Saturday, November 28, 2009

Religion and trust

N = 8,866

N = 4,612

In What's So Great about Christianity?, Dinesh D'souza claims that religion makes people more trusting. Trust is an important ingredient in a well-functioning society. There's has been a lot of discussion in the Steveosphere about how diversity undermines trust in your neighbors, even among members of the same ethnic group.

The General Social Survey offers little evidence for D'souza's contention. In the top graph, you do get a little bump among people who attend church nearly every week or more frequently, but the lower graph on belief in a deity shows that those who know God exists are the least trusting category.

I'll have to look at it, but I doubt there is a positive cross-national correlation between religiosity and trust.

UPDATE: According to this study of 105 countries, religiosity is negatively correlated with trust.


  1. Anonymous6:57 AM

    Latin American countries, the Philippines and Sub-Saharan Africa are among the most religious countries in the world, but their trust levels are extremely low.
    On the other hand....I'm sure you know about the Nordic countries and Japan.

  2. Trust is dead.

    Handshakes are dead.

    A man's word is dead.

    Everything has to be on paper now and the culture of CYA in the corporacracy is disheartening.

    Pencil-necked auditors come by annually mousing around for each little incident you forgot to dot an "i" or cross a "t" so they can make it appear their existence is justified.

    If you are trustworthy in these times, it's such an oblique and unfamiliar trait that most won't even recognize it.

  3. generic operator3:05 PM

    Co-religionists are more trusting of each other, not of humans generally. This is even more likely to be true when the religion is part of a broader ethnicity.

  4. Anonymous8:24 AM

    Generic Operator, I think that you nailed it.

    My personal observation is that in cultures where there is a true belief in Hell or an equivalent as a possible afterlife, individuals with higher IQs are increasingly trustworthy. If one takes away either the belief in adverse consequences for action or the higher IQ, individuals become less trustworthy.

    Inductivist, thanks for a good article. I think, however, that it's not an issue of whether religion makes one trust others more, but rather an issue of whether or not religion makes one more trustworthy.

  5. This Universe7:15 PM

    Does Dinesh D’Souza live in an alternate universe where everyone belongs to the same religion? (Presumably Christianity, and Roman Catholicism at that.) At best, religion might increase trust among fellow coreligionists; but even then it decreases trust for people of other religions. So on net, there is a decrease of trust. Alas, as evidence from societies that are fairly homogenous with respect to religion indicates, religion probably doesn’t increase trust even among fellow coreligionists.

  6. Satan7:25 PM

    I pray to god that this D’Souza tool is correct. If he is, then the title of his book should have been What’s So Great About Christianity - For Non-Christians.

  7. silly girl12:37 PM

    Religious folks still trust one another more than they trust atheists. This study shows that the religious trust other religious folks much more than they trust atheists.

  8. In the religion's field the confidence is called faith. Faith is something more than trust. Indeed faith includes the reason. Faith is also an act of will. The classical example of faith is given by the prophet Abraham whose trust in his God was so great that he did not esitate to sacrifice his son Isac. Nevertheless Abraham well knew that God in someway would intervene for saving his son. So faith is not a blind trust, but also reason.
    The book I have recently written may help in this direction and I want to draw it to your attention, as you may be interested in it. Its titile is "Travels of the mind" and it is available at
    If you have any question I am most willing to discuss about this topic.
    Ettore Grillo

  9. Unfortunately, I think many people hold the view of 'This Universe' that religions are simply factions and fail to see the link between religion and psychology.

    There is view of religion as it relates to psychology, specifically prayer and meditation. There is more and more scientific research being done in this area.

    The truth is that the mind is software. The activities of the mind can be trained and altered as new neurological pathways are created. Prayer and meditation are tools that have been used for thousands of years to allow for 'self-programming', often to program qualities such as compassion, generosity, acceptance, patience, trust, and openness.

    When you look at this question of religion and trust, don't forget to look at the direct causal link between prayer/meditation and positive human psychology. I believe that religious people directly alter their minds through their own actions - using the neurological power of prayer and meditation.

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