By Valerie Elverton Dixon
teacher, founder of JustPeaceTheory.com
Taxes taxes everywhere and deficit spending as far as the eye can see. Federal, state and sometimes local income taxes, property, excise and sales taxes; taxes on telephone service and utilities all call us to consider that price of citizenship. And I do not mind. The taxes I pay for a free, relatively safe, predictable society is worth the money.
However, tax time is also a time to think about what we as a nation value. Religious wisdom teaches that where your treasure lies is where your heart is. I do not understand people who claim to love the country but do not want to pay taxes, or people of faith who resist the tax collector.
My trouble at tax time comes when I have to exercise my imagination and think that my few dollars will fund something I like – The National Endowment of the Arts, unemployment compensation, emergency management, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s salary. What I shudder to think about is one penny of my money going to buy the bullets and guns and unmanned drones that kill innocent people in a useless cycle of violence.
War fighting plunged this country into an ocean of debt. Now it is stimulus spending and financial rescue after financial rescue that is taking us farther from the coastline of fiscal responsibility and threatens to leave us stranded motionless in the doldrums of a windless sea of debt. And for what? We are giving tax money to pay million-dollar bonuses to people who brought their own companies and the world economy to the brink of collapse while the homeless population in the country grows and people are living in tents. This is a national disgrace.
Millions of people without health care is also a national disgrace. Many professional pundits criticize President Obama for his commitment to health care in the midst of an economic crisis, but my bet is they all have health insurance. They say that we are all at fault for the economic crisis without taking stock of the fact of stagnant wages for the past few years and the necessity for many people to pay for groceries, gas and auto repairs with credit. If the country is going to go deeper into debt, let us provide health care and free up credit to people.
I do not mind paying taxes for a state of the art infrastructure, to pay teachers a wage that reflects their worth to society, for excellent schools, safe streets, and a government that helps people solve their problems and that provides a safety net for the least among us. I do mind paying taxes to make sure people who make bad business decisions do not have to pay the consequences for their decisions. I do mind my money going to Blackwater and its soldiers for hire.
Our faith traditions inform and shape our values. Those values tell us where to put our treasure and our love. The teachings of Jesus give the criteria for judgment of the nations. Did we feed the hungry? Did we give drink to the thirsty? Did we welcome the stranger? Did we clothe the naked? Did we care for the sick? Did we visit prisoners?
For me this translates into a national imperative to care for the poor; to provide food and clean water, not only to citizens of the United States, but for citizens of the world. This means a humane and inviting immigration policy. This means providing basic clothes and shelter. This means health care. This means prison reform. This means ending a retributive justice system where law enforcement is entangled with economics in a prison-industrial complex not unlike the military-industrial complex against which President Eisenhower warned. This means establishing restorative justice.
My personal commitment to these values grows from my personal commitment to try to live according to the teachings of Jesus. The man Jesus, Son of Humanity, Jewish rabbi and Muslim prophet, identified with the least and so should I. As a nation, the judgment we ought to think about is the judgment of history. A thousand years from now when generations not yet born look back upon our record for values to emulate and mistakes to avoid, what will they see?
Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar and founder and author of JustPeaceTheory.com. She taught Christian Ethics at Andover Newton Theological School in Newton, MA and United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.