Friday, April 15, 2005

Render unto Caesar

Well today is April 15th and we all know what that means. Ugh!!

I tuned into The Dennis Prager Show today and taxes was the topic in the first hour of his broadcast. Dennis thinks high tax rates are immoral and being of the political and philosophical bent that I am, I do not disagree.

One of his callers disagreed with Dennis and talked about an episode in the Bible where Jesus said "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." (Matthew 22:21). To the caller this meant that a tax, no matter how injurious to the payer is to be paid, no matter what. Jesus said it after all.

But is that really all there is to that passage? When one reads the entire eight verses of this passage (Matt. 22:15-22) we see that the Pharisees where trying to lay a trap for Jesus in their question about the propriety of Roman taxes. They were hoping to elicit a response that could land Jesus in trouble with the Roman authorities. But Jesus knew what they were up to and answered the way he did.

Basically, Jesus dodged the question. In today's vernacular, we would call Jesus' answer "spin". He knew there might be consequences if he were critical of Roman taxes so he deftly avoided making any statement that might cause him trouble.

I have to be honest here. These thoughts about what Jesus said about taxes comes from Charles Adams' excellent book For Good and Evil - The Impact of Taxes on the Course of Civilisation. I bought this book some years ago when it was first published and found it to be interesting and informative. Mr. Adams writes about taxes from acient Egypt to the current day, and covering just about everything in between from Rome to the Middle Ages to Spain, France, and England during the age of discovery, etc. The whole book is just one long history lesson, and a good one at that.