death, taxes, and the waterproofness of skin

Today’s the big day.  Only three things in life are certain: death, taxes, and the waterproofness of skin.*  I hope you enjoy my little collection of all things taxes.  Death and weathertight skin will have to wait for another day.


This is quite possibly one of the funniest things ever written about taxes:  A Basic Guide to Taxes.  The folks over at “Helpful Figures” put out some pretty hilarious infographics.  Just a little taste to whet your percentage-paying appetites:

“The amount of taxes that happens varies wildly from person to person.  Some economists think this is because of sins; others think it is ghosts.  We’ll never know for certain.”


In an effort to protest government spending on war, Shane Claiborne (and others) have organized 1040 For Peace.  Participants withhold $10.40 from the IRS when paying your federal taxes.  “Money has power. And so withholding money has power too, especially when a bunch of people do it together. ” 

I won’t get into all the reasons I doubt this stunt will accomplish anything.  Nor will I expound on my beliefs that there are much better ways to go about protesting moneys spent on military — or affecting change in the federal budget.  But I will take issue (as briefly as possible) with this organization’s understanding of the Christian’s responsibility to pay taxes.

Jesus spoke of paying taxes twice in the New Testament:  once when he answered “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” and once when he had Peter catch a fish with a coin in it’s mouth — a coin which paid both of their taxes.  Jesus could have stated directly that Christians are to pay their taxes, but instead he replied with some pretty serpentine answers.  1040 For Peace interprets Jesus’ answers as a “wink” to Caesar and an indication that Christ didn’t actually believe we have a firm responsibility to pay our taxes.  They then describe Jesus as a “particularly subversive example” when it comes to paying taxes.

I disagree. And for many reasons, though I’ll only offer two:

1.  Jesus rarely (if ever) answered any question with a straightforward answer.  I think we misrepresent his purposes when we assume, then, that all those replies involved sarcasm or irony.  I’m not denying the possibility of such, but we ought to have good reason for reading Jesus’ words that way — one stipulation being that our interpretation doesn’t conflict with other New Testament principles.  Which brings us to…

2.  It’s difficult for me to read Jesus’ replies n these situations as removing our responsibility to pay taxes to our governments when Paul says very plainly in Romans 13 that we should.  Many of us recognize that chapter as one which states that we should be subject to our earthly and government authorities (which God has placed in those positions).  But if that doesn’t make clear the tax situations, perhaps the lesser quoted vv. 5-7 does:  

“Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”

[Perhaps this isn’t the place to say such things, but one of my frustrations with much of Christianity today is an attempt to read only Jesus’ words in scripture as authoritative — ignoring or explaining away others’ writings, especially those of Paul (who admittedly makes neat and simple theology a bit difficult).  I found no mention of these words of Paul on the 1040 For Peace website (I didn’t look long), but Claiborne did explain in his own personal letter to the IRS that he was subject to authorities, and that for this reason he had penned a letter to the government explaining why he withheld 30%** of what he was supposed to pay. 


A bit of satire in support of paying taxes:  Tax Day Rally.  My favorite line:

“My grandmother lived through the Great Depression. Clearly, she does not need my tax dollars going toward her Medicare and Social Security. She knows how to survive.”


Tax guru, Martin Ginsburg (husband of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg), at a roundtable on tax simplification: “A famous French finance minister long ago announced that the art of taxation is indistinguishable from the art of plucking a goose. Artistic success rides on extracting the maximum number of feathers with the minimum amount of squawking.


Sign at Executive Park Amoco: “A dime is really a dollar with all the taxes taken out.”

Both of these quotes (and a lot of tax humor — if there’s such a thing) can be found at TaxLetter, a site devoted to just such things.

* Seriously, the stuff is quite impressive.  Have you ever once had to towel off your insides?  Nope.  Because skin is magical — and completely impervious to water (and orange juice and all manner of other liquids).

** A lot more than $10.40.  I think this percentage is supposed to represent the same percentage the U.S. spends on military. 


Filed under just thinking

12 responses to “death, taxes, and the waterproofness of skin

  1. carsonmcneal

    An interesting article on this subject, a subject which I don’t think is so black and white:

    an excerpt from the above article:

    While Paul says in verse 1 that the “authorities” (exousiai) are under the authority of God, he elsewhere emphasizes that all such authorities have been stripped of ultimate power because of Christ’s victory and Lordship (Col. 2:10, 15; Eph. 1:20-23; 3:10; 6:12; 1 Cor. 2:6-8; 15:24-25; Rom. 8:38-39).

    To keep within Paul’s and the Scriptures’ larger emphases, we must not use Romans 13 to support unconditional obedience to government and as a derivative, an unqualified mandate for payment of all taxes. What is said in this specific situation cannot be hardened into a “Christian law”; the abiding law, rather, is found in verse 8: “owe no one anything except love.”

    I left Jude’s sippy cup in your car.

  2. i’m going to bed, but i’ll look at the link tomorrow. and then i’ll respond — whether in person or on the blog, i’m not sure.

    but for the record, i also don’t think the issue’s black and white. i certainly don’t believe we offer unconditional obedience to government (i was a missionary in china). but i do believe paying my taxes in the united states falls under obedience that i should offer — regardless of how much is going to the military. [i also pay social security for my employees here in tanzania…]

    i found the sippy cup, but wasn’t sure if it was baylor’s or jude’s. you can have it back for the price of a coke light.

    • i read the link. and here are my thoughts — not necessarily from swartley’s writing, but just a little deeper cross-section of what i think:

      1) i think it’s incredibly difficult to show Jesus as being concerned with politics. i understand some people make attempts at doing so, and i acknowledge that it’s at least possible they’re correct. but i think it unlikely. i believe Jesus (through his death and resurrection) established an otherworldly kingdom that is now here in part but not in full. and we (through our death and resurrection) enter into that (incomplete) kingdom. our task then is to live on this earth as obedient citizens in that kingdom — which requires being obedient (as well as we can) to two authorities: God and those he’s allowed to be in power on the earth we must live in. [i obviously believe we disobey government if forced to choose between the two, and have no biblical precedence for making such a decision.]

      2) so if there weren’t biblical instructions as to how to treat this issue of paying taxes to a “corrupt” government, then i’d think this would be a very gray issue. but there are instructions. the roman government was much more corrupt than our own american government, yet paul specifically told christians to honor the power given by God to those authorities by (among other things) paying taxes.

      3) then we also have to deal with this idea of corruption in government. even if it were right to not pay taxes to a government doing what it shouldn’t, how do we determine where those lines are? some say all war is evil — in my mind that’s incredibly difficult to prove from scripture. it would be much easier to prove that abortion is wrong. so i’d come much closer to saying we don’t pay taxes because of money involved in the killing of innocent children. [but, even then, i don’t know that this is any worse than much of what was going on in the roman empire at the time paul was writing.] so even the determination that war would be a reason to not pay taxes would be difficult to make — and that’s supposing that not paying taxes is an option in the first place.

      4) then we have the issue of services rendered by a country to its citizens. all those who refrain from paying taxes (or portions thereof) because of military spending are still enjoying the protection of that military — that they’ve now refused to help pay for. in new testament days, if i understand correctly, one couldn’t just stop being ruled by rome. but today one can move to another country if they dislike to how the united states functions. so with that added option, i wonder what paul’s instructions would be. i very much doubt it would be to stay in this country while refusing to pay taxes under its authority.

      5) there are other texts in the bible which would also seem to speak to these issues — that don’t actually speak of taxes. ie. Jesus commanding people to go two miles carrying a roman soldier’s belongings, instead of just the one he was commanded to go. carrying a roman soldier’s luggage and/or weapons and armor, etc, while he’s en route to the next location where he’ll carry out the government’s bidding despite the consequences to innocent people… and Jesus says to help him even more. [then there are the several other passages where we’re told to be subject to our authorities. i’m not sure how many authors say such, but i know we can at least add titus and peter to the list.]

      my culminating thoughts…
      6) all of that said, i do believe the issue of government authority is one of submission — being subject to authority. so, IF someone really felt that all war (and military) was sinful, AND they really felt their responsibility was to not pay a portion of their taxes as a result, AND they didn’t think they should instead locate to another country as a result of their disapproval of their own leadership…

      so IF all of those things were true of someone, (despite the fact that i think they’d be wrong) i could probably be behind that individual not paying a portion of his taxes to the government* AS LONG AS he is willing to pay whatever penalty comes from disobedience to that government.

      i don’t know what that punishment would be. but if it’s jail, he serves his time, etc. i believe that’s being subject to the authorities and still honoring what you believe God would have you do. and that’s what we have biblical example of.

      p.s. — so my next dozen points would be about whether or not it would be a good decision to go through with all of that when you have a wife and kids, etc. did my feeble attempt at changing government spending prove effective? was it worth having the state take care of me in prison and possibly even my kids (with money from others’ taxes)? might there have been better ways to try and affect change on the federal budget? but i won’t get into those dozen points.

      * though i still think they ought to somehow come up with a way to pay some portion of money spent on military, because they definitely are enjoying the protection of that military. and probably don’t mind that bombs aren’t exploding in their neighborhoods.

  3. Kasey George

    i’m pretty sure that my brother quit paying taxes years ago. do you know that its not actually a law! true stuff. people have won lawsuits b/c of it, costs as much as the taxes were in the first place to defend, but they felt good about not paying for abortions, government waste and corruptness and lazy people’s food stamps, etc.

  4. I don’t know if I could use the Bible either way to say we need to pay taxes or not – I paid in full this year but I’m very uncomfortable with how much is spent on military and I can definitely understand and even justify a need to protest.

  5. David Robinson

    hmmm, I read all this with a little bit of laughter. Jesus summed it up pretty clearly in my mind. Not much gray area. The coin, who’s face is on it? Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Therefore-Green paper stuff, it’s printed by the US mint for the Federal Reserve banks. It’s a little technical but ultimately it’s the US Government’s. Give it back to them if they want it. You giving back to the Government what was there’s in the first place is in no way condoning their actions.

    • i never thought of looking at it that way, david. good thoughts. very interesting way of seeing it. i can probably even buy it.

    • Kasey George

      David, that’s where we stand in paying our taxes. Its never been our money in the first place. We just pray that the government will be more responsible and ethical with the money we give back to them. Plus, I enjoyed the year’s salary I got when I worked for the government.

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