Tax has got a really bad name. We work hard to earn our wage and along comes the taxman and steals away his greedy share. And what does he spend it on? On inefficiency and bureaucracy; on bloated quangos, unnecessary managers and waste.
This emissary of the State is nothing more than a feted criminal, a faceless peddler of profanity!
I’m endlessly intrigued by the Bible, and I’ve been fascinated by its ancient Law. You see, back in the day while local kings exacted taxes from their citizens, a radical religious community invented a radical social idea. The Tithe.
The Tithe was part of the social structure of the ancient people of Israel. They had eschewed a king – or so the story goes – and organised themselves by tribes around a religious hub. This hub was called the Tabernacle and was run by one of the tribes, who were the priests. When the other tribes had harvested their crops, they would bring the Tithe – a full ten per cent of their bounty, along with some livestock – to the Tabernacle.
They’d sacrifice the animals and then cook and eat them together with the priests, giving the priests an additional contribution from their harvest. It was a symbol of community solidarity. By bringing some of what they had to distribute to people who wouldn’t otherwise have, they pooled their resources so they could share a profound community experience together.
I want to live in a society that pools its resources. That shares its meal together in divine company, not gripped by greed but liberated by generosity. That even throws money at inefficient collaborations with no discernable financial return simply because it brings us together. I want to tithe.
There are religious people who still think the Tithing law applies to them, so they give ten per cent of their income to their church or synagogue, or to a worthy NGO or some other personal project. That’s all well and good – better than that, in fact: some profoundly life-giving work is done off the back of these charitable donations. But the Old Testament Tithe is not a voluntary contribution; it is part of the national constitution of ancient Israel. It’s a tax.
Our State needs reforming. But what if we saw reform of the State not just as the improvement of our civic structures, but as the reimagining of our social religion? Reform of the rituals that bind us as a community and the stories that we share?
What if we could talk about fiscal policy with sacred words? Not invoking divine mandate for our political colour, but expressing the divine character of social experience. Our tax and spend could be sacred, if we let it.
Should tax be set at ten per cent, or sixty? Should it be spent on war planes or schools? These are spiritual questions, because they give body to the values and stories we share.
For me paying tax is a sacred act and the taxman no less than a priest.