Sunday, 13 May 2012

Tithing and taxing

In the days when I was (at least nominally) a christian (with a small C), I heard from time to time that we were exhorted to tithe.  In other words to give 10% of our income 'to God'.

This was not 10% of our disposable income - which was perilously close to zero after buying a house to live in, feeding hungry mouths and paying punitive highly taxed UK utility bills, but 10%.  It was even discussed whether it had to be 10% of the income before tax or 10% after tax (as if that made a huge difference).  I have even heard it said that you should pay in cash 10% of gross income after the tax had already been taken.  (What financial naivety!)

It might seem ungenerous and selfish to say that I could never bring myself to consider tithing, and with the benefit of hindsight I think I was right, for several reasons.

Firstly, the biblical precedents neglect to say whether taxes count within the tithe.  Presumably they did not.  But then again, taxes at that time went to pay for lavish government and for wars.  The taxes did not pay for roads, other infrastructure, public health initiatives, science carried out for the benefit of the public, or social security.  Things are now different in most Western countries.  The tax we pay on our income does contribute to those things.  In the UK the lowest tax rate is 10%, and it is payable by anyone earning enough money to subsist on.  Almost everyone else is paying more than 25%, and many people in medium grade professional jobs find themselves in the 40% bracket.  (Meanwhile millionaires pay virtually nothing if they have accountants!)  On top of that we pay 'National Insurance' at 6.25%.  Other Western countries have higher or lower tax rates.  Some, like Germany still charge a Church Tax unless you specifically opt out of it.

Have you noticed anything about any of those figures?

Yes, almost everyone is paying MUCH more than a tithe to fund the community already, and from that payment the government does all the useful things that the biblical tithe might have achieved.

Some of the churches want a further tithe on top of that, in order to do their 'good works', apparently inspired by God.  The only thing is that these good works are now virtually invisible and virtually ineffective.  They include paying preachers to lie to you, paying for the buildings where they lie to you, and often paying for the rest of the church hierarchy who dictate what lies they are to tell.  And this is all from the beneficial position of tax-exempt status!

Tithing - a scam?  (Image from here.)

Maybe a tiny proportion of the income of the church goes to help the poor in Africa or wherever (and I am not certain that I want that anyway), but it would be hard to convince me that such efforts are very effective.  I would trust some of the other 'real' charities to spend money more usefully.

There is one other critical argument against tithing - one that is so often brushed over.  When a church exhorts you to tithe your income to God what does it really mean?  It means that you should give your money to that church (or perhaps mainly to that church but with a little to other charitable organisations, as long as they are 'Christian').

Give the amount of evidence for the existence of any gods, doesn't this seem to require a remarkable level of trust?

Perhaps I always was a skeptic!

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