“You never trust a millionaire quoting the Sermon on the
Perhaps it was Congress obstinately refusing to pass the
meager tax hikes for the wealthy and for corporate entities that would have
provided the revenue needed for the US to weather current economic turmoil.
Maybe it was seeing naive protestors sandwiched between sign boards that read things
like “God Hates Taxes.” It could have happened even farther back, when
religious-pragmatists like Joel Osteen were spreading their oxymoronic filth
under the guise of Christian self-help literature (How Jesus Wants You to Be Filthy Rich!). No, Texas Governor Rick
Perry’s presidential candidacy speech was the final straw breaking this camel’s
Governor Rick Perry, an outspokenly devout Christian and Tea
Party Republican prone to dressing like Walker Texas Ranger and to unwittingly
reminding Americans with long term memories of another governor from that state—Perry’s
predecessor in fact—announced his bid for United States presidency over the
weekend. He opened by requesting a moment of silence for our recently fallen
service members, the thirty SEALs, Navy and Air Force special operators, and
soldiers that were killed in a chinook crash in Afghanistan over a week ago.
Perry then proceeded to ramble through that moment of silence. He went on to
talk about his thrifty upbringing on a middle-of-nowhere farm, meeting his wife
when he was just a young boy, joining the Boy Scouts and then the Air Force—you
know, good ol’ boy stuff. But when he finally climbed up onto that inevitable
political platform, something he said raised a few flags in my mind:
“Spreadin’ the wealth punishes success, while setting America
on course for greater dependency on government.”
Yes, he’s a governor of a state and he said “spreadin’” in
his presidential candidacy address, but that’s not what got my proverbial goat.
See, if Rick Perry’s conservative Christianity hadn’t become so permanently
enmeshed in the fabric of his politics (his moral high-horse legislation throughout his gubernatorial tenure in Texas speaks for itself), I would have said, “OK, I disagree with
this guy on taxation. It happens all the time.” But then I started thinking...
The danger here is something Emile Durkheim observed in
organized religion and other societies one hundred years ago: the group mind. In
“The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life,” Durkheim says basically that
shared beliefs endear us to one another, habituating a communal relationship
between one like-minded believer and another. Christians tend to empathize with
other Christians, just as I would tend to empathize with other similarly
predisposed individuals, and we form collectives around those mutual connections.
Rick Perry is, in the case of the Christian collective mind, like an intensely
radiant beacon, a political mooring with the possibility for an entire
religious following to be tethered to it. It isn’t their many-faceted and
nuanced ethics, however, that are represented by the politician; it’s the
politician’s, and, like a hostage with Stockholm Syndrome, a political
supporter’s captive belief system can quickly become swayed by the supportee’s
one-size-fits-all values, in this instance a Christian set of principles
becoming something not very Christ-like at all.
So, what am I rambling on about? Well, let’s talk about this
political phenomenon—the anti-tax Christian, the deeply religious fiscal
conservative, the tightwad evangelist—and hopefully you’ll see my point by the
end of this narrative if not sooner.
As a disclaimer, I’m not a Christian. Time and experience
have funny ways of turning some Christians into Agnostics and some Agnostics
into Atheists. Soon I won’t even believe in myself. The point is that I once
tirelessly studied the epic machinery of Christendom, at times because I was
persuaded to and at others because I felt personally inclined to. I had once
even put my faith in it. I’m now at an atheist juncture in my admittedly short
years, but I don’t intend to attack Christianity whatsoever in these articles.
My intentions are simply to clarify the difference between a Christian and a
wolf in sheep’s wool. I actually really hope that maybe a believer or two will
come away from this narrative with a slightly clearer political perspective,
but I realize that is likely just a pipedream.
Render Therefore unto Caesar at Your Leisure
Never mind that the prophecy of Daniel seems to allude to a “raiser
of taxes” who shall fall from power only to have a “vile” man rule in his
stead. There’s another Biblical passage on levy charges that I want to take a
I’m reminded of a story in the books of Matthew, Mark, and
Luke in which Christ is approached and tested by Herodians and Pharisees that
have been so far dumbfounded by their antagonist’s parables and retorts to
their deceitful queries. They have a new question for him, one that involves
taxes. The Pharisees knew that if Jesus renounced taxation, they’d have the
leverage they desired to have him tried as a criminal, and they did in fact testify
before Pilate during Christ’s trial that the prophet had castigated taxation. Denouncing
tribute paid to Caesar was treason. So, they asked, if Christ is so heavenly
minded, what does he think of earthly taxes.
Jesus sensed the ruse, and, after inspecting the
superscription on a priest’s coin, he answered, “Render therefore unto Caesar
that which is Caesar’s.”
It’s a humorous response if you think about it. Jesus had an
interesting way of talking circles around his intellectual opponents. But what
does the comment mean in regards to taxes? We could easily interpret this sly
remark as a sarcastic slight against tariffs and the inherent societal
restraints of governing bodies, seeing as how the quip was used by Christ’s
accusers to prove that he was some sort of tax-dodging criminal. Yet, a more
comprehensible explanation can be gleaned from the teachings of Jesus himself.
If you consider the body of Christ’s testimony as a whole,
it becomes apparent that he wasn’t censuring the practice of taxation; he was
simply saying that there were more important things to worry about, like
contributing to charity, communal reciprocation of wealth, pacifism, and taking
up one’s cross.
One enlightening passage from Matthew has Jesus saying this:
“And if any man will sue thee at law, and take away thy
coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a
mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would
borrow of thee turn not thou away.”
That seems pretty self-explanatory to me, but I think one mistake
often made about Christ’s relationship with tax collectors is that it was one
of revilement and hatred, something that can be used as a rebuttal to all of
Christ’s otherwise precise and didactic social commentary. The partisan
American Spectator journalist George Neumayr made this selfsame mistake in an
attack on the leftist “What Would Jesus Cut” movement, quoting a verse in which
Jesus says that a man who is unrepentant should first be referred to the
church, and, if he cannot reconcile with the church, he is to be treated as a “heathen
man and a publican.”
Neumayr seems to think this passage implicates that Jesus
himself disparaged tax collectors, but I don’t think it would be any different
from me saying, “George Neumayr attempted to deflate Lawrence O’Donnell’s
vitriolic statements like a raft carrying illegal immigrants across the Gulf of
Mexico.” I don’t share the same spiteful immigration views of many right-wing
conservatives; I’m just using the immigrant reference as a simile George
Neumayr can comprehend.
In his criticism of “What Would Jesus Cut” Neumayr
seems to conveniently omit one key piece of scripture: the story of Zacchaeus,
the short tax collector who climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus in a throng of
followers. Jesus saw Zacchaeus and asked the publican to climb down so he could
spend some time in the little man’s company. The others around Zacchaeus and
Jesus were appalled that Christ would give a tax man an intimate forum. Sounds
like Neumayr would be among those that felt betrayed by Christ.
It wasn’t the government, either, that ended up putting
Christ on trial. It was the religious authorities of the day. Pilate himself
found no problem with Jesus’ tax comments or his teachings, thus washing his
hands of the prophet’s fate. It was the priests, the Pharisees, the Herodians
that cried for Christ’s blood. I suppose that everyone has their own interpretation of who they think Christ is/was, and it seems that it's the most adamantly closed-minded of us all that are the most volatile. The religious group mind can be a precarious
thing, one that should be watched closely even today.
Am I saying that Americans should just stand idly by and allow whatever may come? No. I personally am not bound by Christian principles to turn the other cheek, as it were. All I'm saying is that we need to be wary of what politicians say they are and what they actually are. We need to think for ourselves and make intelligent assessments based on our individual moral compasses. We need to also hold our "representatives" (I have to use that word lightly these days) accountable for not practicing what they preach. If a Christian political leader's understanding of Biblical precepts begins with homophobia and terminates at investing in gold and stockpiling canned goods for the coming apocalypse, chances are that person spent more time reading Revelation than reading the gospel of Christ. Christians who recognize that leader's backward ideologies need to step up and let America know that that person doesn't speak for you.
As for the point of modern taxes and tax cuts, I'll be covering that soon in the next installment of this narrative.
Join me next time as I take a closer look at hypocrisy and Tea Party politicians Rick Perry, Michele Bachman, Rand Paul, and Herman Cain in "To Whom Much Is Given, Much Is Acquired."