Attention TIME, et al.: Charity and Taxation are not synonymous.

Time Magazine must operate on the premise that their readers have an IQ roughly equal to that of a dish of warm milk.*

Behold this bit of crack Bible scholarship:

As near as we can tell, Jesus would advocate a tax rate somewhere between 50% (in the vein of “if you have two coats, give one to the man who has none”) and 100% (if you want to get into heaven, be poor). Mostly, he suggested giving all your money up for the benefit of others. And Jesus made no distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor; his love and generosity applied to all.

Three quick thoughts on this remarkable passage, followed by a longer consideration of The Point:

1) She mentions the “tax rate” and then cites something Christ said about “giving.” But she makes a classic liberal mistake: she conflates charitable giving with taxation. To be clear: there is no “give,” in the sense Christ meant it,  in “taxation.” “Tax rate” means the percentage of your earnings that the government demands of you by law and that you must surrender to said government or face punishment. If Christ’s words are to have any significance whatever, “give” must mean a willing and intentional surrender or transfer of ownership. There is no virtue in the former; the latter can be virtuous and can lead to greater virtue.

2) If everyone participates in this race to the poverty bottom, “giving away” all their possessions, to whom shall they give it all? Other people? But if they do that, the until-recently poor will no longer be poor and will be in a compromised position vis-a-vis salvation. Since it is the height of uncharity to intentionally compromise another’s salvation the presently possessive ought not to foist all their possessions off on the impoverished! But suppose they do this dastardly deed and the haves and have-nots trade places. Then what will the until-recently poor do with all that they suddenly possess, lest they persist being not-poor and lose their chance at salvation? Shall they give it back to those who recently made themselves poor? ‘Tis a vicious circle.

3) She actually gets paid to write this stuff. Remarkable. I’ll grant that her grasp of grammar exceeds that of a typical high school newspaper columnist railing against the oppressive dress code, but her content reads like she’s a typical high school newspaper columnist railing against the oppressive dress code.

St. Martin of Tours giving half his cloak.

Really: we are morally responsible to help the poor from our own bounty. That may mean giving away a coat if you have an extra. Heroic virtue might inspire you to give away your coat even if you only have one. St. Martin of Tours, a Roman soldier, sliced his cloak in half to give half to a freezing homeless man—not a small gesture: those cloaks were part of the soldier’s kit and were not merely for show: they were large, blanket-like cloaks for covering from the elements, and it wasn’t like he could just pick up another.

We know that Christ said the woman who put her last coin in the poor box had given “more” than the wealthy had given in their massive donations because she gave from her poverty. Giving “more” did not merely mean she gave a larger percentage of her available funds, but that she regarded others more needful of that last coin than she was. Regarding others’ needs as greater than her own and then freely giving what she could was what merited the Lord’s admiration. That is different from paying your taxes, even if a percentage of the money goes to the poor.

We also have the example of the owner of a vineyard who hires workers first thing in the morning, hires a few more a few hours later, then more a few hours later, and finally more with just one hour left in the day. When all the workers are paid the same amount of money regardless of how long they worked those who worked longest grumbled agains the vineyard owner, thinking they should have gotten paid more. The vineyard owner first refers to them as “friend,” and then reminds them that what he paid them was the agreed wage: if he chooses to pay even the last workers the same amount he has not thereby harmed the first workers. It is his money to be generous with as he sees fit. This is instructive first because it gives a model of charity toward laborers—those last workers would certainly have appreciated being hired first thing in the morning, but failing that (likely through no fault of their own) they had to hope to get something lest they would not get paid for that day and might not have food for the family that night. The vineyard owner recognized this and paid them for their desire to work even if he only had one hour of actual work out of them. He didn’t have to do this, and would have been justified paying them only for one hour, but he freely chose otherwise. Second, note that Christ does not begrudge the vineyard owner owning a vineyard and making good money at it. He must make decent enough money in order to have money enough to pay everyone the same amount. Christ does not begrudge this wealth, and even somewhat approves of it because it allows the man the opportunity to be generous. One cannot be generous if one has nothing to be generous with.

With regard to taxes, off the top of my head I can think of two places where those are mentioned. First we have the well-known “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, render to God that which is God’s.” In other words, if the government levies taxes, pay them: money is not the substance of who you are. But your soul, your conscience, your moral activity: those you owe to God and any attempt by the government to coerce your conscience or require immoral activity is to be resisted (e.g., HHS mandate). This also means that there is no virtue in paying a tax even if the money eventually helps someone who is poor. (Note: this passage says nothing about appropriate levels of taxation, just that taxes ought to be paid.)

The second passage on taxes is the temple tax that Christ and Peter are expected to pay by the authorities in Capernaum. Christ basically says that since he’s, you know, God, in justice he shouldn’t have to pay this tax, but accepts that they should at least keep up good relations with the locals so he tells Peter to go down to the lake and drop in a hook and the first fish he catches will have a coin in its mouth of sufficient value to pay the tax for both of them. In other words, Christ had a disdain for this tax and its purpose, saw no reason to pay it, and so came up with a way to pay it that wouldn’t be burden upon those whose charitable giving sustained him and his ministry.

On that last line: wealthy men like Joseph of Arimathea, the pharisee Nicodemus, and others whose names are known only to God, supported Jesus and the Twelve during their ministry—these were thirteen grown men, don’t forget, they had appetites and other human needs and they traveled around by foot quite a bit in their roughly three years together. Sustaining that enterprise would cost some money—money freely given by people who had money to give freely. Had those benefactors merely given everything away they would go from being subjects to objects of charitable giving.

So yes, by all means, let us use dollars taken through taxation to maintain some social safety net to catch those who fall and can find nowhere else to turn, but do not delude yourself that paying your taxes at the mandated rate and insisting that the government take a higher percentage from “the wealthy” meet the demands of charity. Social safety nets should be healthy, but minimal lest the needy become ungrateful and jaded as they receive—and can vote themselves more—beneficence from the faceless bureaucracy, true charity be forgotten by those who would be cheerful givers, and the embers of charity be squelched by bitterness and resentment.

The Lord loves a cheerful give; he’s ambivalent toward dutiful taxpayers.


*Given their continued influence, they may be right.



  • Aaron

    If Jesus was in favor of more taxes, would he not have converted more into becoming tax collectors instead of saving the tax collector from the throngs and converting him into becoming one of his disciples?



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