The taxing truth

September 21, 2011

1. It’s not really about taxes, it’s about our increasing contempt for the poor.

Critics of President Obama’s deficit reduction plan insist that the
wealthiest individuals and corporations should pay less in taxes than
they do now. (Interesting, since many of the latter pay zero tax). While at the same time they grumble about the 50% of Americans who pay no income tax. What they fail to mention is that this 50% is comprised of persons
who make less than $20k per year; the elderly barely getting by; and 17
million unemployed.

2. It’s not really about health care, it’s about our increasing contempt for the poor.

When the Tea Party audience cheered last week at the prospect of an
uninsured man dying from a catastrophic disease, it was clear that the
nuances of health care — real debate about honest differences in public
policy — have been abandoned and the basest of our instincts and the
worst of our prejudices have come to the fore. Why is it so galling to
some that a poor person might need (and indeed deserves) medical care?

3. It’s not really about the death penalty, it’s about our increasing contempt for the poor.

Barring last-minute intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court (pretty
unlikely), Troy Davis of Georgia will be executed Wednesday evening. A
huge cloud of doubt hangs over his case. There’s no forensic evidence
linking him to the crime; numerous witnesses have recanted their
testimony. A President, a Pope, a former FBI director and a host of
others have pleaded for clemency but on Tuesday the Georgia parole board
denied it.

“Ain’t nobody with money on death row,” observed Matthew Poncelet in the film adapation of Helen Prejean’s Dead Man Walking. Davis
is not only poor but black and in a highly-charged political season
he’s expendable — useful in the game of fearmongering, just one more
dead criminal we’re lucky to be rid of.

* * * * *

In the New Testament, Jesus seems rather indifferent to paying taxes
(though he loved tax collectors). In one confrontation about temple
taxes he comically produces a fish with money in its mouth — enough to
pay the bill. Now can we get on to the business of the Kingdom? he seems to say.

But Jesus has a lot to say about money and about the near
impossibility of being both rich and faithful to the gospel. Of course,
we do all sorts of hermeneutical gymnastics to get around his
straightforward directives about selling our stuff and all that – and
I’m no literalist about them either. But clearly Jesus has what the
liberation theologians call a “preferential option for the poor.” Their
treatment preoccupies his teaching, his love for them defines his
ministry. He offers them salvation — sozo in Greek – which is
not the saving of their souls but health (care) and well-being for their
whole selves. They are not expendable, they are blessed. The kingdom of
God is theirs.

None of the sad spectacle unfolding this week about taxes, health
care, and the death penalty is about any of those things. Shamefully,
it’s about our increasing contempt for the poor and, just as tragically,
our inability to name it as such.

Originally posted at Intersections.