Malcolm Gladwell’s Return to Faith


I read an interview where Malcolm Gladwell talks about his new book “David and Goliath”. The interview suggests that he seems to have had a return to “faith”. I have not read his book yet, and may not after reading this interview, because it struck me that this talk about “faith” is pretty misleading.

Gladwell is noted for finding interesting angles on personal and inter-social experiences, and I take it that the theme of this book is that underdogs (like David) have advantages we often don’t appreciate or understand when confronting others who are seemingly in a position of relative advantage.

David vs Goliath is the obvious example here. David looks like he is at a severe disadvantage when doing battle with Goliath, but it turns out that he musters resources that lead to victory. This dynamic is at work in many athletic encounters (although there the advantaged person or team is usually not stupid enough to count any opponent out), and many real life situations. The classic is where the 90 lb. weakling lifts the tree trunk or car rear end end off of someone trapped beneath it.

But this cuts both ways as far as “faith” is concerned. The person with faith, the believer, will see God at work in these unlikely outcomes. But the unbeliever will just say there are physical and psychological factors involved that we don’t fully understand. In fact, from the reviews I’ve read, this is essentially what I get from Gladwell’s description – that God is not really important to the story. The forces at play are merely natural.

Of course you might say David was inspired and really believed. And that gave him the power. That is to say, this kind of faith is a motivator. But then we can say that about almost any belief. Once we acknowledge that “belief” is important we still have most of the work to do to convince a non-believer in our specific version of God. Presumably the Norse believer in the power of Thor was motivated by that belief, as are today’s believers in Allah.

So which of these are we to believe in. Or should we try to figure out the phenomenon of victorious underdog without an appeal to religion at all?


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