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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.
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Recently, I read the book Nikolai Berdyaev's book "The Fate of Man in the Modern World", which, despite being a fairly small book (about 130 pages) and dealing with the issues of Europe in 1935, is still quite prescient and touches upon many issues that the "modern world" is still dealing with.

Berdyaev himself was a Marxist who came back to Orthodox Christianity and was eventually exiled from the Soviet Union because of his writings. He first ended up in Berlin, but after a period of a couple years, he settled in France, where he lived out the rest of his days. Because of this, he has firsthand experience living in Russia, Germany, and France, and as he speaks about the modern world, much of what he writes about centers on these countries.

However, in 1935, which was the year this book was written, it was not as though these countries were somehow insignificant on the world stage. The Soviet Union had existed for 17 years, and behind the wall of socialist utopia, Berdyaev understood entirely what socialism does to human beings who are trapped in that system. In 1935, Adolf Hitler had been in power in Germany for two years, and again, Berdyaev considered what had happened in Germany to have been something akin to mass insanity of which nothing good could come.

In dealing with the substance of "the fate of man" in this current age, Berdyaev also is no huge fan of capitalism, as he sees that in its pure form, it is as dehumanizing as socialism. As he understands it, a Christian society is one that necessarily has elements of socialism, and so he's considered by many to be a "Christian socialist". However, the more I think about this, the more I believe that he is correct.

This isn't to say that I believe that socialism is the right way to go, and I don't believe that he would either. Take, for instance, the book "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand. Rand is adept at painting the picture of the world as it is when government strangles free enterprise, when it picks winners and losers for the sake of fairness, etc. At most Tea Parties, there are numerous signs with pictures of Rand, with the question "Who is John Galt?" as well as other references to this work. It is a powerful work, but it largely fails when it comes to answering the question of why someone who is gaining power and influence would also not use illicit means to solidify that growing power and influence. Her answer seems to be along the lines of "Excellence breeds virtue", and to demonstrate that, all of the elite characters are truthful and good when it comes to matters of business.

However, this worldview - objectivism - is hardly virtuous in a Christian sense. In the world of Atlas Shrugged, for example, charity is considered weakness, and traditional "moral" values such as fidelity and chastity are nothing more than old and useless traditions. Without a Christian base, this is logical. Communism values man as far as his contribution to the collective; in "pure" capitalism, man's value is still determined as a function of his production.

Berdyaev, though, avers Christianity as something that is different, that raises man up and out of the vicious circle of communistic and purely capitalistic societies. Christianity insists that one's worth is intrinsic to one's being, regardless of what that person can produce either for himself or for society. As a Christian, one is called to take upon himself a code of conduct that calls him to act in a "Christian" way; a way in which he does not lie, cheat, or steal, that he supports the poor, old, and hungry through willing acts of charity. Ironically enough, it is when people act in these ways, a civil society is built, upon which just about any type of governing system can be placed (though, for obvious reasons, socialism will only work in places like monasteries), because people, as a whole, will govern themselves.

And so, in America at least, we have two different groups who consider themselves "conservative" even though their worldviews are often quite a bit different. In the example of the "Tea Party", it comes to a shock to many that a large percentage of those who support this "libertarian" movement are the dreaded "social-conservatives", who, if we are to believe what is being said, want to use government to enforce their (usually) "Christian" values on everybody. The other group is the more "libertarian" group, who claim to make very few "values" assessments, and claim to just want to be left alone by government as well as others.

In these days, there are quite a number of places where the interests of these two groups converge, but it is amazing to see the amount of infighting among the "conservative" movement as to who is a "true" conservative. For this reason, even though many, many people see Rick Santorum as a conservative, because he is squarely in the "Christian values" group, many of the more libertarian-minded point out repeatedly how he can't possibly be a conservative and at the same time encourage a return to "family values" and make statements against contraception and pornography.

To the Libertarian, freedom itself becomes the highest ideal, and a government should serve no more than to keep society from falling into the chaos of anarchy. Yet this type of freedom lends itself to many abuses and an eventual de-humanizing of the soul. As to the conundrum that Christianity and freedom have created from the beginning, I refer back to the words of St. Paul: "For ye, brethren, were called for freedom; only use not your freedom for an occasion to the flesh, but through love be servants one to another. (Gal 5:13)


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September 2013

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