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'Pay your taxes.' Is that the Gospel message?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | May 02, 2012

He’s at it again. Or perhaps I should say he’s at it still. Father Tom Reese appeared on The Colbert Report for a session of snark about Congressman Ryan’s budget. Once again Father Reese said that Ryan’s budget is morally unacceptable because it trims funding for federal poverty programs.

The meaning of the Gospel on this issue is abundantly clear, said the ubiquitous Jesuit commentator. Jesus calls us to show our love for one another. How do we do that? Father Reese makes it simple: “Pay your taxes.”

The Gospels leave no doubt: Jesus cared for those in need, and instructed his followers to do the same. But nowhere in the Gospel does Jesus call for a government program to heal the sick or feed the poor. He did it Himself, and asked his disciples to do it—in his name, not in the name of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Nowhere in the Gospel does Jesus call for higher taxes. He dutifully pays his own taxes, rendering to Caesar, but He does so with no more enthusiasm than the typical American head-of-household on April 15.

Now you might say that things are different today, because in the time of Christ, the taxes collected by the Roman empire did not go to care for the needy. Aha! Then we’d have to have a discussion of whether US welfare programs have been effective—whether they really do provide the best sort of help for those in need. I’d love to have that debate, rather than a sterile and dishonest discussion of whether or not Paul Ryan is a bad Catholic for suggesting a different approach.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: - May. 02, 2012 3:54 PM ET USA

    No need for a debate over taxes. Roman Empire had an immense welfare dole for the masses in Rome. They built colliseums all over the empire to keep people entertained (sound familiar?). Some scholars have speculated that the lack of technological innovation in the empire was due to their immense labor problem. Labor saving equip. would leave too many hands idle--US govt is trying to solve that thru contraception. US immitates Rome right down to exp. wars to quell rebels in the hinterlands.