It's OK to use taxes for social goals

  • July 28, 2008

{mosimage}Canadians are evenly divided on Liberal leader Stephane Dion’s plan to use the tax system to reduce Canada’s disproportionate contribution to global warming.

When the Liberal carbon tax and its purpose was described to them by pollsters at Harris/Decima, 47 per cent of Canadians said they support the concept versus 39 per cent who were opposed.

But what does the Bible and church teaching tell us about using taxes to achieve social goals?

Frequently a Christian’s first  resort in any debate over taxes is Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees who ask, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?” (Matthew 22:17). Preachers have used Jesus’ answer both to justify paying taxes and resisting them.

While Jesus words “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s” would seem to command tax payment, some point out that Jesus first asks for a coin then asks whose image is on the coin? This would seem to indicate Jesus did not Himself touch or possess Roman money. Perhaps Jesus lived a life radically separate from the Roman Empire, including its tax system, while He preached the Kingdom of God.

At the same time, it seems Jesus is not against an organized system of redistributing wealth for the common good. In another dispute with the Pharisees He elevates the practice of tithing to a spiritual level.

“You (Pharisees) tithe mint, dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practised without neglecting the others” (Matthew 23:23).

It isn’t that Jesus wants the Pharisees to do justice instead of paying the tithe, but in addition. The Mosaic code requirement to dedicate a tenth of the harvest to the common good of the community was something Jesus took for granted as an observant Jew.

In Romans it appears that St. Paul encourages Christians to pay their taxes and be subject even to unjust authorities. However, he urges the Roman church to pay taxes in order to free themselves of any obligation to the state.

“Pay all what is due them — taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honour to whom honour is due. Owe no one anything, except to love one another,” Paul writes (Rom. 13:7-8).

St. Paul isn’t interested in where the taxes are going, or how they may be used for the common good. He anticipates this world passing away and wants the church to concentrate on being ready for the world which will replace it.

Catholic social teaching views politics and the economy not as something that simply happens to us and around us, like the weather, but as systems with a moral purpose.

“The church’s social doctrine insists on the moral connotations of the economy,” says paragraph 330 of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

Given that there is a moral dimension to economics, solidarity becomes the governing principle for how an economy and a state should be organized.

“The profound meaning of civil and political life does not arise immediately from the list of personal rights and duties. Life in society takes on all its significance when it is based on civil friendship and on fraternity,” says paragraph 390 of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

Paragraph 2240 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church leaves no doubt about whether taxes are the appropriate instrument of solidarity.

“Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes,” it reads.

The Liberal’s proposed “Green Shift” carbon tax may or may not achieve a reduction in greenhouse gases that drive global warming. It may or may not supply the government with funds to lift families out of poverty. Those are questions open to investigation and political debate. But as to whether it is right, just and moral to use the tax system to achieve such goals, Scripture and the teaching of the church are pretty clear.

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