Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Using their faith against them

I'm not a Christian and I don't think tax policy should be influenced in any way by the Bible or other faith-based morality. But it is a fact that most people don't agree with me and that not a single person in the executive or legislative branches of the federal government agrees with me. So when a tax scholar points out that the President's tax policy doesn't live up to his own Judeo-Christian standards, I enjoy it. Here's a link to the abstract.

This, by the way, is my favorite quote:

"Using a wealth of sources, I then establish that the moral values driving the Bush Administration's tax policy decisions reflect objectivist ethics, a form of atheism that exalts individual property rights over all other moral considerations."

So maybe I am being represented in Washington...


Blogger Arfanser said...

Have you found the whole article yet? I would like to read it.

12:25 PM  
Blogger Fishfrog said...

I'll email it to you. You can access it through SSRN, but you have to have an account (which is free, but I'll save you the trouble of having to sign up).

12:47 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

I think you can get it for free at the SSRN website, and if you've got westlaw/lexis, the citation is 25 Va. Tax Rev. 671

I haven't read the article, but I have read Matthew 25:34-40:

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Although I gave up on god long ago, I believed it to be central to the theme then and I believe it to be true now that compassion and love is more important than money.

12:53 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

doh, I was composing while you were posting - the SSRN links, by the way, don't require registration to download a PDF.

12:54 PM  
Blogger Fishfrog said...

The problem I see with bible quotes that allegedly support progressive taxation is that the quotes seem really to support charity with no explicit (or implicit) support for a government run redistribution plan. The bible seems to support a libertarian position that we eliminate taxes and government welfare programs and leave it to private charity to help out the poor.

I personally think the reliance on people to do the "right" thing with no incentive but to feel good about themselves and the disincentive of foregone personal consumption is misplaced, and that people are, for the most part, fairly selfish. With no government mandate (or incentive like tax deductions), I'm skeptical that we wouldn't just let people starve in the streets.

1:39 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

That's true - there's nothing about the biblical argument for charity that specifies it's the government what should be doing the charity. This argument, though, is applicable to government programs that generally do get conservative religious attention and argumentation - things like family planning, abortion, school prayer, equal protection for the glbt lot, etc. The Bible sets forth morality for individuals to follow, to use in understanding the world. It then gets used to decide how the government should act in certain situations.

I'm glad that you note this distinction, cos it's something that's really bugged me about so many of the judicial opinions we've read - they always (or almost always) focus on what's right and what's wrong in objective terms, and rarely on whether the coercive use of government power (which is the real implicit issue in every court decision) is appropriate.

Like the fomentations kid who died from a kick to the leg - I would find it far more legitimate for a judge to say, "Look, we're not going to bust a kid in court for fooling around in school." rather than go into all the crap about playground vs classroom and eggshell skulls.

At any rate, I don't think that there's anything in the Matthew passage which suggests that it'd be better to have only private charity with no government interference. The argument, which I think you frame nicely at the end, is what is the appropriate course of activity for the government to follow. And the passage suggests that compassion for the less fortunate is very important.

2:17 PM  
Blogger scarlet panda said...

[BTW, I hadn't seen Matt's comment when I wrote this, so sorry for any repetition or ignoring of his comments.]

The Bible and other sources of Judeo-Christian ethics tell followers what is moral; they don't tell followers whether they should use the government as a tool to promote those morals. I think you could read it either way.

Some conservatives have successfully convinced many people that the governent should be used to promote or enforce the parts of religion related to sexual and family morality, but not the parts of religion related to giving-to-the-poor-type morality. I think that's a bit shady. Similarly, I think it would be kind of shady for the Democrats to do the converse.

Oddly, in light of the positions the two parties have taken, I think that if we did accept the premise that the government should be used to enforce the morals described in the Bible, and we had a verse-for-verse "Whose platform is more consistent with the New Testament?" standoff, I think it would probably help the Democrats.

2:42 PM  
Blogger Arfanser said...

To answer S.P., I dont think it would help Democrats, not because their political position is inconsistent with the bible (Come on, honestly, you can support anything with the bible) but because modern day christians for the most part have been convinced that the most important parts of the bible are those condemning homosexuality and abortion. From the perspective of actual results, I think that would hurt democrats.

On another note, (and I dont feel bad bringing in my religion cause most of the commenters here dont believe in the bible in the first place) the book of mormon gives a slightly different perspective on the tax thing. It seems to teach that excessive taxation is bad because it feeds the glutony of those that aspire to power. I would have no problem paying significant taxes if I actually could see them going to the poor, as opposed to so much going back to the wealthy.

9:34 PM  
Blogger scarlet panda said...

arfanser, I agree with you that "modern day christians for the most part have been convinced that the most important parts of the bible are those condemning homosexuality and abortion." But I think that's because no one has really tried to convince them otherwise.

I'm going to go out on a limb here: There is no possible way that anyone could argue that that homosexuality and abortion are the most important parts of the Bible. Abortion is not mentioned (there's the don't-kill-people stuff, yes, but that's not dispositive--even conservatives say we can kill people sometimes, and even liberals say we can't murder people post-birth). Homosexuality is mentioned in a very few passages, some of which Biblical scholars now say are probably not even about homosexuality. The scriptural support for an anti-gay stance is about on par with scriptural support for slavery or whatever cockamamie idea you want to support with the Bible. Jesus never mentions it at all.

In contrast, the Bible, and especially the Gospels, are teeming with unambiguous statements about how you absolutely have to give all your stuff and your time to the poor right now.

How on earth does this argument have so little traction?

6:58 AM  
Blogger Arfanser said...

It gets traction, I believe, because the majority of people have refused to think about their religion. The think that relying on what they call "faith" and I call blind belief is a good thing. And since their preachers tell them the bible is all about certain stuff, they just accept it.

As an example, while I was in Mexico, I had hundreds of people in different cities tell me, "The bible says, God helps those that help themselves." Nice sentiment, but its not in there.

I do have to say though, the only scripture I know in the bible though that talks about taxation is "Render unto caesar that which is caesar's." And that to me isnt very clear.

11:08 AM  
Blogger Matt said...

Beliefnet's got a very history-specific answer to what that means. I always thought of it as being a sort of separation of church and state type thing.

The Bible's so thick, with so many different authors, and written in a manner that's so very open to interpretation, that the secondary authority seems to overwhelm the primary at times.

11:58 AM  

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