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Sic Semper Tyrannis

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Redistribute wealth and be saved forever?

That - minus the question mark - was the actual headline of an editorial in yesterday's Racine Journal Times. Here's the link.

The first time I saw it, I thought: that's gotta be sarcasm. Some conservative is making a facetious point.

Nope. Serious.

Now: the headline doesn't exactly mirror the writer's point. It's one possible interpretation, I suppose, but I think the writer – retired pastor Glen Halbe – wasn't making quite so direct an equation.

Rev. Halbe wants us to be more charitable: to give more of what we have, since we only have it because of God's generosity in the first place. That's an excellent message that my parish priest has often given, himself.

But he is equating charitable giving with paying taxes, and that's where we part ways.

First, there's nothing inherently Christian about giving money to any organization you consider to be corrupt, wasteful, or just plain wrong. Rev. Halbe himself believes that of our government, at least in part: he calls the Iraq war a waste of money.

Yet, his message is: we must give more to the government. And so what if the government spends it immorally? So what if they allow money to slip wastefully away? So what if office upon government office spends more time slogging through massive tomes of administrative rules than they do actually helping anyone?

Second, paying taxes is a passive activity. They simply happen. They're automatically added to our purchases. They automatically come out of our paychecks. There's no thought required – no actual sense of sacrifice: of giving.

If this pastor's way of thinking becomes the norm, there will be a sense of already having given. We don't have to answer that call for help. We won't give to that charity, because we already gave at the office.

Why should we give to charity? We're already paying taxes!

Bunk. Want to live up to God's expectations? Find a food pantry. Or a homeless shelter, or an educational program. Kids Ranch. Boys and Girls Club. Scouts. Hospitals. Give to the schools, if that's what you want. Help a struggling family or single mom pay for day care. Find a church and donate to their outreach programs.

Now: the pastor mentions the question of excessive wealth, and to a point I agree: those of us who have are called to share with those who don't. For crying out loud, before you go spend $5,000 on a great big TV, find a smaller one that costs $1,000 and give the rest to charity. You'll enjoy the TV just as much. Instead of spending $50,000 on a new car, spend $30,000, and give the rest to charity. You'll still get where you're going in comfort and style.

By no means do I believe that I speak for Him, but I think Jesus will look more kindly on you for it.

But that's the point: we're called. Whether we answer is up to each of us, individually.

Paying taxes is not the same as answering the call, because paying taxes is not an act of choice. It's something we're forced to do, whether we like it or not. To believe that God is judging us based on how much we pay in taxes is to believe that we're judged not on what we choose to do (or not do), but on what someone else chooses for us.

UPDATE - a clarification.