Who likes paying taxes? I know I don’t, and I expect you don’t either. In my case, some might think it hypocritical. After all, I am employed in local government. Therefore every penny I pay out has already been paid in by someone else. And my observation that, on average and when you combine all the various taxes, everyone in the United Kingdom is paying between 40 and 50 per cent of their earnings to the government, is a conclusion I can arrive at largely because of my taxpayer-funded schooling and university education, and my slight addiction to news programmes, including mainly those produced by the taxpayer-funded BBC.
So my argument is basically that I don’t make the rules up. I have seen enough good use of taxes to see why they exist and enough bad uses of taxes, sometimes systematic, to wonder if they really need to be as high as they are. (I say this protected by having had 6 different public sector employers to date, so no-one need assume I’m talking about them).
But there are other arguments available. Kent Hovind, for example, is currently waiting in jail for apparently following his professed beliefs that he is not a citizen of the United States, that his “business” was in fact a church, and that the US had no taxation jurisdiction over him.
Mr Hovind is not your average tax-evader. Firstly, he was fairly open about his beliefs, though this contributed nicely to the evidence against him in court. Secondly, there were ways he could have achieved at least some of the similar results legally, by incorporating and having the government recognise the charitable status of much of his work – though this would have meant handing something to Caesar that Hovind didn’t think was Caesar’s to hold. Thirdly, I’m going to make the wild assumption that tax evasion isn’t usually just about the fun of getting away with it, and has a large element of greed about it, but Hovind is famous for telling people that if they want to copy his DVDs and distribute them for free, they can go right ahead and do that and not give him a penny. This has inspired me to do the same. That doesn’t sound like a greedy guy’s guide to making money, and so maybe Hovind’s motives for his peculiar interpretations of tax law and practical theology are not so easy to caricature.
This event has caused a lot of people from various perspectives to return to Christ’s comments in Matthew 22, Mark 12 and Luke 20 that we should “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.” And even though I don’t like paying the government money that they will use to kill unborn children, I still think that these and other passages tell me that I should pay my bit, and let God worry about Caesar.
But the thing that keeps me wondering is that Jesus was so good in his battles with the scribes and Pharisees to regularly give answers that were astonishingly clever on so many levels, so that I’m often left with a “I-wish-I-could-think-of-something-like-that” kind of feeling. And I’m tempted to think that maybe we’ve all been ignoring the second part of the statement – “render unto God that which is God’s”.
You see that’s the hard bit. Christ said we could work out who owned not just the coin, but the entire system it depended on, by seeing whose “image and superscription” was on the coin. So what does God own – those things bearing his image and superscription. Every human alive today bears at least a fractured and degraded version of the image of God, and every Christian is sealed by his Spirit, and so this applies to us doubly so.
If we gave ourselves properly to God, would there be anything left for Caesar to tax?
It may not be right to with-hold tax, but is there a case for limiting our income and expenditure, so that we give Caesar as little to tax as possible?
Kent Hovind has been living in a way that resists Caesar, and is now being crushed by that godless system. He may or may not have done it wrongly, but he has been prepared to pay the price. I guess the rest of us need to ask ourselves, “How come I can live my life in a way that funds the godless system? And why does the godless system not feel the need to challenge me about it?”