Friday, February 3, 2012

Obama, Taxes, and Jesus?

On February 2, 2012, President Obama spoke at the annual National Prayer Breakfast. This event dates back to Eisenhower, and is generally used to talk about unity and shared values. Not this year. Instead, Obama used the opportunity to promote his tax policies.

I do not mind a politician being guided by his or her ethical foundation, including religious beliefs, as long as those beliefs do not infringe upon my freedom. However, politicians of all types tend to misquote scriptures and misrepresent them. I'd rather politicians not attempt to be theologians.

Keep religion out of politics. Period. (I also dislike ending every speech with "God Bless America!" If there is a Creator, the entire world needs some blessings about now.)

I wrote this blog entry less than a year ago:
http://roguerhet.blogspot.com/2011/05/wwjd-rhetoric-scripture-and-taxes.html

The president's speech is filled with misrepresentations of the Bible, selective readings that do not reflect the essence of the scripture.

I am agnostic, at best, and more inclined towards atheism. But, I am unwilling to accept a president intentionally or unintentionally misrepresenting a faith.

And when I talk about shared responsibility, it's because I genuinely believe that in a time when many folks are struggling, at a time when we have enormous deficits, it's hard for me to ask seniors on a fixed income, or young people with student loans, or middle-class families who can barely pay the bills to shoulder the burden alone. And I think to myself, if I'm willing to give something up as somebody who's been extraordinarily blessed, and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that's going to make economic sense. 
But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus's teaching that "for unto whom much is given, much shall be required." It mirrors the Islamic belief that those who've been blessed have an obligation to use those blessings to help others, or the Jewish doctrine of moderation and consideration for others.

What? Has Obama read the section of Luke he is citing, which includes Luke 12:48? It is a parable about servants keeping watch over a house. They have been given food, shelter, and other comforts. In return, they are expected to protect the house.

In case you miss the metaphor, which the president either misses or ignores: the "comforts" are faith and the servants to whom the Word was given are the faithful.
Luke 12:37: Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them sit down to meat, and shall come and serve them. 
38: And if he shall come in the second watch, and if in the third, and find them so, blessed are those servants. 
39: But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what hour the thief was coming, he would have watched, and not have left his house to be broken through. 
40: Be ye also ready: for in an hour that ye think not the Son of man cometh. 
42: And the Lord said, Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall set over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? 
43: Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. 
44: Of a truth I say unto you, that he will set him over all that he hath. 
45: But if that servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; 
46: the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he expecteth not, and in an hour when he knoweth not, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint his portion with the unfaithful. 
47: And that servant, who knew his lord's will, and made not ready, nor did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes; 
48: but he that knew not, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes . And to whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required: and to whom they commit much, of him will they ask the more. 
49: I came to cast fire upon the earth; and what do I desire, if it is already kindled? 
50: But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished! 
51: Think ye that I am come to give peace in the earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: 
52: for there shall be from henceforth five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three.
This is a warning to be a good steward, to do your job well based on what you have been given by the household master (the Creator) so when the master returns he will be pleased. This has nothing, nothing at all with being given material comfort.

There is nothing about being blessed with physical comfort. Luke 12 isn't about sharing wealth. Servants have no material wealth. You could actually read it, if you wanted to twist it another way: "You've been given the means for a job. If you do the job, expect more rewards."

Actually, that's a pretty "conservative" idea. Do your job and you will be compensated. I like that reading of the text.

Remember, the Bible also asks us to work six days, warns against being idle and lazy, and even tell us that Jesus was once rich. I'm not kidding, you could read the following in several ways:
Corinthians 8:9: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
Remember, Jesus was a carpenter in a time that carpenters were also architects and engineers. It was a well-paid profession at that time. This entire "humble carpenter" thing has been distorted. Joseph was not poor, he was probably "middle class" or even "upper-middle" for the time period.

But, let's not let facts get in the way of a call for more taxes.

What does the Bible actually say about taxes and government? Again, please read my previous post:
http://roguerhet.blogspot.com/2011/05/wwjd-rhetoric-scripture-and-taxes.html

It is clear in the Bible that The Creator does not approve of high taxes (they are declared equal to slavery!) or big government.

The president should have asked someone to check that little detail. He's calling for a 35 to 39 percent tax rate. Has he read what happened when David raised taxes and conducted a census? It wasn't pretty.
The story of Joseph and Pharaoh in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, is the story of a land grab by a government. During a time of hardship (famine) the Pharaoh buys the land of farmers, making them "slaves" to a 20 percent tax rate. The farmers were allowed farm the land, but not own it.
Genesis 47:20: So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for all the Egyptians sold their fields, because the famine was severe on them. The land became Pharaoh's. 
21: As for the people, he made servants of them from one end of Egypt to the other. 
23: Then Joseph said to the people, "Behold, I have this day bought you and your land for Pharaoh. Now here is seed for you, and you shall sow the land. 
24: And at the harvests you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four fifths shall be your own, as seed for the field and as food for yourselves and your households, and as food for your little ones."
Ironically, it was stored grain (a form of taxes) that allowed Pharaoh, to take the land. Sound familiar? Bailouts paid during a time of need lead to government control. Had the people stored their own grain instead of paying to Pharaoh during the good years, they might have avoided this fiasco.

In the Bible, when government takes from you, it seldom ends well. Maybe there is a lesson in that?
Christians are expected to give what their hearts compel them to give, not what a government takes from them. I certainly feel better giving time or money to causes about which I care. I'm not a Christian, but I definitely appreciate the concept that meaningful giving is voluntary. I don't feel great when the government takes anything. The president confuses giving with taxes.
II Corinthians 9:6: The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 
7: Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 
8: And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 
9: As it is written, "He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever."
As far as I'm concerned, this is all political theatrics. The president, like all politicians, is using faith to suit his goals. I don't like it when Republicans do it. I don't like it when Democrats do it.

In a speech that is overtly political, and misleading, the president does include this:
Now, we can earnestly seek to see these values lived out in our politics and our policies, and we can earnestly disagree on the best way to achieve these values. In the words of C.S. Lewis, "Christianity has not, and does not profess to have a detailed political program. It is meant for all men at all times, and the particular program which suited one place or time would not suit another."
He includes this citation right after talking about taxes and "giving."

I'm not a Christian, and you have no right to make me behave like whatever you imagine a Christian to be. I respect faith, but don't use your faith to justify making me do anything.

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