Render unto God and to US

For a nation of Christians, we sure are cheapskates.

I’m not going to get into the details of how we thirty years of politics have pushed us the debt ceiling crisis because nobody cares anyway. They’ve drawn their lines in the sand and they only care about today’s posture.

The Democrats will give up some aspects of entitlements, but not the programs themselves. They will settle for tax loophole reform if they can’t get tax increases, but they want to bring more money in. They’ve retreated to their line. In fact they’ve retreated past their original line and drawn this new one and I’m not sure they’re willing to go much further.

The Tea Party Republican line is total capitulation by the Democrats. They haven’t budged, and I can’t imagine they will.

More moderate Republicans are trying to resolve the crisis by removing the vote from Congress altogether and leaving it to the President (who will, of course, raise the debt ceiling). Then they can pretend they had nothing to do with raising the debt ceiling.

This is like those arguments where my wife or I say to the other, “Okay, you make the decision, but it’s your fault when it backfires.” Well, no, it’s my fault too because by allowing her to make the decision, I made the decision with her.

But the Tea Party members claim to be Jesus’ representative in politics, so I get to address this question to them. Why isn’t anyone asking WWJD?

In this entire debate I haven’t heard anyone ask WWJD? We can’t blame the Democrats for this because we all know they’re godless atheists, Moslem sympathizers and eagerly wait the second coming of Karl Marx. But how about those Republicans, especially Tea Party Republicans who only want what Jesus wants? Why haven’t we heard WWJDATDC on Fox News, when Republicans appear on CNN and MSNBC to explain their position?

Probably because Jesus would answer, “Give God his due, and give the government theirs.” Oh, wait, he did say it. It’s Matthew 22. And readers who know the historical context know that the question was posed to get Jesus to come down one one side of the other on the issue of tax resistance. In other words, they were asking him if he supported the Jewish equivalent of the Tea Party.

Here’s the amazing part about how this verse applies in America. In America, we are the government. The US is us. When we give to the government, we give to ourselves.

Modern Republicanism, at it’s heart, is based on a modern spin of Adam Smith capitalism. It’s called “the profit motive.” It argues that people should be allowed to pursue wealth as their primary objective, and the most important role of government is to protect the pursuit of wealth.

And why should we not pay taxes? Because taxes interfere with the pursuit of wealth. And the subtext for less wealthy Republicans is “taxes make you poor.” Somehow, if you didn’t contribute a small portion of your check to defense, schools, roads, police and education, you would suddenly be as rich as Donald Trump.

Jesus made it clear that the pursuit of wealth was a destructive distraction from the pursuit of God’s realm. The writer of Timothy says, without equivocation, “the love of money is the root of evil.”

When we pay taxes we are paying for the country’s (our) defense, our education, our roads which we need to get to work and (more importantly in America) shopping, the police who keep us safe from the increasing numbers of the poor who will be stealing from us now that we’ve taken their welfare away.

To say, “I will pay no taxes,” is not only to slap Jesus in the face, but to steal from yourself. Jesus said, “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” or, in essence, pay your taxes. He doesn’t equivocate. If you’re a Christian, you should pay your taxes.

But you’re also stealing from yourself. Let’s face it, you cannot afford to install roads and utilities to support your home. Not even if you’re rich. You may be able to afford to install the wiring, plumbing and driveway, but you can’t afford to build the road to work, the road to church and the road to school. You can’t afford to sink a well, purify the water and dispose of it. You can’t afford to raise an army to defend your home against terrorists.

Not if you want to maintain your standard of living.

Right now in the Oak Hill to Dripping Springs area new subdivisions are advertising themselves as free from county water taxes. This sounds like a good thing to Tea Party members. But people who move into those subdivisions will have to get their water from somewhere.

Where will they get their water? From private contractors who charge upwards of $200 a month. We pay county taxes and our water bill is far less, closer to $30 a month (a bargain even with the $75 annual tax added on). If the Tea Party managed to eliminate county water taxes we would be paying a lot more, and so would our tenants, who already have a hard enough time feeding their four kids.

So we help each other by paying taxes to do collectively the things we can’t do by ourselves. Now this may sound unAmerican and unChristian, but it’s not. Our founders didn’t fight the revolution to end taxes, but taxes “without representation.” In other words, taxes imposed by representatives we didn’t elect. They were never stupid enough to believe that governance, even self-governance, is free.

Early Christians turned over everything they owned to their local church to make sure every one was fed. Read the book of Acts. They even sent money to other churches where it couldn’t possibly be used to benefit them. They turned over their money to take care of widows (read social security) and the poor.

Here’s the WWJD wrinkle. Jesus would not only have us give, he would have us give gladly. This lies at the heart of the faith. Christians should want to support those less fortunate. To give to the poor is to give to the angels. We should not only give to Caesar (or in our case US), we should rejoice that God has given us a means of supporting the best government on earth-ourselves.

But Americans are so cheap we don’t even want to give to ourselves. We want to hold onto every penny even if it starves us. Jesus taught us to be of service to others. Americans want to give to themselves, not ourselves. Mine, mine, mine.

The truth is, if we stopped paying taxes altogether we wouldn’t be rich, we would just be less poor.

Or would we even be that? If we got rid of taxes, got rid of government, would we even have the standard of living we have today?

Imagine the country with no government at all, or one devoted only to allowing businesses to pursue profit without restraint. Do we really believe companies would start hiring more Americans? At least before we agreed to work for the same wages as laborers in the Philippines? (The same companies who are now shipping jobs from India to even cheaper labor in Indonesia?)

Do we believe the corporations would build roads for everybody, and provide the same policing for everybody? Do we believe the large corporations would encourage small businesses with potentially competitive products and services?

Many Americans and Christians don’t know that before the US government, at the request of the voters, established reforms and legalized labor unions, companies often forced their employees to live in company towns, buy from company stores and pay company doctors. After working twelve hours a day, six days a week (and sometimes six hours on Sunday) workers ended up in debt to their own employers.

I’m all for reducing the deficit, but to me reducing the deficit means paying our bills. And if you asked Jesus WWYD, he would also say, “pay your bills.” Oh, wait, he pretty much already did. It’s easy to say, we can’t incur any more debt, but we still have to pay the debt we owe. And don’t blame the politicians either because we elected them.

But you see, we’re cheapskates. We don’t want to pay. We don’t want to give to God, or US, just clutch on to every penny until it buys us nothing. And there’s nothing Christian about that.

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