In other words, we have faith that folks will do as they promise, do the right thing. Of course, everyone has their own ideas of what the right thing is, but if we trust that the individual has the integrity to do what he or she honestly feels is best, we tend to trust them. Faith is defined similarly with an emphasis on religious belief.
I trust the people I know, who have proven by their actions that they mean what they say. It’s more difficult to trust people I don’t know, whose actions have not lived up to their words or who have proven their motives to be selfish. Every human being is capable of deceit, selfishness, cheating and the like, and we are all guilty of those and other failures, but they are not the norm for the people I trust.
National, state and local governments and institutions are another matter. It’s possible they are no worse than usual, but we now have access to more information – true, false and in between – about everything and everyone, and whether we realize it or not, it sows distrust, which breeds more distrust.
Brooks says that Americans, particularly young Americans, are seeking security – financial, emotional and social – in a society that they cannot trust. It is understandable. They grew up in the days after 9/11 and have also experienced financial crises, a pandemic and the rise of social media. Those events have been trust and security crushers.
Brooks sees different values in the young of today:
The culture that is emerging, and which will dominate American life over the next decades, is a response to a prevailing sense of threat. This new culture values security over liberation, equality over freedom, the collective over the individual.
Ironically, we look for security largely from government, the leaders of which we do not trust. I suspect that this will lead to more disappointment. Brooks is correct when he says that the “stench of national decline is in the air.”
As you might expect, I propose a far better way to find security and liberation, equality and freedom, the collective and the individual. When we seek these things in Jesus Christ, we will find them.
The New Testament was written during a time of Roman authority and when Christians had little to no power. Some of them had wealth, others didn’t. Early Christians were slaves and free, some of them were Jews and others were Gentiles, which was a massive division in the culture at the time. The only One bringing them together, as they met in homes across Asia, was Jesus Christ.
Paul, writing to the Galatians, said:
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28
We are all equal in the eyes of Jesus. If we are looking for security, equality and community, there is no better place to find those things than in his Church.
Most people do not think of the church as a place in which security can be found. That is sad, and in some instances true, however there are many churches in which security, equality and a focus on the collective are abounding. I’m absolutely sure that there are many, many accounts of God’s interactions with communities of faith in which he has provided financial, social or emotional security, but those stories don’t make the news. Transformation of an individual’s heart is a process and it’s difficult to communicate. The larger culture has no idea.
As I connect these cultural dots to God, I’m actually encouraged. God sees it all. He knows our circumstances and our challenges. He is leading his people according to his purpose and is working to bring about his kingdom. It may mean difficulty for us, as I suspect it will, but I wonder if our cultural security and prosperity has created a dependence on wealth instead of God, on human power instead of relying on heavenly power. In other words, idolatry.
This is an opportunity for each one of us to evaluate who we are trusting for our security. Ourselves? Family? Government? Wealth?
If there’s anything the events of the last twenty years have taught us, it’s that disaster can strike any time, as 9/11 proved, financial collapse is a possibility, as the recession of 2008 demonstrated, and that world wide pandemics can and do happen. Yes, government and institutions have an important role to play in providing security, and we should be thankful for them. Ultimately, however, it is only God on whom we can fully depend for our security.
Security will not always look as we’d like it to; we won’t all be healthy or wealthy. But God has promised to give us what we need, and I know that he very often gives us blessing upon blessing, more than we thought to ask for. He is a gracious and generous God.
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:31-33
The security that God offers goes beyond financial, social and emotional security in this life to eternal security. We will one day live with God in a new earth in which we will fully know who we are, where we will relate to others without the damage and complications of insecurity, deceit and pride, and where we will all have exactly what we need without financial stress.
That is security. God gives it today and forever to those who trust Him.