Saturday, December 11, 2010

Goodness by Compulsion

Just came across this in Philemon:
I prefer to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord (Philemon 14).
Now, given the bunches of voices from the "Christian sector" that call for national health care, higher taxation for giving aid to the needy, and the like all in the name of "Christian charity", how does this fit in? Wouldn't it have been better for Paul to say, "I will compel you to be good if I have to, regardless of your agreement"? Wouldn't that be more in keeping with this notion of "enforced charity" as a Christian virtue?

(Note: The questions here are rhetorical. I'm not looking for a debate.)

Update:
And as if by magic, here is an article written by a professor from Chicago Theological Seminary that says what I was questioning. She argues that the moral thing to do, the way to return to "Christian values", is to redistribute wealth via taxation. She says that Jesus taught this. There ya go.

36 comments:

Dan Trabue said...

Well, since no one is especially wanting to see higher taxes or compelled giving (for the poor, for the roads, for a big military, for police, for all the things a society decides is prudent), I don't know that ANYONE in the "Christian sector" has a problem with what Paul's saying in Philemon.

Just because our great nation has decided that it's prudent to use taxation to pay for the things that we (relatively) mutually decide upon by our elected representatives does not mean that any of us favor compulsion, right?

(Note: The answers, not rhetorical, nor am I looking for a debate. Just stating facts, as I see 'em.)

Peace.

Stan said...

Point well missed.

Dan Trabue said...

You asked a silly rhetorical question and I gave a serious factual response. Not sure what was missed, but there you go.

Dan said...

:0

Stan said...

You call it "silly". (I called it rhetorical.) You may think that "does not mean that any of us favor compulsion", but I've heard the argument from Christian corners. Telling me "that doesn't mean any of us favor compulsion" is not a serious factual response to the serious fact that the argument has been made.

Dan Trabue said...

The point is, Stan, that we have a system whereby we elect representatives to pass some legislature that will require taxation. That the majority of folk in our nation "compel" everyone to pay for a massive military and prisons and roads and support for motorists and assistance to the poor does not mean that any of us are in favor of compelling anything. It's just the way our system works.

To try to paint those who support welfare (which cuts across conservative and liberal lines, I'd suggest) as somehow wanting to "enforce charity" is a way of portraying your fellow Christians in a rather negative light and doing so unfairly, don't you think, Stan?

Stan said...

I can only assume that you do no know of the folks to whom I'm referring. They have argued that it is Christian duty to be taxed and compelled to give for things like welfare and health care. If you thought I had Dan Trabue in mind when I wrote it, check your ego. It wasn't you. But there are indeed those that claim that it is a good, even Christian thing that the government compel people through taxes to be charitable.

Marshall Art said...

Dan speaks with forked tongue. He indeed compels others by his support for progressive taxation, and does so under the guise of expecting much from those what have been "given" much. In the spiritual sense, all we have, for good or ill, is from Him Who created us. But in the sense of the lives we lead, no one has the right to "expect" from anyone but themselves (aside from those with whom one might enter into contract). But Dan does indeed expect from those who have more, OR he thinks he has the right in this case to remind others of what God's Will is. He's very selective about such things.

Bubba said...

I'm surprised to see Dan commenting here. Just a few weeks ago, Dan was griping about how he was banned from this blog because Stan thinks he's "too liberal."

Dan attributed this ban to cowardice or intellectual dishonesty on Stan's part -- or, ostensibly to give Stan the benefit of the doubt, a zealotry in keeping heretical comments from his blog.

Funny enough, when he quoted a public comment from Stan, he did so without attribution, SUPPOSEDLY to protect Stan's privacy. And Stan's supposed to be the intellectually dishonest one.

Dan Trabue said...

And that ad hom nonsense has to do with this post... how?

We always can make our case best when we do so without engaging in personal attacks, friends. It weakens your position.

Peace, brothers.

Dan Trabue said...

Marshall...

no one has the right to "expect" from anyone but themselves (aside from those with whom one might enter into contract).

We are, in fact, in a social contract with our fellow citizens. By living in a free nation, we are agreeing to abide by the system that is in place and, where we disagree with policies, laws, etc, we will work within the system to change those policies. If you don't like the contract we have in this great nation, you are free to work to change it or to leave.

In fact, I am confident in saying that most folk agree with Thomas Jefferson: That it is reasonable and good to expect those with the most to pay the most, that some form of progressive tax scheme is the best of all flawed approaches to paying for our common wealth and common needs.

Tell me Marshall: Do you really want a truly flat tax? One where the poor pay 15% (for instance) of their $10,000 a year and the rich pay 15% of their $1 million a year? And that approach would be true whether or not the tax was a sales tax (where the poor HAVe to pay 15% tax on their food, for instance, as well as the rich) or an income tax? Do you favor everyone paying the same percentage, Marshall? OR, do you make allowances, recognizing that someone making $10,000/year having to pay 15% is a HUGE and ultimately, unmanageable chunk of change to pay?

Most flat taxers I've read about make allowances for the poor. Or, in other words, they favor a progressive tax scheme to at least some degree, it's just a matter of how best to make it progressive so as not to unjustly tax the poorest. I'd suggest that no one will ever be able to sell the notion that the most poor ought to pay 15-35%+ in taxes as a moral notion. It reeks of injustice.

Stan said...

Just an FYI, the ad hominem fallacy only occurs when an argument is made. When you said, "We always can make our case best when we do so without engaging in personal attacks" it assumes that an argument was made. Since Bubba actually made no argument, it's not strictly an ad hominem. Here, let me show the difference.

ad hominem: "Your argument is invalid because you're a jerk."

Observation: "You're a jerk."

You see, one is an argument and one is simply an observation. I don't see that Bubba made any argument about your position or the post, but simply pointed out that it seemed inconsistent from your prior statements elsewhere that you would be making comments here. I suppose there is the inference of intellectual dishonesty, but that's still an observation, not an argument.

As I said, just as an FYI.

(By the way, since the last comment to Marshall was an answer to a question he asked on your blog, I'll let you answer that on your blog. That's why it's not posted here.)

Marshall Art said...

Dan,

Yes. A flat tax on everyone is indeed fair. What concerns Dan are those who are currently in financial distress, as if they are not dealing already. You're one for living within one's means. They'll have to live on 163.50 per week. They'll have to avoid overconsumption and live in a sustainable manner. Or is that just for rich dudes? Frankly, I currently only make what amounts to 10K per year. It sucks. But I still favor a flat tax because of what a boon to the economy it would be.

As to living in a free country with a system that provides for determining by vote how that system should work, if the majority votes to rape the producers of their wealth, they are still compelling others to do what you avoid doing and placing expectations upon others without having any right to do so (not legal right, but moral and ethical right).

What's more, you still misapply what Jefferson was talking about. If you can get the poor to grow their own crops, raise their own cattle, make their own furniture, clothes and liquor, then you can bring up that irrelevant Jefferson quote that you don't seem to understand. Based on the Jefferson quote I offered at your blog, you're clearly bending his intent to match your socialism.

I now defer to Stan's feelings and will add no more of what relates to our other discussion at your place.

Stan said...

Since the post was not about taxation or the fairness of it and since some of this discussion is apparently at another blog and since no one is actually discussing the merits of goodness by compulsion, perhaps we can drop this now?

Bubba said...

For what it's worth, Dan's criticism of ad hominem attacks is absurd in light of his accusing Stan of cowardice, intellectual dishonesty, and/or a complete intolerance for dissent.

I'd like to see Dan either defend that accusation or retract it.

Stan said...

Maybe, Bubba, but not likely here. This isn't the place for it (this post and its comments) and he's already defended it, at least in his mind.

Stan said...

And as if by magic, here is an article written by a professor from Chicago Theological Seminary that says what I was questioning. She argues that the moral thing to do, the way to return to "Christian values", is to redistribute wealth via taxation.

4simpsons said...

And she is a theology professor, so you have to know that she is right!

Reason number #105 to study the Bible yourself. Divinity degrees by themselves mean nothing when so many false teachers have them.

Dan Trabue said...

The article makes a great point, Stan...

Politicians love to pontificate on how we need to restore "Christian values" in the public square, but that's mostly limited to denying equal civil rights for gay Americans, or controlling women's bodies. When it comes to what the bible says about wealth and poverty, however, you'll never hear that touted as morality in the public square. No, no. That's "private."

Which was my point: That we have a system in place that uses progressive taxation to supply all our needs, and included in those needs are how we treat our poor, as well as how we treat our roads and our enemies. But to isolate ONE aspect of those needs (how we treat the poor) as somehow "private" and improper to address as a civil society, we are perhaps exposing some hypocrisy.

Stan said...

May I ask, Dan, just for clarification, are you saying that it is a matter of Christian morality (the professor's argument) to redistribute wealth via taxation? Is it a matter of "Christian values" (her terminology) that we should take from the rich and give to the poor? I'm not asking if it's a good idea or "reasonable" or any such thing. I'm not asking about taxation in general Is it an issue of a moral position based on Christian ethics? Are people acting in a Christian manner (called to care for the poor) by paying taxes? Is the story of the rich young ruler a valid command from God for governments to tax the rich?

Marshall Art said...

He's used the story before (and/or allowed others to do so) to defend the notion that "to whom much is given, much is expected" which in turn is used to defend progressive taxation. But that is an expectation of God's and is a private matter between Him and an individual, not permission for anyone to force charity out of others. No human being has the right or authority to have such expectations of another, either through a marxist misapplication of Scripture, or by gathering with other marxists to vote for those who would put forth such legislation. That is, one has the legal right ot seek from gov't whatever brings satisfaction, but not necessarily the moral right.

Dan Trabue said...

Stan...

Is it a matter of "Christian values" (her terminology) that we should take from the rich and give to the poor?

I don't think it is a matter of Christian values to take from the rich by force and give to the poor.

Did SHE say that it is a matter of Christian values to take from the rich and give to the poor? I don't think so.

What she DID say was...

"It's also easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a bill with the rich paying their fair share of taxes to get through Congress...

But that's the moral thing to do."


It's a moral thing to do, in other words, to have a progressive tax scheme to pay for our various common needs.

What I'm saying is...

1. that it is a matter of Christian values to tend to the needs of the poor.

2. I'm saying it is a matter of values/importance for the individual (Christian or not) and a nation (obviously not Christian).

3. I'm saying that IF we, the people decide to pay for our common needs (ie, roads, police, fire, education, defense and, yes, welfare) via a progressive tax scheme, that this is compatible with Christian teaching and morally reasonable.

4. I am saying as clearly and loudly as possible: A PROGRESSIVE TAX SCHEME TO PAY FOR COMMON NEEDS IS NOT NOT NOT THE SAME AS "TAKING FROM THE RICH AND GIVING TO THE POOR."

5. I'm saying that a REGRESSIVE tax scheme (ie, one that costs the poor MORE) is contrary to Christian and American values, not to mention plain moral reasoning.

Dan Trabue said...

Stan...

Are people acting in a Christian manner (called to care for the poor) by paying taxes?

I have no problem with taxation in general. The problems arise when...

1. The taxes are used for something immoral/oppressive/unjust.
2. Taxes come at so high a price as to oppress the poor (or middle class or even the rich).

Yes, in general, Christians can and should pay taxes, if that is what you're asking. IF the people of a nation decide that it is in their best interests of their commonwealth to provide in some manner for the needs of the poor, that is entirely likely a good, Christian thing (depending upon the program - if a program "tended the needs of the poor" by killing off their babies, that would NOT be a good Christian thing, for instance, but a program that helps the poor have education/job skills is entirely fitting with Christian values).

Stan...

Is the story of the rich young ruler a valid command from God for governments to tax the rich?

No. BUT, neither is it a way of saying that governments ought NOT have a progressive tax scheme. If you walk away from the story of the rich young ruler with the impression that it is wrong to have a progressive tax scheme, you've gotten the message way wrong.

What I'm saying is that, while all tax schemes are going to be flawed, in general a progressive tax scheme of some sort (be that a progressive sales tax scheme or progressive income tax scheme or otherwise) is in keeping with Christian values and a morally reasonable thing to do. A regressive tax scheme is not. A so-called flat tax scheme (one that has the result of oppressing the poor/coming at too high a cost to the poor) is not in keeping with Christian values.

Dan Trabue said...

Marshall...

No human being has the right or authority to have such expectations of another, either through a marxist misapplication of Scripture, or by gathering with other marxists to vote for those who would put forth such legislation.

So, then, according to you, we have a right AND authority to expect that others will pay for the common needs that YOU DEEM acceptable, but not the common needs that the majority deems acceptable, is that what you're saying?

IN FACT, We the people DO have the right and authority to expect others to pay into our tax system to pay for our common needs. It is called a social contract and, like all human systems, it is flawed, but it is nonetheless a morally reasonable notion.

Are you opposed to the notion of a social contract or are you not familiar with it?

IF we live in a common community (and we do) and IF we have common needs/issues (and we do), then it is reasonable to expect folk to pay for those needs commonly.

Further, in a MORAL nation/community, we would not expect the same amount of giving from the poor as we do the rich. Jefferson did not think so, I don't think the majority of the free world thinks so and, I think an entirely reasonable case can be made that the Bible does not support such a notion, but rather, acknowledges that the poor OUGHT to be expect to pay less.

Stan said...

No problem, Dan. I tried to word my question as carefully as I could to avoid ... what I got. Oh well. I was not asking "Should Christians pay taxes?" I haven't even hinted at discussing the merits of paying taxes, progressive tax schedules, taxing the rich, social contracts, or the like. I know, some of that is with Marshall, but none of it pertains to the post or to my question (which pertained to the post). I didn't say taxation was immoral. I didn't say that it was immoral for the government to use tax money to help people.

The issue I addressed was the issue I've heard from some and the issue this professor raised. Yes, she did consider it "Christian virtue" to help the poor by taxing the rich. She did say that it was a "biblical imperative" (her words). She pointed to the instructions to help the poor (a biblical imperative for Christians) as an imperative for government and as an issue of "Christian values (again, her words). She bemoaned the fact that politicians were willingly "denying equal civil rights for gay Americans, or controlling women's bodies" (because, you see, giving women the right to kill their unborn children is a "Christian value"). No, there is no doubt. She was painting taxing the rich to help the poor as a "Christian value", "the moral thing to do", in fact, a command of Christ.

And what I am saying is that either Paul was right and doing goodness out of consent rather than compulsion was the right thing or Paul was wrong and compelling goodness was a biblical command.

Dan Trabue said...

Thanks for asking the questions. I hope my answers helped you understand my position. May I ask you a question?

Do you agree that a progressive tax scheme to pay for common needs is NOT the same as "taking from the rich and giving to the poor?"

Stan said...

I'm not clear on the question. We already have a progressive tax scheme. Currently the poor pay nothing in taxes, the middle class pay little, and the richest 15% pay 85% of the taxes. Furthermore, the taxes paid by all are not earmarked to pay for the poor. (And I point out -- again -- that I said nothing at any point about "progressive taxes", their morality, or any such thing.)

The professor's article, however, specifically calls on using taxation as a redistribution of wealth. I see taxation as a means to pay for services. She seemed to be thinking of it as a way to enforce a biblical command to take money from the rich to give to the poor.

Dan Trabue said...

Stan...

I'm not clear on the question. We already have a progressive tax scheme.

I know that we have a progressive tax scheme. My question is:

A progressive tax scheme to pay for common needs is NOT the same as "taking from the rich and giving to the poor" - Agree or disagree?

Or, put in the inverse: Do you think that a progressive tax scheme is the same as taking from the rich and giving to the poor?

If you still don't understand the question, tell me what it is that you're not understanding and I'll try to clarify.

Thanks.

Stan said...

Since the taxes paid (by all) are not earmarked (that is, I don't pay my taxes with instructions -- "Use this money to pay for roads"), then taxing the rich (and everyone else) is not taking from the rich to pay the poor. That fact, however, is not what the professor said or what is so often heard from both sides. It is usually stated (from the liberal side) "We need to tax the rich so we can help the poor" or "We need to tax the rich so we can have more programs to help people" or something like it.

Dan Trabue said...

Here is what I hear her saying (and I quote)...

Our tax policies in this country are a way to help our neighbors who are the "least of these," as Jesus also notes. We "distribute the money" so that we can help those who are the most vulnerable like children, the sick, those with handicapping conditions, and the elderly. It's a way to "distribute the money" to those of our citizens who want to work and can't find it. We give unemployment benefits to people thrown out of work while they struggle in hard economic times to find another job. We pay taxes to educate our young, keep our bridges from falling down, and support our troops.

She appears quite clearly to me to be talking about progressive taxation that we have in our nation. She says this tax policy is A WAY (not the only way, but one possible way) of assisting the poor, as we Christians believe is our responsibility.

Believing that a progressive tax policy is in keeping with our values as one way to assist the poor (and build bridges and maintain roads) is not the same as "goodness by compulsion" any more than saying, "Well some conservatives believe in taxing people to pay for our roads, ergo, "goodness by compulsion" contrary to Paul's teachings."

My point has been that progressive taxation is not the same thing as compulsion. It's part of the social contract. So to call taxation "goodness by compulsion" is misleading, since it's not an appropriate analysis. We ALL believe in taxation of some sort to pay for our common needs. Since taxation is part of a contract (one which we can leave, if we so choose), then it is not goodness by compulsion.

That's all I'm saying.

Dan Trabue said...

Thanks for answering my question, by the way. We appear to agree that taxing is not the same as compulsion, that progressive taxation is not the same as taking from the rich and giving to the poor, via compulsion, right?

So, it sounds like to me that it's more of a case that you object to the way this professor (and others presumably like her) expressed the sentiment. If she had said something more like this...

"Look, we already have a progressive tax system in place, one where those who make more pay a larger percentage. And those tax dollars go to fund reasonable projects we mostly agree (at least generally) upon - roads, bridges, police, defense, education, etc, right? So it is entirely in fitting with Christian ideals (tending to the least of these) to allow those tax dollars to go to assist the poor, if we the people so decide, right?

That is, there's nothing contrary to Christian teaching in the funding of job programs for the unemployed, for instance - that this is a good Christian goal we can support with our progressively taxed moneys, right...?"

If she had stated it that way, you'd have no problem with it, is that close to what you're saying? That your main problem is the overt mentioning of things like getting "the rich paying their fair share of taxes..." because it sounds too strident, is that it?

Or if not, if you could point to a specific line(s) of hers that's troubling you (saying, "when she says x, I don't like it because..."), that might help.

If it is the perceived stridency of it all that you find troubling, I'd remind you that she's speaking in biblical tradition in so doing. If you'll recall, Mary said "You have fed the poor and sent the rich away hungry," and Jesus said, "Blessed are you who are poor... woe to you who are rich..." and James said, "Is it not the rich who are oppressing you..."

Stan said...

Whoa, hold on.

Dan Trabue: "We appear to agree that taxing is not the same as compulsion"

Not at all. Taxation is compulsion. From its inception to the early 1800's, the U.S. had very little taxation. In 1817, Congress deleted them and survived on tariffs. The Income Tax didn't get codified until 1913 -- almost 200 years after the start of the country. Since then tax rates have increased, starting around 3% to today's much higher rates. Prior to "the New Deal", it was the Church that took care of the needy, not the government. Thus, no one was compelled to take care of the poor; it was "by consent". No one can actually argue that taxation is not compulsion.

But this is straying from the point. Again, I have not said that taxation is wrong, that a progressive tax system is wrong, or even that the government taking care of needy people is wrong. I haven't suggested that taxation is contrary to Christian values or that the government helping people is contrary to Christian values.

Here's the rub. Biblically, obedience is a personal thing. You do what you ought, or you do not. Here, let me try it this way. There is no merit in not cheating on your wife if you are tied to chair. That is, if you are faithful to your wife because you cannot do otherwise, that's not "obedience". Paul's statement in Philemon is that doing good ought to be by consent, not compulsion.

On the other side, there are those who are arguing that when the government takes your money in taxes to help the poor, that's the same thing as being obedient to Jesus's command to take care of the poor. This is the argument I first referenced. It's the argument she makes in her article. My point is not that it's wrong for the government to take care of people. My point is that when the government takes care of people by taking your tax money, it isn't Christian obedience. Christian values are always aimed at the obedience of individuals, not the mandate of the government. Or, to put it another way, if there is a blessing from God for doing what's right, helping the poor by consent will be blessed. Helping the poor because the government took your money by taxation to do it will not. The professor disagrees.

Dan Trabue said...

Stan...

No one can actually argue that taxation is not compulsion.

Sure you can. It's part of the social contract. If you don't like it, you are free to leave and find a nation that doesn't compel you to pay taxes. IF you want to live here, then you are agreeing to pay taxes.

Entirely and absolutely free. I don't see how you can really argue anything else, if you understand how our system works.

Doesn't mean that we agree with everything that our tax dollars pay for or the amount that we're taxed or the specifics of how the tax schedule is set up, but taxation does not equal compulsion. Not in our great nation, anyway.

Dan Trabue said...

Stan...

There is no merit in not cheating on your wife if you are tied to chair. That is, if you are faithful to your wife because you cannot do otherwise, that's not "obedience". Paul's statement in Philemon is that doing good ought to be by consent, not compulsion.

So then... does that mean you oppose laws that "require" you not to steal or kill? Since it's not really obedience if it's required?

I don't see how supporting laws that require adherence to a moral code is in any way different than supporting taxes that serve the common needs, including those needs that help the poor (which, in turn, helps society).

How would you break down that difference (since I'm assuming you're not in favor of abolishing laws against stealing and murder)?

Dan Trabue said...

Stan...

My point is not that it's wrong for the government to take care of people. My point is that when the government takes care of people by taking your tax money, it isn't Christian obedience.

That is at least partially fair assessment. Not murdering someone because it's against the law and you don't want to be punished doesn't mean you are not murdering as a Christian value AND similarly, paying your taxes to (in part) assist the poor does not mean you are doing so for reasons of Christian values.

However, that does not mean that Christians can't argue in support of laws against murder or tax money for programs that assist the poor.

So, if this professor had said, "We OUGHT to support laws against murder because it is in keeping with our Christian values," would you also criticize her for doing that?

Stan...

Christian values are always aimed at the obedience of individuals, not the mandate of the government.

But that does not mean that gov'ts ought not create laws that will coincide with Christian values. AND, if we the people decide that it's within our values to tend to the needs of the poor via taxes gathered through a progressive schedule, then that does coincide with Christian values, does it not? And if so, what is the harm?

Stan said...

Dan, I offered multiple quotes from the professor. But, hey, your goal here is not to see it, but to disagree. So be it. So let's settle this once and for all. There are indeed no Christians that would argue that it is Christian virtue to take money from the rich (via taxation or whatever) and give it to the poor. None at all. I made it up. The professor in question certainly wasn't offering it as a Christian value. I simply read those words into it all on my own. It's a hallucination, the same kind that all conservative, right-wing, whacko-fundamentalists enjoy.

The truth is that taxation is a wonderful thing. In fact, it would be best if they took more. In fact, the best thing would be if they specifically took a large percentage from the "rich" (which the poor get to define) for the express purpose of taking care of those in need. In that manner, we would indeed be edging toward a more Christian nation. Americans are way too rich anyway. We should not be allowed to manage our own money.

Now, as for that silly notion that taxation is compulsion, that's clearly idiotic. You can choose at any time whether or not you're actually going to pay those taxes. And if you don't, well, who's to know? If you don't, there aren't any real consequences. Because, you see, it's not compulsory. It's not compulsory, you see, because it's part of "the social contract", an agreement we all "sign" when we become part of our country (read "born"). The government only does what we command. There is no taxation without representation. Besides, you know that every time the Congress meets to decide what to do with your tax money, they check with you. The government spends what it does on defense and health and human services and Social Security and all precisely because the American public has demanded it.

Now, when you run into these lunatic whackos that make the foolish claims that I have that the government helping the poor is not the same thing as Christian virtue, here's what you do. Do not argue about the point. Argue away from the point. Explain that such an argument is not real -- no one actually believes it. Ask the incredulous, "Then, you're against laws?" You see, the argument is "Legal compulsion is not the same as doing good", but it's easy to turn that around to suggest, "You must be opposed to laws against murder!" That way you can make these fundamentalist crazies look crazy and you feel better about yourself ... without ever actually addressing the point.

Man, oh, man. I said originally, "The questions here are rhetorical. I'm not looking for a debate." And there are now 35 comments in this discussion. A good number of them miss the point or don't address the post at all. Somehow it ended up a debate about the merits of progressive taxation and social contract. Go figure. And here at the end you're posting 3:1. Can't keep up. Going under. Done!

I will post no more comments on this post. I think 36 comments on a post premised on "I'm not looking for a debate" is sufficient. Comments are closed.