Trust vs. Faith - what's the difference?
April 28, 2009 11:35 AM   Subscribe

What is the difference between trust and faith? Long setup, but non-chatty purpose, I promise =)

Hi MeFi's,
I have come to a crossroads in life. After 27 years of life, I'm having trouble differentiating between trust and faith.

About this anonymous poster: 27 years old, male, straight, in a steady relationship, currently agnostic but was raised in a Christian household. Physically / mentally / emotionally stable, not on any medications except the occasional aspirin.

OK, I trust people. I typically trust the news and most factual / scientific sources of information. I sometimes trust my bosses. I completely trust my girlfriend of a long time. I feel as though I have no **faith** in any of the aforementioned.

When I was a child I was raised in the Christian faith; that continued until I went to college, where I went to church of my own accord. After graduating, I stopped going to church of any kind, and didn't really miss it. I call myself agnostic because I don't feel I have faith in someone / something....

I see trust as a process, earned by the typical give-and-take in whatever form a relationship between X and Y may take. Past performances are some guarantee of future results, in other words. I see faith as being in something of sight unseen, to use a Biblical quote. Faith hasn't yet built a reputation like 'trust' has; one must believe in order to see its benefits..

I can trust, but I can't have faith. Is there something wrong with me? How do I have faith in something / someone? It's certainly not that I don't want to, it's that I wish Faith had some guidance to go on.

Throwaway e-mail address at

(Anonymous because I'd rather not have this question linked with my account. I have friends on MeFi that might raise some very uncomfortable questions... K thx)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I can trust, but I can't have faith. Is there something wrong with me?


Like you say, trust is something you come to after a long process of give-and-take. You can think of this as just an advanced form of pattern recognition. Faith is something completely different. It involves believing a thing with no supporting evidence. Do not despair because you are rational.
posted by fritley at 11:45 AM on April 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

Trust is earned, faith is given.

One is a fact, the other's believin'.
posted by Aquaman at 11:55 AM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you are on the right track and are living life with eyes open. You may not be perfect, you may not make all the right judgments all the time, but you're doing the best you can. There is no problem to be solved.
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:00 PM on April 28, 2009

Faith is not necessarily tied to a religious system. I have faith in my boyfriend - I trust him. I have faith that my dog will not bite me. I have faith that I will wake up tomorrow.

Main Entry: faith
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s):
plural faiths Listen to the pronunciation of faiths \ˈfāths, sometimes ˈfāthz\
Middle English feith, from Anglo-French feid, fei, from Latin fides; akin to Latin fidere to trust — more at bide
Date: 13th century

1 a: allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty b (1): fidelity to one's promises (2): sincerity of intentions2 a (1): belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2): belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b (1): firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2): complete trust3: something that is believed especially with strong conviction ; especially : a system of religious beliefs
synonyms see belief
— on faith
: without question

Main Entry: faith
Function: transitive verb
Date: 15th century
archaic : believe, trust

posted by routergirl at 12:09 PM on April 28, 2009

No, there is nothing wrong with you.

I subscribe to the Anne Lamott definition of faith. As in, faith is not certainty. Faith is moving forward EVEN THOUGH you don't have certainty.

My definition of trust is my belief in someone else's honesty or reliability. I relate certainty to trust more than I relate certainty to faith.

These are my own interpretations, and not Mirriam-Webster's. YMMV.
posted by jeanmari at 12:20 PM on April 28, 2009

I don't quite understand what the problem is - you specifically want to have faith for some reason? There is definitely nothing wrong with you if you have a problem giving blind faith - plenty of people have that same "problem", and generally are referred to as agnostics or atheists. If you're discussing having faith in a real-life person, then it's just semantics over whether you decide to call it faith or trust, yes?

Anyway, as others have said, I think of trust as predicated on evidence - your boss trusts you to get a job done, perhaps, because you've always done that in the past. You trust your SO to care for you because that's what she's always done. Trustworthiness is a hypothesis that is confirmed by observation. Faith is almost the opposite - no evidence or observation is required to believe whatever faith requires.
posted by RobotNinja at 12:34 PM on April 28, 2009

What fritley said. Faith is trust without evidence. There is nothing wrong with you if you can't do that. I would personally say that there is something right with you if you can't do that. You may or may not agree, I reckon, but either way, at least know that you are normal.
posted by equalpants at 12:44 PM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

This appears to be a meaningless distinction to me. If I took the original post there and replaced every instance of "faith" with "trust" and vice versa it would be indistinguishable from the original.

Sure, there are several different distinguishable concepts that relate to those words which could be discussed but in normal English the words themselves are interchangeable synonyms. Asking "What's the difference between trust and faith?" is begging the question, assuming that each word is always used to communicate a particular idea. I would be surprised if there are exactly two words that correspond to them in most other languages. (i.e. there's probably zero, one, three, five, etc. words that these would translate to - I don't think there are really two particular concepts to be clearly delineated here.)
posted by XMLicious at 1:06 PM on April 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

I've heard faith described as blind trust before; however, I'd modify that significantly. It is nigh impossible* to bring in any assumptions you have and apply them to a newborn or to a partner who is raising your child... I have no reason to question their motivations, their intentions or their actions... I take it on faith that they are taking care of me just as much as I'm taking care of them. All evidence points as such...

I'd argue against a lot of people here... sometimes having faith in other people means you might actually have your eyes open... constant distrust of people is just as blind to peoples potential as faith.

*... well its possible, but I'd think you'd miss out on a strong possibility to learn from someone else... and it'd be a crappy foundation...
posted by Nanukthedog at 1:28 PM on April 28, 2009

A word like "faith" can mean quite a lot of different things in different contexts. If you grew up in a religious environment they may have used the word faith to mean one specific thing within that particular context.

Maybe now that you are out of that context it is simply that you are not any longer experiencing that one particular thing--that one particular aspect of the word "faith" that was talked about in your religious environment.

I really doubt you are able to get through everyday life without exercising any form of faith or belief as those (rather broad) terms can and are understood by a lot of people. It may just be quite different forms of faith than what you grew up with.

And maybe that is what you're missing? That is, you trust your girlfriend to bring home the milk when you ask and not cheat on you, and your boss to give you a decent working environment and not fire you for no reason.

But even though you trust them about everyday things you don't feel that any of them can fix the really big, cosmic questions--guaranteeing your eternal salvation or saving you from eventually dying (or at least promising to resurrect or reincarnate you later on) or saving the universe from evil or just in general making everything all right for everyone?

If so I think maybe you're just feeling that existential anxiety that many/most of us humans feel to a greater or lesser degree at different times of our lives. And there is no question that religious belief is very often used by people to help address that particular anxiety (though it's far from the only way to do so).

Anyway, if that is what you are feeling, it might help to know that it is a fairly common and normal, if not necessarily pleasant, feeling.
posted by flug at 1:29 PM on April 28, 2009

I think you're problems are mostly definitional. Would you say that you don't have faith in your girlfriend? Because she'd probably be pretty offended to hear that. "Trust" suffers just as much from the chicken-and-egg problem as "faith" does under your terms, because the only way you can possibly grow to trust someone is if you extend trust to them before you know whether or not they're going to keep faith with you. And I use that phrase deliberately to indicate that the terms are largely interchangable.

If you're asking whether or not it's possible to trust people but not God, well, that's actually a pretty significant philosophical question which has attracted a lot of attention for the better part of three centuries, basically ever since people started trying to do without God. But your distinction here doesn't seem particularly useful, as most serious Christians would tell you that their faith is, in fact, based on their relationship with God.
posted by valkyryn at 2:25 PM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Faith is a decision to believe something without seeking to verify it. Trust is a decision to believe something based on the feedback you have from something.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:56 PM on April 28, 2009

Trust is my area of research, faith a secondary area. The general consensus is that trust is something that occurs when you use knowledge of another person's reliability, dependability, capabilities, intentions, and the value they place on their relationship with you, in order to make some future outcome vulnerable to their actions. So, you can either lend someone $100 or not lend them $100, if you lend the money you are taking a risk - your future financial status is vulnerable to that person's actions. You use all the evidence you have (as well as your personal affect for the person) to (usually subconsciously) opt to trust them or not.

A lot of people define faith as trust without evidence, but that's by no means the only interpretation. Some scholars have suggested that trust and faith both use evidence, only in a different way. To trust, you interpret evidence to come to a view. Faith presupposes a view and interprets evidence in line with it.

I have faith that my partner loves me, so when she is grumpy with me once in a while, I can interpret that as her having had a bad day or being mad at someone else and not me. I guess my faith is not limitless, though, because if she is grumpy at me all the time, I might have to review my presupposition that she loves me.
posted by arcticwoman at 3:03 PM on April 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

the only way you can possibly grow to trust someone is if you extend trust to them before you know whether or not they're going to keep faith with you

I'd disagree with this statement. You learn to trust someone. Extending trust without any basis is foolish.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:13 PM on April 28, 2009

Ironmouth, yes, but how? By offering little trusts, and, if they keep faith, moving up to big ones. Those little trusts are simple courtesies most of the time, but they're the kinds of things we offer before we know they'll be returned. We assume that they will--i.e., we have faith that they will--but we don't ever reach the conclusion that a given person won't screw us over unless we given them an opportunity to do so, be it ever so small, and they don't.
posted by valkyryn at 6:52 PM on April 28, 2009

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