It Redefined Charity and Destroyed The Real Thing
by Chuck Avey
Humanity lives by two sets of rules. On the one hand, there is the spiritual/religious set of rules to be voluntarily followed. On the other hand, there is the legal set of rules to be enforced by secular authorities. The two sets of rules should be kept separated from each other so that persons will not be confused over which is voluntary and which is to be enforced.
The Ideal Adapted to America
Our First Amendment codifies this precept by proclaiming, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The other side of that precept would say, "Religious establishments shall teach what is right and what is wrong, but shall not develop any civil law to enforce those teachings." Keeping the "should dos" (religion) apart from the "must dos" (state) on distinctly separate lists is one way to describe "The American Way." This American system of separation lasted about 125 years, or into the early 20th century.
America Departs from Its Ideal
The Income Tax Amendment of 1913 started the decline of our neighborhood system, a system that had been relying heavily on a VOLUNTARY set of rules. Neighbors watched over neighbors, making business arrangements in various ways to insure each other's wellbeing. They could share resources, making gifts of any size and for any reason to any person they chose. Until IRS came along, what a person did with his income was a private matter. But IRS changed all that by its regulatory use of charitable tax deduction credits, which it allowed only to institutions. There was to be no more businesslike loving of neighbors by individual persons unless IRS got its cut, too.
From now on, send your money to an IRS-approved charity; then send your neighbor over to the institution to apply for and try to get some of it, if any is left. The situation is not unlike an old psychology lab experiment with a pig. He was allowed to get very hungry. Then food would be placed just out of his reach. He was teased this way, off and on, until he developed symptoms of nervous breakdown. This is the position in which IRS puts loving neighbors: Seeing so many people who could be brought into some kind of mutual benefit arrangement, but will not act out of fear of some form of IRS retaliation. Such oppression cannot be measured in tax dollars, alone.
Religious leaders have fared well financially as heads of IRS-qualified charities. But how "cheerfully given" is the tax-deductible money they receive? Can they take it or leave it, according to the whims of Congress? Or would they fight, tooth and nail, to keep their bonanza? With about eighty-five percent of Americans somewhat connected to religious leaders, the idea of abandoning the charitable deduction will never fly if religious leaders stand together in opposition. However, they should see both spiritual and financial pluses in presiding over bodies where individual charitable choices can be freely made, unimpeded by boards and treasury officers. How many of their people would give ten times as much if they could put it exactly where they wanted it to go?
I am commanded by higher authority to love my neighbor. Government cannot do it for me. A "charitable institution" cannot do it for me. IRS becomes almost confiscatory to keep me from loving my neighbor. So who is loving my neighbor, and with what resources? However one answers that question, too many persons are unloved; and because they are unloved, they are trashing our neighborhoods and schools, and their own lives. This has had the effect of a social atomic bomb among neighbor- hood relationships. Hatreds now grow like weeds. Neighbors now flash a new attitude, like "Who needs you?"
The Road Back
To rebuild these neighborhoods, two steps need to be taken:
That is the road back.
The issue of abolishing the charitable deduction and returning charitable activities to individuals is not politically tested. Will religious leaders support it? Do they accept the social atomic bomb premise against the charitable deduction? Do they trust their own people's charitable impulses? The equivalent of a thousand Habitats for Humanity would spring up if individual initiatives were released. Will religious leaders walk their people's neighborhoods to help restore the art of neighbor loving neighbor when resources are again available? Will Congress politicize the issue along party lines?
A look at the social/political climate that spawned the Income Tax Amendment is in order. There were great expectations for new social changes. Utopia seemed a distinct possibility, at last. "To each according to his need; from each according to his ability," "Workers of the world, rise up and throw off your chains," "If nobody will fight in an imperial war, there will be no more imperial wars." "If the robber barons own the government, let 'em pay for it." "Let's slap an income tax on the greedy so-and-sos." And it was done with practically no support from any politicians. Then reality slapped back. Soon everybody was assigned a lifetime number and charged a FICA tax out of every paycheck. Oops! And that charitable deduction thing began building institutions at the expense of neighborhood relationships. And new hatreds filled the land.
This page was last updated 07/02/00 01:51 PM