Tax-free Churches? There’s No Such Thing!

You pay what churches don’t! US churches* received an official federal income tax exemption in 1894, and they have been unofficially tax-exempt since the country’s founding. All 50 US states and the District of Columbia exempt churches from paying property tax. Donations to churches are tax-deductible, making for a double-dip loss of revenues by the government. They are not tax free. YOU pay their taxes.

Grant’s prophecy prediction (below) seems to be off by at least a couple hundred years. We can poke fun at that, or see if there’s any sense in the rest of the quote:

I would call your attention to the importance of correcting an evil that, if permitted to continue, will probably lead to great trouble in our land before the close of the Nineteenth century. It is the acquisition of vast amounts of untaxed church property…. In a growing country, where real estate enhances so rapidly with time as in the United States, there is scarcely a limit to the wealth that may be acquired by corporations, religious or otherwise, if allowed to retain real estate without taxation. The contemplation of so vast a property as here alluded to, without taxation, may lead to sequestration without constitutional authority, and through blood. I would suggest the taxation of all property equally, whether church or corporation.” (Ulysses S. Grant, 18th U.S. President [1869-1877], Message to Congress, December 7, 1875; Congressional Record, Vol. 4, part 7, page 175; from George Seldes, ed., The Great Quotations, Secaucus, New Jersey: Citadel Press, 1983, p. 288)

Churches and corporations are artificial entities created by people and authorized by government. In a sense, an unrestricted religious or corporate leader could exercise multiple votes—his own, plus whatever he could influence from his employees or congregation from his power position. That said, why are religions allowed property-tax exemptions? I would suppose the threat of taxation had been expected to keep them from acting like ordinary people with an interest in the works of government, and so would prevent religious groups’ hands from interfering. It appears that cannot work without a government agent posted in every edifice during every meeting to assure complete adherence to the law. That would happen only at great expense and set a regrettable precedent.

The govern, itself, is an artificial entity created and authorized by its subjects. The various layers of government perform many necessary functions for which they prepare annual budgets. Many of those layers suffer deficits even while billions are handed out to religious and corporate enterprises for questionable reasons. Overall, our government seems senselessly generous with our money, with both political parties equally guilty. Allowing massive acreage to go untaxed while some favored enterprise holds the title is but one example. The government should maintain titles to all properties from which it does not collect full taxes, and collect rent otherwise.

The following quote inspires questions about how it leads to governmental interference in religion, still at taxpayer expense:

The government has leverage on religious groups because of the tax-exemption privilege. Church leaders, eager for the church to be free to be the church, should ask for the removal of this privilege. If there were no tax privilege for religious groups, hucksters and people who are using religion as a cover for political movements would be discouraged.” (William Stringfellow, lawyer and lay theologian, as quoted in the Dallas Times Herald, December 9, 1978, p. A-27, according to Alan F. Pater and Jason R. Pater, compilers and editors, What They Said in 1978: The Yearbook of Spoken Opinion, Beverly Hills, CA: Monitor Book Co., 1979, p. 447.)

by Lloyd H. Whitling

Gaian Morality attempts to apply the Gaia Theory to real life endeavors. Lovelock’s  Gaia Theory describes Earth as a self-balancing system using a process his associate, Lynn Margulis, tagged as homeorhesis. Rather than concern ourselves with Green Politics here, we will concentrate on morality as a system derived from all that to assess the nature of intentional human interactions within a community as to their tendencies toward harm, beneficence, or innocuousness. We do so with full awareness that human social interests are political in nature, and so must account for effects far afield from any primary interests.

Aside from any religious input, our social natures force us to feel concern about moral issues—our behavior, our treatment of each other, our intentional actions and their consequences as they accord with a sense of justice. Morality is a name humanity has applied to a process of social interaction wherein the behavior that supports social wellbeing gets approved, and unjust behavior that interferes with social wellbeing gets condemned. Is that because people don’t like unjust behavior?—of course! Is that because people desire justice?—of course! The sense of balanced existence that Lady Justice represents as she holds her scales aloft symbolizes that universal concern.

Our forebears handed this concern to religion by default, as they lacked wisdom on their own and regarded the religious element in their social networks as their highest repository of wisdom, as that was where knowledge accumulated in early times. That may have been wise at the outset among primitive people in tribes and clans widely separated with little interference from each other. Overpopulation and technology in the modern world have shown how badly religions have made a mess of things, and how desperately oblivious humanity remains to a need for science to step in and claim its place by applying Lovelock’s theory, as rendered with Ms. Margulis’s guidance, to human behavioral issues, especially within the legal and educational spheres.

Intentional acts at all levels remain subject to Action and Consequence in a fashion that can be studied and effects cataloged in such a way as to render harm and benefit predictable. The secular process of law has encoded that in modern societies, but poorly, as the processes of science have made too little input and so justice has not always been served. Religion considers morality according to diverse views regarding a human relationship with the religion’s god, and science tends to favor objectivity as related to concrete “things”.

Acts are not “things”, but that does not make them irrelevant, as they are events in processes that affect us. Science deals with such by gathering data and making predictions that can be tested. Justice sets the standard. Actions, still part and parcel of events and processes, and as fully so as “concrete things”, are as real and tangible, and identifiable and measurable, as are objects. Learn to picture existence as events and processes developing over time, if you have a hard time understanding this, and it will become clearer. Picture in your mind all that goes into such simple processes as turning on a light, boiling a pan of water, or cutting a strip of cloth.

Common processes have names so others can recognize them despite their 4-dimensional nature, and despite that processes often require many individual acts to complete them, each also an event recognizable by a name. Human behavior is as easily understood as observable events and processes as is anything else, and as subject to variable conditions that can be (have been) recognized and given data values. Desire, taste, pleasure, pain, stress due to imbalance, and any other sensory or emotion-based perception is as much a part of that as any other kind of stimulus, and all of it is measurable. It is the results and the intentions that make something moral, immoral, accidental, or inconsequential.

Think: Rather than make  contradictory statements and argue, if you cannot show why that one is wrong or another idea is more right, why not accept it, draw some inferences from it, and then find some way to show them true or false? Why do like a dog chasing a rabbit around and around a tree? Stand still, and you will eventually “get it.” Stop, think, and the rabbit will run up your back.

Why is this important? Humanity needs a universal system to guide our actions, if for no better reason, so that we can know with some certainty what will likely be expected of us in unfamiliar circumstances. Our world grows more complex, populated and crowded at an increasing rate, so that we more often brush against conditions that test our levels of tolerance, patience, and abilities to adapt. Reciprocal behavior is often expected in circumstances we don’t understand. We are expected to be responsible for consequences that are often impossible to foresee due to our unschooled ignorance and cultural or moral expectations codified by someone else’s religion. If one of us should accost the other in a painful manner and do harm, we recognize that as intentionally bad and call it an immoral act. Even without a label, never discredit the urge to get even.

As it now stands, the cultural hodgepodge we daily endure hurts people with imposed stress, misunderstandings and the making of bad choices due to misinformation and unjust laws. We hurt each other, and we hurt ourselves when we refrain from beneficial behavior, perform harmful learned behavior, and waste effort on ritualistic acts that fail to accomplish whatever aims were accredited to them. Consequences will accredit or discredit our choices and we should gain moral lessons from that, if we are schooled to do so. That does not make moral choices irrelevant or meaningless or however else we might choose to dismiss it. It simply means that we have not been taught how to recognize the nature of events humans initiate as good, innocuous or bad (to use the simplest terms) by their effects on others and ourselves, especially in the long term. In other words, we must learn to recognize an aspect of them in terms of balanced values: cost (penalty, bad), harmless result (innocuous), or reward (good). Seeing consequences in that way enables us to seek to balance the effects of our actions upon ourselves with their effects upon others, and to consider how harm we now do to ourselves may place an unjust toll onto others in the future.

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