The widow, the orphan, the stranger in your midst. If you read the Bible and come away with no sense of responsibility to support economically vulnerable groups, you’re even better at self-deception than I am.
You’d be hard-pressed to deny that the Bible teaches the inherent dignity of all people, the equality of all people, and denounces the greed of the few that keeps many in poverty. Of the many, many verses that spring to mind, James 5:4 is one that particularly haunts me: ‘Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed the fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.’
So why then don’t all Christians share the same political views? To me, Christianity and socialism go together like sticky toffee pudding and clotted cream (two of my very favourite things, incidentally). But apparently not everyone thinks so.
Much as it would be fun to caricature, it turns out from my so-far limited political discussions, that right-wing Christians don’t always deny that Jesus was in favour of supporting the poor and that his followers are mandated to do so.
For some of them, it’s just that we should be doing it ourselves, this generosity thing, loving our neighbour and rallying around local communities to make sure the poor are looked after. Not getting the state involved in what we should just do out of our own good will.
Nice thought. And if it worked like that, surely it should work for someone like me: I passionately believe in equality, I try to live with my eyes open to social issues, I work for a charity, and I’ve got more than my fair share of money that I know needs to be redistributed if society is going to get fairer.
So why would I want the state to tax me more and redistribute my wealth for me? Here’s 5 reasons why I wish they’d take my money:
1. I’m too selfish to give it myself.
This is the biggy. Obviously. As soon as that pay cheque lands in my bank account, I feel like it’s mine. And much as I know that other people need stuff like food, shelter, toiletries and education more than I need to keep the number in my savings account rolling upwards, it still feels like a sacrifice to give even a little bit of it up.
When the opportunity arises to give to someone in need, whether someone sat on the street asking for spare change or the charity caller asking for a monthly donation, I’ll normally walk on by, all the time thinking about that next latte I’m going to buy for myself instead. But that chunk of cash they take away in tax before it ever hits my bank account? It never feels like mine, so I never miss it. So please, take more.
2. I’m too apathetic to give it myself.
I care deeply about poverty and inequality. And the more of it I see, and the more experiences I listen to, the more I care and the more I’m driven to work to change it. But I don’t care enough yet. And I don’t care enough of the time. I get distracted by my own cares and concerns. I find myself too busy to think about how to best redistribute my own wealth, and daily life feels more important. So while I work on that, please Government, take more.
3. I’m too ignorant to give it myself.
I remember asking as a child, learning what democracy meant and what a referendum was, why don’t we all vote on everything, instead of just the politicians? Surely that’s the way to make sure everyone has a say.
It would be chaos. Not many of us have the time, or the capacity, to thoroughly research every policy decision needed to run a country and vote intelligently. Of course we don’t. That’s why we elect politicians who represent our broad views to do that work for us, to be fully informed, and make those choices on our behalf.
I don’t know the best way to use my money to tackle inequality. I don’t have the expertise or the capacity to sort out fuel poverty, inadequate housing and malnourished children. Very few of us do. I can’t give away my money with maximum efficiency, and nor can you. So we come together, as a society, and entrust the task of working those things out to experts who should then decide how to redistribute our collective wealth most effectively. So please, Government, take my money and use it better than I know how to.
4. My perspective is too skewed to give it myself.
This month I feel a bit short of money. That’s because I splashed out on clothes at the beginning of the month. I ate out for four meals in a row this weekend. I’m paying for a weekend break coming up with friends. I bought a few too many drinks while on a night out. And I know, I know that being able to do those things and still pay my rent makes me extremely privileged. I know that I am not, objectively speaking, short of money. But because my perspective is so narrow and so skewed, because I’m so used to my own life, because it’s so easy to consider our own experience as normal, I’ll never redistribute my own wealth fairly. I’ll never feel I’ve got enough to be as generous as I should be. So please, Government, take a fairer portion of my money while I regain perspective.
5. I don’t know enough people to give it to them myself.
Many of the most economically vulnerable groups are also the most isolated. Elderly people with no family left. Disabled people for whom leaving the house is a colossal challenge. Single parents whose time is filled with working long hours and caring for their kids that they haven’t got the minutes to spare for luxuries like socialising. If it’s down to me to be generous with my own money, I’ll only be able to give it to those I see or know of. And that’s not many people at all. It usually means my generosity only extends as far as buying a friend lunch.
I need the State to put every possible safety net in place for the people who need it most, and to make sure that my wealth gets to those whose problems are hidden from my sight. Please, Government, take more of it.
None of this is to say I don’t believe in communities rallying round to help one another out, families looking after their elderly relatives, volunteers and charities caring for the vulnerable. Of course I do. It’s not to say I don’t want to love my neighbour more and become more generous and less selfish and more educated and less blind to others. Of course I do. But all of us are human and all of us are learning, some faster than others.
In the mean time, millions of people are living in poverty while a few of us live in luxury. To work towards a world that looks more like God’s kingdom, a world of dignity and equality and justice for all, to live out God’s bias to the poor and follow in Jesus’ footsteps – we need the State to redistribute our wealth more fairly.
So please, Government, take more.