Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ayn Rand v Jesus Christ, Round 2: Taking

Tax by definitionphoto © 2009 Alan Cleaver | more info (via: Wylio)

When it suits [the Left], they'll talk about Jesus Christ. When they can convince or try to convince everybody that Jesus Christ is the patron saint of liberalism, then they will herald Jesus Christ... "He was the first liberal. He was a great socialist. Jesus Christ. He knew who to punish. Jesus Christ knew it was the rich who were the targets. stood up for the downtrodden. Jesus Christ stood up for the slothful."...
The question is not, "What would Jesus do?" The question is not, "What would Jesus cut?" The question is, "What would Jesus take?"...
Taxes and budget cuts, what would Jesus do? What would Jesus take? That's the question people need to ask to put this in perspective. Well, the answer? NOTHING! - Rush Limbaugh, 4/27/2011

I want to thank Rush Limbaugh for making this easy for me, once again. Rush Limbaugh reframes the What Would Jesus Cut? question in Ayn Randism: "What Would Jesus Take?"

"Take" is a particular code for "tax," which in that world, is equivalent to "steal from producers." For many, tax is an act of violence: ripping the well-earned and deserved rewards of the hard and smart working to give to the "slothful".

These are ideas that he got from Ayn Rand, of course.

Ayn Rand believes that taxes can only be given by voluntary consent. Consider this exchange with Mike Wallace from the same interview as the last time we traversed these waters:
Rand: The powers of government are strictly limited. They will have no right to initiate force or compulsion against any citizen, except a criminal. Those who have initiated force will be punished by force. And that is the only proper function of government. What we will not permit is for the government to initiate force against people who have hurt no one - who have not forced anyone. We will not give the government nor the majority nor any minority the right to take the life or the property of others.
Wallace: When you say, "Take the property of others," I imagine you're talking now about taxes.
Rand: Yes.
Wallace: Now, you believe that there should be no right by the government to tax. You believe that there should be no such thing as welfare legislation, unemployment compensation, regulation during times of stress, certain forms of rent control and things like that.
Rand: That's right. I'm opposed to all forms of control. I'm for laissez-faire, free, unregulated economy. Let me put it this way: I'm for the separation of state and economics.
From this, Rush gets the idea that tax is a sort of violent form of oppression against those who have. And he's right - in that that's what Rand was arguing.

Of course, Rush is a caricature of a human being and so he doesn't really disguise his contempt of the poor (ie, his audience) - so he calls them the "slothful." He does this because he doesn't understand poverty. Or rather, he doesn't want to understand poverty. It would mess up with his nice little game he's got going.

Larry O'Donnell, however, takes him to task with intelligence, poise, and biblical responses. To Rush's question, Larry suggests, "Everything."

Towards the end, O'Donnell may give Limbaugh's listeners too much credit for knowing the bible. They may know a lot about certain theologies of the bible - and the verses that back up those gnostic/dualistic viewpoints - but they don't seem to grasp the 'here and now' elements of the bible. So, the stuff about the widows and orphans and prisoners may be kinda important, but not so important that it trumps the rantings of a multi-millionaire blaming those folks for their own suffering.

But at the moment, I'm more concerned about what is left, what O'Donnell didn't really touch: the foundational theory of Objectivism as Ayn Rand describes it above. That tax equals theft and violence*. O'Donnell never really gets to that, but I want to look at it in two parts.

First, Rand believes that government's primary - only - job is to punish wrong-doers. To be honest, a Christian can get that idea from a narrow reading of Romans 13:

The authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. (vv 3-4. New Living Translation)

This is, it should be noted, a general rule. There are several times when Christians rightly find themselves on the wrong side of the law - including Jesus and the author of Romans himself, Paul. But in general, the passage says that government generally keeps the peace. And a reading of only this passage will lead one to think that government's main objective is to punish bad people.

What this passage doesn't mention directly is who some of those bad people are. If we think that they are merely thieves or rapists of one stripe (usually poor, often misidentified), then we simply do not know the bible very well. It is filled with warnings about cheating merchants and corrupt judges and those who steal from widows. In other words, white collar criminals are those who, due to their greed, stand in the way and on the backs of the poor.

The following is a small selection of biblical passages that deal directly with the poor and justice in the light of society and government:

Exodus 23:6; Deuteronomy 15; 24:14, 15; Leviticus 25:35; Job 20:18-20; 2 Samuel 12; Psalm 10:2; 37:14; 72; 82; Proverbs 13:23; 18:23; 22:22-23; 28:15-16; 29:7; Isaiah 3:13-15; 32:7; Jeremiah 2:34-35; 5:28; Ezekiel 18; Daniel 4:27; Amos 2; 4; 5; 8

Psalm 82

1 God presides over heaven’s court;
he pronounces judgment on the heavenly beings:
2 “How long will you hand down unjust decisions
by favoring the wicked?
3 “Give justice to the poor and the orphan;
uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute.
4 Rescue the poor and helpless;
deliver them from the grasp of evil people.
5 But these oppressors know nothing;
they are so ignorant!
They wander about in darkness,
while the whole world is shaken to the core.
6 I say, ‘You are gods;
you are all children of the Most High.
7 But you will die like mere mortals
and fall like every other ruler.’”

8 Rise up, O God, and judge the earth,
for all the nations belong to you. (NLT)
Isaiah 10:1, 2

What sorrow awaits the unjust judges
and those who issue unfair laws.
2 They deprive the poor of justice
and deny the rights of the needy among my people.
They prey on widows
and take advantage of orphans.
Amos 8

4 Listen to this, you who rob the poor
and trample down the needy!
5 You can’t wait for the Sabbath day to be over
and the religious festivals to end
so you can get back to cheating the helpless.
You measure out grain with dishonest measures
and cheat the buyer with dishonest scales.[a]
6 And you mix the grain you sell
with chaff swept from the floor.
Then you enslave poor people
for one piece of silver or a pair of sandals.

7 Now the Lord has sworn this oath
by his own name, the Pride of Israel:
“I will never forget
the wicked things you have done!
8 The earth will tremble for your deeds,
and everyone will mourn.
The ground will rise like the Nile River at floodtime;
it will heave up, then sink again.

9 “In that day,” says the Sovereign Lord,
“I will make the sun go down at noon
and darken the earth while it is still day.
10 I will turn your celebrations into times of mourning
and your singing into weeping.
Government has a role in protecting the poor - not just from other poor, but from the rich who wish to exploit the poor. Additionally, government also has a role in making sure that the poor are provided for adequately,that they are paid promptly and well, that their debts are forgiven sufficiently, and that when they have no other recourse, then they are to be taken care of by their neighbors until they recover. And this is in the mean, ol' Old Testament.

If we were to boil down the role of government into a quick statement from the bible, we would have to say that it protects - not just the interests of the wealthy ("industrious") but also – and I would argue, especially – the poor.

As per the second part of the foundational argument: That taxing is violence. Not only did Jesus not approve of that message, he actually said, “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.” The money had Ceasar’s image on it, so it belongs to Caesar. (The flip side of this is the second part of his answer. For Christians, we must recognize that we have God’s image imprinted on us and therefore we belong to God) So, tax is not implicitly evil, neither here nor in the Romans 13 passage – wherein Christians are told to pay their taxes.

There are, of course, times when it is appropriate to disobey government and even to not pay taxes. And calling the government and rulers to a higher law – the Law of Love – is expected of Christians.

But as a general rule, government protects not just from random bad people (be they terrorists or thieves) but also from corrupting forces of wealth and from the devastating effects of poverty. And in general, paying taxes is actually encouraged.

*Never mind, for the moment, that poverty is the biggest form of violence. I'm not leaving it to the side because it's unimportant - it is - or untrue - it isn't - but because the Bible hits on it but not explicitly. I would have to go into sociology to answer that (or, you know, have you look around), and since this thread is limited I just don't have the time to do justice to that right now.


  1. Montana9:20 PM

    Wow, the Blush LimpBlah is now a reverend, he can take his place next to the other flakes like Jim Jones, Jim Baker, Jimmy Swaggart, (all silly jimmy’s), Ted Haggard, Oral Roberts, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Franklin Gramham (son of Billy), John Hagee, and we can’t forget the rev. Mike Huckabee. Maybe LimpBlah next sermon will be about the scripture “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s”, found in the good book. But alas we probably hear more or the same lies that we heard today. He is such a windbag.

  2. Anonymous2:12 AM

    some days I totally understand the desire for laissez faire - it doesn't seem right to be limited by a government and its a big wide open world why can't you do what you want - but then most days I see that if we were allowed to do whatever we pleased we'd oppress and manipulate everyone for our gain. America loves freedom, but we can't handle it.

  3. Awesome post, although being reminded that Limbaugh (along with a whole throng of folks) teaches that God is hate and greed rather than love and compassion is always a little depressing.


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