Editorial: Tax and Jesus
Considering how little Jesus had to say about EU membership, the housing crisis and whether you have to sing the national anthem, it’s refreshing to find him talking directly about front page news. Should we or should we not pay taxes? “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s,” he says; “and unto God the things that are God’s”. (I know he didn’t say it in Jacobean English, but some of King James’ best lines just stick in your head, don’t they?)
Does this give us a clue how Jesus would handle the thorny issues raised by revelations about Panamanian tax avoidance and David Cameron’s family finances? Does it help us steer a Christian path through the thornbushes of taxation?
Sadly, I don’t think it does. If Caesar was democratically elected rather than an occupying power, and if Jesus had been asked whether Caesar’s father should pay taxes to Caesar, we might be getting closer. But not a lot. Jesus’ political world was too different to ours.
If we want something from Jesus that can give us a steer on taxation, we need something more general. Such as – I feel myself slipping back into AVese again – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. What I would have others do, speaking personally, is pay their fair share into our communal pot, rather than finding legal ways to get out of it, so that there is enough funding for the health service, schools and colleges, and roads.
Which raises the question: Do I do this unto others myself? Or do I pay the plumber cash in hand because it’s cheaper? Do I buy stuff from a great big online store, because they pass on to me the savings they make from not paying a lot of tax? Do I know some handy tips for keeping my tax return manageable? Do I pay half fare for my son because he still looks 15? Do I claim benefit because it’s available rather than because I need it? How many of us contribute all we might, and take as little as we can?
Politics and personal morality are different things, but we probably have room for improvement in both. We need to recognise how far short we the-not-so-super rich fall from perfect fairness, generosity and public spirit, how unwilling we all are to give all that we might. And because of that, it would be rather good to have a tax system that didn’t rely on people being too fair, generous and public-spirited to seek out ways to avoid giving Caesar what’s his.
This article was published in the May 2016 edition of Reform.