Crisis in faith

Essay on the Wall Street bailout

The dollar crumples over Wall Street.

The dollar crumples over Wall Street.

Some time ago, when due to budget cuts I took over responsibility for all the Filet of Soul features (and gave up weekends for the duration), I reserved the right to write an occasional essay—mainly because there are some weekends when I’m forced out of town.

This was one such weekend. I went to Mesquite to accept a whole bunch of awards on behalf of the newspaper (See Editor’s Note, page 3). But the whole weekend, my mind was focused on the Wall Street bailout (See editorial, page 7).

All this time, I was thinking, “This is not a financial crisis; it’s a crisis in faith.” Faith, according to one definition in my online Merriam-Webster’s, is “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 trust.”

Many Americans worship a god called “the free market.” Many Americans worship a god called “the government.” We have faith in these institutions. We were impressed with everything we were told about these institutions as we were growing up. Just as some of us believe in a literal bearded white guy who sits in heaven, there are many of us who believe, somewhat childishly, that “the market” and “the government” are pure. They are not controlled by man, and there is no unholy cadre manipulating them for its own benefit.

There are many things in this culture that operate purely because we assign them a “faith” value. Hold up a $1 and $100 bill: They are exactly the same—paper and ink. There is no difference in their real value. It is only because we have faith that there is a value attached. But we can see the results of other people’s faith when we exchange one of those silly little paper thingies for a new watch, a couple pounds of pork chops and a decent bottle of cabernet.

We can see faith at work. Get it? The faith in the paper dollar is more real than the thing itself.

Let me offer another definition: faithless: (1): not true to allegiance or duty: treacherous, disloyal; (2): not to be relied on: untrustworthy.

We are very familiar with the adjective when describing a cheating lover. But read those definitions and see if they don’t describe the conditions under which the Wall Street bailout was proposed.

The very government and financial leaders who manipulated the market by creating conditions by which unscrupulous lenders could accept debt and then spread it through less-risky debt—creating conditions under which our retirement accounts, 401(k)s and home values lost 40-100 percent in a matter of days—wanted us to give them enough money to sustain their corrupt ways, in the hopes that they could find enough legitimate investments in coming months to save their own lives.

The problem is, to do this, they wanted to mortgage our futures and our children’s futures. By committing one-third of the federal budget on the bailout, dual gods government and market wanted to gamble with this country’s hopes of solving problems like Social Security, unemployment, universal healthcare and immigration.

But we citizens are faithless—for the moment anyway—because we are without faith in those false gods. The gods themselves are faithless because they are not to be trusted.

At deadline, it appears the bailout has failed. But it didn’t fail necessarily because of faithlessness on the part of the electorate or faithlessness on the part of our representatives.

It failed because there’s a piece of us that has faith that somewhere, somehow, the people who rob old ladies, who despoil the weak, who take food from the mouths of babes, who force our homes into foreclosure, and who sodomize our most cherished notions will get what’s coming to them.

And that’s where I prefer to place my faith this week.