mituns: (Default)
Since early 2009, I have been involved, to one degree or another, with the American "Tea Party" movement. According to the prevailing media, that puts me into a category of "far right-wing kooks" who simply do not want to pay taxes (or, on a more sinister note, supposedly do not want to pay taxes so as to undermine a black president... but I digress).

My goal here is not to explain or justify the Tea Party. It is hardly monolithic, the numbers range from few to huge, and in it there is a coalition of disparate groups.

One of the strengths of the Tea Party is its focus on taxes as an issue, although at almost any Tea Party rally, signs referencing a wide range of issues can be found. As a practical matter, sticking to a more universal theme is helpful, as this provides a wider base of support.

However, I am considering now how this focus on taxes becomes a weakness, if viewed from the other side. From the perspective of a taxpayer, more and higher taxes are bad because they make it harder to survive on the same amount of work and they stifle economic activity because money that could be used to spur on other economic activity is being sucked away by government.

That being said, when one is the beneficiary of others being taxed at a higher rate, whether employed by the government or government agency, or receiving benefits, such as welfare, the cry by others that taxes are too high rings like a rallying cry of heartless greed; an example of Ayn Rand's axiom, "Greed is good".

There has even been a strain of supposed Christian opposition to the Tea Party, citing various Biblical references from obedience to civil authority, especially Romans 13.

As a Christian, I reject Rand's Objectivism. In my last post, I wrote about Hebrews 13:5, which commands "Keep your lives free from the love of money" and "be content with what you have". On the subject of taxes, Jesus himself says, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's". The Old Testament, in particular, details many times tax rates and how taxes were levied. Jesus' statement concerning paying taxes, was, in large part, an affirmation that His mission on earth was not to be the King of the Jews in a political sense; Jesus' mission on earth was not to challenge Rome, or even to free the Jews from foreign occupation. Jesus affirms that as citizens of nations, Jews - and Christians - are subject to the laws of the land.

The biggest caveat to this teaching, however, is when there are laws in place which contradict God's Law. Think of the story of Daniel. Think of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Think even of Jesus' parents who fled to Egypt rather than to follow the edict of Herod to kill all baby boys under 2. The Bible is clear on this point. When laws of the state and laws of God are in conflict with each other, a Christian must follow God's law.

Paying taxes is one thing; there are very few, even in the Tea Party, who believe that taxes ought to be done away with altogether, and fewer still who fail to pay taxes. However, when we say our government is a republic and our taxes are used to support abortion, there needs to be some outcry. When money collected in taxes is used to prevent a whole section of society from discovering its potential, there needs to be some outcry. And when the money from our taxes is used to support the god that government has built unto itself, there needs to be some outcry.

What about the poor and needy then? Are they to starve? I believe that the Bible is also very clear on this point as well. Those who can work, should work (2 Thes. 3:10), but those who are not able to (widows, orphans, the elderly and infirm) should be taken care of by anyone who considers himself to be a Christian, by virtue of Christian love. Shirking our duty as individuals by depending on the state to tax us in order to provide a bare minimum of care is a tragedy and completely foreign idea to Christian doctrine.

I'm not delusional in thinking that every member of the Tea Party is a Christian who is speaking out on Christian principle. However, it is certainly not incompatible for one to be a Christian and to be a member of the Tea Party.
mituns: (Default)
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,

“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you."

Hebrews 13:5


Awhile ago, while visiting my grandmother, there was an article in the paper about a television show who had built a house for a local family. If I remember correctly, the mother was disabled, the father had died, and there were six children. The house that was built was enormous, and the comment my grandmother had was something to the effect that although it was good that the family had a more suitable house, did they really need a house that was so extravagant.

My grandmother's attitude about this is hardly unique; furthermore, there are many religious groups in America, such as the Amish, who regard plainness and simple living as some of the greatest virtues a person can exhibit.

However, the flip-side of that is that many live with an inherent distrust of those who are quite wealthy. They tend to believe that when somebody has a lot of money, it must be the love of money that drove them to amass their wealth, and therefore these people worship before a false god.

I would argue, though, that Hebrews 13:5 has less to do with being successful than it does with being covetous. "Be content with what YOU have" hearkens back to the Ten Commandments, where it is spelled out "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." If your neighbor is doing well enough to have any of those things, it's none of your business; that he has these things does not harm you in any way.

The ironic thing is that Dietrich Bonhoeffer is probably regarded as the closest thing to a modern-day saint for many Protestants, despite the fact that he was a very wealthy man from one of Germany's most elite families. The difference is that even from early on, Bonhoeffer's wealth was not what consumed him, but was a means for him to be able to do many of the things that he did. As a young man, working with impoverished youth in Berlin, he realized that as many of them were ready for Confirmation, they could not afford suits for the occasion. Upon realizing this, Bonhoeffer bought material and had a suit made for every one of his students. Furthermore, for whatever wealth that he had here on earth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is still known primarily as being a man who lived by and died for his faith in God.

Yes, the Bible has many special admonitions geared toward the rich. However, as in the parable of the servants with the talents, God is not happy with those of us who are content to do nothing with the talent that He has given us. As in the parable, the servant who was given ten talents and comes back with twenty is praised, as is the servant who is given five, and comes back with ten. It is only the servant who is given the least - and, I'd imagine, was pretty upset with being given the smallest sum - who does absolutely nothing with what he was given, with whom the master is upset. Does the servant who now has twenty really need that much? What about the master? Surely one who lends money to his servants has more than enough to outright give some to his servants to do with as they wish!

There are many, many people in the US and elsewhere who have lived good and upright lives being "plain people". I believe that these are the type of people who make up the backbone of civil societies. Nevertheless, out of everything we must be careful to excise the demon of pride. When we begrudge others of successes and good fortune, it crosses the line into envy. Jesus has a special place in His heart for the poor, and He showed that especially in His ministry on earth, however as long as wealth does not become one's god, He has never commanded anyone not to do the best that he can.

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