Monday, January 17, 2005

MH - And How Much Do YOU Pay In Income Tax, Excellency?

Minnesota’s Catholic bishops have called for an increase in the state income tax as a way to address the budget deficit.

Wait, I have a better idea. Why don’t we leave the income tax rate the same or, better yet, lower it. That way people will have more money they can give to charitable organizations to help the poor.

What’s that, you say? You’re afraid people won’t give, that they’re too far in the grasp of materialism to be charitable? Maybe the bishops could start preaching about that – teaching their flocks the need to give to those less fortunate, to share their time as well as their money, to treat everyone they meet as another Christ, to –

Whoops, I forgot. The bishops are too busy politicking their liberal agenda to preach about such trivial, secondary issues as living your faith in everyday life, areas where they really are needed to make a difference. Never mind.

I’m sorry if this sounds harsh, but every time I read something like this, I’m reminded of one of the great lines from the great TV series Yes, Prime Minister about the Anglican church, where (I’m paraphrasing) “belief in God is optional.”

Yes, it’s true that the legitimacy of taxes is part of accepted Catholic teaching. I don’t think anyone here would dispute that. And I’m the first one to criticize the materialism that can be found to one extent or another by some conservatives (read any of my posts on Corporate America). But there’s no reason why someone should leave the Catholic Church because of the Church’s “political” stance.

Some might ask what the difference is between this and other “politicized” issues such as abortion and Communion to pro-abort politicians. Well, the prohibition on abortion (and euthanasia, cloning, and embryonic stem-cell research) is a fundamental part of natural law – I don’t know if it’s accurate to call it part of Catholic doctrine, but it’s pretty serious, one of those black-and-white, good-and-evil things. Reception of Communion by pro-abort Catholics is a violation of Catholic teaching, regardless of what some bishops seem to think. Point is, issues like these are part of the bishops’ duty to teach the Catholic faith, to help politicians form a Catholic conscience to guide them in making authentically Catholic decisions. If it becomes wrapped up in politics, that’s more the fault of the politicians.

Taxes, on the other hand, aren’t so cut-and-dried. I haven’t heard the governor advocate starvation as a way to deal with the problems of hunger. Seems to me that this is more a question of policy implementation – how best to care for the vulnerable, the less fortunate among us. Catholics with the same end as a goal can legitimately disagree as to the means best suited to meet that goal. On issues like this, the bishops should, respectfully, butt out.

Whenever I hear friends, especially conservative friends, talk about leaving the church because of political meddling like this (remember how the bishops called for a nuclear freeze about 25 years ago? That was a nadir of the post-Vatican II period!) or because the priest in their parish prays to “the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier,” or because they’re hearing some claptrap about the need or create global government or water down Catholic teaching to make it more “ecumenical,” it breaks my heart. If only they could see and hear what the Church really stands for. These people don’t have the vaguest idea what the Church really teaches, and I’m afraid the bishops aren’t doing much to help them.

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