Monday, April 09, 2007

No other God (part 2): Dt 5:7

"You shall not make other gods besides Me; gods of silver or gods of gold, you shall not make for yourselves." (Exodus 20:23)
Every nation has a fundamental right to raise taxes to cover its operational costs and to provide for its common defense. However, the primary role of government is not to raise funds or to increase wealth and prosperity but rather to serve and govern its citizens. When a government places the gods of gold an silver before the Lord God, then they loose sight of their primary purpose of existence and face difficult ethical challenges.

One of the ethical dilemmas a government faces when it serves the god of wealth is how to raise the funds it needs to operate and to run its programs. While funds must be raised, it is important that they are raised in an ethical manor and in a manor that is consistent with the biblical foundation upon which the nation was established. One example of such a dilemma faced by my country is the forced transfer of private property from one owner to another in the hope of increasing tax revenues. In one such case, a state government acquired private property through "eminent domain" and gave that property to a private developer to develop. The state's justification was that by the development of the property, the people would benefit through the increase tax revenues on the developed land. While this may make financial sense, it does not answer the ethical question of the seizure of private property for the purpose of raising revenues. Another example in my country is the use of state operated of lotteries to raise money for programs such as government schools. Lotteries have raised millions of dollars for public education and have gained many supporters. However, it raises moral questions when the state must market the lottery to increase ticket sales. This places the state in the role of temptress and deceiver; tempting people to gamble away their income for the perceived chance of getting rich quick. When wealth is placed first, then the ethical questions become difficult to discern, but with a proper biblical foundation of governance, these issues become much clearer. The Bible establishes a personal right to property and therefore it would be wrong for the government to violate this individual right of ownership for the sole purpose of making the state richer. Similarly, when the government relies on and promotes a method of increasing revenues that forces the government to deceive its own citizens and to tempt them with an unrealistic expectation of gaining personal wealth, then that government is not operating within the morals of integrity, honesty, and justice as exemplified in the scriptures.

Along with the ethical dilemma of how to raise funds, a nation also faces the dilemma of how to use those funds. For some nations, the ruling classes have used their governmental powers to increase their personal wealth at the expense of their citizens. The world is replete with examples of dictators and monarchs who have gained great wealth while their countrymen live in intense poverty. Other governments have raised revenues for the purpose of redistributing wealth. In my country, our system of income tax has predominantly become a system of wealth redistribution. The rich are taxed to support programs for the poor. The more someone earns, the more they are taxed and a disproportionate amount of this money is "redistributed" to fund social programs; program that have no direct relation to the running of the government but only serve to provide financial support to those who earn less. While it is noble to care for the poor, it must be asked if it is the role of the government to take from the rich and give to the poor? Is this the role of the government or is it the role of the family and the church? The scripture says that it is the Lord "who is giving you power to make wealth." (Deuteronomy 8:18) If God has given power to individuals to create wealth, then it would be unethical for those in power to take this wealth for their own personal enrichment. It is equally unethical for government to decide how one should use their wealth. Many social programs are in essences a governmentally mandated form of benevolence, the difference being that it is the government who decides the contribution not the individual. It is not the government's place to force an individual to give a portion of their wealth to the poor, this decision belongs to the individual and their God.

These ethical issues can only be properly understood when, as a nation and a government, we have no other God but the God of the Bible. Only by making wealth and prosperity secondary to God and a strong biblical foundation, can government deal with financial issues in a way that is both moral and ethical.

David Robison

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