Tithes and Offerings

As long as we are talking about flaky but popular-among-conservatives tax plans, Ben Carson’s allegedly Bible-based “tithe” tax, which he got to tout in last night’s debate, is among the flakiest. It’s really just an unusually low flat tax, which means (a) it wouldn’t come even close to paying for anything like the government we have, and (b) it represents an incredibly huge windfall for the rich along with significantly higher taxes for the poor (plus loss of refundable tax credits).

What it is, however, is a well-established fad among the Glenn Beckish, conspiracy-theory oriented Christian Right types that represent Carson’s real ideological home. Here’s RightWingNews’ Peter Montgomery on flat taxes and “biblical values:”

The American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer has declared, “God believes in a flat tax.” On his radio show last year, Fischer said, “That’s what a tithe is, it’s a tax.”

Of course, that kind of flat tax would amount to a massive tax cut for the richest Americans and a tax hike on the poorest. So it’s not terribly surprising the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity has teamed up with the Religious Right to promote the idea that progressive taxation is an un-Christian idea. AFP joined Religious Right groups to create the Freedom Federation, one of the right-wing coalitions that sprung up in opposition to Barack Obama’s election as president. The coalition’s founding “Declaration of American Values” declares its allegiance to a system of taxes that is “not progressive in nature.”

David Barton, the pseudo-historian, GOP activist, and Glenn Beck ally, is a major promoter of the idea that the Bible opposes progressive taxes, capital gains taxes, and minimum wage. Barton’s views are grounded in the philosophy of Christian Reconstructionism, a movement whose thinking has infused both the Religious Right and Tea Party movements with its notion that God gave the family, not the government, responsibility for education — and the church, not the government, responsibility for taking care of the poor.

That’s how we have Republican members of Congress supporting cuts in food stamps by appealing to the Bible. And how we get Samuel Rodriguez, the most prominent conservative Hispanic evangelical leader, saying that a desire to “punish success” — i.e. progressive taxes — “is anti-Christian and anti-American.”

A lot of people still think of the conservative movement as a combo platter of “conservative Christians” who don’t care about economic issues, and “economic conservatives” who are indifferent or even hostile towards “social issues,” and then Tea Party People who only care about fiscal probity and constitutional issues. It’s actually all a stew. And in particular, the Christian Right is composed in large part of people who have divinized private property and think the Constitution permanently addressed social and family policy along with taxation and government structure. That’s part and parcel of Ben Carson’s strange gospel of American unity: it was all resolved by the Founders, and we’ll all get along if “politically correct” people weren’t causing trouble with their secular socialist schemes.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.