Sign up for our newsletters   

Baltimore City Paper home.
Print Email

Social Studies

Things Unseen

Emily Flake

By Vincent Williams | Posted 10/29/2008

So, not to be self-congratulatory or anything, but all through the initial stages of the collapse of Wall Street a few weeks ago, I knew what was going to happen. I just waited patiently for the blame game to go into to full gear and for fingers to start pointing toward the victims. If there's one thing I've learned from being an American, it's that there's no catastrophe that we, as a nation, can't figure out a way to blame poor and, if possible, poor black people for it. And, sure enough, the narrative started changing, and the reason being pushed in some quarters is that all of these financial powerhouses fell because some poor, ig'nant Negroes got a mortgage that they couldn't pay. It is what it is, so I wasn't that phased by it.

What's been bothering me is the angle being pushed by people, such as religion professor Jonathan Walton from the University of California at Riverside writing in Time a few weeks ago, that the so-called prosperity gospel also played a hand in the bad decision making. The argument basically goes that there were a bunch of people who got subprime mortgages that, in their hearts, they knew they couldn't afford, but because of the tenets of the prosperity movement, they figured the Lord would provide a way, and then He didn't, and now Wall Street is on fire. Besides the fact that I'm uneasy about any type of reasoning that leaves the low man on the totem pole holding the bag, I'm uncomfortable with the implicit critique of faith. After all, if you don't have faith, what do you have?

I don't consider myself a religious man. Yes, I got 12 solid years of Catholic-school training under my belt and, yeah, I know my way around a Bible, but I've never thumped said Bible. I've always been a fan of the Good Book mainly because there are some really good stories in there. Also, it's fair to say that when I'm in church, though my wife didn't necessarily drag me kicking and screaming, there's a good chance I'd rather be enjoying a delicious waffle instead. And while I have respect and acknowledgement for "the evidence of things unseen," I'm not one who weighs it because, well, it's unseen.

Conversely, the wife and I are absolutely believers in "running the math." Oh, we are strategists and planners up in the Williams Compound. We believe in research. We believe in thinking twice and speaking once. We believe in diagrams and maps and charts. We believe that decisions should be made based on cold, hard, sober facts. We run the math.

The thing is, sometimes the math just ain't there. As much as you try, you need to make something happen and all of the signs point to it not happening. And that's when you need to step out on faith.

Hell, black people specifically and poor people in general have done it for years. Because what else did they have? The powerless have always faced numbers and statistics that don't look good, and often have gone in to deal with the situation regardless of what the odds were. Hell, this country was founded on principles like this. From the American Revolution to the civil-rights movement to any number of societal shifts, faith has always been the underlying fire that propelled people to attempt things that, on paper, shouldn't have worked. When you're perpetually dealt a bad hand, sometimes you have to do what you can to reshuffle the deck.

Now, I'm also not comfortable in the concept of people using faith to justify dumb stuff. When you talk about people using their faith to justify big cars or purely materialistic stuff, that seems to miss the entire point of faith. And I think it's fair to look at some of the so-called megachurches and be disgusted by the over-the-top extravagance. Every now and then, I'll visit one of those huge, auditorium-type churches and find myself looking around the lobby for the money changer. (Get it? I told you I had a good, solid biblical education--I just use it for jokes.) Still, beneath the glitz and lights, I believe that most people do the best they can, and they sometimes depend on a higher power to get them to where they need to be. And, if some of the victims of subprime mortgages stretched too far, I hope they don't blame it on their faith, because if they lose that, they have bigger problems than where they're going to live.

Related stories
Comments powered by Disqus
CP on Facebook
CP on Twitter