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Looking for the High Moral Ground on an Ethical Nullarbor Plain 
19th-Jul-2012 09:52 am
Churches have the right to publicly opine on matters of public policy. Even when such opinions happen to have startling alignment with certain political parties' platforms.

But here's an idea: when a religion starts actively campaigning for one party or another, they lose the right to be recognised as a tax-exempt entity. Squared if they're doing it by lying.

You want to play partisan politics? You get to pay tax on your property and income, like the rest of us.

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20th-Jul-2012 12:05 am (UTC)
Fair enough. Actually, I'm not convinced religions should be tax exempt. Period. They may have tax exemptions for their charitable work, naturally. But tax exempt merely because they ARE a religion??? Where did that come from?
20th-Jul-2012 01:41 am (UTC)
I suspect partially through a history of a separate legal system (Canon Law which applied to Clerics, as opposed to the Law of the Land which applied to Nobles and Commoners[0]), partially through the sheer power of the church(es) which started by insisting that they answered to God, and were not under obligation to pay money to any man (not even if he was a king), continued through force of social opprobrium ("but taxing the Church is wrong!") and threats overt and subtle ("Well, if you don't want our schools/hospitals/orphanages/poor houses/social records/public blessings..."), and overarching all of this, it was simply engrained in the Way Things Are.

By the time of increasing secularisation, there was still a lot of power in the Church, such that when equal rights were being mooted, it came down to taxing all churches in the name of equal treatment (which was unthinkable, because it would have meant removing the special status of the Anglican/Catholic/Lutheran/Orthodox Church it had always had) or taxing no recognised Church (which was much simpler: you knew Religion when you saw it, and it was recognising that Catholics were people too. Kind of).

Then came the rise of non-Christian religions in the West, and it all started going a bit pear-shaped. Is Wicca a religion? (A lot of people will say "no".) Is Ásatrú? (It is in Iceland.) Is Discordianism? (It now is as far as US Army chaplains are concerned.) Is Atheism?

And the Churches all having benefited from centuries of tax-exemption are fighting to maintain their special status, and are willing to share Religion status with their former enemies because the alternative is to have to pay for those billions of dollars of income and properties like everyone else, instead of being a taxing agent themselves (tithes and such). I'm sure that every other religion on Earth would love to stand up and publicly denounce the "Church" of Scientology as a fraudulent mind-washing cult which should be eradicated from existence, but if they do that then they take a card out of the house of cards, and the whole thing starts coming down. (If the CoS is a cult rather than a religion, then what about the Family of God? Why not the Lebovitchers? Why not the Jesuits? Why not the Roman Catholic Church?)
20th-Jul-2012 01:42 am (UTC)
(Character limit necessitates splitting off the footnote)

[0] I've made this point before, but the Western Mediaeval Polity was a simple, but fully-blown Caste system: being the
  • Commoners (further subdivided into levels based on respectability, power, possession of property and freedom: an Aldorman and his family ranked above a simple Merchant and his family, above a tenant farmer, and all above a serf or churl),
  • the Nobility (divided much more strictly by rank, style and title, decided almost exclusively through politics) and, off to the side,
  • the Clergy (where the Abbot was above the monk, and the Bishop above the Priest, but there was more possibility of upward movement, decided largely through politics).
There was more than a difference in wealth and power between the Commoners and Nobility, there was a birthright involved. You could be a poor Noble, or a rich and powerful Commoner, but that Noble still got to sit in the House of Lords, and the Commoner did not. This was why Knighthood was such a big deal: it was the lifting of someone into a higher Caste, it gave that man different and greater responsibilities, but with corresponding and greater rights and powers, and with a minor title with it, that became not only a source of income but a hereditary increase in status. This also explains the popularity of the Baronetcy in Victorian and Edwardian times: it was the ability to buy a higher birthright for one's children. Sure, a Baronetcy was seated next to the toilets in the social seating arrangement of the Nobility, but they were still (just barely) Noble, and thus entitled to the rights of membership of that Caste.

It also explains why the Clergy was so popular. Sure, there were greater personal restrictions still (in theory), but there was also the theoretical ability for a Common-born man to become a Prince of the Church, ranking with the highest nobility. And the punishments meeted out in the Canon courts were usually far less strict than those in Secular courts, and the requirement for having a case heard in Canon Court as often as not came down to whether the defendant could read a line of Latin from a Bible. The Commoners sent their children into the Church so that they could be relatively comfortable and have the (theoretical) possibility of advancement, the Nobility so that third sons could gain as much or more power than their (literally) entitled brothers, and the understanding that they would thus help their families. Certainly the sons of the Nobility tended to have an easier route to the echelons of Church power than the sons of Commoners, but the fact remains that the Church was distinct from both the Commons and the Nobility.
Indeed, this distinction is still enshrined in the Bicameral Parliament: the House of Commons for the Commoners, and the House of Lords for the Nobility and Clergy, intended to keep the rabble in the Lower House (those distinctions again) in their place, and limit the damage they could do.
20th-Jul-2012 09:27 am (UTC)
A masterly summary, which I would only modify by pointing out that in England they were very careful to make only one person per family per generation noble. Hence the nobility cares about commoners, because (a) one's wife is one, (b) one's second and subsequent sons and all one's daughters are also. This is why the English aristocracy are still with us, whereas the hidalgo class in Europe is as one with Nineveh and Tyre because they regarded all commoners as scum. I do not mourn their passing.

The point about social mobility in the clergy is extremely apposite.Think Nicholas Breakspear! (aka Pope Adrian IV). OK, that was then. Now? To hell with it. Tax them all, same as the rest of us.
24th-Jul-2012 05:28 am (UTC)
(Sorry that was me being careless with headers)
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