Giving to Caesar: Making Sense of Taxation

“Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’” — Matthew 22:15-21

Pay your taxes. There, I said it. Not only that, but you should encourage your neighbours, your business partners, and multi-national corporations (those particularly) to pay their taxes. For an American living in Europe, I’ve come to appreciate the value of paying taxes. And sure, the system isn’t perfect, but it is a lot better than the other way around.

Ultimately, it is an institutionalised form of sharing and investing. What taxes do is allow a communal action to be undertaken whenever it is needed. A government could, theoretically, request funds every time when what to do something, but that would get old, fast. Taxes fund everything a government does — from defence and military spending to roads and infrastructure, also research, space exploration, and crazy things like that. In Europe, I have personally benefitted from the tax system: with very affordable health (I’m talking less than €200 per year) insurance and low educational costs (€600 for my MA). And I am gladly paying taxes back into that system to help out the next generation.

Because that is also the aim of taxation, and why ultimately, despite what the Roman Empire used their money for, Jesus told the Pharisees to pay taxes (but also more than that; stay tuned) — taxation promotes the common good. Through a progression, proportional taxation, those who have the least in society (often because of systemic injustice) get help from those who have excess. We have all benefitted from our place in society (especially if you are reading this, on the internet). Language is a social good. Infrastructure is a social good. No man is self-made. It does take a community to raise a child, let alone a community or society.

But as I noted first off, the system could be better. There is a moral imperative to improve it: for the least of these. It needs to be more progressive, closing down loopholes in the tax code, as well as distributing the resources fairly. It needs to embrace another thing that Jesus said, actually, and interpret it for itself: to whom much is given, much is required.

Whose on your money? It is not a god to be kept, hoarded, and worshipped. It is to be used, given away, invested with, built with. Those with the most are not better or morally superior than those with the least. Don’t be afraid of giving it back. Don’t be afraid of taxation. Instead, do it. Follow it. Question how the money is spent and if that is just and fair and promotes peace. Dive into taxation, promote the common good — not only through your taxes, but through your life.

— Jeremy


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