Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Taxes as Civic Tithe

No one likes paying taxes. Especially in a country like the U.S. which began with tax protests.  Of course, unlike the rightwing fringe “teabaggers” (Honestly,  don’t these people  know how to google contemporary slang terms? Since this is a family-friendly blog, I’ll let you discover for yourselves why Michelle might object to the signs saying, “Teabag Obama!” Really.  From the family values crowd, too.) the colonists were not protesting the very idea of taxes. They were protesting “taxation without representation.” i.e., having no elected say as colonists in Parliament’s decisions as to what to tax, how much,  and how those would  be spent.

Taxes are the price of civilization.  With taxes, we pay our police, firefighters, teachers, and other public servants.  If we want good roads, bridges that don’t fall down, levees that don’t break, an electric grid that works, we must pay taxes.  If we want our elderly cared for, we pay taxes. (Poverty in old age used to be a chronic problem. Since the advent of Social Security taxes and Medicare, poverty in old age is relatively rare in the U.S.  Children’s poverty, however, is a huge problem in the U.S.) If we want our veterans cared for, we pay taxes.  If we want good government, we pay taxes.

It is true that taxes can be high and oppressive.  The Bible has plenty of examples of such.  But, in the U.S., we have some of the lowest tax rates–and, because of that, some of the worst public services.  When anti-tax sentiments run wild in state and local legislatures, these governments must enact “hidden taxes” to get needed revenue: higher fines and court fees (and speeding quotas); higher rates for public parking; higher driver’s license fees, etc. 

I have been involved in tax protests–over the amount of tax money used for military purposes and for the right for Conscientious Objectors to have a peace tax fund that allows all of our taxes to be used for non-military purposes. (There is a bill for this in Congress that is introduced every year and never gets out of committee.) But the fringe element at today’s “tea parties” seem to be protesting “high taxes,” although these are the Bush tax rates that they have praised for 8 years–and next year most of their taxes will decrease while the taxes on the rich slightly increase.  There is no logic here.

Meanwhile, offshore tax havens for wealthy corporations cost the U.S. an estimated $100 billion per year which honest taxpayers must make up.  Wealthy people cheat on their taxes far more often than poor and working people.

You cannot get something for nothing. If we want safe toys, we need inspectors and regulations, paid for by taxes. If we want safe water and air and working conditions, it takes taxes. If we want a Federal Emergency Management Agency that WORKS after a disaster (as it did during the Clinton years, but not during the Bush years), then we must be willing to pay our taxes.  The current highest tax rate (upper 1%) is only 36% and will only rise to 39% next year.  During the Eisenhower era, when America had a strong economy and the largest middle class in our history, the top 1% tax rate was 90%.

I have a different name for the tea partiers:  freeloaders and parasites.

April 15, 2009 Posted by | taxes | 24 Comments

Index: Liberty of Conscience Series

Collecting some old series together.  This will be added to the “Popular Series” page.

Liberty of Conscience, 1

Liberty of Conscience, 2

Liberty of Conscience, 3

Religious Liberty Dimensions of the U.S. Abortion Debate

Religious Liberty: Some Current Cases

A Brief Religious Liberty Bibliography

April 15, 2009 Posted by | religious liberty | Comments Off on Index: Liberty of Conscience Series

Economics and Christian Ethics: Bibliographic Essays

Originally, this series of brief bibliographic posts drew little comment.  However, given the global economic disaster, I am reposting the series (and including it in the “popular series” page) in hopes that it might prove helpful.

Economics and Christian Ethics 1: Biblical Studies

Economics and Christian Ethics 2: Church History & Contemporary Theology

Economics and Christian Ethics 3: Rival Economic Ideologies

Economics and Christian Ethics 4: Lifestyle Choices/Simple Living

Economics and Christian Ethics 5: Overviews for the Church


Labor Quotes from U.S. Presidents

Labor Day as a Call to Repentance

Two posts on Limited Government:

Limited Government I

Limited Government II: Subsidiarity.

April 15, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Comments Off on Economics and Christian Ethics: Bibliographic Essays

Convictions and Moral Discernment, 1

Recall the chart of 4 dimensions in moral discernment:  https://levellers.wordpress.com/2009/04/13/critical-variables-in-moral-discernment/  We begin with the lower-right hand box:

Basic Convictions or “Ground of Meaning” Beliefs:

God  and Human Nature

Justification and Sanctification (or Forgiveness and Discipleship)

Love and Justice

The Mission of the Church in the World

Now, longterm readers may recall that, following the late theologian James Wm. McClendon, Jr. and his sometime writing parter, philosopher James M. Smith, I argued here  that we should distinguish between those beliefs which are mere opinions and those which form our basic convictions.  Opinions are easily formed and easily changed.  We usually know when and how we came to particular opinions, too.  Convictions, however are different.  They are not easily formed, we often do not remember forming them and they cannot easily changed.  Further, convictions are so self-involving that we cannot change them at all without becoming significantly different.  If an individual or community changes one or more convictions,  then, in a real sense we are not talking about the same person or community.

Example:  Differences between those who hold that lethal violence is sometimes justified (“non-pacifists”) and those who believe that it is never morally justified to take the lives of human persons (“pacifists”) are fundamental differences of basic conviction.  As a former soldier who is now a pacifist (for 20+ years), I can testify that turning from a belief in “just wars” to gospel nonviolence is more like conversion from one religion to another (or from unbelief in any faith to faith in a particular religion) than it is like correcting an error in logic.  And, in a sense, I am not the same person that I was before I laid down my rifle and refused to don my uniform.

Well, this first dimension of moral discernment doesn’t contain EVERY conviction, but those which my teacher, Glen Stassen, found were “critical variables.”  Differences in these 7 Christian theological convictions (or analogues in other belief systems) lead to very large differences in moral discernment.  (I will formulate this primarily for Christians, but try to indicate it’s adaptability to other belief systems.)   The first 6 of these critical convictions are paired because they tend to affect each other in noticeable ways. (Yes, every conviction affects every other, but these are not idly paired together as we will see.) 

God  and Human Nature.  How we understand God is a huge factor in our moral discernment.  Obviously, if one is an athiest or an agnostic, that also affects one’s moral judgment greatly.  But suppose one believes in God.  How one understands the character of God (Primarily loving, compassionate, merciful, forgiving, or primarily judgmental, wrathful,  capricious–or an impersonal Unmoved Mover disinterested in individual lives, etc.) is a major variable in one’s ethics–especially if one’s religion teaches that one should emulate God’s character.

  Also important is how one understands the way that God works in the world.  Someone who believes that God is removed from the world, that history and nature are closed systems will approach  things very differently than someone who believes that (in one way or another) God is dynamically active in history and the created order.  Example:  One reason Martin Luther King, Jr. was able to keep his followers nonviolent in the face of police  and mob violence was that so many shared his faith that they had “divine companionship in the struggle” (in his words), that “the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  Imagine how different things  would  have been if most of those struggling in the Civil Rights movement had believed instead in a Deistic God that, watchmaker like, set the universe in motion, but left everything alone to impersonal forces.

Paired with our views of God are our views of human nature.  The ethics of someone who holds to the behaviorist views of B. F. Skinner, for example, in which humans simply respond to stimuli will have a different ethic than one who holds that most of our behavior is genetically determined.  Similarly, one can contrast those who think of people as mostly good with those who think of people as mostly evil or sinful.  (My own view is that we are mixed.  The best of us  are deeply flawed, but the worst of us can rise above our baser tendencies.) And someone who believes that humans have freewill will approach things differently than someone who holds to any form of determinism.

Now, someone who holds to a harsh, judgmental view of God and a view that humans are mostly evil will be very pessimistic and distrusting of people and desire strict laws with harsh enforcement to keep people in line. (So might an athiest with a pessimistic view of the world and people.) A person who views God as mostly loving and humans as free agents  who are mostly good will have a very different approach to things.  And so it goes–along nearly infinite combinations.

Next time: we’ll discuss justification and sanctification.

April 15, 2009 Posted by | convictions, ethics, moral discernment, theology | 9 Comments