Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Would Jesus Raise Taxes?

by Jeff Fulmer
Originally posted 7/26/11 at Hometown Prophet 

Benjamin Franklin is generally credited with the saying, “…in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” In this day and age, it seems debt and taxes are inescapable realities. Republicans, however, would have us believe that we can avoid them both. It sounds good in theory, like having cake without calories. 

Our national debt is a real problem and needs to be addressed; however, it is worth noting that the debt increased more under George W. Bush than any other President and the debt limit was raised seven times. Now, in the age of Obama, Republicans have had a great religious awakening and are essentially holding the country hostage over raising the debt limit. 

It seems to me that President Obama and the Democrats are willing to make deep (some would argue too deep) cuts to the budget. But the GOP won’t budge on raising taxes or even closing loopholes. At least they are consistent on this point. Since the 1970s, Republicans have been on a relentless mission to drive down tax rates, and they have been successful. It’s not too difficult to understand why… No one has ever liked taxes.
We read in the Bible that 2000 years ago Zacchaeus was despised because he was a tax collector. (Jesus loved him anyway.) There are only a couple of other instances when Jesus was specifically confronted with taxes. When asked to pay a temple tax, Jesus told Peter to go to the lake and catch a fish. Inside the mouth of the fish, he would find a coin to pay the tax. (Matthew 17: 24 – 27) 

Later (in Matthew 22: 15-22), the Pharisees tried to trick Jesus by asking him if they should pay taxes to Rome. Asking to see a coin, he turned the question on them, “Whose portrait is that? And whose inscription?” Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
As it relates to taxes, Jesus seems to shrug them off. He accepts them as a reality and has more important work to do. Of course, when you can pull a coin out of a fish, maybe money isn’t as important. 

When we are talking about taxes, we are really asking who should pay and how much? George W. Bush lowered the tax rate for the highest incomes, as well as taxes on estates and investment income. According to the (non-partisan) Tax Policy Center, the result was the top 20% received 65% of the tax cuts with the top 1% garnering 38% of the benefits all by themselves. That means the bottom 80% of taxpayers split up about 35% of the Bush tax cuts. 

These cuts did virtually nothing to stimulate our economy, but they did add about a trillion dollars to the federal deficit. (This was about the time Cheney was quoted as saying “Deficits don’t matter.”) Now, the top 1% controls a mind-blowing 40% of the total wealth in the US (as opposed to 20% 30 years ago) and the top 10% controls 70% of the nation’s wealth. That leaves 30% for 90% of the population. That huge discrepancy in wealth is not only immoral, but has to be unhealthy for our society as a whole. 

The tax system is one way to balance the playing field. Of course, those with the money do not want to give up even a square inch. Maybe it’s just human nature to protect your slice (or three-quarters) of the pie. They can call it ‘supply side’ or ‘trickle down’ economics, but Gordon Gekko in the movie “Wall Street” was willing to call it what it truly is… “Greed.” 

If Jesus skims over the topic of taxes, he has a lot to say about money, warning us over and over how easily it can become a corrupting influence. Among the many parables on the subject, there is the admonition to the Rich Young Ruler to sell all his possessions and follow him. When he can’t do it, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19: 23) In other words, if money is preventing you from following God, then it means too much. 

I believe Christians (including Republican Congressmen and their wealthy constituents) would do well to reread the parables concerning the dangers of trying to hang onto money, especially at the peril of the greater good. Because, in the end, we all know there is really only one certainty in this life….And you can’t take it with you. 

Jeff Fulmer is the author of the book "Hometown Prophet."/

1 comment:

  1. For those interested in this topic there is a great, neutral little book: Where Does the Money Go? by Scott Bittle & Jean Johnson. Definitely worth checking out