Giovinazzo bears false witness on taxes
Chris Giovinazzo is quite right that concern for the poor must be central to a Christian view of the affairs of mankind. I write not to disagree, but merely to observe that the question how such concern should be translated into a political program is more complex than his column lets on. He does not mention, for one thing, that the exhortations to charity and almsgiving in the Christian scriptures are universally phrased in terms of what individuals and churches ought to do for the poor, and not in terms of government programs. Pace Mr. Giovinazzo, the Bible does not identify “welfare, the capital gains tax, the estate tax, progressive income taxes” as the means by which the needy are to be succored.
St. Aquinas sums up the Christian view of the proper aim of the state: it is the “common good of all the citizens.” Material well-being is part of that “good,” but it is far from the whole; Christ also said, “Man shall not live by bread alone.” The dignity that man realizes in work; the bonds of family; an organic relation to the local community – these are also essential elements of a person’s well-being, and they may not always be fostered by the bureaucracy of the national welfare state. Most fundamentally, to depend on the state for one’s basic needs is to lose one’s freedom; and genuine freedom is at the heart of the Christian message.
One response to these concerns within a Christian tradition has been the principle of subsidiarity. As the 1931 papal encyclical Quadragesimo Anno put it, “it is an injustice…to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do.” Of course, no government should let its people starve, and there are surely many who have no other organizations – family, friends, religious groups, private local charities, and so on – to whom to turn. These are not dilemmas with easy solutions – which is precisely why it is far too facile to characterize either the left or the right wing of American politics as the true steward of Christian values.
Christopher Monsour, 3L
Mr. Giovinazzo has a right to ask, “who would Jesus tax?” and to apply his own interpretation of Scripture to his vote. Nevertheless, I think it important that I point out the flaws, both Biblical and logical, in his narrow mischaracterization of Christ’s message.
First, Christ’s ministry was not about changing the distribution of wealth by government action. Christ’s message concerns itself with individuals (as opposed to policy) on both extremes of the economic spectrum. The verses that Mr. Giovinazzo quotes: 1) teach the poor that their poverty does not make them worth less in the eyes of God and 2) call on the rich to free themselves from the enslaving love of money by giving it away. Neither taxation nor government is implicated.
Christ did say, however, when actually asked about the issue of taxation: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21) I take this to mean that, as a Christian, I am obligated to tithe a percentage of my earnings to charity and to pay my taxes. Thus, while I agree with Mr. Giovinazzo that I should give away a percentage of my earnings, I am not obligated to vote for higher taxes or a greater forced distribution of societal income. In fact, because my religion informs my vote, I may vote for lower taxes on capital gains, on income, etc. thinking that this tax policy will create greater economic expansion and economic freedom for everyone. Or, I may not. Christ was not so base as to address himself to the empirical questions of a policy debate.
I am certain that Mr. Giovinazzo and I can disagree as to who (either government or myself) should be charged with redistributing my income and still agree that, as the Bible mandates, my wealth should be shared. My individual hope, as a believer in Christ, is that no man will ever go hungry, be without shelter, or be driven to theft, not because a government program will solve his problems, but because his brothers and sisters will treat him with dignity, sacrifice their wealth, and help him during difficult times.
In conclusion, Mr. Giovanazzo has “distorted Jesus’s message” in the most intellectually dishonest of ways. Like some on the right, he should be ashamed for twisting the message of the Gospels to support his own partisan, policy ends.
Andrew Brasher, 1L
Editor’s Note: For further response to Giovinazzo, see Guest Opinion.