How We All Pay For the Huge Tax Privileges Granted to Religion -- It's Time to Tax the Church
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Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?"
...Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
In another verse, Jesus tells his followers not to save money or store up possessions, but to travel constantly with no thought for the future, having faith that God will somehow feed and clothe them each day:
"And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?
Consider the lilies, how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothe the grass, which is today in the field, and tomorrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?
And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind... But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you."
The Bible goes so far as to say that the first community of Christians weren't just socialists, but communists:
"And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need."
By some accounts, this verse is what inspired Karl Marx's dictum, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." Irony of ironies: Communism was espoused in the pages of the Bible!
Of course, these commands are nearly impossible to follow, and that's precisely the point. In the beginning, Christianity was a small, radical sect whose followers expected the world to end within their own lifetimes. It's no wonder that they saw no use for earthly possessions. But when Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire and began to convert the powerful and the comfortable, this would no longer do. No large, organized religion could possibly thrive on precepts like this, and so they were left by the wayside in the pursuit of worldly riches and imperial grandeur.
This pattern happens over and over: Even when it begins among the poor and disenfranchised, religion almost always ends up being co-opted by the wealthy and powerful and used as a convenient excuse to justify inequality. Nothing is more effective at persuading the poor not to rebel or protest than the belief that, if they stay quiet and compliant, they'll be rewarded after death. As the columnist Ed Weathers wrote, "If you would have your slaves remain docile, teach them hymns." And this idea isn't just prominent in Christianity -- we also see it in other religions, like Hinduism, which teaches that people's social caste is the deserved result of the karma they accumulated in past lives. Obey the rich people in this life, and maybe you'll be reborn as one of them next time!