Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Bible and taxes

In recent years, a recurring theme among progressives and liberals is that Christians have a duty to pay taxes and not resist tax increases because of Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 22:21 to “render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's” when asked by the Pharisees if Jews should pay tribute or taxes to the Roman government. According to this line of reasoning, modern Americans should happily pay ever-increasing taxes because Jesus said that the Roman coins belonged to Caesar.

Progressives also point out that Jesus, on numerous occasions instructed his followers to help the poor. His instruction to the rich, young ruler in Matthew 19:21 was to sell everything he had and give it to the poor. In Luke 6:20, he said that the poor were blessed and would inherit the kingdom of God. In Matthew 25:40, Jesus equates helping the poor with aiding Jesus himself. In one famous passage, Jesus says that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24).

There is no dispute that Christians are instructed to help the poor (Luke 12:33, 2 Corinthians 8:7). The question then is how best to help the poor. Is it more efficient to send more tax money to the government which can then make transfer payments to the poor or is it better to donate to private charities?

Government social programs are notoriously inefficient and costly. The big three entitlements, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, now make up forty-one percent of the federal budget according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. This percentage will go higher in coming years as more Baby Boomers retire. Social Security is scheduled to be bankrupt by 2036 and Medicare by 2024 according the Trustee’s Report. As the trust funds are depleted, even more tax money will be needed to meet obligations to retirees.

In part government social programs are so costly because they are universal. Rather than be a safety net for the poor, the government forces all retirees into Medicare and Social Security. This means that even the wealthy are required to accept government benefits, whether they need or want them or not.

Government programs are also costly because they are administered by bureaucracies filled with civil service workers. Where most charities rely heavily on volunteers, government workers that administer social programs often have salary and benefit packages that are valued at more than six figures annually. In effect, the government is taking a cut of the tax money before it is distributed to the poor. This expensive overhead adds significantly to the cost of government programs.

Finally, bureaucracies and rigid rules breed fraud. As the government tries to sign up as many people as possible to collect benefits, it becomes increasingly difficult to weed out those who are gaming the system. Caseworkers have less time to examine their clients, most of whom they do not know personally. With private charities, local volunteers get to know the need on a personal basis and can determine who needs aid and who does not. For bureaucrats, charity is a job; for volunteers, it is a passion.

A clue as to what Jesus would do with respect to entitlements in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 where the Apostle Paul wrote, “For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.” Paul doesn’t say that those who cannot work should not be fed. He does say that people who can work but choose not to, those who are gaming the system, should not live off the sweat of others. The book of Proverbs, especially in chapter 24, extols the virtues of work and is critical of the “hater of work.”

Even while the Bible encourages people to give to charity, it also teaches people to be smart with their money (Proverbs 6:6-8, 21:5, Luke 14:28-30) . The Bible also stresses that the accumulation of wealth should not be an end in itself (Psalms 15:5, Titus 1:7). Money and material wealth should not be accumulated dishonestly (Exodus 20:15, Titus 2:9-10).

Not only is it expensive and inefficient to filter funds to help the poor through government bureaucracies, it is counter to God’s instruction to believers in Proverbs 3:9-10 in which the people are told to give the first part of their income to God. Part of this money would be used to maintain the house of worship and part of it would be used to help the poor. When people give large portions of their income to the government, it naturally discourages them from giving a percentage of the remainder to charity because they need money to support their own families as well. Nevertheless, taxes and government social programs do no relieve believers of the duty to give to charity (James 2:15-16).

There are more benefits to charitable giving than tax deductions. There are studies that link altruism to mental and physical health benefits. Givers tend to be happier than those who are not so generous. Research shows that giving stimulates the same pleasure centers of the brain as eating and sex, resulting in a joyful feeling. When government programs and taxes take the place of charities, taxpayers are cheated out of the benefits of voluntary giving.

According to the Center for Philanthropy at Indiana University’s report “Georgia Gives 2008,” more than 77 percent of Georgia households give to charity. Individuals accounted for 83 percent of Georgia’s charitable giving which is comparable to national averages. Eighty percent of respondents indicate that they would give more if they were more financially secure. It can be reasonably assumed that if individuals had a lower tax burden, they would give more money to charity.

The progressive argument also fails to make a distinction between the Roman Empire and American democracy. Where Jews and Christians in Jesus’ day had no say in how Rome used their taxes or at what rate they were taxed, believers today have the right and duty to see that their taxes are not wasted.


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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are so right! Jesus was too damn liberal for your political rational.