Towards a theology of taxation

My sense is that modern Mormons, particularly those who identify with the American right, tend to prioritise the nuclear relationship over all others. Who doesn’t? It is an entirely natural way of living in the world and represents the conservative view that we should protect the goodness that humans already have rather than force them into social utopias unflective of human reality. As a Conservative voter myself, I tend to sympathise with policies which give individuals and families the room to flourish.

We cannot escape the fact, however, that God’s plan has never been solely about the welfare of the family, nor the individual within it. God’s personal covenant with Abraham was also a national one; in Christ, individuals become a people, part of his body. Thus we should be concerned with relationships that go beyond our walls. The food crisis in Africa, to take one example, demands that we see the sufferers as ourselves. Helping such people becomes an imperative.

But how best, in a world of 7 billion people, can I love my neighbour as myself if my neighbour is everyone? One way is to use the state to mediate my relationships with the wider world. My contribution to Britain’s overseas aid budget is one way I can help the African food crisis. Deuteronomy 24 teaches that the farmer should leave his surplus produce for the poor; today, the state collects our taxes (which in a system of fair taxation represents in some senses our surplus produce) and distributes it for the good of all. That is the idea, anyway. Furthermore, in democracies (or, in your case, dear American reader, should that be republics?) such as our own, the state derives its power to do this from the people.

There are likely to be at least two objections to this model: First, that taxation is not voluntary (and forced morality is not morality) and second, that it does not necessarily benefit the poor. The latter objection would seem reasonable except that it is not a criticism of taxation per se but a criticism of government tax policy. The former objection is rooted in a form of libertarianism common to Mormons, which is fine as far as it goes, except that it does not find scriptural support. So, whilst I agree that although taxation is not voluntary in most real senses of that word, neither really was biblical taxation. In other words, it’s not relevant.

You see, it would be wrong to find in biblical injunctions a kind of solely private or religious morality. Biblical law was the law, so when God demands that you divert your surplus to the poor, it is the state demanding the same. Jesus’ acceptance of taxation is well known (‘Render unto Caesar. . .’) and Paul states a similar sentiment (Romans 13:7). Yes, some taxation is seen to be bad, but only in specific instances. For example, we learn from scripture that we are not to tax the poor: ‘You trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain’ (Amos 5:11). Given that the taking of levies is otherwise entirely justified in the biblical world, it would seem that it is the rich who are to carry the burden of taxation, i.e. those who have surplus. This was the beauty of the tithe: You needed at least 10 cows to tithe 1.

None of this is an exercise in prooftexting —  taken as a whole, the Bible sees no evil in taxation qua taxation as it is, when done properly, one means to distribute justice. Rather, the prophets despise unjust taxation. It is here where the debate should lie. But let’s also get a final thing straight. For what were biblical taxes levied?  For the king and his campaigns yes, but also for the institutions (the temple system in Jerusalem) and as a dole to the poor (Deut 14:29).

N.B. The tithe was a tax.

Comments

  1. Julie M. Smith says:

    Nice. Thanks.

    (And I hope you have donned your flame-proof suit.)

  2. Julie, I welcome any and all flames. I am like Joan of Arc.

  3. Steve Evans says:

    But what about King Noah?? He taxed people, and was bad, and therefore taxation is bad!

  4. Plus, he had a beard.

  5. Should fast offerings as voluntary contributions of surplus figure in to this?

  6. Not sure what your point is, Eric. Certainly fast offerings ‘figure'; are you saying that if you pay a fast offering then you have satisfied Deut 24? Maybe.

  7. The mistake, I think, would be to assume that one form of giving negates another. My fast offerings target the poor mostly in my own religious community, which is fine, but there are other obligations out there. At any given time, the Israelite may have made various payments: the royal tax (the king, his palace, and the army), the temple tithe (Levites, priests, and the poor), and the first-fruits (priests). All targeted different needs; none are condemned per se. All are obligated.

  8. Careful with your arguments, lest you attract the flat-taxers ;)

  9. I’m sorry, but I don’t see it. Taxation is not fundamentally evil or good, and arguing that it has theological support because some small portion is being used to help the poor seems pretty weak.

    Taxation is a society’s way of providing for universal societal needs (defense, enforcing the rule of law, etc.) that are better accomplished as a block than as individuals or smaller institutions. It’s not clear at all that providing for our neighbor is better done this way within in our society, let alone between societies. Even if it can be reasonably argued that welfare or health care is better managed through the national government, it’s not clear at all that it’s the best way to manage our obligation to others outside of our society.

    The statement “One way is to use the state to mediate my relationships with the wider world” is problematic in so many ways I don’t know where to begin. The more homogenous a society is, the more sense it makes for a national government to represent them. The more diverse a society is, the more any given national decision imposes on and misrepresents a substantial fraction of the people it governs.

  10. The regressive half shekel poll tax, not more for the rich or less for the poor, is something to factor in there.

  11. >arguing that it has theological support because some small portion is being used to help the poor seems pretty weak

    Wrong! On the contrary, I’m arguing that taxation qua taxation has theological support. The fact that it can be used to help the poor is a bonus, although I’m aware that a few of the Randian persuasion actually see that as a vice.

    >Taxation is a society’s way of providing for universal societal needs (defense, enforcing the rule of law, etc.)

    Love your parenthesis there. Seems like that ‘etc.’ is awfully portentous. What could it be? Libraries? Roads? Anything but social welfare, I hope.

    Martin, you do not like my statement on the state. Honestly, I am terrified by your final paragraph.

  12. RJH, I like where you’re going with this, and especially emphasizing the non-voluntary nature of Biblical law. It’s interesting that, in the last five or ten years, a couple U.S. tax law scholars have looked at tax law from the point of view of a couple religious traditions (the big one was a look at the Bush tax cuts out of Christian though, but recently a Jewish tax attorney looked at taxpaying ethics from a Jewish point of view).

    One of my projects on that other blog is to develop/channel a Mormon worldview (though not necessarily the Mormon worldview) on taxation; too often, the discussion seems to get bogged down in a self-serious version of Steve’s #3: Benjamin didn’t tax,[fn] and Benjamin was good, while Noah tax, and Noah was bad, or, even more insidious, the Book of Mormon teaches us that a 20% tax is unrighteous.

    Ultimately, though, while I think that you’re right to say that scripture doesn’t speak against taxes, and that it requires us to help the poor, I’m not sure how much our religious history tells us about how to design a just tax system, or that it tells us much about how to spend government dollars, other than to help the poor. But scriptural silence on these points doesn’t mean they’re unimportant or contrary to our religion.

    [fn] I don’t believe Benjamin tells us he didn’t impose taxes, for that matter.

  13. No thoughts regarding taxation as it may be addressed in modern scripture? Would it be important to distinguish between involuntary taxation imposed by divine law as opposed to man’s law?

    I think the argument over here truly IS about what is just and unjust in our tax policy. I don’t know of anybody (or at least anybody who should be taken seriously) in the political realm who is writing or saying that taxes in and of themselves are wrong. Nonetheless I think you’ve done a nice job at attempting to justify modern tax practices from a theological perspective.

  14. JM,
    If that were the only tax, that would indeed suck. Thank heavens it exempted women, slaves and children. There’s a chance, of course, that this is the kind of thing Amos despises. But, setting that aside, it might seem to prove the point that God loves tax. (And please, again, let no-one make the mistake of seeing the temple tax as belonging to the private, religious sphere. The temple was also a kind of Department of Commerce and Education. Rick Perry would have hated it.)

  15. Sam, I’m with you in wanting to eliminate the nonsense that rails against most forms of taxation in principle. That aside, let the debate begin!

    Everyone else: soon, England sleepeth, so I’ll have to let you have this debate on your own. Hopefully trolls will be banished and Randians will be mocked. Good night.

  16. As one of those libertarian leaning Mormons you reference, I feel compelled to reply.

    Acceptance of taxation does not partially fulfill the commandment to love our neighbor. If it did the scripture would have read something like: “Render unto Ceasar that which is Ceasar’s and thereby you fulfill your commandment to love your neighbor.” It doesn’t. They are distinct obligations.

    And besides, it’s much more efficient for me to give money directly to the poor than to try and justify higher taxes by arguing that a portion supports the poor. If I want to give money to the poor I can donate 100% of the proceeds. If I want to rely on the government to do so it will take a huge chunk and put it to expensive and wasteful causes (like nation building) and then only give a portion of the proceeds to the poor.

    Of course, the obvious reply is that not enough people will voluntarily support the poor so the government has to step in. Well, that’s a fine argument you can make and people can agree or disagree. But let’s not pretend that deciding to take your wealthy neighbor’s money to give it to your poor neighbor somehow means you love your neighbor more.

  17. Also, just to be clear, I’m not arguing that taxation qua taxation is evil. I’m just saying that the point about biblical law is not relevant today.

  18. Church | State ?

  19. it's a series of tubes says:

    But let’s not pretend that deciding to take your wealthy neighbor’s money to give it to your poor neighbor somehow means you love your neighbor more.

    This.

    But how best, in a world of 7 billion people, can I love my neighbour as myself if my neighbour is everyone? One way is to use the state to mediate my relationships with the wider world.

    Ronan, you and I lived under the same government for a time, roughly a year before and a year after New Labour came to power. Though I am not a UK citizen, I feel I have a reasonable level of insight into certain British cultural norms.

    Even in spite of this, however, I find your linking of “best” and “use the state” to be surprising in the extreme. From a utilitarian perspective, surely it would be “better” to use more efficient organizations than the state to accomplish the desired outcomes? Less organizational waste –> more benefit to the end recipient…

  20. clarkgoble says:

    I think only the most radical of libertarians would say taxation is intrinsically bad. So I think you’re tilting after windmills with that.

    On the other hand we do have Benjamin justifying how good a king he was by noting that he labored with his own hands to serve “that ye should not be laden with taxes” (Mosiah 2:14) So there are anti-tax scriptures. (Note I don’t think in the least that is against taxes in general)

  21. And besides, it’s much more efficient for me to give money directly to the poor…

    Sure, if handing out pocket change on an ad hoc basis is your view of poverty alleviation. Otherwise, it seems to me that uncoordinated individual efforts are the very definition of inefficiency.

    If I want to give money to the poor I can donate 100% of the proceeds. If I want to rely on the government to do so it will take a huge chunk and put it to expensive and wasteful causes (like nation building) and then only give a portion of the proceeds to the poor.

    I thought Americans’ beef with their elected officials was out of control spending on entitlements? “Defense” spending is just a drop in the bucket compared to the outlays for medicare, medicaid and social security.

    I feel I have a reasonable level of insight into certain British cultural norms.

    A veritable body of light!

  22. it's a series of tubes says:

    A veritable body of light!

    Touche! Still, as to the odds of increased cultural awareness re the land of brick and rain, probably better an American who has lived there for multiple extended periods, as opposed to one who has never left the Wasatch front.

    As an aside, would you be willing to post me some Galaxy bars? Best. Ever. :)

  23. Clark (20),

    I think only the most radical of libertarians would say taxation is intrinsically bad. So I think you’re tilting after windmills with that.

    Though I’d hope you were right, I fear that’s not the case. Rhetoric that equates taxation with theft is relatively common, especially on teh internets (see, e.g., here for a Mormon example). And it has its real-world analogue in tax protesters and deniers.

  24. You say “The tithe was a tax.” How was the 10% assessed? Was there a government group that counted bushels of wheat, weighted honey, counted cattle to make sure the 10% was paid? Were their armed guards that forced people to do it? What happened to those that didn’t pay? Were they taken to Jail? Were they kicked out of the community? If they weren’t then the tithe wasn’t a tax as we think about it was it.

    As a contrast, A co-worker once asked me if the church takes 10% right out of my bank account. (No) He then asked well how do they know if you have paid 10%? (they ask me). Well couldn’t you lie? (that is sort of beside the point isn’t it). IRS today sends me love notes every year checking to make sure I have paid the right amount.

    I know you already dismissed this argument by saying “except that it does not find scriptural support” but I find that the voluntary aspect is exactly the agency the scriptures do support.

    Somehow I doubt Matt 25 (sheep and the goats) was trying to differentiate between those who pay taxes and those who don’t… the choice and action was what mattered it seems to me.

  25. Taxation is a necessary evil. It is evil simply because it is coercive. A limited amount of government, and the limited amount of socialism it represents, is a necessary evil. Charity is the pure love of Christ made manifest by our voluntary actions. Taxation is not charity.

  26. Meldrum the Less says:

    What about the fish story?
    Give a man a fish… / teach a man to fish….

    How the money is spent is more important than how much is spent. Big government small government. Liberal, conservative, libertarian. Doesn’t matter. I think any system, even communism would work if most of the people involved were honest, diligent, patient, etc. Not greedy, selfish, idiotic.

    Mormon welfare principles focus on several areas that at first seem not to be related to helping the poor. Things like getting education and skills, staying out of debt, etc. We all know the routine.

    When I was in the military many years ago our ward had a serious welfare problem. It wasn’t with the active duty guys with steady incomes. Over $90,000 was being drained out of the fast offering fund every month and ward donations weren’t even close to that. Our ward council came up with the idea (might have been in a manual) that instead of just giving all these poor people the money the Bishop thought they so desperately needed, we would attach a few reasonable strings.

    The recipient had to keep track of how the money was spent. They had to talk to a financial adviser who helped them get on a reasonable budget and spend it more wisely. They had to meet with the employment guy once and then stay in touch until they found a job or got a better job. They had to be willing to do a few tasks the Bishop came up with, this was before the “every member a janitor program.” We gave them food instead of cash for food when possible. They had to pray for each other and find one way to help another poor person. And fancy this, they had to show up to church once a month (unless ill) and make some effort at spiritual reformation!

    The idea was to get most of these people to a point where they could be productive in the economy and also productive in spiritual matters. A few were elderly or so disabled that they never were going to make it. But they could at least try and do something, even as simple as prayer, to lessen the burden.

    We had quite a bit of grumbling but the amount spent dropped and the amount given increased. (insert closing triple passive here).

  27. But “laden” with taxes might not mean there were no taxes. Laden implies something burdensome. In reality, I am not crazy about the day I add up all the numbers and see what I’ve turned over to the government, but I’m also very ungrateful not to see the benefits–great schools, roads, parks (national and local), safe/cheap food and water, no fear of being allowed to speak my mind, criminals locked up, etc. When I remember the blessings (as I should), then suddenly I don’t feel laden with taxes at all. I feel grateful to be a part of a society that has decided that, however problematic, we will try to take care of the poor and the elderly and the downtrodden.

    Any society involving natural men (in other words, ANY even a church) has to have some form of government (general authorities) and taxation (tithing) if it is to function properly. Later in the Book of Mormon it talks about the Anti-Nephi-Lehies giving a portion of their substance to the Nephites in return for military protection and land. Nobody implies in any way that this taxation is evil or exploitative or whatever.

    I like those here who argue that making a Biblical case one way or the other is futile. Both can be supported. The tax itself (money itself) isn’t evil per se. It is policy that can be problematic because PEOPLE are problematic. Money and taxes are just things . . . and rather abstract modern things at that. If they are to do good or bad then it is whether people are good or bad.

    And a last thing. Any conservative who says that if we had more money in pocket then more would be given to the poor don’t read their history very well. Surveys also tell us that the middle class are by in large the people who contribute the largest percentage of their income to the poor and needy. Tax policy that makes the wealthy even wealthier (despite their own benefits from the social contract few of them try to follow) won’t help anybody but themselves. Why do you think they work so hard to elect anti-tax politicians? It isn’t about morality! It’s about MONEY.

  28. Mark Brown says:

    Who cares whether you feel charitable or not? Pull your head out and change your attitude. The fact of the matter is that we have an obligation to care for the poor, and we are doing a lousy job of it, partly because we keep making up stupid excuses about how our giving has to be 100% voluntary or else we are going to suck our thumbs and hold on for dear life to our miserable little mess of pottage. To argue that we should let children die of starvation (that is the status quo, right now, in the LDS church) because we don’t feel quite edified enough, is to make the lamest excuse in the entire history of lame excuses. If you begrudge the few crumbs the government takes from your table and gives to those without, you probably ought to just go to hell right now, because that is surely where you will end up.

  29. john willis says:

    Taxes are what we pay for civilized society — Oliver Wendell Holmes 275 U.S. 87

  30. Mark Brown says: “Who cares whether you feel charitable or not? ” Wow. Just Wow. Mark, what a tryant you aspire to be. You know, this fight over the principle of agency is not new.

  31. “Pull your head out and change your attitude…”

    Yes, public policy has such a long and storied history of turning hearts and changing minds.

    Nearly as profound as “Take a bath and get a job!”.

  32. Aaron Brown says:

    “The latter objection would seem reasonable except that it is not a criticism of taxation per se but a criticism of government tax policy.”

    Not necessarily. One can imagine an argument in which a confiscatory State will inevitably fail to benefit the poor — regardless of any tinkering with this or that aspect of government tax policy — such that other forms of poverty alleviation are inherently superior to wealth redistribution.

    “it would be wrong to find in biblical injunctions a kind of solely private or religious morality. Biblical law was the law, so when God demands that you divert your surplus to the poor, it is the state demanding the same.”

    Right, but which way does this cut? You can make arguments in both directions. Since private and public morality can’t be facilely separated, maybe Biblical injunctions apply equally to both. Or, maybe Biblical injunctions are only relevant to the extent they involve private morality; in a society where we can draw a public/private distinction, the various moral injunctions in the text have force in the latter arena, but not the former. Etc., etc.

  33. If you force someone to do what they ought, or forcibly extract money from the rich to give to the poor, you’re using an end, not God, to justify the means. I’m terrified of anyone who thinks they’re so righteous, so aligned with the will of God, that they get to force other people to do what they should.

    That doesn’t mean social welfare isn’t good for society as a whole, and that people shouldn’t be taxed against their will (I personally support nationalized health care, school lunch programs, etc.) Everybody’s rights infringe on each other and trade-offs need to be made. But those need to based on practicality, efficacy, and cost/benefit analysis — not pure moral indignance. It’s impossible to reach compromise and communally palatable solutions if everyone feels their particular proposal is God’s personal choice.

    I think Mark Brown’s absolutely right that if we fail in our obligations to the poor we’re destined for hell. But the attitude that we’re justified in forcing our wills on others will get us there just as fast.

  34. Adam Smith says:

    We’re collectively not fulfilling an important obligation so individual agency needs to be rescinded.

    Hmmm. Where have I heard that reasoning before? Sounds vaguely familiar…

  35. Aaron Brown says:

    “Who cares whether you feel charitable or not? Pull your head out and change your attitude.”

    Greg D., I take Mark to be bluntly inviting us to develop charitable feelings if we lack them, not aspiring to tyrannically run roughshod over our feelings.

  36. “Hmmm. Where have I heard that reasoning before? Sounds vaguely familiar…”

    I read this and can’t help but picture the Church Lady on SNL.

  37. I don’t see it. My taxes are used to fund endless wars, bail out bankers, turn small-time offenders into hardened criminals, and in general enrich the 1%. Modern America is PT Barnum writ large, but with fewer ethical boundaries.

  38. “The poor you will always have with you…”

    When I willingly and happily give to the poor, I help to sanctify my soul.

    A gift given grudgingly (or taken by the force of law) does not sanctify. In such a case, it is probably better not to give the gift at all. The purpose of helping the poor is MORE to sanctify the soul of the giver than the actual relief of the poor. Therefore, from a theological perspective, any approach which does not help sanctify the soul of the giver should be viewed as theologically harmful.

    Relieving the poor is not the paramount consideration. Sanctifying the souls of the givers (and the receivers) is a much higher priority than relieving the poor. Hopefully, both can be done at the same time. But an approach that does one without the other is of no value.

    I say this from a theological perspective, not a public policy perspective.

  39. 38,
    “The purpose of helping the poor is MORE to sanctify the soul of the giver than the actual relief of the poor….Sanctifying the souls of the givers (and the receivers) is a much higher priority than relieving the poor.”

    Really? If we are ‘serving others’ in hopes to sanctify ourselves, ironically the action is inherently selfish, and leads not to sanctification at all but more selfishness. The purpose of taking care of the poor is taking care of the poor.

  40. Ronan,
    Nice work. However although you can find biblical back-up, I think you’re hard pressed to claim taxation as Mormon when the Book of Mormon does nothing but rail against taxes and underscores this with wicked kings who tax and tax…

  41. It’s of no importance that hungry people get something to eat. To hell with them. What’s important is my brownie points in heaven. Feeding starving people with my tax dollars doesn’t give me the brownie points to which I am entitled, so we should stop doing it. Feeding them does nothing to sanctify me, so it is far better to give them nothing at all. Please, please: won’t somebody think of me? Won’t somebody think of my sanctification?

  42. Sam (23) I think people equate overtaxation with theft. I’ve just not met people who argue all taxation is wrong although some think income tax is and favor tariffs and the like. I think that a silly position, but it’s really not the same as thinking tax is intrinsically wrong. I think many people also think the government wildly misspends taxes although that’s a separate issue. I disagree with a lot of the way the government spends money but I recognize that in a democracy we frequently don’t all agree.

  43. Aaron Brown: Thanks for your comment. Given the tenor and the context of the entirety of his post, I could be wrong, but I did not take Mark’s comment to be an invitation to develop charitable feelings. His was very much an invitation to shut up and pay up to his satisfaction–with a charitable smile, of course–or go to hell.

  44. Latter-day Guy says:

    The purpose of helping the poor is MORE to sanctify the soul of the giver than the actual relief of the poor…. Relieving the poor is not the paramount consideration. Sanctifying the souls of the givers (and the receivers) is a much higher priority than relieving the poor.

    Good gravy, this may be the most twisted thing I’ve read all morning. I am honestly staggered. In any case, perspectives about what is “the paramount consideration” might be different if you were to ask, say, the poor! Then again, why would you stop to ask them? Helping them is not the important thing; they’re only a means to bettering your soul.

  45. 1. It has been suggested that I have exaggerated the anti-tax fervour which exists among our coreligionists. Perhaps, although it didn’t take long for the War in Heaven to be invoked. There ought to be some version of Godwin’s Law applicable here.

    2. On tax compliance in ancient Israel. The Levites collected tithes from the people — it would be woefully anachronistic to imagine them like the LDS deacons with their blue envelopes going door to door. The temple wielded great power and we know by comparison with Mesopotamian law that one did not simply decide to evade tax/tithing with impunity.

    3. On Book of Mormon law. I agree with Jack Welch and others that Nephite law is largely biblical and so in that light being “laden with taxes” can only be read as a complaint against over taxation in an agrarian economy where it was difficult enough to survive. So, yes, it’s bad to (over)tax the poor.

    4. I did not really set out to argue that taxation was the best way to alleviate poverty. Certainly there are other ways. And yet it is the case that in high tax nations where there is a large social welfare system there seems to be far less poverty than in countries such as the United States. So, one does wonder.

    5. It is unfortunate that some of our interlocutors here raise the spectre of theft and coercion. This is for several reasons: First, justified biblical taxation was coercive so get over it; Second, you make the basic mistake of thinking taxation, because it involves money, is a special case: All state actions involve coercion and, to some extent, the theft of time and freedom. Remember, Galt’s Gulch is not a real place; Third, actually there is less coercion than is imagined anyway. Citizens of democracies choose their government’s priorties, or at least they should. The Austrians (I choose them because I have lived in Austria) have collectively chosen to adminster their society in such a way that wealth is redistributed. Good for them. “And there was no poor among them” is a description that Austria is closer to than England or America.

    6. Remember, I am a committed Conservative and would like to pay less tax. We can start by cutting the defense budget.

  46. RJH: “The mistake, I think, would be to assume that one form of giving negates another. ”

  47. Steve Evans says:

    “Relieving the poor is not the paramount consideration. Sanctifying the souls of the givers (and the receivers) is a much higher priority than relieving the poor. Hopefully, both can be done at the same time. But an approach that does one without the other is of no value.”

    Spoken like a fairly wealthy person.

    Ronan, you have your battle cut out for you on this one — Jesus was not exaggerating when he spoke of the eye of the needle.

  48. Ronan, could you flesh out what is known about Israelite tax collection methods a bit more? What penalties did Mesopotamian laws prescribe? What helps us map those laws to Israelite practice? Is there any hope to differentiate among those practices between those of Moses and those of Rehoboam?

  49. I regret that some would mock and dishonestly pervert the words of others to achieve their own ends. That’s sad. I offered my 38 to share a perspective, and regret also that I wrote it in a way that invited mocking. However, I do still believe that in the eyes of our God, relieving the poor is not the paramount consideration — important, but not paramount — rather, sanctifying the souls of God’s children and preparing us for exaltation in the celestial kingdom of our God is the paramount consideration. One who helps relieve the poor because he loves them as his brothers and sisters does indeed better his or her own soul — but that self-betterment does not sully his gift and is not the reason for his gift. And each man and woman must have the agency to decide how and when and to what extent each will help his neighbor. This process of agency is essential in the plan of our God.

    Jesus did not apply the expensive ointment to the relief of the poor — rather, he allowed it to be used in what would seem to be a selfish way instead of giving it to the poor — but that seemingly selfish way, we understand, was the right way in that circumstance and setting, with the decision made by the owner of the ointment, not the committee looking on.

    We teach correct principles, and let members govern themselves. There is great beauty in that.

    I say this from a theological perspective, not a public policy perspective. I appreciate that compulsion (taxation) is a valid and legitimate basis for achieving the will of the majority from a public policy perspective. But I understood that this posting to be regarding a theological perspective, not a public policy perspective.

  50. Steve Evans says:

    lolz

  51. John,
    I will later when I get home.

  52. it’s a series of tubes, I apologize for the gratuitous dig and, in the spirit of charity, would be happy to ply you with chocolates. However, as I reside on the Continent, I would have to offer you Milka instead.

  53. Here are some words from 2 Corinthians 9 (NIV), which I’ll offer as my last thought here — this teachings and others from the Gospel inform my thinking on this matter of relieving the poor — happy Thanksgiving, for you in the United States (Canada already had its Thanksgiving last month); and for you who follow a liturgical calendar, Advent starts in a few days…

    6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9 As it is written:

    “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
    their righteousness endures forever.”

    10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

    12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

  54. JI, how can you read the Book of Mormon and not believe that relieving the suffering of the poor is the important thing?

    As for my comment #46, I meant to say: RJH: “The mistake, I think, would be to assume that one form of giving negates another.“ — LIKE

  55. JM,
    I can’t do justice to the methodologies of ancient Near Eastern law here. I recommend Westbrook and Well’s “Everyday Law in Biblical Israel.” For now you’ll just have to believe me when I say it’s valid to use Mesopotamian analogies to explicate biblical law. As to the collection of taxes, Nehemiah explains that the Levites acted as tax gatherers for the temple. On non-payment, especially for land owners, I found an interesting law from Sumer that states that eviction was the punishment (Lipit Ishtar #18). You will be able to find similar provisions once this site is complete: http://anelaws.byu.edu/alcove/

  56. I haven’t read the comments yet, but I just want to say before I do that the following is the best, most concise answer I have read to the idea that taxation is wrong because it is involuntary – ever:

    “So, whilst I agree that although taxation is not voluntary in most real senses of that word, neither really was biblical taxation. In other words, it’s not relevant.”

  57. Thanks, Ray. Of course, just because it was biblical (and Nephite) does not make it moral, but this is an argument among people who claim some belief in the Bible (and Book of Mormon), so it should matter.

  58. Seems like a case of good, better, best – and the need to rely on “good” when we, the people, aren’t doing “better” or “best”.

    Oh, and the first goal of helping the poor is helping the poor – and, if there is any question about that, Bishop Burton’s last General Conference address is a great place to start (as are most of President Monson’s talks). Sanctification of the soul can be a wonderful by-product of assistance, and teaching a man to fish is a “best” thing – but that man has to eat while he learns, and he often can’t “spend” the time to learn if he’s so hungry he can’t concentrate or needs to find food to give to his children.

    Service for the sake of service is the ideal – with no regard for any benefit to one’s self. In fact, I would argue that service in the face of knowing there will be no benefit to self and possibly no long-term benefit to the recipient is the ideal.

  59. Paul (no. 54) — I do not say that relief of the poor is not important; rather, I said that it is not paramount above all matters. Relief of the poor is an important matter that should draw some attention from every son and daughter of God, and every son or daughter of God ought to respond as his or her conscience dictates.

    We teach correct principles, and let members govern themselves. There is great beauty in that.

  60. ji, we just understand thee Book of Mormon differently. For me, one of the key messages is that how we (as a people) treat the poor is of paramount importance.

  61. Brokenbyclouds says:

    Outstanding, thank you.

  62. Here is a list of things which everybody agrees are legitimate uses of public tax funds. We may not agree with the specific expenditure, but we don’t dispute that the will of the people, expressed through their vote or their representatives, can spend money on these things:

    1. New parks and ball fields
    2. Road improvements to the ski resort, at a million dollars per mile
    3. upgraded computers and A/V equipment at the city library
    4. An impressive fireworks display on the 4th of July
    5. Nice landscaping at city hall
    6. New uniforms and equipment for the high school team
    6. A hiking/biking trail along the greenway
    7. Tax incentives for the construction of the new mall and 32 screen megaplex

    All these things are primarily for our amusement, enjoyment, or enhancement of property values. Me, me, me. But if anybody even suggests that some of that money be used to meet basic needs of people who are destitute, we immediately start up the whine machine and go all emo — “Waaaaaahhh! I just don’t feel charitable! Make it stop!” I am unable to understand the moral framework which thinks this state of affairs is acceptable, or in any way reflects God’s will. Is it really so difficult to understand some basic kind of system of charity as a public good at least as important items 1 through 7? I suspect that if we continue to think that our personal feelings of charity are more important that if a child eats or starves, we are already living in hell, but just don’t have the wits to figure it out yet.

    Btw, the charge of tyranny elicited a loud and hearty guffaw. When I was a kid, I thought my parents were tyrants when the told me to clean my room or eat my lima beans or share my toys. Then I grew up.

  63. Greg (way back in 24),

    IRS today sends me love notes every year checking to make sure I have paid the right amount.

    That’s funny: in 2010, the IRS audited approximately 0.64% of Americans with adjusted gross income between $75,000 and $100,000. Even if you earned in excess of $10 million, your chances of being audited in 2010 were under 20%. So if the IRS is knocking on your door every year, you must be really, really special.

  64. Mark Brown,
    Great comment.

  65. You have forgotten another purpose of taxation: the leveling of the oligarchy. My father used to point out that the inheritance tax was useful in taking away wealth passed between generations which reduced the strength and influence of inherited wealth. Inherited wealth is that which is not earned and by taxing it away forces people to work and contribute to society for their money.

    At the present time and with our low taxation on great wealth, the concentration of that wealth in a few hands is dramatically increasing. If you believe the D&C, that it is not good in God’s eyes that there are differences of wealth among us, this is definitely either a theological or a social evil.

    From my standpoint if I am going to be under someone’s thumb it should be someone I can vote out of office rather than a an oligarch who owes me nothing except the minimum amount of money for my labor.

  66. The purpose of helping the poor is MORE to sanctify the soul of the giver than the actual relief of the poor…. Relieving the poor is not the paramount consideration. Sanctifying the souls of the givers (and the receivers) is a much higher priority than relieving the poor.

    That is simply sick. This goes against the grain of pure religion and undefiled before God as described by James.

    For those who feel that taxation in a representative republican democracy such as the United States is somehow illegitimate or morally wrong, your real contention is with the system of democracy itself as virtually all acts of a democratically elected legislature, whether in a republican democratic system or a parliamentary democracy, are essentially a form of taxation. But the Founders would not have seen such acts as illegitimate per se as their concern was with taxation without representation.

    re #62, Mark, if you can’t learn to count, how can you expect anyone to listen to you on tax policy? But as to your earlier comments, I say “preach on!” To the extent that anyone in our society sees the taxes they pay (which taxes have been enacted by democratically elected representatives functioning in our republican system) as not a voluntary act of giving, all that is required is for you to change your attitude! If you choose to willingly give, then this whole problem of “a gift given grudgingly is better not given” is made entirely irrelevant. You choose whether your giving is charitable in nature or not. And arguing that a particular tax that has been levied is inefficient, inadequate, too much, inappropriate is still just fine. But it is wresting the scriptures to suggest that they say that a small increase in taxes (which has been enacted by democratically elected representatives functioning in our republican system) for the purpose of creating a system that provides for affordable access to health care for all is immoral or evil.

    I remain puzzled at my coreligionists who suggest that if my child asks of me bread, I am supposed to teach her how to fish.

  67. Left Field says:

    I nominate #62 for BCOTW. Except for the part about lima beans. Anyone who requires you to eat lima beans is a tyrant.

    If I live to be a thousand, I will never understand the attitude exemplified by ji. ji and others like him/her seem to think there is some great virtue in begrudging public assistance for the needy. And since they personally begrudge their contribution, they don’t get blessed for it. And since they personally don’t get blessed for it, the poor, they tell us, are better off starving.

    The only thing in there that makes any sense whatsoever is that begrudging people aren’t going to get blessed. Fine, then. They have their reward for their uncharitableness. But isn’t it enough that ji is denied blessings for her/his own uncharitableness? How does it follow that our society can feed the hungry among us only if ji feels charitable about it? Even if everyone felt uncharitable about public assistance, can’t we just go ahead and feed the hungry anyway? Maybe none of us would get blessings, but at least the hungry would be fed. Or is it really preferable that none of us get blessings and the hungry starve?

    Doctrine and Covenants 134:5 tells us that governments have the right to “enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest” and gives ji and others the freedom of conscience to be as uncharitable and begrudging about the public interest as they want. They can choose to vote for people as uncharitable and begrudging as themselves.

    I guess this is the appropriate day to be thankful that our society is not yet in such a sorry state that the majority of our elected representatives think the public interest is served by grinding the face of the poor.

  68. I second that.

  69. #62 Mark, BCotW (though I don’t feel all that charitable recommending it, mostly because you merit it).

  70. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

    As we who are relatively well off gorge ourselves today, may we look around and find a way to find and help those who are hungry on this day of gluttony.

  71. Oh Ray #70, no worries, the government is already taking care of all that for me via coerced taxation under threat of fine and/or imprisonment–regardless of how I feel about it. Happy Thanksgiving!

  72. And no, Mark Brown #62, I do NOT agree that any of the ways tax money can be spent that you mentioned are necessarily the best use of precious tax money. I don’t understand a moral framework wherein the results inevitably lead to the poor being poorer so long as the “rich”–by force–are also poorer.

  73. Last comment for now, I promise. You know, the more I think about it, perhaps some of you are on to something here. I mean, perhaps if Jesus had just gone directly to Ceasar first thing and converted him, then Ceasar could have issued decrees and had his many Roman legions enforce them so that all the poor would have been taken care of and everyone would have been charitable, and then Jesus could simply have put His feet up for three years. Mission accomplished–well, of course, except for that one ultimate sacrifice thingy at the very end. Peace.

  74. I thought that tax money for the poor was to keep our streets clean so that we did not have the poor living and dying on the sidewalk, similar to cities in some big third world countries we all know. We all want clean streets.

  75. Yeah, I’m sure Jesus would’ve been pissed if he’d found out that any of that tribute money went to help the poor.

  76. #71 – Now you’re just being an *^#@*$*. I seriously didn’t expect a sarcastic answer to that comment from anyone, regardless of political opinion differences.

    We can argue about taxation here, but I hope, no matter what our political differences, we also can stop arguing long enough to go out and actually help the poor – especially on a day like this.

  77. Wow! I never imagined my comments would invite such vitriol. Of course, I suppose in today’s age one should expect hatred for a differing position, instead of understanding. For those who have chosen to take umbrage at my comments, if you re-read my comments you will see that I never said anything unkind about the poor, never said that people should not offer relief to the poor, and never said that public policy could not address the relief of the poor.

    “Jesus said love everyone, treat them kindly too…” I believe in this principle as a fundamental part of my religion.

  78. Sam #63, I certainly wouldn’t complain if my situation was as you have painted it but unfortunately it isn’t. Getting a letter from the IRS isn’t the same as being audited, they are mainly seeking for clarifications when different parties report income in different ways (gross proceeds vs net proceeds on asset sales for example). The IRS see a discrepancy and sends me a letter. I send back justification the matter closes and seems to play itself out again the next year. Probably more a function that I’m too cheap to hire someone to do my taxes for me.

  79. Recently, I saw a painting of what looked like the feeding of the 5,000. The caption was “B-b-but, Jesus, if we feed the people, that would be Socialism!”

    Yes, those 5,000 people should have thought of bringing a meal for later on, right? They failed to plan, so they should suffer the natural consequence of their inaction, right?

    But, that’s not what happened there. Something to learn from.

  80. “B-b-but, Jesus, if we feed the people, that would be Socialism!”

    That’s pretty awesome.

  81. Adam Smith says:

    Well this post and comments have made me feel significantly better.

    I used to worry about whether or not i was donating enough time and money to the poor. Now I know that so long as i’m paying my taxes cheerfully rather than because the alternative is prison that I don’t need to worry about the poor.

  82. Adam Smith,
    That is an utterly ludicrous comment. You completely (and I hope deliberately) miscontrue the argument of those of us who do not believe taxation to be a moral evil per se.

  83. re # 73, but I thought Jesus believed in Reaganomics?

  84. Cliff Notes argument:

    1. The scriptures do not mind taxation.
    2. One benefit of taxation is that it can be used to help the poor.
    3. Helping the poor is good.
    4. Thus taxation and the War in Heaven should not be mentioned in the same breath by Mormons ever again.
    5. There are, of course, many ways of helping the poor. All are good.

    The End. Adam, how does this relate to your comment?

  85. re # 82, this discussion has followed a pattern that I have seen play out before: the argument is raised that using tax money to offer assistance to the poor causes people to ignore making further charitable donations outside of simply paying their taxes or volunteering time to charitable efforts.

    But I have never seen someone who finds putting some measure of tax proceeds to use in alleviating the suffering of the poor in our society as an acceptable policy approach make the argument that they have no obligation to give to charity because they are paying their taxes, some of which is used to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, care for the needy sick, provide for the wellbeing of those in prison, etc.

    Rather, the only time this concept of not having to give to charity if you are paying taxes is ever raised is by those who are arguing that because democratically elected legislators (who are politically accountable) in our republic have chosen to levy and use taxes in part for alleviating the suffering of the poor (in addition to infrastructure spending, which many seem to find more morally legitimate than spending to alleviate suffering), then they have no obligation for charitable giving outside of the context of simply paying their democratically levied taxes because having paid those taxes. And yet those who raise this argument impute it to those who do not find taxation for these purposes to be morally illegitimate per se.

    There is no sound way to argue that taxation in a modern representative democracy — whether a republican system as in the United States and several Western European free-market democracies or a parliamentary democracy such as the United Kingdom and the many other democracies that follow that pattern — constitutes theft or is a violation of the tenth commandment or is immoral or illegitimate. Such taxes are enacted in the framework of our political systems in which due process and checks and balances are robustly provided for. This is taxation with representation. Nothing in the Declaration of Independence or the philosophy of the English Enlightenment from which it derives would invalidate such taxation.

    Instead, legitimate arguments exist about whether particular taxes that have been thus enacted are the best policy in terms of efficiency, effect, wisdom etc. Those arguments would be much more productive. But instead we get these moralizing sidetracks that derail substantive debate and conversation about the substantive merits of particular taxes.

    If you only want your taxes to be used to maintain roads, ensure a reliable fire and police department and possibly to subsidize a centralized postal service, and not to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick and afflicted, provide for the motherless/fatherless and widows/widowers where necessary etc., then make those arguments on policy grounds putting forward arguments that persuasively show why physical infrastructure is more deserving of tax spending than human infrastructure.

  86. legitimate arguments exist about whether particular taxes that have been thus enacted are the best policy in terms of efficiency, effect, wisdom etc. Those arguments would be much more productive. But instead we get these moralizing sidetracks that derail substantive debate and conversation about the substantive merits of particular taxes.

    Indeed. It would be one thing to discuss the ways the tax code can interact with charitable giving. Or to assert that government fraud, waste and abuse are thwarting the polis’ desire to succor the weak in an efficient, systematic and even-handed manner. But it is patently absurd to claim that taxation per se offends virtue or that it prevents or absolves one from charitable giving, particularly American-style taxation that goes so far as to accomodate and even reward charity.

  87. Dear Ray #76: My post #71 was not intended as a personal attack. Just remember that I did not call you nor refer to you as an *^#@*$*, whatever the word you meant. I do not traffic in ad hominems. I sometimes yield to employing sarcasm, but I do not do ad hominems. I hope these discussions threads do not ever stoop to that level of discourse. As it is, my post #71 was not entirely about sarcasm. You see, that is absolutely the attitude of many who are happy enough to let government take care of all our problems–including the poor. I know because I have read many times about it and I have seen it first hand. And so I represented that attitude among many accurately. I do not personally subscribe to it. I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  88. the argument is raised that using tax money to offer assistance to the poor causes people to ignore making further charitable donations outside of simply paying their taxes or volunteering time to charitable efforts.

    There was a RS President in one Ward we were in who said the need for Compassionate Service was over, since there were so many Gov’t. handouts. Ouch.

  89. In #75, Left Field Says: Yeah, I’m sure Jesus would’ve been pissed if he’d found out that any of that tribute money went to help the poor.

    Left Field, I don’t know whether Jesus would have been pissed or not about some of Ceasar’s tribute money going to assist the poor. Perhaps not. But that’s beside the point. This is NOT for me a debate about whether taxation per se is scriptural or moral or right or wrong. I believe some taxation is a necessary evil. So I am OKAY with SOME taxation–but NOT so much that it becomes unduly burdensome and actually becomes a disincentive for innovation and wealth creation.

    This boils down to a debate over appropriating an individual’s soul-saving Christ-like unconditional love and desire for charitable, voluntary giving to justify the employing of public policy to establish a shared, collective, coercive, non-voluntary, third-party caring for the poor–particularly when such a policy is detrimental to the poor themselves being able to rise out of poverty and is detrimental to, as I said, individual incentive for innovation and wealth creation. When such conditions exist. general prosperity will suffer and will result in both the rich AND the poor winding up even poorer.

  90. >This boils down to . . .

    Actually, it doesn’t. That debate is only taking place in your head.

  91. john f. #85 regarding your last paragraph. I view taxation as a necessary evil. Government represents a sliding scale of socialism between pure, unregulated, free-for-all capitalism and pure, totalitarian, completely regulated communism. Government means taxation. Thus, some government and some taxation is necessary and allows for capitalism to work and to flourish for the benefit of the greatest number of people. But too much government and hence too much taxation tips the scale in the other direction.

    The use of government and therefore tax monies to assist the poor may involve noble intentions, but history teaches me that government on the whole does an awful job of it and generally exacerbates poverty and other social ills rather than being a cure.

  92. RJH #90: yeah, right…

  93. #87 – Then make sure that is crystal clear next time, OK?

  94. and then I read #89.

    Greg, I’ll take as charitable an approach as I can, based only what I’ve read from your comment. With that in mind . . .

    I have no clue if you have any clue about what the post itself says and how you feel about the post itself. Based on your last paragraph in #91, are you saying it would be good to end all government programs that are intended to help the poor and that the elimination of those programs would improve the lives of the poor? Are you saying that taxation that includes trying to help the poor is not in accordance with the Gospel, scripture and/or God’s will?

    Those are sincere questions – no sarcasm intended whatsoever.

  95. Mark Brown says:

    Greg D.

    I watched A Christmas Carol this afternoon and I think I’m finally beginning to understand your position. In the imaginary world you inhabit, charitable giving to poor people actually makes them poorer. “government on the whole does an awful job of it and generally exacerbates poverty and other social ills…” So by providing no relief at all, we are actually being charitable! Ingenious! You and Ebenezer Scrooge have a lot in common.

    Do you really think poor people are that much different from you?

  96. clarkgoble says:

    Mark (62) Great comment with one caveat. I think there are a lot of people who do grumble about overspending on such things – especially sports.

    The real issue is the structure of society. We are willing to have public goods like roads, police, military fire departments and so forth. The question is really what ought be public goods and there we find disagreement. But the disagreement honestly isn’t over taxes although the answer to how many public goods often is based upon “how much taxes.” But I think everyone agrees there ought be taxes – the question really is over how high and how many public goods.

  97. Mark Brown says:

    A lot of middle class people have never bothered to think about the detrimental effect on their character of buying a home using a government handout (FHA or VA loans), going to a state university where tuition subsidized by their fellow citizens, (or BYU where somebody else pays for 90% of your education), depositing money in a bank account that is insured by the government, or working for a business that was started using an SBA loan. Nobody bats an eye at these expenditures, indeed, we take them as nothing less than our due. In the alternative universe inhabited by tinfoil hat wearers, these expenditures of public funds are really investments, and nothing like aid to the needy. If you give them free handouts, it exacerbates social problems.

  98. Mark Brown says:

    Clark, I agree, lots of people grumble about specific expenditures, or the various amounts of those expenditures. My point was that even if we quibble about those things, we nonetheless acknowledge that democratically elected officials have the right to decide to spend money in these ways. We might not like to ski, but we don’t make ridiculous arguments about skiers contributing to social ills, or claim that unless 100% of the populace is 100% happy, we can’t do anything. It’s pretty stunning to me that we only take that position when it comes to aid for the poor.

  99. Mark Brown says:

    # 72,
    the results inevitably lead to the poor being poorer

    Yeah, it’s inevitable, no matter what we do it just gets worse.

    Mind-boggling.

  100. Ray #94, Thank you for taking a charitable approach. I really appreciate it. So, let me be crystal clear, my comments here are never intended to be a personal attack. Let me assure you I am very much clued in on exactly what the post is promoting. I entirely disagree with the concept of using the coercive power of the state as a tool for fulfilling a personal sense of a moral and spiritual obligation to assist the poor. But I have other things to do now, so with your indulgence, I will give some further thought to your questions and provide an additional response tomorrow afternoon. Thanks.

  101. #95 Mark Brown–I promise to get back to you on your comment tomorrow afternoon. Thanks.

  102. Adam Smith says:

    RJH:

    Thanks for the Cliff Notes. Here we go:

    1. OK.
    2. OK.
    3. OK.
    4. Table this discussion. We can only address it if we agree on 5 below.
    5. Disagree. Let’s say you make $100 a year. The max you could give to charity is $100. The max the government could take from you and give to charity is $100. But that’s a drop in the bucket. You need everyone to contribute to make a dent in poverty, i.e. collective action is needed. But again, the government can’t take more than you could donate yourself, so voting for collective action to help the poor is nothing more than voting to take your wealthy neighbor’s money to give it to your poor neighbor. I don’t view that as good, so not all ways of helping the poor are good.

  103. Left Field says:

    Adam, do you have any thoughts on how one might accommodate that thinking with Section 104 which tells us that the Lord’s way of providing is that the poor shall be exalted in that the rich are made low?

  104. The merits of various levels and applications of taxation aside, the presence or absence of taxation in the Bible does not in itself establish a theological argument any more than the denial of priesthood to blacks during much of the modern era does. It is just a precedent, nothing more. A bit of history. Jumping from precedent to justification is a fatal error to make an isought distinction.

    Now of course if you have a specific passage in the Bible that makes a theological argument relative to the merits of compulsory collection of tithes and offerings, that could be interesting. Absent that, I would simply say that any ancient people who collected tithes by application of various levels of force didn’t collect tithes as we know them at all, but rather taxes by another name.

    In our generation, the idea of collecting tithes and offerings by force is disclaimed by D&C 134:10, “we do not believe that any religious society has the authority…to take from them this world’s goods”.

    That doesn’t say much about the merits of taxes, although verse five of the same section has real bearing on those who seek to evade them.

  105. Perhaps “force” fits your point, but I think nobody can argue persuasively that there isn’t an element of “pressure” involved in our payment of tithes – then (as is pointed out in the OP) or now (as we rarely acknowledge openly but is patently obvious upon reflection).

    ***I’m not saying that is a bad thing,*** but I think it’s a bit disingenuous or naive to deride “force” while overlooking completely the type of pressure that still is part and parcel of the payment of tithes and offerings. Sure, we hope everyone participates out of a pure love of God and mankind, but there is pressure, nonetheless, in both qualitative and quantitative ways. Personally, I’m fine with that, but we ought to admit it upfront.

  106. Mark D,
    Actually, I kind of agree “that the presence or absence of taxation in the Bible does not in itself establish a theological argument”. However, as it is the habit of Mormon anti-taxers to quote scripture, it is reasonable to point out to them that the scriptures aren’t on their side and so they will need to return to the debate without their beloved proof texts. I can think of many arguments against taxation, or high taxation, but there isn’t an argument which Mormons can authoritatively claim has divine assent. And yet some do, all the time, which is frustrating. Crack open Atlas Shrugged if you must, but leave the scriptures out of it. I brought the scriptures into it to show that two can play at that game. So, let’s play a different game.

    Adam’s #5,
    And we’re back to theft and coercion and a particular hatred for taxes which benefit the poor. I really have nothing more to say to you, brother. We clearly won’t persuade each other, so let’s leave it alone.

  107. “I used to worry about whether or not i was donating enough time and money to the poor. Now I know that so long as i’m paying my taxes cheerfully rather than because the alternative is prison that I don’t need to worry about the poor.”

    Adam, here’s a thought: taxing your income to feed the poor isn’t primarily about _you_.

  108. “forced morality is not morality”

    Since when did democracy become forced morality Rowan? Re-think please.

  109. Mark Brown says:

    You guys, you will NOT BELIEVE what happened in church today. I guess this just goes to show that even the elect can be deceived.

    For the closing hymn, we sang a piece of music which contained these words:

    “Because I have been given much, I too must give.”

    Did you catch the way this clever agent of Satan who wrote that song slipped in that bit of false doctrine? HELLO!?!?! I MUST give? I think it is OK for the church to encourage me to give, and say that I might give, or that I should give, but this MUST business is an element of coercion, just like putting a gun to my head. People, forced charity is no charity at all, since it does nothing to edify me. Me me me.

  110. Mark, we sang the SAME closing hymn. I suspect not only is it coercion, but also conspiracy!

  111. Ray and Mark Brown, re #s 100 and 101, Saturday afternoon turned into Sunday afternoon for my responses, so, please forgive the lateness of my reply. With your indulgence, I will direct this post primarily to Mark Brown and piggy back herein my response to Ray. I apologize in advance for the length of this post.

    Mark, first, per #95, in the real world I inhabit, I do NOT believe individual charitable giving to poor people actually makes them poorer. I DO believe state support can keep them poor and in fact can make them poorer.

    Instead of taking offense at your Ebenezer Scrooge analogy, I simply had to chuckle—and not just because you made such an analogy based merely on what you presume to know of me from the content of my prior comments, but also because I believe your analogy is inapt. You see, I do not recall that the trouble for Mr. Scrooge was his failure to pay taxes.

    Per # 109, your comment about “Because I have been given much, I too must give” is a stretch. It made my eyes roll. The “…I too must give” part is an injunction just like every other commandment given by God to His children. Unlike taxation, however, it is not based on a threat of a fine and/or imprisonment by the state.

    There are, for me, a few guiding principles where government is concerned regarding what works and what does not work that I have come to appreciate over time.

    1) Government of any kind or to any degree is ultimately a form of forced socialism and/or central planning.

    2) Some government central planning, and hence some socialism, is necessary for the orderly functioning of any society—preferrably via the rule of law within a democratically elected representative system.

    3) Socialism and central planning are inherently anti-freedom and coercive in nature because, even in a relatively free society with democratically elected agents of government, not all individuals will always be willing parties to any given public policy—nor to the method of execution of said policy.

    4) There are a limited number of goods and services which government is better at producing and providing than the free market. National defense and the building up and maintaining of other basic public goods and services like fire and police protection, roads, bridges, and highways and other basic infrastructure, are included on the short list. The vast majority of goods and services are best provided by the private sector. I believe that too much government involvement in the provisioning of health care, for example, will lead to lower quality care and much less of it.

    5) The collective power of individual choices in a rational, relatively stable free market is far more effective and efficient at optimally allocating recources for the creation of wealth and prosperity than socialism and government central planning has been, is now, or could ever hope to be.

    6) The higher the levels of taxation that exist in support of government and its programs, the less incentive there is for individuals to invest, innovate, and otherwise work to create wealth and prosperity.

    7) Give someone a fish and you have fed him or her for a day. Teach that man or woman to fish, and that person can feed him or herself for life.

    Mark, per the original post, as you yourself have admitted to not having sufficient resources to meet the needs of all poor everywhere—whom you theoretically and subjectively consider to be your neighbors—I personally find it morally reprehensible that you are willing, whether personally or via laws and programs enacted by democratically elected agents, to forcefully appropriate the resources of others to assuage your own sense of moral or spiritual obligation to the poor everywhere.

    Massive government programs for the poor are inherently inefficient and wasteful. They tend to breed an entitlement mentality that unfortunately develops over time into a voracious appetite for other people’s money. So much so that it soon threatens to devour and cause the collapse of the whole system and society—as we see now is on the verge of happening in Europe with Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, England and elsewhere, including eventually even the United States.

    No where in scripture do I find support for the notion that coercive taxation to support public, collective action is a valid substitute for charity and the pure love of Christ that is born out of and is manifested soley in the hearts of individuals. Government agencies, policies, and programs are not saved by divine grace after all they can do. The gospel of Jesus Christ is about saving and exalting individuals and families, not governments.

    Charity is love freely expressed. The forced charity of a state welfare system is not charity at all. It is merely a government program which, unless it can be so structured and administered in a way that best works to lift a person more permanently out of poverty, will ultimately fail because it is unsustainable.

    Ray, if, along with a balanced budget amendment, we created a maximum individual tax liability amendment (capping total federal, state, and local taxes at say no more than 25 to 30 percent of individual receipts), then I would have less of a problem with creating a form of social safety net for the poor and unemployed so long as such programs do not create public debt, and lead to creating opportunities for those beneficiaries to improve their lot by becoming, where possible, self-reliant.

    And Ray, per #105, taxation is based upon a threat of fine and/or imprisonment. Tithing is not.

  112. Mark Brown says:

    LOL!

  113. “And Ray, per #105, taxation is based upon a threat of fine and/or imprisonment. Tithing is not.”

    Unless, of course, you consider the loss of temple attendance and eternal life to be a fine or imprisonment.

    I’m totally fine with that construct, even though I don’t like how it’s presented by too many local leaders and members – and I absolutely hate the phrase “fire insurance” applied to tithing, although it bolsters my point above. It’s just hard to take an argument seriously that doesn’t recognize that the blessings of paying tithing also include a MUCH stronger “threat” than mortal fines and imprisonment.

    Let’s just say that we disagree fundamentally about this topic and leave it at that.

  114. Mark Brown in #112 says, “LOL!” Mark, your reply made me smile. If that response, perhaps meant as ridicule, is all you have to offer in response to my comments, then, well, I’ll be charitable and let the other readers of this thread decide what that means. :-)

    Ray # 113, Yes, tithing is required to attend the temple, but there are other requirements as well. And even still I am free to choose what to believe as to how not paying tithing will affect me here and in the afterlife–with no state imposed fines or imprisonment attached.

    But I do agree that it is better to emphasize the blessings of tithing as opposed to threats vis-a-vis supposed “fire insurance.”

  115. Mark Brown says:

    Greg, I hope I am not the only person who finds it amusing when somebody who claims to be overtaxed also complains about somebody else’s overinflated sense of entitlement. Those darn poor people with their demands, will it never stop?

  116. Greg D. is really proving to me that “freedom” is a pretty pernicious thing.

  117. Left Field says:

    If I had no food, I’d just be grateful for a meal. I wouldn’t care if the people who provided it were really being charitable, or if they were taxed against their will. A meal is a meal. And I’m sure I wouldn’t care whether or not those who provided it assuaged their moral or spiritual obligation to the poor. My hunger wouldn’t be much assuaged by hearing that nobody has a meal for me, but that I’m really better off without one, since a little more hunger is just the incentive I need to stop being poor.

    Giving the hungry a fish and teaching them to fish are both admirable goals, no matter who pays for it. And if taxation is robbing the rich to give the poor a trout and/or angling lessons, then I’m perfectly happy for the rich to be robbed. If I search the scriptures for the words “rich” and “poor,” it’s pretty obvious to me whose side the Lord wants me to be on.

  118. >the collapse of the whole system and society—as we see now is on the verge of happening in Europe with Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, England and elsewhere, including eventually even the United States.

    Greg, I live in England and wasn’t aware that we were on the verge of collapse. A nasty recession, caused in large part by the banks, yes, but collapse…please. Also, one of the major problems in Greece, perhaps the main problem, is that they don’t pay enough tax! The whole culture is one of tax evasion.

    Greater understanding of the facts would be a good thing here.

    Listen well, please. I am a strong supporter of Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reform proposals in Britain. He wants to move us to a single welfare credit which ensures that it always pays people to work and which requires those who receive it to work or be looking for work. This is a bona fide conservative approach to welfare and needs to be implemented soon because yes, welfare dependency is bad and the financial burden to the state unsustainable.

    But all of that is another thing entirely to suggesting that a tax system that genuinely helps the poor is evil. Such a view really boggles the mind and is completely out of step with mainstream conservatism in the rest of the world.

  119. “Greece’s problems stem from 40 years of tax evasion and not collecting enough tax revenue” (http://www.smh.com.au/business/counting-the-cost-of-tax-havens-20111125-1nz90.html).

    LOL.

  120. Mark Brown # 115. Speaking of laugh out load—it’s becoming more difficult to take you seriously. First, I never claimed that I personally am overtaxed. Second, I do believe I am entitled to my own money since I earned it. What I am NOT entitled to is YOUR money nor anyone else’s. And the poor will always be with us. It is not a question of whether it is a good thing or not to assist the poor. It is a question of what works best—for both the poor and the rest of society.

    Steve Evans # 116. With all due respect, your vague comment is nonsense.

    Left Field # 117. Clearly what you believe about what the Lord has taught concerning both the “rich” and the “poor” is different from what I believe. I believe the Lord cares more about where your heart is and not so much about how much money you have. His indictment is against those who seek for riches first, not against those who seek the kingdom of God first. In fact, according to what I read in scripture, those who seek the kingdom of God first tend to become richer and more prosperous. And when they fall, it is not due to their riches per se, rather it is the pride concerning their riches that seeps into and corrupts their hearts.

    Your statement that you are perfectly happy for the “rich” to be robbed because you don’t care where your next meal comes from says much about your world view and your sense of morality.

    I wonder if you would have been ok with slavery in the southern states so long as the fruits of the slave labor had been appropriately appropriated to succor the poor? Or to provide you with your next meal?

    But, I know, I know—partial slavery vis-à-vis partial taxation is at least better than the 100 percent taxation of full on slavery.

  121. RJH # 118 & 119: Perhaps England is not in as dire a position as the rest of Europe, I will grant you that. But your support for Mr. Smith’s welfare reform proposals is in line with your admission that “welfare dependency is bad and the financial burden to the state unsustainable,” and is confirmation that the current welfare regime in England is not working so well.

    As for Greece, as the article referenced in your link shows, tax evasion is certainly not unique to Greece. People the world over consistently seek to pay less in taxes. Might it have anything to do with human nature and the burdensome, coercive nature of taxation?

    Funny how humans tend to prefer more agency and not less—even in matters pertaining to their own money. Maybe the answer is to actually enforce the coercive nature of taxation and throw more tax evaders in prison? Or, maybe the answer is to simply increase the burden and raise tax rates even higher! Or both!

    But of course, as the article clearly implies, profligate state and social welfare spending above and beyond revenues in Greece and elsewhere is never the biggest part of the problem, right?

    I will be simple and clear. I believe coercive taxation is a necessary evil. It is evil because it is fundamentally anti-agency, anti-human nature, and anti-incentive for creating wealth and prosperity. Therefore, lower taxation is far better and preferable than higher taxation. Assisting the poor is not evil. But using tax dollars in a way that keeps people poor and dependent and/or even exacerbates poverty, while serving to increase public debt and/or the tax burden is NOT the best way to assist the poor.

  122. “In fact, according to what I read in scripture, those who seek the kingdom of God first tend to become richer and more prosperous.”

    I won’t use the expletive I thought when I read this, but it’s an arrogant crock when talking about individuals.

    Socieities as a whole – yes, that’s the message of our scriptures. Individuals – absolutely not, that’s not the message of our scriptures. The “Prosperity Gospel” has historical relevance to groups of people, but it fails miserably when applied to individuals. The examples are far too numerous to begin to list, so I’ll (try to) bow out again.

  123. One more thing: *sigh*

    Your last paragraph addresses NOBODY who has been disagreeing with you. You can consruct a straw man all you want, but don’t pretend like it’s a valid one in this discussion.

  124. Ray #s 122 & 123. Please note—no sarcasm ahead. I appreciate your patience with me. I will grant that your reading comprehension and intellect may be superior to mine, so if I may ask you a few of questions, I will appreciate your condescension to enlighten me.

    First, can you provide one specific example of a straw man I have constructed and then attacked within my comments?

    Second, when you say that the so-called “Prosperity Gospel” applies to only societies and not to individuals, are you counting Abraham as a society?

    Does Job count as a society?

    Are wealthy societies made up of wealthy or poor individuals?

    Does the gospel of Jesus Christ, which presumably incorporates the “Prosperity Gospel,” really apply only to societies and not to individuals and families?

    Did Jesus preach His gospel to save societies or individuals?

    How is a society saved versus an individual?

    Is not the gospel of Jesus Christ is replete with promises of blessings and abundance for those individuals who are obedient to the commandments of God?

  125. handle with care says:

    I am happy to pay my taxes.I believe that it was Oliver Wendel Holmes who said that taxation is the price we pay for civilisation. I believe we are unequal in our abilities and opportunities,and taxation is the opportunity for me to address that inequality.
    But lets be honest, it does hurt,I’d rather hang on to what I have.

  126. The conversation has ended, but I wanted to stand up for jj back in #38 for saying “Relieving the poor is not the paramount consideration. Sanctifying the souls of the givers (and the receivers) is a much higher priority than relieving the poor. Hopefully, both can be done at the same time.”

    Several commenters were horrified by this comment but I find this logic to be sound. Assuming God’s omnipotence, if God’s paramount concern were relieving the poor he would do it himself and the poor would have plenty to eat, no? (Otherwise omnipotent and paramount have no meaning.) Even though God could multiply the bread of the poor into many loaves, and could provide harvest where they had not sown, as he has done on occasion, he does not. Indeed, God allows many to starve and to watch their children starve. Because God has commanded us to love and serve our neighbors, and to provide for the needy and oppressed, yet does not satisfy their needs himself, we can deduce that despite God’s infinite love for his children, he cares even more about the means whereby the poor are helped than he does about the poor being helped. This is a paradox of sorts and I’ve laid it out bluntly to make a point.

    What I learn from the paradox is that God cares more that we develop love for each other; that his concern is not only that people eat, but that we learn to love. Regrettably we do not love (and therefore help) each other nearly enough.

    For these reasons I think jj’s insight was correct.

  127. Mark Brown says:

    Assuming God’s omnipotence…

    Matt, this is where I think you are mistaken. LDS theology is pretty well established that God is not omnipotent in the sense that he can make everything happen. Mormonism is just as likely to think that God *cannot* see to it that the destitute are cared for, and therefore He relies even more on us to do that work.

  128. No thanks, Greg D.

    We don’t see this the same way – and there’s nothing either of us can do or say that will change each others’ minds. Scripture battles aren’t going to change it, since I believe what I believe about your interpretation (not necessarily about you overall), and you believe what you believe about me.

    Let’s call a truce and walk away. Nothing good can come from continuing.

  129. Mark, we recognize constraints on God’s omnipotence (I resolve the theodicy by acknowledging that God can’t make us into what he wants us to become except by exposing us to evil and suffering), but no version of LDS theology suggests that God doesn’t have sufficient power to send manna or to make the earth provide fruits and food spontaneously.

  130. Matt and Mark, is it a question of “could” or “would”? The savior’s injunction that the poor would be with us always suggests we have a responsibility to care for them, not to rely on his miracles to do so. Whether his miracles are an option, therefore, seem less important.

  131. Mark Brown says:

    Paul, I am starting with the assumption that Mormons don’t think God is omnipotent in the same way other Christians do. We believe that He is bound by laws, and we don’t make him responsible for all the evil that exists. So for LDS folks, especially, it doesn’t make sense to always be passing the buck to Diety. Having said all that I don’t disagree with anything you have said.

  132. Mark Brown says:

    Matt, sorry, I just saw your 129.

    Fair enough, I guess. God can provide manna and quail, he can also provide miracles to relieve our hardheartedness and selfishness. I don’t know why these miracles are lacking.

    To the complaint that I’m not going to be charitable until I feel good and ready, I would respond that in no other aspect of our religious practice do we accept that excuse. We pray when we don’t feel like it, we fast when we don’t feel like it, we go to meeting when we don’t feel like it, and we pay tithing even when we don’t think we can afford it. Hence my abrupt response somewhere upstream in the comments, to the effect that I don’t care whether somebody feels charitable. Is it really that hard to change our attitudes.?

  133. Mark, I agree with your 131.

  134. Mark, I agree there’s no need to except someone’s excuse that they’re not going to be charitable until they want to; God holds us accountable regardless. The problem, for the original post, is the suggestion that we can satisfy our *religious obligations* through government, as though the people of Utah could (or as Ronan suggests, should) tax everyone to pay for more temples; and from your #132 equating charitable donations, which you support using tax dollars to achieve, with other religious commandments, it appears you think the same thing: the people of Utah county should compel everyone to pay for churches and temples through taxes until they change their attitude and want to pay for them.

    Presuming that you didn’t intend to make this suggestion, I suspect that you actually agree that we cannot satisfy our *religious obligations* through government.

  135. Left Field says:

    The purpose of government assistance of course, it not to satisfy religious obligations. It’s purpose is simply to provide for those in need. In my book, feeding the hungry is worthwhile whether someone’s religious obligation is met or not. I’m quite sure that if one resents every dollar of tax that feeds the hungry and opposes the government making any such expenditures, that one will certainly fill no religious obligations, and will see none of the blessings that may come to the charitable. I can’t say whether the Lord might bestow blessings and discharge any religious obligations for those who cheerfully arrange for and contribute to public secular support for the poor. However, Cheerful is the eighth Scout Law, and I can’t see the Lord objecting to anyone’s cheerful giving through government channels. And I’m quite sure that paying taxes that support the needy ought not diminish a penny from the generosity one should exhibit with whatever remains. That kind of goes along with being a cheerful giver. It’s the grumpy givers that are likely to be just as niggardly with whatever Caesar leaves them.

  136. “The purpose of government assistance of course, it not to satisfy religious obligations.”

    I agree completely, though Ronan disagrees (hence this post) as do, I maintain, anyone who refers to scripture or religious teaching as authority in justifying government programs. I suspect that blessings don’t flow to those who promote government charitable programs anymore than they flow to those who cheerfully advocate using government funds to build temples.

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