A friend emailed the following a few weeks ago:
Since our taxes go to the constant and flippant murder of innocent people, does this mean that folks like you and I should be repenting, confessing, praying for our indirect sin of murder?
The praying, obviously regardless, but curious more about the confessing/repentance piece.
I believe we are guilty, in part. What do you think?
As a Catholic, a believing Catholic, is it our duty to refuse to pay taxes on principle and in prevention of or in order to personally abstain from murder? Among other crimes.
It has taken me a long time to respond because my mind is strangely blank on the matter other than an affirmative assertion: yes, we should be repenting and confessing for the murder, theft, and blasphemy that go on in our names. Yes, we are guilty in part. Yes, we have a duty to avoid paying taxes where possible. I firmly believe we will be held accountable in the end for the failings of our neighbors that we failed to mention, or at least recognize. That includes our countrymen.
Whether you like it or not, the taxes that you pay (i.e. are stolen from you) are used to fund drone strikes, abortions, drug cartels, terrorist regimes & dictators, weapons of mass destruction, the rendezvous of politicians with their mistresses, and many other means of body & soul killing that you will never cast a vote to change (even if that would do anything). This should bring all of us a small bit of shame – if not personally, for our country at least. We may not be able to control it, but it is being done in our name.
One of the main themes of Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God is Within You is that as Christians who pay taxes, we are all in some small part guilty for the sins of our government and culture. How can we be against murder and exploitation of the poor while simultaneously preaching patriotism and allegiance to the only entity that has the size and ideological momentum to cause these miseries consistently? How can we tell little boys that violence is not the answer and then shower them with honors when they join the military, a body whose core purpose is the killing of foreigners? We cannot. And the only way to take back moral righteousness, in Tolstoy’s opinion, is to withdraw consent from governance by fiat in general.
We all have a Catholic responsibility to those around us. It is our moral duty, in an eternal sense, to keep our loved ones, friends, and even acquaintances and strangers, on the untraveled path where possible. Where we fail to do so, we cannot be held fully responsible. Everyone has free will. But there is always more you can do to persuade or urge someone to do the right thing, even where it is unpopular. Though it may only be a small fraction of a percent for which you are responsible for the poor moral choices of a sibling or friend, there is a sense in which, if you did not do everything you could to prevent those choices, you share a portion of the blame. We are each our brother’s, mother’s, sister’s, friend’s, father’s, relative’s, stranger’s, and Samaritan’s keeper. It is a huge task. But it is still a task. Moral responsibility is much more than individual, because human beings are social animals, given commands in every religious tradition to yearn away from mere selfishness.
There is also a sense in which the sins of the times become our own. Status quo bias and resigned complacency make taking moral positions against customary or common cultural artifacts extremely difficult – most of the time, it is hard to even root out what is wrong in our society, because it has become a norm that is not subject to easy change. When something is “just the way it is,” there is little use in trying to speak out against it, many believe. [A great example is usury, or the charging of high rates of interest on idle funds. Charging interest is so common now, how could anyone be against certain instances of it? An example from an age past is the use of nuclear weapons against Japan. Unquestionably wrong, but at the time, hey whatever right?] When someone commits to Catholicism, they have committed to being profoundly counter-cultural, especially today. If you believe that Catholicism sits well with a majority of the norms that our society takes for granted, you probably have some careful thinking to do about biblical proscription (in context), deontological ethics, and the teleology of humanity. It should not be easy to be a Catholic and fit into our society. In fact, it should be impossible, and being accordingly counter-cultural should cause one great moral discomfort.
I am not of the opinion that living generations have unleashed more evil than previous generations (though we are no better, either), but I do think globalization and technology have made evils much more accessible and far-reaching. The sins of our times are merely different than those of the past.
Not only do the sins of the times become ours, but greater society’s sins reflect back on the soul of the individual. I do not believe that it is mere coincidence that our obsession with sex in the media is accompanied by growing single motherhood and porn being accessible in every corner of the internet; that our military interventions abroad jive quite well with the US being one of the most violent industrialized countries on the planet; and that the devaluation of our currency occur simultaneously with consumerist apathy, severe financial gains & losses in the market, and a very high time preference on behalf of the individual. The average individual is a moral microcosm of the society. Luckily, we are not called to be average Americans. We are called to go above and beyond, and hold our Catholicism higher than our roots in the more dangerous recent developments in Western Civilization.
In one of the better economic debates I can no longer find, Robert Murphy (a Christian and probably the most popular American Austrian economist alive today) expresses his thoughts on the battle between Austrian deontology from deductive principles versus the positivism of NeoKeynesian-Monetarism (and by this expression, he was actually referring to the future of natural morality against positive, or manmade, morality). He says something along the lines of: “I am glad, in one respect, that I believe in God. Because believing in God means eventually I believe it will all turn out, and morality rooted in theology will have the final say. Because I can’t say today that my views will win in this life, or this world. There is growing momentum, sure, but a vast majority of people think like my opponent, and though I and many like me will spend our whole lives fighting for these moral principles, the system is already moving and very little can be done to stop it. So I will concede that you will win in the here and now. But I have hope that there is more to the story than that.” I think he is right, for the most part. Our hope lies as Tolkien’s did: very small, and in the Eternal. There is no utopia to be had here. And any success we do have for changing the hearts of men is likely to be corrupted by Original Sin and its counterpart, concupiscence. Even so, a caveat: many of the systems we have today crumble from within due to the stress that evil causes on the consciences of the people. Drone strikes wear on us (especially when we can see that if it was done to us, we would be morally outraged), and abortion is losing ground. It could be that these sins will be artifacts of our times. But others will replace them, and the cycle will continue until the Kingdom of God truly is at hand…
I have often wondered if I would end up in a prison cell someday for willfully refusing to pay my income taxes (though not the only step, it is a significant one in many respects, however, refusal to pay taxes is no longer a solution. The Federal Reserve System allows the elite to print money that is not taken by taxation, and force their will on the people despite real-world monetary constraints. No matter what you do or say, the elites will have their war and spending programs that you find morally outrageous – that is, until we go back to a commodity-based currency). It is a rare thing to stand up against the ideological deformations that our Enlightenment-inspired, NeoKeynesian Legal-Positivist Democratic/Majoritarian Empire ingrains in its people, but it is rarer still to act against those in power. Few have stood up to the Master Class (Mohandas Ghandi, Irwin Schiff, Daniel Berrigan, Howard Zinn, Adam Kokesh, Eugene V. Debs, Larken Rose, Martin Luther King, the Founding Fathers, Lysander Spooner, Henry David Thoreau, and others come to mind), and even less still have changed anything. Even so, taking strong moral positions is a must if we are to avoid responsibility for the sins of our government. Active nonviolence and arrest are a very large ask of us, and these types of responses will never stop the systems that create the miseries we pay for involuntarily. But being aware is a good bare minimum until there is a good opportunity to take that step. And it may include confession every once in a while that includes more than personal sketchy weekend activities…